The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
An El Al plane carrying a joint US-Israeli delegation touches down in Bahrain, completing the first ever nonstop passenger flight from Israel to the Gulf kingdom.
The Israeli delegation is set to sign a series of bilateral agreements with Bahrain and a communiqué formally establishing diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Manama.
— roi kais • روعي كايس • רועי קייס (@kaisos1987) October 18, 2020
Senior PLO official Saeb Erekat, who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, is taken to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem after his condition deteriorated, Channel 12 news reports.
Erekat is brought to the Israeli hospital by Magen David Adom paramedics escorted by IDF soldiers, according to the network.
Erekat, 65, has long served as the chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel. He is considered to be risk from the coronavirus after surviving both a mild heart attack in 2012 and a 2017 lung transplant after years of suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, a condition which scars the lungs and damages their ability to circulate oxygen.
CAIRO — Egyptian authorities have released a comedian, who was working for a popular satirical television program, after more than two years in prison without trial, a rights lawyer says today.
Attorney Mokhtar Mounir says Shady Abu Zaid was released from a Cairo police station last night, but as part of his terms of release must report to a police station twice a week.
His sister, Roula Abu Zaid, confirms the news in a Facebook post and shares a photo of the siblings and their friends at home after his release.
Police arrested Abu Zaid in May 2018 after plainclothes security officers raided his house in Cairo. He was charged with joining an outlawed group, a reference to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and disseminating false news.
Earlier this month, a court ordered his conditional release after he exceeded the allowed two-year period for pretrial detention.
Abu Zaid was working on camera for a satirical program whose host was a puppet named Abla Fahita. The show has since been canceled. Before his arrest, he also produced a show called “The Rich Content” that popular on social media networks.
In 2016, he attracted controversy for handing out balloons made of inflated condoms to police officers on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak and had been aimed at reforming the state’s heavy-handed security apparatus.
Abu Zaid was one of many government critics behind bars in Egypt amid a years-long crackdown by the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on the media. More than 60 journalists are in jail in Egypt, according to the International Press Institute, with the country ranked among the world’s worst jailers of journalists.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al- Zayani welcomes the joint US-Israeli delegation to Bahrain.
“Today, we build on that historic occasion at the White House last month,” Al-Zayani says, referring to last month’s signing ceremony of the Israeli-Bahraini “Declaration of Peace” and the Abraham Accords.
He calls for a “genuine and lasting peace, one which safeguards the rights of the Middle East’s peoples,” saying engagement and cooperation are the most effective ways of achieving this.
“Today, we put in place the foundations through which we can reach this goal, establishing a practical framework to advance both our bilateral cooperation and our ongoing partnership our countries enjoy with the United States of America,” Al-Zayani says.
He adds: “My hope is that this visit marks another step forward on the road to a truly peaceful, secure, stable and thriving Middle East.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is heading the US delegation, says he’s happy to be back in Bahrain for this “very, very important occasion.”
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat opens his speech in Arabic.
“Israel extends its hands for genuine peace with the Bahraini people. Together we will change the reality in the region for the benefit of our nations. God willing, we will host you in Israel soon,” he says.
Switching to Hebrew, Ben-Shabbat notes the Knesset approved the Israel-UAE peace treaty three days ago. He says this delegation, like the previous one to UAE, flew nonstop flight from Tel Aviv and hopes this route will become a regular route in the near future. He thanks Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa for making peace.
“In a certain sense, this visit today closes a circle for Bahrain’s role in bringing peace,” Ben-Shabbat says, presumably referring to last year’s Peace to Prosperity conference in Manama.
He quotes from the Book Genesis: “‘Let there be light, and there was light. And the Eternal One saw it was good.’ Let us bring light, and expand good.”
He says that Bahrain and Israel have a lot in common — both are small in territory and population, but both have a pioneering spirit.
— Raphael Ahren and Michael Bachner
Speaking to reporters during the flight from Israel to Bahrain, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the White House and Israel’s Foreign Ministry are working on normalization agreements with more Arab countries.
“We hope we will be able to announce that soon,” he says.
— Michael Bachner
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again denies any political considerations in the government’s decision to ease the national coronavirus virus lockdown, after criticism of the decision to reopen preschools and daycare centers in virus hotspots, all of which are predominantly ultra-Orthodox.
“We did not agree to any change in the plan presented by the [health] experts and I forcefully reject the claims of political considerations. There were no such considerations,” he says during the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in a video statement released by his office.
He defends the decision to approve a gradual multi-stage plan for lifting the lockdown and calls on all Israelis to adhere to the restrictions still in place. He insists a “siege” will be maintained around “red” cities, which have the highest infection rates.
“I call on the Haredi public to follow the regulations. Many are following them, but there is also a large population that doesn’t follow them,” he says.
The Ynet news site says one of its reporters and a cameraman were attacked by yeshiva students in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit.
After the cameraman began recording, one of the Haredi students began cursing at him and reporter Elisha Ben Kimon, and then a group of students began pushing and spitting at them, the news site says.
Ben Kimon files a police complaint.
“I as a journalist am not the story. Neither is the complaint, [but] rather the attacks. The reality in which members of the press are simply attacked without thought… is a phenomenon that must be eradicated,” he says.
There have recently been a number of reported assaults on reporters covering violations of the virus restrictions in ultra-Orthodox areas.
Ministers approve a proposal requiring at least 50 percent of senior civil service positions be filled by women, Channel 12 news reports.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he will take “whatever measures necessary” to prevent Iran from acquiring new weapons as a United Nations arms embargo against the country comes to an end, following a failed American bid to extend it.
“With the expiration of the arms embargo on Iran today, we must be stronger and more determined than ever. Iran has never been an Israeli problem, but, first and foremost, a global and regional problem,” Gantz says in a statement.
“As defense minister, I will continue to take whatever measures necessary, together with our partners, old and new, to prevent Iranian expansion and armament. All countries should get on board this important effort,” he says.
— Judah Ari Gross
French Jewish groups have called on their supporters to join a rally today in memory of the schoolteacher murdered Friday after he showed caricatures of the Islamic prophet Muhammad to his students.
The rally in memory of Samuel Paty, who was decapitated outside the school where he worked by an 18-year-old refugee from Chechnya who appeared to have been motivated by videos on social media, is focused on safeguarding freedom of expression. But the Jewish groups say it should also call attention to the threat of Islamic terrorism in France.
CRIF, the umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, calls on its followers to show up for the rally in Paris’s Republique Square, citing the “escalating nature of Islamist attacks.” So does the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism
“Islamist horror and Islamist terror have hit France again,” says the anti-Semitism watchdog group’s statement, which called for the expulsion of Islamist terrorism suspects from France. “It is time to take real action to eradicate this danger that comes from within.”
The Employment Service announces that over 260,000 people have been added to the unemployment rolls since September 17, a day before the start of a weeks-long lockdown that began to be lifted this morning.
There have been 261,624 new jobseekers who registered with the Employment Service since then, of whom 228,122 were placed on unpaid leave.
As of today, 980,370 Israelis in total are unemployed — almost a quarter of the workforce, which numbers some 4 million — including 628,344 who are furloughed.
During the first outbreak of the virus, in the spring, the unemployment figures issued by the service spiked to over 23 percent, as 800,000 people quickly lost work in Israel’s initial lockdown.
As the outbreak subsided, some people were able to return to work, but later, with infections surging, the government imposed fresh restrictions and the joblessness rate has again spiked.
PARIS — Thousands of people gather in central Paris today to pay homage to the teacher decapitated two days ago for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to his pupils.
Demonstrators hold aloft posters declaring: “No to totalitarianism of thought” and “I am a teacher” in memory of the victim Samuel Paty.
Far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich comes out against Israel’s decision to treat top PLO official Saeb Erekat at an Israeli hospital.
“The fact that we’re providing humanitarian medical treatment to our enemies without demanding humanitarian reciprocity in the form of returning the bodies of Hadar [Goldin] and Oron [Shaul] and the release of the citizens being held in Hamas captivity is immoral and illogical,” tweets Smotrich, a member of the Yamina party.
He adds: “On this matter there is no difference between Gaza and Ramallah.”
Erekat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, is aligned with the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Fatah, the political party that dominates the PA, is rivals with Hamas and was expelled from the Gaza Strip in 2007 by the Islamist terror group.
Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh echoes Smotrich.
“The foundational principle of reciprocity demands: humanitarian for humanitarian! Medical aid must be reciprocated w/ return of 4 Israelis held in #Gaza for 6+ yrs, in violation of int’l law,” she writes on Twitter.
Besides the bodies of IDF soldiers Goldin and Shaul, who were killed in the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas is believed to be holding Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered the Strip willingly but whose families say suffer from mental health issues.
The foundational principle of reciprocity demands: humanitarian for humanitarian! Medical aid must be reciprocated w/ return of 4 Israelis held in #Gaza for 6+ yrs, in violation of int’l law.https://t.co/wSfu02irVx
— מיכל קוטלר-וונש | Michal Cotler-Wunsh (@CotlerWunsh) October 18, 2020
MINSK, Belarus — Belarusian police detain more than 100 people as thousands march against strongman Alexander Lukashenko in defiance of police threats to open fire.
“So far more than 100 have been detained in Minsk,” Belarusian interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova tells AFP.
The Transportation Ministry has agreed with the United Arab Emirates to have 28 passenger flights from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, following the Israeli-UAE normalization agreement.
The agreement is expected to be signed Tuesday by Prime Minister Netanyahu during a ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, the Ynet news site says.
Hebrew media reports say the flights are expected to begin in the coming weeks.
WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that arms sales to Iran would breach UN resolutions and result in sanctions, after Tehran said the longstanding UN embargo on arms trade with the Islamic Republic had expired.
“The United States is prepared to use its domestic authorities to sanction any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran,” Pompeo says in a statement.
“Every nation that seeks peace and stability in the Middle East and supports the fight against terrorism should refrain from any arms transactions with Iran.”
The embargo on the sale of conventional arms to Iran was due to begin expiring progressively from October 18 under terms of the UN resolution that confirmed the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Tehran, which could now purchase weapons from Russia, China and elsewhere, has hailed the expiration as a diplomatic victory over its archenemy the United States, which had tried to maintain an indefinite freeze on arms sales.
US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has unilaterally begun reimposing sanctions on Iran.
Pompeo says that “for the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various UN measures. Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security.”
The first conference of the “Popular Initiative for Normalization with Israel” is held today in Sudan, in another sign that the Sudanese transitional government may be considering advancing ties with Israel.
The US has reportedly been pressuring Sudan to normalize with Israel in exchange for removing Khartoum from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Sudan’s presence on the list subjects it to crippling economic sanctions and limits the impoverished country’s access to international credit.
“Normalization simply means to make our relations with our countries, including Israel, normal… since the 1960s, Sudan has been imprisoned by certain ideological concepts,” says Najm al-Din Adam Abdullah, who runs the fledgling organization.
Sudan has long had strained ties with the Jewish state. In 1967, the Arab states congregated in Khartoum to announce a policy which would come to be known as “The Three Nos”: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no normalization with Israel.
“We believe that Sudan has remained in the same place since The Three Nos, and has not been able to move forward,” Abdullah says, adding “such a relationship with Israel has cost us enormously. It put us on the list of state supporters of terror.”
“The Israel taboo… has left Sudan a prisoner of history,” he concludes.
A previous attempt to hold a pro-normalization press conference was dispersed by authorities, a member of the Sudanese-Israeli Friendship Association told The Times of Israel at the time. That the current conference was allowed to go forward may signal increasing support for open ties with Israel by the country’s military leaders.
Sudan is currently ruled by transitional Sovereignty Council run by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has reportedly been generally supportive of ties with Israel. His civilian counterpart Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, however, has been far more hesitant, telling reporters in September that a “deep dialogue” in Sudanese society is necessary first.
— Aaron Boxerman
בבירת סודאן, ח'רטום, התקיימה מסיבת עיתונאים של נציגי ארגונים אזרחיים התומכים בנרמול היחסים עם ישראל. על קיום האירוע היה אחראי ארגון בשם "היוזמה העממית לנרמול היחסים עם ישראל". מזכ"ל הארגון טען כי משאל עם אקראי שאנשיו ערכו העלה ש-83% מהסודאנים בעד נורמליזציה@AlonAmitzi pic.twitter.com/CaFS0dHxy8
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) October 18, 2020
Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein warns of “heavy fines” for schools open in violation of lockdown measures meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Preschools and daycares were allowed to reopen today after a weeks-long closure, but all other educational institutions must remain shuttered. Despite this, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox schools opened this morning in open defiance of government restrictions, including in “red” areas with the highest infection rates.
“There is no authorization [to reopen]. No one gave authorization,” Edelstein says during a press conference at Ariel University in the West Bank. “Whoever does this is expected [to receive] heavy fines, maybe even the revocation of [their] license and the revocation of funding for the institution.”
He adds: “We need to remember a simple rule. Whoever does something that’s not all right, he’s endangering himself, but he doesn’t need to be an example to others.”
Edelstein says he reached out to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit about possibly withholding funds for schools that violate the restrictions.
The Health Ministry says 301 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed so far today, raising the number of infections since the pandemic began to 303,109.
It also reports 11 deaths since midnight, bringing the national toll to 2,209.
Of the 32,805 active cases, there are 669 people in serious condition, with 234 on ventilators. Another 213 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.
The Health Ministry says 12,033 tests have been performed so far today, with a positive rate of 2.5%.
The Health Ministry encourages Israelis to consume Vitamin D, after Israelis researchers claimed the so-called sunshine vitamin can help the body fight COVID-19 and reduce the chance of hospitalization.
The ministry notes two ways to receive Vitamin D are through supplements or sunshine, the latter of which Israelis can now further enjoy, after national lockdown measures began to be eased today.
PARIS — More than 250,000 people have died from the new coronavirus across Europe, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
A total of 250,030 deaths have now been recorded out of 7,366,028 registered cases in Europe. The five worst-hit countries account for more than two-thirds of the deaths.
Britain has suffered 43,646 fatalities from 722,409 infections. After Britain, the worst-hit European countries are Italy with 36,543 deaths, Spain with 33,775, France with 33,392 and Russia with 24,187.
Over the last seven days, 8,342 deaths have been recorded in Europe, the highest weekly toll in the region since mid-May.
The latest figures come as several European countries tighten restrictions in the worst-hit cities and regions in response to a surge in cases.
The World Health Organization’s European office said Thursday that the soaring number of COVID-19 cases in Europe was of “great concern.”
Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem confirms it is treating senior PLO official Saeb Erekat, who is infected with COVID-19, after a deterioration in his health.
The hospital says Erekat was brought to the hospital in serious condition and required oxygen. He remains in serious but stable condition, it adds.
“Mr. Erekat is receiving professional treatment at a high level like all serious coronavirus patients at Hadassah and the staff will do everything to cure him,” hospital chief Zeev Rothstein is quoted saying in a statement.
Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks by phone with Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, before Israel and Bahrain sign a series of bilateral agreements during a ceremony in Manama.
The countries will also sign an agreement establishing diplomatic ties.
According to his office, Netanyahu says the countries are advancing peace and hails the first ever direct non-stop flight earlier today between Israel and Bahrain.
Israel and Bahrain formally declare that they have made peace and established formal diplomatic relations.
At a ceremony in Manama, Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani sign eight bilateral agreements, including a “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful and friendly relations.”
The agreements provide for the opening of embassies, and are said to include no mention of the Palestinians.
The signed memoranda of understanding cover fields including the commercial, agricultural, and technological arenas.
The countries promise not to take hostile actions against one another and to act against hostile actions by third countries.
The diplomatic accord is not legally a treaty but rather a “framework agreement,” Israeli officials said, stressing, however, that with the signing Israel and Bahrain have formally established diplomatic relations.
It is currently unclear whether the accord will be brought to the Israeli cabinet and/or the Knesset for approval. It appears likely that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit would require the agreement to be okayed by ministers at the very least, as it contains several obligations on Israel’s part.
Moments before the signing ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Al-Zayani and with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who headed the US delegation to Manama that flew together with the Israeli officials. Netanyahu welcomed the accord and hailed the historic signing ceremony as a “giant step” toward peace.
“The Prime Minister also welcomed the first flight from Israel to Bahrain, which landed today, and said that it was a continuation of the breakthrough toward peace,” according to a readout of the call provided by his office.
— Raphael Ahren
שר החוץ של בחריין עבד אל-לטיף אל-לזיאני, מנכ"ל משרד החוץ אלון אושפיז והיועץ לביטחון לאומי מאיר בן שבת חותמים על ההודעה המשותפת לכינון יחסים דיפלומטיים בין ישראל לבחריין ועל 8 מזכרי הבנות בתחומים האשרות, התעופה, ההשקעות ועוד pic.twitter.com/e5zGFDkI2C
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) October 18, 2020
MK Moshe Gafni, the No. 2 in the ruling coalition’s United Torah Judaism party, tells Prime Minister Netanyahu that Haredi schools will reopen at the order of prominent rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, according to Hebrew media reports.
Though only preschools and daycares can open under eased lockdown measures that took effect today, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox boys schools opened in defiance of the restrictions.
“We believe no error will come from the greatest of his generation [Kanievsky],” Gafni is quoted as saying by the Ynet news site.
He also reportedly discussed with Netanyahu a potential framework that would reduce the number of students in classrooms.
Gafni is a member of UTJ’s Degel HaTorah subfaction, which represents the non-Hasidic branch of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Judaism, of which Kanievsky is a leader.
At a press conference in Manama after the two countries sign their normalization accords, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani expresses hope for “fruitful bilateral cooperation in every field” and regional peace, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“His Highness [King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa] believes in the importance of strengthening the values of tolerance, and coexistence, and mutual understanding, between different cultures and religions,” al-Zayani says, especially in a region “whose peoples have suffered from many conflicts and struggles.”
He adds: “The Palestinian question must be solved through direct negotiations between the two sides to reach a solution which satisfies both parties and brings about a two state solution, according to the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative and the relevant international law.”
Speaking after Israel and Bahrain signed an agreement to normalize relations, Al-Zayani notes the countries also signed a number of memoranda of understanding in various fields, including the commercial, agricultural, and technological arenas.
“We salute the Israeli government for its responsiveness in realizing this historic step,” al-Zayani says. “We will work with the international community to realize peace across the Middle East in the near future.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, representing the administration of President Donald Trump — which helped broker the deal — briefly speaks about the opportunities for both countries that can now be realized.
“This is truly a remarkable accomplishment,” he says. He mentions the first-ever nonstop El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Manama that brought the Israeli and US teams. “I look forward to this being the first of many commercial flights going back and forth between the countries,” says Mnuchin.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat hails the agreements as a first step in the peace to be forged between Israel and Bahrain. He thanks his Bahraini hosts for the warm welcome and promises that any Bahraini delegation to Israel will receive similar treatment.
“We started the day as friends and we’re concluding it as family members — members of the family of Abraham,” says Ben-Shabbat, alluding to last month’s Abraham Accords signed at the White House.
— Aaron Boxerman, Raphael Ahren
The Islamic State jihadist group calls on its supporters to target Saudi Arabia for allowing Israel to use its airspace to fly to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
In a recorded speech, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir says jihadists should target westerners in Saudi Arabia, and economic targets.
A decisive majority of Israelis believe the government’s easing of the national coronavirus lockdown is primarily being dictated by political considerations, according to a Channel 12 news poll.
In total, 63 percent of respondents say political factors are mainly driving the exit from the weeks-long lockdown, while 26% believe the considerations are mainly professional.
Asked whether the plans to gradually lift the restrictions will prevent a third lockdown, 59% do not believe it will, and only 21% say it will succeed in helping avoid another national closure.
Most Israelis also disapprove of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic, with 58% saying he is doing a poor job concerning the coronavirus.
The UAE-based Al-Hadath television network reports Sudan’s ruling Sovereignty Council is meeting now to discuss “peace with Israel” in exchange for the removal of Khartoum’s name from the US list of state sponsors of terror.
Sudan’s presence on the list subjects the country to crippling economic sanctions.
A similar meeting last Thursday led to no new developments, save for increasing tension between the military and civilian sides of Sudan’s transitional government.
— Aaron Boxerman
LAFAYETTE, Indiana — A police recruit in northwestern Indiana is fired less than 24 hours after the department was notified that the officer was involved in a neo-Nazi online chat forum.
The Lafayette Police Department launches an investigation into Joseph Zacharek, who was hired in June, after being notified on Twitter on Friday evening of his possible participation in a chat forum called Iron March, in 2016.
The department’s internal affairs division concludes that the information was “accurate and credible,” and Zacharek was terminated, according to a news release from Chief Patrick Flannelly.
The chat forum disbanded in 2017, but its posts were leaked online late last year, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier.
Flannelly tells the newspaper that Zacharek was called into the station Friday and admitted the comments were his. He was fired by noon the next day.
“Officer Zacharek’s comments were not in harmony with the spirit of cooperation and inclusion in the community that the Lafayette Police Department values,” Flannelly says in the release.
The department says that Zacharek had been in training and had “no exposure to the public.”
The department acknowledges that it did not discover the information prior to hiring Zacharek, despite conducting “very thorough and complete background investigations on potential employees,” which includes a review of social media accounts, according to the statement.
Flannelly tells the newspaper the department would review its background check processes.
Attempts to reach Zacharek are unsuccessful. No listed phone number can be located for him. Police Lieutenant Matt Gard says the department was unable to provide Zacharek’s contact information. A listed number for the police union in Lafayette is disconnected. It is not immediately clear if Zacharek has an attorney.