Netanyahu said to tell Likud’s Steinitz he won’t return as energy minister
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Gantz to reportedly set up ‘alternate prime minister’s office’

Sources close to the Blue and White chief say he needs separate staff to ‘manage government affairs and his role’ as alternate premier; it’ll be his fourth office

Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz on April 20, 2020, at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Knesset. (Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz on April 20, 2020, at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Knesset. (Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they unfolded.

Spain PM to seek one-month extension of state of emergency

MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says he’ll ask Parliament for what he hopes will be the last extension of the state of emergency.

Sánchez says he’ll seek the support of the legislature to support a one-month extension of the state of emergency that gives his government extraordinary powers to maintain the nation’s two-month lockdown. Previously, Sánchez received parliamentary support for two-week extensions to the state of emergency that took effect on March 14 and expires May 24.

Spanish health authorities report 102 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 today, taking Spain’s death toll to 27,563. Over a month ago Spain, had more than 900 deaths a day before the lockdown measures for an outbreak that’s infected a confirmed 276,505.

Support for Sánchez’s minority, left-wing coalition government has been waning with each vote to extend the state of emergency. But the Socialist leader managed to salvage a key vote two weeks ago by striking last-minute deals with two smaller parties.

— AP

Thousands protest in Bosnia against Mass for Croatia’s pro-Nazi WWII regime

Thousands march in Bosnia to protest against a Mass being held to honor Croatia’s Nazi collaborators and civilians killed after World War II.

The annual service, usually held in Austria at the site of the Croatian regime’s last stand, was moved to Sarajevo because of coronavirus restrictions in Austria.

Croatian groups gather each year for the commemorations, co-organized by the Catholic Church in Bosnia and Croatia, often brandishing Nazi memorabilia.

The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center urged the Bosnian government to ban the Mass, labeling it a “travesty of memory and justice.”

A woman holds a sign as people gather in Sarajevo’s city center to protest against a religious mass held in memory of Croatia’s pro-Nazi collaborators and civilians killed by communist partisans after World War II on May 16, 2020. (Elvis Barukcic/AFP)

The service provoked outrage from most political parties, Jewish leaders, the Serbian Orthodox Church and anti-fascist NGOs, who hold a march during the Mass in central Sarajevo.

“In Sarajevo, a multi-ethnic and anti-fascist city, there is no room for fascism,” local Jewish leader Boris Kozemjakin, who took part in the march, tells AFP.

Sarajevo Archbishop Vinko Puljic, who held the Mass in the Bosnian capital’s cathedral, earlier rejected the accusations and said praying for victims’ souls did not mean approval of their acts.

“No one has the right to neglect the victims for whom we pray today,” Puljic said during the Mass.

“We want that double standards in respecting the victims of hatred and massacre be stopped.”

Meanwhile, the marchers, who rallied despite a ban on public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, sing songs linked to the anti-Nazi struggle.

“Death to Fascism, Freedom to People!” they chant.

— AFP

30,000 Israelis flock to parks, nature reserves amid sweltering heat

Some 30,000 Israelis visited national parks and nature reserves today, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority says, amid a heatwave throughout the country.

Due to the sweltering temperatures, numerous hiking trails in the north, Judean footfills and Judean Mountains were closed to visitors.

A number of Israelis nevertheless flocked to natural springs in the mountains around Jerusalem, according to the Ynet news site.

Parks and nature reserves were allowed to reopen last week after being ordered closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Amid the hot and dry weather, a number of fires broke out in various locations around the country, though they all had been extinguished or brought under control, the website reported.

Iran sentences dual French-Iranian citizenship to 6 years in prison on security charges

An Iranian court has sentenced a prominent researcher with dual French-Iranian citizenship to six years in prison on security charges, her lawyer says.

Fariba Adelkhah was sentenced to five years for “gathering and collusion” against the country’s security and one year for “spreading propaganda” against the Islamic system, her lawyer, Saeed Dehghan, tells The Associated Press today.

Dehghan says Adelkhah will appeal the ruling.

Iran, which doesn’t recognize dual nationality for its citizens, has a track record of detaining dual nationals or those with ties to the West.

Iranian officials disclosed in July that Adelkhah had been arrested on espionage charges. Those charges were later dropped but security-related charges remained against her.

Fariba Adelkhah (France 24 screenshot)

Adelkhah and her French fellow researcher Roland Marchal were in Iran’s Evin Prison since last year but authorities released Marchal in March in an apparent prisoner swap for Iranian Jalal Ruhollahnejad, who had been held in France.

Dehghan said Adelkhah has been in high spirits since the release of Marchal. He said she is working as a librarian in the women’s ward of the prison and teaching French to female prisoners.

In December, Adelkhah, an anthropologist who often traveled to Iran to do research, went on a hunger strike to protest her and Marchal’s detention.

“Despite ending her 50-day hunger strike, she is still suffering from its consequences like damage to her kidneys,“ says Dehghan.

Marchal was arrested when he tried to visit Adelkhah, French officials revealed in October. He was held in a men’s ward in Evin on charges of spreading propaganda.

In December, France summoned the Iranian ambassador to Paris to say it considered the months-long detention of Adelkhah and Marchal “unacceptable” and sought permission for consular officials to visit them.

— AP

48 patients at rehabilitation hospital enter quarantine after worker tests positive for virus

A social worker at Reut Medical Center in Tel Aviv tests positive for the coronavirus, sending 48 patients in the rehabilitation department where she works into quarantine.

468 more coronavirus fatalities bring UK death toll to 34,466

LONDON — British authorities have reported 468 more COVID-19 fatalities in their latest daily update, bringing the country’s overall death toll to 34,466.

The deaths include those in hospitals, nursing and care homes and the wider community.

The health department says today another 3,451 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, putting the total at 240,161.

Britain has Europe’s highest death toll and most confirmed cases.

— AP

Quds Day to be marked with motorcade in Tehran due to virus

At a meeting of Iran’s coronavirus task force, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani announces a timetable for further relaxations of restrictions to contain the coronavirus.

He says that in 218 low-risk counties people will be allowed to attend Friday prayers next week.

They will also be allowed to join annual Quds Day rallies against Israel.

In Tehran, which is deemed high-risk, a “symbolic ceremony” will be performed with a motorcade supervised by the Revolutionary Guards.

Quds Day, held annually on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was started by the Islamic Republic to express support for the Palestinians and the regime’s opposition to Israel.

— with AFP

Trump says he’s running against ‘sleepy’ Joe Biden: ‘He’s not even a factor’

US President Donald Trump takes a shot at Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

“I’m not running against Sleepy Joe Biden. He is not even a factor,” Trump writes on Twitter.

Rather, Trump says he’s running against “the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats & … the Lamestream Fake News Media,” who he calls “vicious & crazy.”

Netanyahu to resume meetings with Likud MKs to finalize ministerial appointments

With Shabbat coming to an end, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to resume meetings with Likud lawmakers to wrap up the doling out of ministerial posts ahead of tomorrow’s swearing in of the new government.

According to Channel 12 news, Likud MKs Gideon Sa’ar, Avi Dichter and Tzachi Hanegbi were among those set to meet with the premier.

Sa’ar, who unsuccessfully challenged Netanyahu in the Likud leadership primary in December and is considered the prime minister’s top rival in the party, has not been linked in reports to any government role.

Before Thursday’s planned swearing-in was pushed off until Thursday, Dichter and Hanegbi said they would not attend in protest of Netanyahu not meeting with them beforehand to discuss ministerial appointments.

Netanyahu appoints Likud MK Eli Cohen as intelligence minister

Prime Minister Netanyahu taps Likud MK Eli Cohen, the outgoing economy minister, to serve as intelligence minister in the new government.

“The Israeli intelligence apparatus is renowned internationally and has tremendous importance to the country’s security. I’ll work to strengthen and upgrade the intelligence system,” Cohen is quoted saying in a Likud party statement.

The announcement of the appointment comes as Netanyahu meets with Likud lawmakers to finish giving out ministerial posts ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled swearing in of the new government.

Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen attends a party faction meeting in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2019. (Flash90)

Additional virus death brings toll to 268; number of actives cases further drops

The Health Ministry reports another death from the coronavirus, bringing the toll in Israel to 268.

It also announces two more confirmed infections since this morning, raising the total number of COVID-19 cases in Israel to 16,608.

The number of active cases drops to 3,485; 59 of which are serious. Of those, 49 people are on ventilators.

Another 40 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 12,855 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.

Woman found dead in Ramat Gan in suspected domestic violence murder; boyfriend arrested

A 21-year-old woman is found dead at an apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan in a suspected domestic violence murder.

Police arrest a suspect, the woman’s boyfriend.

The woman’s mother was reportedly lightly injured in the incident.

There has been a recent uptick in reported domestic violence cases in Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Italy records lowest daily virus death toll since March 9

MILAN — Italy records the lowest number of deaths in a 24-hour period since early in its coronavirus lockdown at just 153.

That brings the total in the pandemic to 31,763, the civil protection agency reports today. The last time the death count was that low was March 9, the day after the nationwide lockdown was announced.

The number of confirmed new infections rises by 875 for a total of 224,760, while the number of currently infected drops to just over 70,000.

— AP

Tel Aviv mayor says ‘no choice’ but to reopen restaurants

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai calls for the reopening of eateries, saying the 50,000 restaurant and cafe workers in the city need to get back to work.

“To me, it’s not a question of whether it’s possible to open restaurants or not. Sometimes there’s no choice,” he tells Channel 12 news.

Under the current regulations, restaurants may offer takeout and deliveries, but cannot serve patrons on the premises.

Huldai’s comments came after Tel Aviv hamburger joint Susu and Sons set up tables on the sidewalk for customers to eat takeaway food, pointing to the problems caused by regulations that permit them to eat on an adjacent bench but not a table supplied by the eatery.

Numerous other restaurants across Israel also did this today, according to Channel 13 news.

Yamina denies resumption of talks with Likud on joining government

The Yamina party denies it has once again resumed talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud on joining the government, after being left out of the new coalition.

“Complete fake news,” the national-religious party says in a statement.

The party is responding to a Channel 20 report saying Yamina would join the government if it receives two ministries and MK Ayelet Shaked is appointed Israel’s ambassador to London.

In an earlier interview with Channel 13 news, Shaked said there were currently no talks with Likud and accused Netanyahu of trying to break up Yamina as he did Blue and White.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

PA said to arrest 3 Palestinians planning attack on Israeli targets in West Bank

The Palestinian Authority arrested three people in the Balata refugee camp planning to attack IDF troops or Israeli settlers in the northern West Bank, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, the three were arrested last week and caught with two Carlo Gustav-style submachine guns.

The report comes amid concerns in Israel that the PA’s virus-induced economic woes and Israeli plans to move forward with West Bank annexation could spark violence in the West Bank.

Some 200 Netanyahu supporters demonstrate near AG’s home

Supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu are demonstrating near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva against his indictment of the premier in a series of graft cases.

The Ynet news site puts turnout for the protest at 200.

The protesters hold signs accusing prosecutors of undermining Israel’s democracy and large banners are displayed calling on Mandelblit to resign.

The protest comes days after Mandelblit filed a police complaint following threatening messages on his phone, with Channel 12 news reporting officials believed the harassment was linked to the protest in Petah Tikva.

Israelis demonstrate in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, May 16, 2020. The woman’s sign reads: “There’s a ruling mafia here. Investigate the investigators.” (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gantz to reportedly set up ‘alternate prime minister’s office’

Blue and White chairman and defense minister-designate Benny Gantz is going to set up a new “alternate prime minister’s office,” the Ynet news site reports, adding to three offices he already has.

Under the coalition deal between Blue and White and Likud, Netanyahu and Gantz will rotate as prime minister, with the latter taking over as premier in 18 months. Each of them will carry the title “alternate prime minister” when not serving as prime minister.

According to the report, Gantz’s office will be inside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and will be run by his aide Hod Betzer, who is expected to be the Blue and White leader’s chief of staff when he becomes prime minister.

The office will be in addition to the ones he’ll have at the Defense Ministry, the Knesset and Blue and White headquarters.

Sources close to Gantz confirmed the report, telling the website he’ll have a “limited team” at the PMO to help him with government work.

“At the Defense Ministry, [Gantz] can’t deal with political or government work and therefore there will be a separate and small team of 3-4 workers that will manage government affairs and his role as alternate prime minister in the Prime Minister’s Office,” the sources said.

The report comes amid criticism over the size of the new government, which will be the largest in Israel’s history – with 36 ministers – and the associated administrative costs.

Netanyahu said to tell Likud’s Steinitz he won’t return as energy minister

Prime Minister Netanyahu tells Likud MK Yuval Steinitz he will not serve again as energy minister in the new government, the Walla news site reports.

Steinitz turned down other positions offered by Netanyahu and is not expected to be a minister in the government, the report says.

Channel 12’s political reporter Daphna Liel reports that Steinitz was offered a position as minister of higher education and a spot on the security cabinet but turned it down.

It is unclear which Likud lawmaker will now take over at the Energy Ministry.

Steinitz, who is considered close to Netanyahu, has served as a minister since 2009.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
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Netanyahu said to tell Likud’s Steinitz he won’t return as energy minister

Prime Minister Netanyahu tells Likud MK Yuval Steinitz he will not serve again as energy minister in the new government, the Walla news site reports.

Steinitz turned down other positions offered by Netanyahu and is not expected to be a minister in the government, the report says.

Channel 12’s political reporter Daphna Liel reports that Steinitz was offered a position as minister of higher education and a spot on the security cabinet but turned it down.

It is unclear which Likud lawmaker will now take over at the Energy Ministry.

Steinitz, who is considered close to Netanyahu, has served as a minister since 2009.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)