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Top health official: Schools likely won’t reopen next week

Sharon Elrai details Health Ministry’s plan for easing lockdown, says figures showing drop in infections are ‘encouraging’ but ‘we still don’t think we’ve reached the goal’

A classroom at an elementary school is empty after Israel closed schools ahead of a nationwide lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus in Tel Aviv, September 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
A classroom at an elementary school is empty after Israel closed schools ahead of a nationwide lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus in Tel Aviv, September 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

Knesset panel meets to approve extension of government’s emergency virus powers

The Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee convenes to approve the government’s extension of emergency powers placing strict restrictions on gatherings during the current nationwide coronavirus lockdown, including limiting the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

MKs are discussing whether to approve the extension of the emergency measures, which under legislation passed earlier came into force without initial Knesset approval, until Tuesday.

Opposition lawmakers slam the closure of small businesses as part of the lockdown measures.

“There was no reason to close them,” says Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharar.

Meanwhile, the committee’s chairman, United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher, criticizes coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light” plan.

The plan, which was approved by the government but never implemented, calls for imposing local lockdowns in areas with high infection rates. Ultra-Orthodox politicians have been highly critical of the plan, claiming it discriminates against their communities, many of which have seen some of the highest infection rates in the country.

It is supposed to be used for managing the pandemic when the lockdown measures are lifted.

“We need to bring a practical plan of action with an economic response for the citizens of the cities in which restrictions will be imposed, and if there isn’t a plan [for the economy] but only slogans, [the traffic light plan] won’t be anymore,” Asher is quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

Iran’s currency hits new low as atomic energy chief contracts COVID

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s currency hits another record low on the same day a local news report says the head of the country’s atomic energy organization has tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the latest senior official to become infected.

The semiofficial Tasnim news agency says Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also a vice president of Iran, had confirmed positive for the virus last week and has been in home quarantine since. The news agency reports that his health condition is currently good.

Iran has recorded at least 28,000 deaths out of around 496,000 confirmed cases of the virus, making it the hardest-hit country in the region. Just last week, Iran reported its highest daily death toll from the virus with 239 new fatalities reported on Wednesday.

Iran has struggled to contain the spread of the virus across this nation of 80 million people, initially beating it back only to see a spike in cases again, beginning in June. The government has largely resisted imposing wide-scale lockdowns as the economy teeters from continued US economic sanctions that effectively bar Iran from selling its oil internationally.

Money exchange shops in Tehran sell the US dollar at 315,000 rials today, compared to what was 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Salehi is known internationally as one of the key Iranian negotiators who took part in those nuclear talks. The deal curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, but US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crushing economic sanctions.

The currency plummeted further days after the Trump administration’s decision to blacklist 18 Iranian banks that had so far escaped the bulk of re-imposed sanctions. The move subjects non-Iranian financial institutions to penalties for doing business with them, effectively cutting the banks off from the international financial system.

— AP

File: The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi delivers his speech at opening of the general conference of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

TikTok blocks account of far-right Jewish group Lehava

The popular video sharing app Tik Tok has blocked the account of the far-right group Lehava, Army Radio reports.

Lehava, which opposes Jewish intermarriage, had its account shuttered for “repeated violations of the community conditions,” according to the report.

The group had opened the account last week.

“You can find all the trash on TikTok but to talk about assimilation is forbidden there. A disgrace,” Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein writes on Twitter.

Otzma Yehudit member Benzi Gopstein (with microphone), head of the anti-miscegenation group Lehava, leads a demonstration against the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade on June 6, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina MK Shaked: ‘Someone needs to grow some balls’ and allow weddings

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked denounces the prohibition on holding weddings during a meeting of the Knesset Law, Justice and Constitutional Committee on approving the extension of the government’s emergency powers during the coronavirus lockdown.

Shaked notes that outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people are allowed.

“Couples getting married don’t want to be criminals,” she is quoted saying by the Globes financial daily. “Someone needs to grow some balls and courage and say the truth — we won’t enforce [against] holding weddings with up to 20 people.”

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked speaks at Besheva conference in Jerusalem on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Lebanon orders lockdown for 169 towns, villages due to rising infections

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Interior Ministry has ordered a lockdown in 169 villages and towns as well as ordering all nightclubs and pubs to close around the country amid a sharp increase of coronavirus cases.

The ministry says that the lockdown will begin tomorrow morning and last until October 19. Pubs and nightclubs will be closed until further notice, it says.

The new lockdown comes a week after the ministry ordered a lockdown in 111 villages and towns that ends Monday morning. Some of those towns are included under the new restrictions.

Yesterday, Lebanon’s Health Ministry registered 1,388 new cases of coronavirus, raising the country’s confirmed total to 52,558 infections and 455 deaths.

Cases in Lebanon have been rising since early July when the country eased a nationwide lockdown and opened its only international airport. The numbers increased dramatically following an August 4 blast in Beirut that killed and wounded many, as people gathered at hospitals, funerals and anti-government protests.

— AP

10 Palestinians reportedly wounded by gunfire in clashes with Israeli troops

Ten Palestinians were wounded by gunfire during violent confrontations today with Israeli forces in Al-Am’ari, the Palestinian Authority’s official Wafa news agency reports.

Another two were wounded by rubber bullets, Wafa reports. Three Palestinians in Al-Am’ari, a refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah, have reportedly been arrested.

The Israel Defense Forces doesn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

— Aaron Boxerman

IDF soldier lightly injured after gun discharges

An Israeli soldier is lightly injured by a bullet discharged from his gun, the military says.

According to the IDF, the bullet struck the soldier in the foot during an arrest in the northern West Bank.

It isn’t clear how the bullet discharged.

The IDF says the soldier was taken to the hospital for treatment and that the incident is being investigated.

Top official at Finance Ministry resigns

Keren Terner Eyal has resigned as director-general of the Finance Ministry.

Terner Eyal reached the decision in coordination with Finance Minister Israel Katz, according to a joint statement, which says she’ll step down in the coming weeks “in light of her personal request.”

Katz taps Tax Authority chief Eran Yaacov to serve as acting director-general until a permanent appointment is made.

No reason is cited for the move, but top Treasury officials have feuded with Katz over the government’s economic plans during the coronavirus pandemic and several have stepped down.

Terner Eyal served as director-general of the Transportation Ministry when it was headed by Katz.

Then-Transportation Ministry Director-General Keren Terner Eyal seen at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel records more COVID first fatalities in first 11 days of October than from March to June

In the first 11 days of the October, 358 Israelis have died from COVID-19, more than the number of coronavirus fatalities from March to June, according to Army Radio.

Cop recorded saying police were ignoring virus violations in Haredi city contracts COVID

Tzahi Halfon, the police commander in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modiin Illit, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Hebrew media reports.

The diagnosis comes days after Israeli television aired a recording of Halfon telling a local Haredi representative that police have turned a blind eye to violations of the coronavirus lockdown in Modiin Illit aka Kiryat Sefer.

Modiin Illit, which has a population of 75,000 people, has 2,869 active coronavirus cases, behind only Jerusalem and Bnei Brak for the third most of any locality in Israel.

Top Treasury official’s resignation said to have been ‘only a question of time’

Unnamed associates of Keren Terner Eyal tell Channel 13 news that her decision to resign was “only a question of time.”

“There is no place in the Treasury for a strong professional echelon and she drew conclusions,” they associates are quoted as saying.

Terner Eyal’s decision to resign follows that of Shaul Meridor, the head of the powerful Budget Department, and accountant general Rony Hizkiyahu.

Officials have charged Katz with pushing policies for political reasons with the goal of boosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party. Katz has also been accused of stifling any dissent by ministry officials.

Finance minister orders state budget be drawn up by December

Finance Minister Israel Katz has ordered the Treasury to prepare the 2021 state budget for government approval in December.

The decision comes shortly after Keren Terner Eyal, a longtime aide to Katz, announced she was resigning.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, which Katz is a member of, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White have been at loggerheads over the passage of a state budget.

In a last minute agreement to avert immediate elections, the Knesset passed legislation in August delaying the deadline to pass a budget until late-December.

Gantz is calling for the budget to cover all of 2021, while Netanyahu is insisting that it only be for this year, which would provide him another exit ramp to go to elections without having to handover the premiership to the Blue and White leader as part of their power-sharing deal.

Even if it is brought before the government in December, the budget is not expected to be approved by December 23 deadline.

Video appears to show top rabbi fainting days after COVID diagnosis

Video from an event over Sukkot that surfaced today appears to show Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who recently contracted coronavirus, collapsing in his chair before the camera quickly moves aside.

The video of the 92-year-old Kanievsky, a leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, was being livestreamed across Bnei Brak and other Haredi areas, according to Channel 12 news.

It was Kanievsky’s first public appearance since he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

The network quotes a statement on Kanievsky’s behalf asserting he was sneezing and that he wasn’t suffering from a shortness of breath.

On Friday, after the video was filmed, Kanievsky’s condition was reported to worsen.

Channel 12 notes that a photo of Kanievsky was published on Friday, but not last night.

‘I am immune’ from COVID-19, Trump declares

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump declares himself immune from COVID-19 as he prepares to return to the election campaign trail and fight to regain ground against rival Joe Biden.

“It looks like I’m immune for, I don’t know, maybe a long time and maybe a short time, it could be a lifetime, nobody really knows, but I’m immune,” Trump says in a Fox News interview, a day after his doctor affirmed he was no longer a transmission risk for the disease.

— AFP

Netanyahu says despite signs lockdown working, ‘we need a few more days to consider’ easing it

Ahead of a meeting on lifting the national coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Netanyahu says though there are signs the restrictions are bringing down infection rates, “we need a few more days to consider” easing the closure.

Defending the lockdown, Netanyahu says it “saved us from a geometric rise in morbidity, mortality, and seriously sick people,” but warns it’s too early to believe the fight against COVID-19 is over.

When the restrictions are lifted, Netanyahu says “we’ll open businesses with up to 10 employees that don’t receive customers [in person], we’ll open preschools.” He stresses, however, that “we’ll gradually do this in different stages, with caution and with clear measurements for moving from stage to stage.”

He calls on Israelis to continue adhering to the virus restrictions.

“If we act correctly, we’ll defeat the disease,” he declares.

Intelligence minister says Israel will oppose any F-35 sale to Qatar

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen says Israel will oppose any sort of potential deal for the sale of American F-35 jets to Qatar, days after a report said the Gulf nation had asked the United States to buy the stealth fighters.

The Qatari request, reported last Wednesday by the Reuters news agency, came after reports in September that the US and the United Arab Emirates were likely to seal an arms deal for the sale of the aircraft following the Washington-brokered Abraham Accords between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel.

Doha’s request is seen as another test to the US’s commitment to maintaining the Jewish state’s military edge in the region in the face of wealthy Gulf states seeking advanced military hardware.

Speaking with Army Radio, Cohen says “our security and military superiority in the region are the most important things for us.

“Our area hasn’t yet turned into Switzerland,” he adds.

Under US law, Congress is tasked with vetting sales of arms to Middle Eastern countries and weighing them against America’s commitments to Israeli military superiority, with a determination usually made following consultations between the Pentagon and Israeli defense officials. While Israel cannot veto a sale, it can raise concerns that could make it more difficult to seal a deal.

Top health official: Schools likely won’t reopen next week

A top Health Ministry gives some details on the plan to gradually lift the current coronavirus lockdown, dubbing it a “strategy for preventing the next lockdown.”

Sharon Elrai, acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, says the latest figures indicating a slowdown in infections are “encouraging,” but notes they are from the weekend, when testing levels typically plummet.

“We still don’t think we’ve reached the goal. We’ll see the figures from today and tomorrow. We hope that with the control over morbidity, the number of deaths and critical patients will drop,” Elrai says.

She says the plan for lifting the lockdown will be gradual and that in the first stage, the 1 kilometer restriction on movement for non-essential needs will be scrapped.

“In the second stage, work without [in person] customers. In the third stage receiving customs, commerce, guesthouses and houses of worship [will open]. Later restaurants, cafes and gyms,” she says.

Elrai also says schools will likely not reopen next Sunday, when the restrictions are expected to be lifted.

Iran-backed militias offer truce if US troops withdraw from Iraq

BAGHDAD — Iraqi militias backed by Iran have agreed to temporarily halt attacks targeting the American presence in Iraq on the condition that US-led coalition troops withdraw from the country in line with a parliamentary resolution, three of the militia officials say today.

The militia officials speak to The Associated Press just hours after a roadside bomb targeted a convoy transporting equipment for the US-led coalition on a highway south of Baghdad, damaging one vehicle, an Iraqi army statement said. The attack prompted questions over whether such a truce could hold across all militia factions.

Roadside bombs and especially rocket attacks targeting the US embassy — located inside the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad — have become a frequent occurrence and have strained ties between Baghdad and Washington.

The militia factions offered a truce and will refrain from targeting the US in Iraq, including the US embassy, on the condition that American military withdraw within an “acceptable time frame,” says Mohammed Mohie, a spokesman for the powerful Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah.

“If it does not withdraw, the resistance factions will resume their military activities with all the capabilities available to them,” he says.

Two other factions from different Iran-backed groups echo Mohie’s comments, without specifying a length of the truce, and say it is open-ended. They are speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to give statements.

— AP

Sudanese PM: Removal of terror blacklisting shouldn’t be linked to normalization with Israel

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has said that keeping his country on a US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism is endangering its path towards democracy, the Financial Times reports.

The designation dates back to 1993, when the country under longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir become an outcast for having hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

In an interview published today, Hamdok says sanctions linked to the designation were “crippling our economy,” adding that Sudan’s removal from the list would be a “game changer.”

“We are isolated from the world,” Hamdok says, noting that Sudan had expelled bin Laden over two decades ago, and that Bashir’s regime was overthrown last year.

“Sudanese people have never been terrorists. This was the deeds of the former regime,” he tells the Financial Times.

Concerning speculation that Sudan could normalize ties with Israel if its terror listing were removed, Hamdok says: “We would like to see these two tracks addressed separately.”

Last month, Israel signed US-brokered deals to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the administration of US President Donald Trump wants Sudan to follow suit.

— AFP

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks during a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, August 21, 2019. (AP)

Meeting to end efforts by KKL-JNF to evict family in Silwan is prohibited by Court

Attempts by a Reform movement representative of the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund to put an end to the organization’s 30-year efforts to evict the Palestinian Sumarin family of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan are stymied, after a pro-settlement member of the KKL convinces the Jerusalem District Court to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting a meeting on the subject scheduled for today.

Judge Alexander Ron agrees that the meeting was called with insufficient notice (on Thursday) and indicates the sides should wait for a High Court decision on the eviction saga.

The Sumarin house is located close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. In 1989, according to Peace Now, the KKL-JNF got the Custodian for Absentee Property to declare the house as absentee property. The house was transferred to KKL-JNF, which filed an eviction suit against the Sumarins in 1991. The lawsuit was dismissed, but KKL appealed, and the case is still dragging on.

The property was subsequently leased to the City of David Foundation, which is committed to strengthening the Jewish presence around the Old City. Both the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court and Jerusalem District Court ruled recently that the eviction order was legal. In a last ditch attempt to stay in the house, the family has asked for permission to appeal to the High Court.

Matityahu Sperber, chairman of the KKL’s property acquisition company, Himenuta, called on Thursday for a Himenuta board meeting to be convened tomorrow. The main agenda item was a proposal to freeze the case against the Sumarin family on the grounds that it was damaging to the KKL.

Pro-settlement Himenuta board member Nachum (Nachi) Eyal petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to issue a temporary prohibition order against the meeting taking place, which was granted.

— Sue Surkes

Gantz: We won’t agree to extend government’s emergency virus powers

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says his Blue and White party will insist that small businesses that are not customer-facing be allowed to open this week, and that it will not approve the extension of the government’s emergency powers when they expire Wednesday, which would allow the mass protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu to resume.

“All this on the condition that the morbidity trends continue to decline,” he says in a video statement.

While welcoming the decline in new coronavirus cases, Gantz acknowledges the “high price” paid by Israelis during the current coronavirus lockdown, which imposed sweeping restrictions on business, gatherings, movement, and the education system.

Top rabbi said to order yeshivas to reopen despite lockdown

Prominent Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky has ordered ultra-Orthodox schools and yeshivas to open tomorrow, despite the coronavirus lockdown prohibiting them from opening, according to the Ynet news site.

He tells principals that while schools can reopen, it is preferable if they do so in coordination with local authorities.

Kanievsky, 92, is the leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. He is currently ill, with COVID-19.

According to Channel 13 news, families in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit have been told schools will open tomorrow.

Netanyahu reportedly won’t oppose expiration of restrictions on protests

Prime Minister Netanyahu has told ministers he will not oppose the ending of controversial emergency measures that limit mass protests against him when they expire Wednesday, according to Hebrew media reports.

Senior PLO member Hanan Ashrawi tests positive for coronavirus

Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi has tested positive for the coronavirus, the PLO says in a statement

The announcement follows PLO secretary general Saeb Erekat’s diagnosis with the novel coronavirus on Thursday night. Erekat had attended a meeting of senior Palestinian officials four days before his announcement, at which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was present, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The PLO’s statement does not say whether Ashrawi was infected at the same meeting.

At the time, all the officials present were said to have tested negative. But the long incubation period of the coronavirus means that still more senior PLO officials may announce that they have been infected with the virus.

— Aaron Boxerman

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi speaks at a press conference in Ramallah on February 24, 2015. (WAFA/File)

In first, hospitals report treating reinfected COVID patients

Two hospitals say they are each treating COVID-19 patients who had already been infected with the virus, according to Channel 12 news, in what would be a first in Israel.

“The knowledge about reinfection from the virus is accumulating over time,” the Health Ministry tells the network in response.

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Netanyahu reportedly won’t oppose expiration of restrictions on protests

Prime Minister Netanyahu has told ministers he will not oppose the ending of controversial emergency measures that limit mass protests against him when they expire Wednesday, according to Hebrew media reports.