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1 in 5 students in yeshiva ‘capsule’ program contracted COVID-19 — TV

Report says some 7,000 came down with coronavirus after weeks-long isolation from outside world in August-September

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men study Torah in small 'capsule' groups at the Ateret Shlomo Yeshiva in the city of Modiin Illit, August 24, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men study Torah in small 'capsule' groups at the Ateret Shlomo Yeshiva in the city of Modiin Illit, August 24, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

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

PM says looking at reopening some school grades, commerce

Ahead of a coronavirus cabinet meeting today on the next phase for easing restrictions throughout the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the government is considering reopening lower school grades in November, as well as some commerce, “gradually, responsibly.”

This will “of course depend on the morbidity levels. If infections go down restrictions will too, gradually. If morbidity goes up, there will be no choice but to bring back restrictions.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hamas delegation heads to Cairo for Palestinian reconciliation talks

A Hamas delegation led by deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri is set to arrive in Cairo today, the organization announces in a statement.

Senior Hamas officials Khalil al-Hayya, Hussam Badran, and Mousa Abu Marzouq are reportedly joining the delegation as well.

According to Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum, the delegation will conduct talks with Egyptian officials regarding potential Palestinian reconciliation between the rival Fatah and Hamas movements, among other issues “of mutual interest.”

Cairo has long considered itself the unofficial sponsor of Palestinian reconciliation talks. Egyptian officials were reportedly frustrated that Hamas and Fatah chose to meet in Istanbul in September to conduct negotiations which they said at the time would lead to the first Palestinian national elections in 14 years.

Hamas commander Saleh al-Arouri (YouTube screenshot)

An anticipated meeting between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo, initially set for the beginning of October, which would have set an official date for those elections, has yet to take place.

Hamas and Fatah have been at odds since 2007, when the Hamas terror group expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip after a bloody struggle for control of the coastal enclave.

— Aaron Boxerman

190 local authorities to launch anti-littering educational campaign

On Tuesday, 190 local authorities will kick off educational campaigns aimed at encouraging the public to leave less trash in public and open spaces.

These will utilize an Environmental Protection Ministry budget of NIS 10 million (just over $3 million) earmarked for National Clean-up Day, which was supposed to take place on March 24 but was canceled because of the coronavirus.

— Sue Surkes

Government approves Bahrain normalization deal

The cabinet has approved the normalization deal with the Arab Gulf state of Bahrain.

The deal next requires ratification by the Knesset. A date for that vote has not yet been set.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says government ministers green-lit “preparation of peaceful, diplomatic and friendly relations between the state of Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani amd Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat, at the signing ceremony of a peace agreement between Israel and Bahrain, in Manama, October 18, 2020. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Sunday’s vote was largely a formality after the two countries last week agreed to establish diplomatic relations in the wake of signing a US-brokered agreement in September. The two countries had long harbored close, clandestine security cooperation over a shared enmity of regional rival Iran.

— AP

Sudanese analyst: Nation’s priority in deal with Israel was saving economy

Sudanese analyst Othman Mirghani tells AFP the priority for the government in the normalization deal with Israel was saving the economy, which has seen inflation soar to over 200 percent.

“The government had expected that Sudan’s removal from the US terror list would be linked to normalization with Israel,” says Mirghani, who is also the editor-in-chief of Al Tayyar daily.

“It insisted on the removal from the list, even if it is through Tel Aviv, because a deal would open a door for Sudan’s economy with the international community.”

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

Analysts believe the normalization will fuel anger against Sudan’s government.

“Normalization will add new fuel to existing opposition to the transitional government from backers of the former government, who also see major overlap in interests with the country’s Islamist groups,” says Jonas Horner, from the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.

“Sudan’s prime minister will be at pains to seek consensus, and to avoid creating deeper divisions during this tenuous transitional period.”


Netanyahu: Special arrangements to be made for tourism in Dead Sea, Eilat

More from the coronavirus cabinet meeting: Netanyahu says the government will make “special arrangements for the Dead Sea and Eilat” that will allow some tourism.

He cites their importance for internal tourism as well their isolation from population centers, which will help limit any virus spread.

Israir begins offering daily Dubai flights from $280

Israir announces it will begin offering bookings for daily flights to Dubai today, with the first to take place on December 2.

Fares will start at $280. The company also plans to offer package deals for three nights at five-star hotels, starting from $499 per person.

Illustrative: View of an Israir flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv. September 3, 2015 (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Iran troops deployed on border near Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards say they have deployed troops along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia, following stray fire from the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Units of ground forces have been dispatched to and stationed in the region,” their commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour says, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

Their mission is “to protect national interests and maintain peace and security.”

Pakpour says Iran respects its neighbors’ territorial integrity but that “any shift in border geopolitics is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s red line.”


Virus czar: We cannot continue easing restrictions without 50,000 tests a day

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu warns ministers it will be impossible to continue easing restrictions if a daily test rate of 50,000 cannot be maintained.

Gamzu says though Israel currently has the capacity for 70,000 daily tests, the number of people applying for tests has dropped off in recent days, standing at some 40,000.

“The problem is a lack of response and will by the public to be tested,” he says.

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu at the Jerusalem Municipality on October 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Energy minister: Saudis, Qataris will get F-35 too, ‘sooner or later’

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz says Saudi Arabia and Qatar will also ask for, and receive, the F-35 fighter “sooner or later.”

Israel’s agreement to the US sale of the advanced fighters to the United Arab Emirates after the normalization agreement between them has been controversial in the country.

Steinitz tells Ynet such sales are inevitable. “The Americans in the past sold the most advanced F-15s and F-16s. They sold AWACS planes, even though Israel didn’t like it,” he says.

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

“The Russians and the Chinese also build stealth fighters. In the end, if the Saudis and Emiratis don’t buy from the US, they’ll buy from them.

“In the end, there are American interests, and they take care of them.”

Actor Yehuda Barkan laid to rest in Rehovot after dying of COVID-19

Actor Yehuda Barkan, who died yesterday from COVID-19 at age 75, is being laid to rest in Rehovot.

The entertainer was beloved by generations of Israelis for his work from the 1970s to recent years.

He was eulogized by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many other public figures as a giant of Israeli film, comedy and culture in general.

High Court approves demolition of terrorist’s home in Petah Tikva stabbing

The High Court of Justice approves the demolition of the home of the suspected terrorist who allegedly stabbed and murdered Rabbi Shai Ohayon in Petah Tikva in August.

Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat’s home is in the village of Rujeib, near Nablus.

The court says in its two-to-one decision that it seeks to deter other potential terrorists from carrying out attacks.

“We did not find a justification to intervene in the decision of the military commander [in charge of the area].”

Rabbi Shai Ohayon, who was stabbed to death in a terror attack at Segula Junction on August 26, 2020 (Courtesy)

Swiss bank says Israel has 157,000 millionaires

Swiss investment bank Credit Suisse says the number of Israelis it considers millionaires has dropped by 154 since the start of the year, putting the current figure at 157,286.

The bank considers a millionaire anyone with $1 million in liquid assets — or some NIS 3.4 million.

Turkey: Muslims in Europe being demonized, like Jews in 1920s

Turkey says “offensive caricatures” of the Prophet Mohammed are being used to intimidate Muslims in Europe under the guise of freedom of expression.

European attitudes demonizing Muslims are reminiscent of how the Jews in Europe were treated in the 1920s, said Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s policies to defend his country against radical Islam have angered Turkey, which is predominantly Muslim even if officially a secular country.

Altun’s comments came a day after France recalled its ambassador following a statement from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which he suggested Macron needed “mental checks.”

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures at a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, on September 21, 2020. (Adem ALTAN / AFP)

“The dog-whistle politics of offensive caricatures, accusations of separatism against Muslims, and mosque raids isn’t about freedom of expression,” Altun says.

“It’s about intimidating and reminding Muslims that they are welcome to keep the European economy going, but they will never belong — against the backdrop of lectures about integration.”


Watch: Ceremony to honor hundreds of North Americans who died defending Israel

The Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel is about to hold a ceremony to honor the hundreds of North Americans who died while defending the Jewish state.

The keynote speaker at the event will be former Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky.

You can view the livestream here, starting at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT).

1st, 2nd graders will return to schools for half of week

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu says the plan for the return of first and second graders to school will see students study in half-size classes, with each half studying for half of the school week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explains that the government cannot fund a full school week for twice the number of classes.

They do not give an exact timeline for the return of classes.

Israeli schoolteachers speak with students on the first day of school, during the coronavirus pandemic, in Tel Aviv on September 1, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Bulgarian leader tests positive for coronavirus

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has tested positive for coronavirus as the number of infected with COVID-19 in the Balkan country has been on a steady rise in the past two weeks.

Borissov makes the disclosure in a Facebook message.

“After two PCR tests, today I am positive for COVID-19,” Borissov writes.

He says that he has a “general indisposition” and, following the recommendations of doctors, will remain at home for treatment.

In this file photo taken on April 24, 2018, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boiko Borisov addresses a press conference in Bucharest (Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP)

The Balkan nation of 7 million people has recorded 37,562 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,084 deaths.

— AP

Karen Hayesod trustees fight Netanyahu on replacing chairman — report

The board of trustees of Israel’s biggest fundraising organization around the world is fighting an attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace its world chairman, Walla news reports.

Walla reports that Netanyahu seeks the removal of Sam Grundwerg as chairman of Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal, due to his appointment of Polly Bronstein as CEO. Bronstein is the former executive director and founder of Darkenu, a left-leaning civil society organization reviled by the Likud party.

Keren Hayesod World Chairman Sam Grundwerg (YouTube screenshot)

But the board of trustees, led by Steven Lowym, warns it will “use all tools at our disposal to protect the rights of the organization.”

Finance, health ministries said to fight over reopening shops and salons

Hebrew media reports indicate a fight at the coronavirus cabinet between the finance and health ministries over reopening shops and beauty salons.

Finance Minister Israel Katz is said pushing to reopen street shops (as opposed to mall businesses).

A Treasury representative tells ministers this will allow some 80,000 people to return to work, Ynet reports.

Meanwhile, health officials warn against rash action to reopen.

“If we do not reopen gradually and responsibly we will very quickly be back to a third lockdown,” Sharon Elrai, acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, says.

Israel to send $5 million worth of wheat to ‘new friends in Sudan’

The Prime Minister’s Office announces Israel is sending $5 million worth of wheat to Sudan following the announcement of normalization between the sides.

“We are looking forward to a warm peace and are sending $5 million worth of wheat immediately to our new friends in Sudan,” the PMO tweets. “Israel will be working closely with the USA to assist Sudan’s transition.”

Economically crippled Sudan is believed to have agreed to normalization chiefly to enable it to be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terror and receive financial aid, and the country’s economic well-being is seen as critical to the deal’s success.

Illustrative: Wheat in a sack (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Judicial ombudsman instructs review of chief rabbi’s status as rabbinical judge

The Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges must consider whether Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef should continue to serve as a judge at the Great Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem, the ombudsman of the Israeli judiciary says.

Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham issues the ruling in response to a petition against Yosef for his controversial comments on women, Reform Judaism and the High Court of Justice.

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attends the traditional selling of the the hametz (food containing leavening) of the state of Israel to a non-Jew before the upcoming Passover holiday, on March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“This is a rabbinical judge who, in the face of all rulings — both by the Supreme Court and of judicial ombudsmen, has not internalized the decisions relating to him, and time and again makes ever bold comments, while continually stating that he will not respect High Court rulings.”

Ministers move to declare Eilat and Dead Sea ‘tourism islands’ amid pandemic

Ministers decide to push for Eilat and the Dead Sea to be defined as “tourism islands” and given special conditions as the rest of the country slowly emerges from the latest lockdown.

The regions will be allowed to host tourists prior to the rest of the country, dependent on visitors presenting negative coronavirus tests.

The bill will now move to the Knesset.

Iran: Israel must end ‘arbitrary detention’ of hunger-striking security prisoner

Iran says Israel must end the “unjustified, arbitrary detention” of a hunger-striking Palestinian security prisoner.

Maher al-Akhras has not eaten for 90 days. He was arrested in late July and has been on a hunger strike in recent months to protest his detention without trial by Israeli authorities. He denies the Israeli accusation of current membership in a terror group and has maintained that he is not involved in any “security activity.”

According to the Shin Bet domestic security service, al-Akhras is involved in Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian terror group that avowedly seeks to destroy Israel.

Maher al-Akhras before his 2020 arrest. (Screenshot: Roya News)

But Israeli military prosecutors have also decided not to renew his administrative detention, which is set to expire on November 26.

Iran’s foreign ministry says the “Israeli regime has refused to end his unjustified detention. The occupiers must end arbitrary detentions & free him & 100s of Palestinians unjustly held.”

Arabs favor Biden over Trump in US election — poll

Democratic nominee Joe Biden substantially leads his Republican opponent Donald Trump as the Arab world’s preferred candidate in next month’s US presidential candidate, an opinion poll indicates.

Out of 3,097 people polled across 18 Middle East and North African countries, around 39 percent favor Biden while only 12%  opt for Trump, according to the survey carried out by British pollster YouGov and commissioned by Saudi daily Arab News.

“When asked which candidate would be better for the Arab World if elected president, most believe that neither candidate (49%) would fulfill such a description, yet Biden is still considered a better option to Trump,” the survey says.

This combination of September 29, 2020, photos shows President Donald Trump, left, and former vice president Joe Biden during the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The November 3 election, in which incumbent Trump is fighting to secure a second term in office, is being closely watched across the Arab world, where the United States plays a key role.


Israel’s Institute for Biological Research to begin virus vaccine trials Sunday

The Defense Ministry announces that the first human trials of its coronavirus vaccine will begin next Sunday and continue through next spring before it can receive approval for full use.

The Institute for Biological Research will begin the first phase of the testing process with two initial participants, increasing to 80 over the month of November. If they respond well to the vaccine — developing antibodies against the virus — the testing will expand to 960 people beginning in December.

If that larger group responds well to the vaccine, injections will then be given to some 30,000 people in April or May 2021. If the vaccine works well and there are no significant side effects, it will then be approved for full use in the general population.

“This is a day of hope for the citizens of Israel… Just two months ago I was presented with the first bottle of the vaccine. Today we already have 25,000 vaccine doses and are starting the next phase of the test,” says Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

— Judah Ari Gross

Supreme Court to livestream session on petition against post of alternate PM

The Supreme Court says it will livestream Tuesday’s deliberations on a petition questioning the constitutionality of the recently created post of alternate prime minister.

The session will begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

The Likud party has argued the authority of the High Court of Justice to weigh the constitutionality of the post.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which filed the petition, has argued that the amendment of a quasi-constitutional Basic Law to create the new office constituted a “fundamental alteration of the regime system in Israel, which can even be regarded as a change of the ruling system.”

The court began a pilot program this year to broadcast court discussions, and previously provided live coverage of a hearing on phone tracking at the start of the pandemic and on Netanyahu’s right to form a government following the last election, despite his indictment in three corruption cases.

Shops in Kuwait remove French products from shelves for ‘insulting’ Mohammed

Several Kuwaiti shops have removed French food and beauty products from their shelves, after French President Emmanuel Macron vowed his country would not “give up cartoons” depicting the Prophet Mohammed, Reuters reports.

Speaking after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to pupils in a lesson on free speech earlier this month, Macron said Paty “was killed because Islamists want our future.”

In a number of Kuwaiti co-op shops, the news agency reports empty shelves where such products used to be.

A union chief tells Reuters it is in response to “repeated insults” against the prophet.

Anger at Macron spilled over into the streets in several Muslim-majority countries in recent days.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Macron of “attacking Islam.”

In Deir Al-Balah in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians burnt portraits of Macron, calling his comment “an attack and an insult against Islam.”

— with AFP

1 in 5 students in yeshiva ‘capsule’ program contracted COVID-19 — TV

One in five yeshiva students taking part in a government-approved “capsule” program during August-September contracted COVID-19, despite the program’s intended safeguards, Channel 13 reports.

Citing state figures, the network said some 6,500-7,000 yeshiva students out of 35,000 who participated in the program, which saw students isolated from the outside world for long weeks to allow them to study, came down with the disease.

Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal calls the figure striking, musing that perhaps the numbers would have been better without the program.

Ultra-Orthodox students study at the Kamenitz Yeshiva, in Jerusalem on September 2, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Head of Sudanese pro-Israel group: ‘We are waiting to see you in Khartoum soon’

The head of a Sudanese pro-Israeli group tells Channel 13 that he is anxious to host Israelis in his country, following the normalization agreement between the two governments.

“We are waiting to see you in Khartoum soon,” Al Sadeq Ishaq says in Hebrew, citing tourist draws such as the Nile river, archaeological sites and pyramids.

He rejects Palestinian criticism of the deal, saying, “For us, Sudan comes before Palestine.”

Al Sadeq Ishaq of Sudan speaks to Channel 13 news, October 25, 2020. (Channel 13 screenshot)

France urges Arab countries to battle boycott calls

France urges Arab countries to stop calls for boycotts of French products after President Emmanual Macron vowed that the country would never give in to Islamic radicals.

Comments made recently by Macron about Islamists and his reaction to the October 16 murder of a French teacher by a teenaged Chechen extremist have sparked tension with several Arab countries and populations.

Calls for boycotts of French goods have since come from groups in Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar, in particular after Macron vowed not to “give up cartoons” that depict the prophet.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the end of a visit on the fight against separatism at the Seine Saint Denis prefecture headquarters in Bobigny, northeastern suburbs of Paris, on October 20, 2020. (Ludovic MARIN / various sources / AFP)

The French foreign ministry urges countries where boycott calls have been made to stop them and ensure the security of French citizens.

“Calls for a boycott are groundless and must cease immediately, as must all attacks on our country that have been manipulated by a radical minority,” a ministry statement says.

It underscores the danger posed by “calls to demonstrate against France, in terms that are sometimes heinous and spread on social media.”


Sudan says it will discuss trade, migration with Israel

Sudanese and Israeli officials will meet in the coming weeks to discuss a package of cooperation deals to “achieve the mutual interests of the two peoples,” Sudan’s Foreign Ministry says.

The ministry statement comes three days after US President Donald Trump announced that Sudan would start normalizing ties with Israel. The statement says the deals will cover agriculture, trade, aviation and migration, but does not provide details on the timing or location of the meetings.

— AP

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Live updates (closed)

PM says looking at reopening some school grades, commerce

Ahead of a coronavirus cabinet meeting today on the next phase for easing restrictions throughout the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the government is considering reopening lower school grades in November, as well as some commerce, “gradually, responsibly.”

This will “of course depend on the morbidity levels. If infections go down restrictions will too, gradually. If morbidity goes up, there will be no choice but to bring back restrictions.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)