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Netanyahu, Gantz said to bypass coronavirus cabinet vote on full lockdown

Amid ministerial disagreements, PM and defense minister, along with health, foreign, justice and interior ministers reportedly agree to skip authorization of key panel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Alternate PM and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both wearing protective mask due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Alternate PM and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both wearing protective mask due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.

Netanyahu seeks to lock down country; reports say airport could be shuttered

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will ask the coronavirus cabinet to swiftly approve a full lockdown of the country, effective immediately, his office says.

The move would “significantly and immediately tighten the rules” and “close swaths of the economy,” a statement says, without elaborating on the specific steps.

According to Hebrew media reports, the government is considering closing down Ben Gurion Airport as part of the effort to drive down infection rates, which yesterday climbed to nearly 7,000.

Under the proposal, Ben Gurion Airport would be closed from after Yom Kippur until the middle of the Sukkot holiday, the Kan public broadcaster says. Yom Kippur ends September 28 and the weeklong Sukkot holiday begins on October 2.

The coronavirus cabinet is meeting at 2 p.m.

Gantz says he’ll back restrictions on protests and prayers

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announces he will back restrictions on public protests and prayers, apparently despite the objections of some ministers from his centrist Blue and White party.

“In a democracy the right to demonstrate and protest is sacred. The demand of those who seek to pray as the Jewish people have practiced for thousands of years is also sacred and just. The demand of those who want to earn a decent living, return to work and take care of their children is also real and just. But no less important, certainly in national emergencies, is the right to health and security,” Gantz says.

“Today, the coronavirus cabinet will present outlines to limit prayers and demonstrations made by professionals in the police, the Health Ministry and legal advisers to the government. We will back their decision,” Gantz says.

New restrictions said to ban prayer services outdoors, too

The Kan public broadcaster is reporting that the new restrictions will limit protests, shutter synagogues and only allow essential businesses to carry on working.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri leaves a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in anger after learning that the plan includes a ban on outdoor prayer services during the upcoming Yom Kippur holiday, reports Kan.

“I am ashamed that this is your approach, to prevent prayer,” Deri is quoted saying.

This is not confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Yamina MK Smotrich: We must close our synagogues, even on Yom Kippur

Bezalel Smotrich of the national religious Yamina party urges religious communities to preempt the government decision and resolve to only hold outdoor prayer services on Yom Kippur.

“The religious public must lead and not be dragged. With all the difficulty, we must close the synagogues and pray in the open air. Even on Yom Kippur,” he tweets.

Health minister admits Israel likely facing flu shot shortage

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says the country likely won’t have enough flu vaccines to go around in the early months of the winter.

“I hope I manage to bring to Israel 10 million shots. There is a chance we won’t be successful, in the first stage, to supply a vaccine for every citizen,” tweets Edelstein. “There is a ranking of priority: Medical staff, the elderly population and those with preexisting conditions will be the first to get vaccinated. After that, the rest of the public, including public servants.”

Some top rabbis said to back closure of synagogues on Yom Kippur

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau says he’ll back the closure of synagogues on Yom Kippur if that’s what the government orders, the Ynet news site reports.

Rabbi David Yosef, a member of the Shas party’s rabbinical council, instructs his followers: “Please immediately close synagogues and study halls. Pray and study only outdoors,” according to the Kikar HaShabat website.

It’s unclear if they support the blanket ban on outdoor prayer that the government is reported to be considering.

Sudanese delegation holds talks with US, including on Israel

A Sudanese delegation is returning home after three days of “serious and frank discussions” in Abu Dhabi with the United States, which included a discussion of Sudan’s role in Arab-Israeli peace, the official Sudan News Agency says in a statement.

“The talks discussed a number of regional issues, most prominently the future of Arab-Israeli peace. This peace will lead to regional stability and preserve the right of the Palestinian people to establish their state…as well as the role that Sudan is expected to play in achieving this peace,” the statement says.

The talks also discussed conditions for removing Sudan from the US list of countries which it defines as state sponsors of terror. States designated as terror sponsors are subjected to crippling sanctions.

The delegation was led by current Sudanese head of state Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, who leads a transitional council established in the country after a 2019 revolution overthrew ruling dictator Omar al-Bashir.

The current government has both military and civilian elements, including a civilian prime minister. Burhan’s council is set to transitional civilian control in 2021.

According to the official report, the results of the talks will be presented to the transitional government so as to create “a common vision.”

Aaron Boxerman

US ambassador says it would take 6-7 years for UAE to get F-35s

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman says it would likely take six to seven years before the United Arab Emirates received the F-35 stealth fighter jet under a contentious proposed arms sale that raised concerns in Israel over its potential to damage the country’s military edge in the region.

“The Emiratis have been trying to get the F-35 for six or seven years. The delivery time is probably another six or seven years from now, if they got [approval to purchase the aircraft],” Friedman says in an interview during the Jerusalem Post newspaper’s conference.

Though not formally a part of a recently signed US-brokered normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE, the sale of the F-35s is widely seen as having been contingent upon Abu Dhabi’s acceptance of the deal with Jerusalem.

The US ambassador appears to criticize Israeli officials who spoke out against or expressed hesitations about the proposed sale of the fifth-generation aircraft, a linchpin in Israel’s aerial superiority strategy.

“It’s not in Israel’s interest to discuss what they’re afraid of or what they want or what they should get,” Friedman says.

Yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz — who was kept out of the loop about the UAE normalization deal and the F-35 sale — met with American defense officials to discuss ways of maintaining Israel’s advantage in the region, likely through some combination of limiting the Emiratis’ use of the F-35 platform and the US selling more advanced technology to Israel.

“The professionals are engaged right now. Let them engage, let them continue to engage, and we’ll get to the right outcome,” Friedman says.

Judah Ari Gross

Europe virus cases top five million, over half of them in Russia

Europe has recorded more than five million coronavirus infections since the first cases appeared in China in December, according to a report by AFP from official sources on Wednesday at 1100 GMT.

A total of 5,000,421 cases have now been registered, of which more than half were in Russia (1,122,241 infections, 19,799 deaths), followed by Spain (682,267/30,904), France (502,541/31,416) and the United Kingdom (403,551/41,825). Europe has recorded 227,130 deaths.

More than 380,000 new cases have been reported in the past week, the highest number in the region since the start of the pandemic.

The rise in infections can be partly explained by the sharp increase in testing in countries including France, where more than a million tests are now carried out every week. Despite the increase, many less serious or asymptomatic cases probably remain undetected.

AFP

Nearly 110,000 more unemployed since last week

The Employment Service says 39,237 people have registered as unemployed since Tuesday morning.

That brings the number of newly laid off workers since Thursday, the day before the lockdown rules began, to 109,378. The vast majority were placed on unpaid leave by their employers.

The service says that overall, 836,664 people are unemployed.

United Arab Emirates sees spike in virus cases

The United Arab Emirates records 1,083 new coronavirus infections, marking a four-month peak after schools and businesses reopened across the country.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases in the UAE to 87,530 and 406 deaths.

While the spike follows an aggressive coronavirus testing campaign, the country hasn’t seen such high infection rates since mid-May.

In the months since, authorities have relaxed restrictions. Dubai, the region’s business hub, reopened its airport for international travelers and schools resumed in-person instruction.

AP

Late-stage study of first single-shot vaccine begins in US

Johnson & Johnson is beginning a huge final study to try to prove if a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine can protect against the virus.

The study will be one of the world’s largest coronavirus vaccine studies so far, testing the shot on 60,000 volunteers in the US, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

A handful of other vaccines in the US — including shots made by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. — and others in other countries are already in final-stage testing. Hopes are high that answers about at least one candidate being tested in the US could come by year’s end, maybe sooner.

US health officials insist the race for a vaccine isn’t cutting corners.

“We want to do everything we can without sacrificing safety or efficacy — we’re not going to do that — to make sure that we end up with vaccines that are going to save lives,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told reporters.

But many vaccine specialists question whether the Food and Drug Administration will stick to that goal under intense pressure from the Trump administration. US President Donald Trump has consistently presented a faster timeline for a new vaccine than experts say is adequate to fully test the candidates.

Meanwhile, testing of still another experimental vaccine, made by AstraZeneca, remains on hold in the US as officials examine a safety question, even though studies have resumed in other countries.

AP

Paris police barricade Eiffel Tower after bomb threat

Paris police have blockaded the area around the Eiffel Tower after a phone-in bomb threat.

Police cars and tape surrounded the streets below the tower and the bridge stretching across the Seine River to Trocadero Plaza. Some tourists were still walking in the area, but it was unclear if any were still inside the tower on Wednesday.

Two police officers at the scene tell The Associated Press that the operation was the result of a phone-in bomb threat. Eiffel Tower management did not respond to requests for comment.

The 131-year-old tower gets about 25,000 tourists daily in normal years, but visits are down this year because of coronavirus travel restrictions. While the Eiffel Tower is scheduled to be open every day, it occasionally closes because of suicide threats, bomb threats or labor strikes.

AP

Man shot in Beersheba parking lot, police search for suspect

A man has been shot in a parking garage in the southern city of Beersheba, Hebrew media reports say.

Police are searching for the gunman.

The motive is not clear.

The man is taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. His condition is not immediately known.

1/4 of coronavirus tests among ultra-Orthodox returning positive — TV

One-quarter of COVID-19 tests among the ultra-Orthodox are returning positive, Channel 12 reports, citing Health Ministry data.

That’s far higher than the national average, with 11 percent of tests returning positive on Tuesday.

Knesset taps special coordinator to ICC

The Knesset taps a special coordinator for issues pertaining to the International Criminal Court ahead of The Hague’s expected decision to open probe into war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin appoints MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White), the daughter of former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, for the job. Her responsibilities include “working with peers in parliaments around the world and traveling to The Hague to meet with relevant actors,” her office says in a statement.

“The decision of Speaker of the Knesset Levin recognizes the imperative of having parliamentary representation to the ICC in order to participate in international dialogue and to address the Court’s double standards against the State of Israel,” Cotler-Wunsh says. “In my capacity as the Official Knesset Representative to the ICC, I will ensure that the language of rights and international law are used so that Israel can rise from the docket of the accused.”

Blue and White MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Avishai Finkelstein)

The ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, wants to open an investigation into possible war crimes committed in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but asked a pre-trial chamber to rule whether the court has jurisdiction over these areas. The chamber’s three judges have no deadline to hand down their ruling but are expected to do so in the days or weeks to come.

Raphael Ahren

Ministers discuss allowing outdoor prayer, with restrictions

As talks in the coronavirus cabinet continue, ministers are now discussing the possibility of allowing outdoor prayer services under certain conditions, according to Hebrew media reports.

The gatherings would be capped at 20, and worshipers must live within a kilometer radius, under the emerging compromise, the reports say.

The same rules would hold for demonstrations.

Trump launches fresh attack on McCain after widow endorses Biden

US President Donald Trump launches a fresh mocking attack on John McCain, the Republican senator who died in 2018, after McCain’s widow threw her support behind Joe Biden in the election.

In a particularly aggressive tweet the Republican leader once again criticizes John McCain, who was one of the few in the Republican party to openly castigate him.

“I hardly know Cindy McCain other than having put her on a Committee at her husband’s request,” he tweets.

“Joe Biden was John McCain’s lapdog,” he says of the Democratic challenger he will face as he seeks a second four-year term on November 3.

Denouncing “bad decisions on endless wars,” Trump states that he was “Never a fan of John.”

“Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!” concludes the US president.

AFP

President of Belarus inaugurated despite election protests

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus assumes his sixth term of office during an inauguration ceremony that officials did not announce in advance after weeks of mass protests against the authoritarian leader’s reelection, which opposition activists maintain was rigged.

State news agency Belta reports that the swearing-in ceremony took place in the capital of Minsk with several hundred top government officials, lawmakers, representatives of media organizations and other prominent figures present.

Lukashenko, 66, takes an oath in Belarusian with his right hand on the country’s Constitution, and the head of the country’s central election commission handed him the official ID card of the president of Belarus.

“The day of assuming the post of the president is the day of our victory, convincing and fateful,” Lukashenko says at the ceremony. “We were not just electing the president of the country — we were defending our values, our peaceful life, sovereignty and independence.”

Oppenents in Belarus, including the candidate who placed a distant second in the country’s August 9 presidential election, and representatives of European governments said the absence of public involvement in the inauguration only proved that the authoritarian Lukashenko lacked a valid mandate to continue leading.

AP

Iran said to fly surveillance drone over US aircraft carrier in Gulf

Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard force has managed to fly a surveillance drone over the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, which last week transited through the Strait of Hormuz, an Iranian news agency says.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, which is considered close to the paramilitary Guard, publishes images of the Nimitz, saying they were taken by Iranian-made drones, and showing fighter planes parked on the carrier’s deck.

The Nimitz, and several other warships, passed last Friday through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important chokepoint for oil shipments, the US Navy had said in what was described as a “scheduled maneuver.”

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, which oversees patrols across Mideast waters, declines to comment on the Iranian report on Wednesday.

— AP

Researchers: No basis to compare infections at protests, synagogues

Researchers at Technion are disputing the comparison drawn between COVID-19’s spread at demonstrations and at Yom Kippur prayers.

In a report presented to ministers by mathematicians Nir Gavish and Gal Alon, the two argue that 100 times as many Israelis would be exposed at outdoor services than at the weekly rallies against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reports Channel 12.

“Praying outdoors is as dangerous as the protests, but there are 100 times as many contacts between people,” they write.

“Even if the personal risk is similar, the national ramifications are different,” they write. “There is no mathematical basis to compare prayers to protests. Some of us believe that the [Yom Kippur] Kol Nidrei and Neila prayer are more important than a schoolday or a workday. But instead of making an informed decision on which activities to permit and which not, the government is dividing the public. This is not how a country is managed and this is not how a crisis is managed.”

According to their analysis, as presented by Channel 12, a week of protests generates 360,000 contacts between people, while two prayer services on Yom Kippur would create 37 million encounters. An average school day around the country tallies 43 million contacts, while a workday generates 144 million.

Sudan sources say ties with Israel could be established ‘very soon’ — report

Sources in Sudan tell Israel’s Channel 13 that diplomatic ties with Israel could be established “very soon.”

The report comes after days of talks between Sudanese and US officials in Abu Dhabi, which the source says were “very positive.”

Lockdown proposal would reportedly see public transportation reduced

Under the proposed framework for lockdown being debated by ministers, public transportation would be scaled back, reports the Kan broadcaster.

The report says there will be no bus or train services over the weekend, nor after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

The intra-city buses would be reduced to twice hourly and many inter-city lines would be canceled, it says.

Ministers mull declaring state of emergency to bypass Knesset

Ministers in the coronavirus cabinet are considering declaring a state of national emergency — a move that would allow them to bypass the Knesset’s approval of the new health regulations, Hebrew reports say.

It’s not immediately clear if the step would receive legal backing from the attorney general.

Separately, according to reports, Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit is insisting that demonstrations cannot be banned unless the lockdown is a total nationwide closure, without exception.

And Blue and White says it’ll only agree to curtail protests if the lockdown is airtight.

Blue and White, Netanyahu lock horns over protests, as Gantz derides ‘obsession’

Talks in the coronavirus cabinet are reportedly breaking down over the lockdown, with Blue and White ministers accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of an “obsessive” fixation on stopping the demonstrations against him.

According to the Walla news site, Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi and Avi Nissenkorn accuse the prime minister of seeking to stifle the protests, while allowing outdoor prayer services to be held on Yom Kippur and seeking to keep some parts of the economy open.

The report say the Blue and White ministers were also upset when Netanyahu said the tightened lockdown rules would only last through Monday, the Yom Kippur holiday, when he would consider the next steps.

“Prime minister, tell us what you want. You said you want a total lockdown because the infections are high. Now you say it’s just four days,” Ashkenazi is quoted protesting.

Nissenkorn is said to have stepped out to consult with his party leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is in Washington.

Gantz says the “obsessive discussion on the protest issue” must stop, calling it “disproportionate” and urging the ministers to focus on the health issues. He says his party will accept the recommendations of health officials.

Netanyahu swiftly hits back, accusing Blue and White of engaging in “petty politics” as the number of coronavirus deaths mount.

“Today 31 people died of the coronavirus. I am fighting for the lives of the people of Israel. I am fighting for public health. At the same time, there are those engaging in petty politics. We are at war. Wake up!” a statement from Netanyahu’s office says.

Education Ministry unsure how many students lack computers for remote study

How many Israeli students who are forced to study remotely don’t have a computer at home? The Education Ministry admits it has no idea.

Ofer Rimon, head of the Education Ministry’s IT policy planning and implementation, tells a Knesset committee the ministry has ordered computers for these students based on OECD assessments. But he says there’s no way to verify or confirm the exact number.

Trump to pay respects to Ginsburg, White House says

US President Donald Trump will join mourners paying last respects Thursday to the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the White House said, signaling a brief truce ahead of Trump’s controversial push to fill her seat before the election.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere says in a statement that Trump will pay his respects at the US Supreme Court, where Ginsburg will lie in repose on Wednesday and Thursday, before her casket is taken to the US Capitol building to lie officially in state — the first time the honor has been granted to a woman.

Trump says he will nominate his replacement for Ginsburg on the top court Saturday. His Republican Party is then set to hurry through the confirmation process before the November 3 presidential election, where Trump faces a stiff challenge from Democrat Joe Biden.

AFP

Finland becomes 1st in Europe to deploy coronavirus-sniffing dogs to airport

Finland deploys coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.

Four dogs of different breeds trained by Finland’s Smell Detection Association start working at the Helsinki Airport as part of the government-financed trial.

“It’s a very promising method. Dogs are very good at sniffing,” Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a University of Helsinki professor of equine and small animal medicine, says.

“If it works, it will be a good (coronavirus) screening method at any other places,” she says, listing hospitals, ports, elderly people’s homes, sports venues and cultural events among the possible locations where trained dogs could put their snouts to work.

While researchers in several countries, including Australia, France, Germany the United States, are also studying canines as coronavirus detectors, the Finnish trial is among the largest so far.

Hielm-Bjorkman tells The Associated Press that Finland is the second country after the United Arab Emirates — and the first in Europe — to assign dogs to sniff out the coronavirus. A similar program started at Dubai International Airport over the summer.

AP

Preempting government decision, Ramat Gan and Shoham close synagogues

Mayors of Ramat Gan and Shoham in central Israel announce they are closing synagogues due to alarming COVID-19 rates around the country.

The announcements come as the government debates whether to shutter houses of worship.

Economist said to tell ministers: Lockdown will see NIS 35 billion in losses

A Finance Ministry economist tells ministers a full lockdown through mid-October would cost the economy NIS 35 billion ($10 billion), according to Hebrew-language reports.

Friend of Anne Frank lays first stone on new Dutch Holocaust memorial

A friend of World War II Jewish diarist Anne Frank lays the first stone at a new memorial under construction in Amsterdam to honor all Dutch victims of the Holocaust.

The ceremonial laying of the first stone, on which the name of a Dutch Holocaust victim was engraved, is the latest step in construction of the Dutch memorial, which will feature the names of more than 102,000 Jews, Roma and Sinti who were murdered in Nazi concentration camps during World War II or who died on their way to the camps.

“I almost can’t believe it, but it is now really happening,” Jacques Grishaver, chairman of the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee, says in a statement. “The first of the more than 102,000 stones has been laid.”

The last of the stones, each of which is engraved with a name, is expected to be placed in the memorial in March.

A Dutch court cleared the way last year for the memorial to be constructed. Amsterdam Municipality had granted permission for construction to start in 2017, but residents argued that it was too big for the location and could cause traffic problems.

Jacqueline van Maarsen, who knew Anne Frank before the diarist and her family were captured and sent to Nazi concentration camps, lays a stone engraved by laser with the name, date of birth and age of Dina Frankenhuis, who was murdered, aged 20, on June 4, 1943, at the Sobibor camp.

AP

Mourners pay respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Mourners flock to pay respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose death opened a crucial US Supreme Court seat that Donald Trump has vowed to fill before the election, as she lay in repose at the top court.

Memorial services celebrating Ginsburg’s life and career began with more than 100 of her former law clerks standing on the steps of the court as her casket was carried inside in the crisp September morning air.

The progressive justice, who died last week, will lie in repose at the court on Wednesday and Thursday, when the White House says Trump will visit to pay his respects.

On Friday she will become the first woman to lie in state at the US Capitol.

AFP

OECD projection: Israel’s GDP to drop 6% in 2020

The OECD is encouraging the Israeli government to support ailing businesses, improve education, boost competition and help Israelis find jobs amid the financial crisis created by the pandemic.

“The global coronavirus crisis hit just as Israel’s economy was performing well. In the 10 years since joining the OECD, Israel has halved its unemployment rate, raised living standards and reduced public debt,” says OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone in a statement. “Israel needs to keep up its efforts to protect people and firms, revive growth and avoid the crisis aggravating key challenges of high inequalities and productivity disparities between high-tech and traditional sectors.”

The international group’s statement says it projects only a gradual recovery of [Israel’s] GDP growth to 2.9% in 2021, after a drop of 6% in 2020. Unemployment is set to remain above pre-crisis levels at the end of 2021.

Transportation minister: Airport would close if lockdown imposed

Transportation Minister Miri Regev confirms Ben Gurion Airport would be closed if a full lockdown is imposed.

Speaking to Channel 12, she says that Israelis would be prevented from leaving the country if the closure is confirmed by the government. She says the government will work to ensure plane tickets are refunded under those circumstances.

At UN, Saudi king refrains from criticizing Israel normalization deals

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman uses his speech before the UN General Assembly on Wednesday to stress his country’s Islamic roots and slam Iran.

He refrains from criticizing the recent deals struck by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to establish ties with Israel, but stresses the kingdom remains committed to the Arab Peace Initiative that offers Israel full ties with Arab states in exchange for concessions that lead to a Palestinian state. He also says Saudi Arabia welcomes US efforts at resolving the crisis.

He says the Middle East has been suffering from major political and security challenges, blaming Iran for much of the region’s instability. He accused the Iran-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon of sowing the political disarray that has been ultimately blamed for the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port last month.

He says Saudi Arabia has tried to extend its hand over the years to Iran, “but to no avail.” He blames Iran for targeting Saudi oil facilities last year, saying: “It demonstrated that this regime has total disregard for the stability of the global economy or stability of oil supplies to international markets.”

AP

Fauci: Scientists should know whether there’s a safe vaccine by December

Dr. Anthony Fauci says by the end of this year government scientists should know whether they have a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19.

Fauci is among top officials testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Wednesday.

As the government’s leading infectious disease expert, Fauci has been a realist about the dangers of the coronavirus but also optimistic about the prospects for a vaccine. Fauci says people who recover from the virus develop antibodies against it, which gives him confidence a vaccine that triggers the immune system will work.

Fauci says several kinds of vaccines are in final-stage testing in the US. A single-dose candidate is the most recent trial, which requires thousands of volunteers.

AP

Biden: Trump’s nomination of justice would be a ‘gigantic mistake’

Joe Biden won’t say if he is vetting a list of potential Supreme Court picks. But he says Democrats should be campaigning on the issue as voters get ready to make their choice this November.

He tells reporters that Democrats should “go to the American people, make the case why this is a gigantic mistake and abuse of power.”

He says if there were another conservative justice on the court, the Affordable Care Act could be overturned and healthcare cost protections for women could be eliminated.

Biden has said he won’t release a list to avoid giving Trump and Republicans an opportunity to attack him and his potential picks. Trump has had a running list of picks since the 2016 campaign.

Biden makes the comments on a tarmac before boarding a plane to North Carolina.

AP

US lawsuit asks court to force Facebook to ban militias

Four people file a federal lawsuit demanding that Facebook prevent militias and hate groups from using the site, after a militia group used the platform to draw armed people to protests in Wisconsin last month that left two people dead.

Prosecutors have charged 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse with shooting and killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber during a protest in Kenosha on August 25 over the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, two days earlier. A white officer shot Blake in the back seven times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Some of the protests turned violent, with demonstrators burning and looting buildings. Gov. Tony Evers had to call out the National Guard to gain control of the city.

According to the lawsuit, a militia group calling itself the Kenosha Guard put out a call on its Facebook page for armed people to guard property in the city, which sits along Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Chicago. Among those who took up the call was Rittenhouse, who is from Antioch, Illinois, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Kenosha, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs, citing a Buzzfeed story, argue that Facebook received more than 400 complaints that the Kenosha Guard’s post but that the company’s content moderators conducted several reviews and decided the post didn’t violate Facebook’s anti-violence policies. The Kenosha Guard took down its call to arms the day after the shootings and Facebook took down the militia group’s entire page later that day, Buzzfeed reported.

The plaintiffs contend that Facebook was negligent for not removing the Kenosha Guard’s post. They’re seeking an injunction that would force the company to prohibit violent rhetoric, militias and hate groups from the site. They warn that such groups are still posting on Facebook and could use it to incite violence if President Donald Trump loses the November 3 election but refuses to leave office. The plaintiffs also are seeking unspecified damages.

AP

Bus-size asteroid to zoom by Earth, ducking below satellites

An asteroid the size of a school bus is headed our way, but NASA says the space rock will zoom safely past Earth on Thursday.

The newly discovered asteroid will come within 13,000 miles (22,000 kilometers) of Earth, well below many of the communications satellites orbiting the planet, scientists said this week. The closest approach will occur Thursday morning over the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Once it’s gone, the asteroid won’t be back to Earth’s neighborhood until 2041.

Scientists estimate the asteroid is between 15 feet and 30 feet (4.5 meters to 9 meters). By asteroid standards, that’s considered puny. Asteroids of this size hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up once every year or two, said Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There could be as many as 100 million of these little asteroids out there.

The real threat are considerably bigger asteroids. The good news is that these are easier to spot much sooner than just a few days out.

Asteroid 2020 SW, as it is known, was discovered last Friday by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

AP

Iraq tells UN it needs help to fight the virus

Iraqi President Barham Saleh is asking for international assistance to cope with the many crises facing Iraq amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite limited resources resulting from years of wars, blockades and violence, Iraq has implemented some measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Saleh says in his prerecorded address to the UN General Assembly. But the “journey has been long and arduous.”

Weak infrastructure in the face of rising case numbers is a constant challenge, Saleh adds.

“Developed nations must provide assistance to developing nations to create an environment to fight the pandemic and limit its harmful effects,” he says.

A severe drop in oil prices has compounded economic woes brought on by the pandemic, he says. He also renews calls for the international community to put in place an coalition to fight corruption, saying mismanagement was a “scourge” in his country that enables terrorist financing.

“Indeed we cannot eradicate terrorism, if we do not dry up its financing,” he says.

AP

Virus cases soar past 350 in Lebanon prison

Lebanon’s largest prison has more than 350 cases of COVID-19, according to new figures released by the police.

The internal security forces issue a statement noting that testing on 956 inmates at Roumieh prison had returned 352 positive results.

The grossly overcrowded prison has witnessed mounting discontent among inmates over a recent surge in coronavirus cases.

Videos from inside the prison circulating on social media show some of them threatening a mutiny in the absence of enhanced safety measures.

They want Lebanon’s fractious ruling political class to agree to an amnesty that would reduce the population in Roumieh. The prison holds around 4,000 inmates, more than three times its intended capacity.

Seven infected inmates were hospitalized, the police say, “but all those who remain in prison are in a stable condition.”

— AFP

Finance minister berates Blue and White for hinging protest ban on full lockdown

Finance Minister Israel Katz lashes Blue and White for insisting protests can only be banned if the country is placed under total lockdown.

Katz “views with severity the fact that Blue and White is conditioning the cancellation of the protests on the total closure of the private sector,” his office says in a statement, referring to demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Millions of workers, and Israel’s economy, cannot be hostage to the political agenda of Blue and White, which is entirely contrary to public interests,” he adds.

The statement comes as talks in the coronavirus cabinet on new virus regulations continue.

France urges ‘strong’ international pressure for new Lebanon government

France urges the international community to apply strong and unified pressure on Lebanon to form a new government, as frustration grows with the pace of reform in the wake of the giant Beirut port explosion.

“The political forces have still not succeeded in agreeing to form a government,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tells a videoconference meeting on Lebanon on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“Strong and convergent pressures are therefore needed from us to push Lebanese officials to respect their commitments,” he adds, according to the text of his speech.

“These convergent efforts must continue as long as necessary,” he says.

The meeting gathered members of the international support group for Lebanon including UN chief Antonio Guterres, World Bank head David Malpass and world powers including France, Germany, Britain, Italy, the United States, Russia, China, the EU and Arab League.

AFP

3,095 new virus cases diagnosed since this morning

The Health Ministry records another 3,095 coronavirus cases since this morning, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 203,136.

Of the 57,131 active cases, 658 are in serious condition, 177 of them on ventilators. Another 263 are in moderate condition with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

One person has died since the morning, raising the toll to 1,317.

The ministry data says that 14.5 percent of tests that came back today were positive.

Tuesday saw a record 6,948 new cases.

Netanyahu vows to make ‘difficult’ decisions as lockdown meeting enters 7th hour

Six hours on, the coronavirus cabinet has yet to come to an agreement on tightening the lockdown rules.

In a video, Netanyahu says the discussions are “serious, complex.”

“The situation is difficult, there is a sharp rise [in cases],” he says.

“The decisions are difficult, but as prime minister I must protect your lives,” says Netanyahu.

He vows the government will make decisions on the lockdown, adding that it will save lives.

According to his office, Netanyahu tells the coronavirus cabinet: “We are heading to a full lockdown because of the infections, therefore it is preferred to do it over the holidays, with a lower economic price, and not after the holidays with a high economic price.”

According to Channel 12, the premier backs a full lockdown through the Sukkot holiday which ends October 9, though the details have yet to be fully hashed out.

The network says the emerging rules will likely close synagogues, limit protests, close non-essential businesses, close the airport to outgoing flights, a total ban on gatherings, and a requirement for Israelis to remain with their nuclear families over the holidays.

Study says lockdown will drive down infections, but it’ll take until November

A study by the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that virus rates won’t be sufficiently reduced under lockdown until November, at which point the Israeli economy could reopen, Channel 12 reports.

The projection — based on infection trends in the first lockdown in April and May — suggests it would take some two weeks to halve the number of daily cases, and several additional weeks to drive down rates in order to relieve restrictions, the TV report says.

Poll: Bennett gains, is now just 8 seats behind Likud

A Channel 12 poll indicates that Naftali Bennett’s Yamina part is catching up to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, which falls under 30 seats for the first time in 18 months.

It gives Likud 29, Yamina 21, Yesh-Atid-Telem 17, Joint List 15, Blue and White 9, Shas 9, Yisrael Beytenu 8, United Torah Judaism 7, Meretz 5.

It indicates the right-wing bloc would have a parliamentary majority with 66 seats.

The station also tests a hypothetical party run by Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who has gone to head with Netanyahu on the virus rules.

Her party would pick up eight seats, snagging three from Likud, which would drop to 26, and two from Yamina, which would win 19.

Poll: Most Israelis believe in curbs on protest and prayer amid pandemic

A Channel 12 survey indicates a majority of Israelis believe in both shutting down synagogues over the upcoming holidays and in limiting demonstrations.

It says 60% favor closing synagogues over Yom Kippur, and 32% say there is no need. Meanwhile, 70% back limits on protests, while 22% are opposed.

A plurality of respondents (48%) believe the public is responsible for the spiraling virus rates, while 42% say the government is to blame.

Lebanon asks for help rebuilding post-explosion

Lebanon’s president calls for the international community’s support to rebuild the country’s main port and destroyed neighborhoods after last month’s catastrophic explosion that decimated the facility.

President Michel Aoun speaks in a prerecorded speech to the UN General Assembly’s virtual summit, telling world leaders that Lebanon is facing multiple crises that pose an unprecedented threat to the small country’s existence.

Most urgently, he says the country needs the international community’s support to rebuild its economy and its destroyed port. He suggests breaking up the damaged parts of the city into separate areas and so that countries that wish to help can each commit to rebuilding one.

The August 4 explosion was the result of nearly 3,000 tons of improperly stored and rotting ammonium nitrates igniting at the port. The blast killed nearly 200 people, injured 6,500, and left a quarter of a million with homes unfit to live in.

An investigation is underway, but no one has been held accountable so far. Aoun, in his speech, says Lebanon had requested assistance from certain countries, particularly for soil samples and satellite images, and was still waiting for their results.

AP

Israeli envoy to UN meets with UAE counterpart

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, met with his UAE counterpart, Lana Nusseibeh, for the first time today, his office says.

During their meeting, the two envoys “stressed the importance of deepening cooperation between the countries in order to expand the circle of peace in the Middle East,” according to a statement from Israel’s UN mission.

The ambassadors discussed areas on which the two countries as well as the entire region can cooperate, including the fights against the coronavirus, incitement, extremism on social media, the empowerment of women and environmental protection.

At the end of the meeting held at the Emirati UN mission in New York, Erdan invited Nussiebah to Israel for an official visit, the Israeli mission says.

Jacob Magid

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, with his UAE counterpart Lana Nusseibeh in New York on September 23, 2020 (Courtesy)

Health official meets with top ultra-Orthodox rabbi on synagogue closure

Health Ministry Deputy Director-General Itamar Grotto visits the Bnei Brak home of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky to consult with him on the proposed synagogue closure over the Yom Kippur holiday, the Ynet news site reports.

Kanievsky is a prominent leader of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) stream of ultra-Orthodoxy.

Police commander overseeing anti-Netanyahu protests contracts virus

An Israel Police commander in Jerusalem who oversaw the mass protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has contracted COVID-19, Hebrew media reports say.

But the reports do not specify where Koby Yaakobi was infected with the virus.

He oversaw enforcement at the demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s Residence and was present at the last rally on Sunday night.

Gantz to Netanyahu: I support full lockdown

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is in Washington, tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the phone that he supports a full lockdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

He backs a “full closure, as soon as possible, in order to stop the infections” and says “it’s better now than in a month,” according to Hebrew media reports.

 

Ministers said to agree on full lockdown, more severe than country’s first

The coronavirus cabinet has agreed on a full lockdown that will be more severe than the country’s first closure in March, and which will see the entire economy shuttered except for vital stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies, Israel’s major networks report.

The full lockdown will last until the end of the Sukkot holiday on October 10.

Demonstrations will be limited to within a kilometer of one’s home, Channel 12 reports. Synagogues will close as of Friday. On Yom Kippur only, synagogues will be allowed to open in a limited capacity.

Certain essential industries will also be allowed to continue to function.

The full cabinet will convene tonight to approve the measures.

More details as they come.

Senior health officials oppose full lockdown — report

Ministerial support for a full lockdown reportedly comes in contradiction to the recommendation of several senior health officials.

According to Walla news, national coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu tells the cabinet that in terms of reducing morbidity, a total closure would be “highly effective” — but would “destroy the economy.” Gamzu is said to instead recommend a “smart closure” that also takes into account the damage to the economy.

Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto reportedly tells ministers, “there is no need for a complete closure right now, we can wait with the tightening of measures.”

Netanyahu replies to Grotto, according to Walla: “Why wait? In any case we will have to go to a total closure within a few days. If we wait until after Sukkot, the closure will cost us more money.”

Full cabinet to meet at 10:30 p.m. to OK lockdown

The full cabinet is set to meet at 10:30 p.m. to approve dramatically tightening the national lockdown from Friday.

After an eight-hour marathon meeting, the coronavirus cabinet agreed earlier on a full lockdown that will be more severe than the country’s first closure in March, and which will see the entire economy shuttered except for vital stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies, Israel’s major networks report.

Protest group: PM responsible for ‘greatest failure in history of the country’

The Black Flag group, one of the groups behind the ongoing anti-Netanyahu protests, says that the decision to impose a full lockdown represents “a difficult time for the people of Israel.”

“The State of Israel is plunging into an abyss due to Netanyahu’s endless failures,” the group says in a statement. “This is the time for all the people of Israel to internalize what we have been saying for months: an accused criminal cannot run a state.”

“The blame lies with defendant Netanyahu. He and he alone is responsible for the greatest failure in the history of the country,” the group adds.

Netanyahu, Gantz said to bypass coronavirus cabinet vote on full lockdown

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz reportedly agree to skip a vote on intensifying the national lockdown in the so-called coronavirus committee and instead hold a vote in the full ministerial cabinet.

According to Walla news, during the break of the coronavirus cabinet meeting, a telephone conversation took place between Netanyahu, Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

At the end of the conversation, the news site reports, it was decided to skip the vote in the coronavirus cabinet and immediately move to a full cabinet vote.

The rest of the coronavirus cabinet members, including Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, are said to have only found out about the call and the decision from media reports.

The cabinet will meet at 10:30. p.m.

Yisrael Beytenu MK: ‘Criminal negligence’ of government will not go unpunished

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky slams the government for its likely approval of a full national lockdown, saying that the ministers responsible are “punishing the public for their own criminal negligence.”

“When a commission of inquiry is set up, the criminals who harm the health of the citizens and the state economy will be brought to justice,” she says in a statement.

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Paris police barricade Eiffel Tower after bomb threat

Paris police have blockaded the area around the Eiffel Tower after a phone-in bomb threat.

Police cars and tape surrounded the streets below the tower and the bridge stretching across the Seine River to Trocadero Plaza. Some tourists were still walking in the area, but it was unclear if any were still inside the tower on Wednesday.

Two police officers at the scene tell The Associated Press that the operation was the result of a phone-in bomb threat. Eiffel Tower management did not respond to requests for comment.

The 131-year-old tower gets about 25,000 tourists daily in normal years, but visits are down this year because of coronavirus travel restrictions. While the Eiffel Tower is scheduled to be open every day, it occasionally closes because of suicide threats, bomb threats or labor strikes.

AP