The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana has asked police to prevent ongoing demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and to have them relocated elsewhere, according to Hebrew media reports.
Ohana, a Likud party ally of Netanyahu’s, said the demonstrations disturb residents of the area, during a meeting yesterday with acting police commissioner Motti Cohen, other senior officers and people who live next to the Prime Minister’s Residence, the Haaretz daily reports.
Citing Supreme Court rulings, police told Ohana they couldn’t prevent the protest, the newspaper says.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reports a total of 596 new cases of the novel coronavirus, a new daily high.
The PA reports 306 cases in Israeli-administered East Jerusalem, also a new daily high. The PA does not have a direct presence in East Jerusalem, but uses data collected by local committees who track the coronavirus in their neighborhoods.
East Jerusalem community leader tells The Times of Israel they blame widespread noncompliance with social distancing rules, such as the holding of large weddings and funerals attended by hundreds.
There are currently 2,095 active cases in East Jerusalem, the vast majority recorded in the past two weeks.
Despite over two weeks of tighter restrictions in the West Bank, new cases remained high in Hebron governorate, where 167 new cases are confirmed today. There are 4,676 active cases in the area.
Palestinians report 70 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic: one in the Gaza Strip, three in East Jerusalem, and 66 in the West Bank.
— Aaron Boxerman
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Long-haul carrier Emirates now says it will cover the costs of passengers’ coronavirus-related medical expenses in an effort to encourage more travelers to fly on the airline.
In a statement today, Emirates says passengers can claim medical expenses of up to 150,000 euros and quarantine costs of 100 euros per day for 14 days if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chairman and CEO of the government-owned airline, says: “We know people are yearning to fly as borders around the world gradually reopen, but they are seeking flexibility and assurances should something unforeseen happen during their travel.”
The airline says the coverage is good for passengers flying until October 30.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein hails the selection of Prof. Ronni Gamzu to lead national efforts against the coronavirus.
“We’re taking the best to take control of the curve and to do everything to fight this cursed virus,” Edelstein says during a tour of Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center, according to a ministry statement.
BAGHDAD — Iraq reopens to commercial flights after four months of lockdown to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, which brought the country’s fragile economy to its knees.
Planes were wheels up this morning from Baghdad International Airport destined for Lebanon and Turkey, AFP reporters say.
Before boarding, passengers were required to show negative COVID-19 test results to airport staff wearing masks and gloves.
Airports in the cities of Najaf and Basra south of the capital also reopen today, but those in Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, in the northern Kurdish region, say they’ll reopen on August 1.
Iraqi authorities lifted other restrictions earlier this month, allowing malls and shops to reopen and delaying the start of overnight curfews to 9:30 p.m. local time
Restaurants and coffee shops remain closed to customers but are allowed to fulfill takeaway or delivery orders.
A full lockdown will be briefly reimposed at the end of July for the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday before being entirely lifted.
Some medics fear a return to normal life is premature as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise, reaching nearly 100,000 with more than 4,000 deaths.
An Israeli firm behind an artificial micro-pancreas that it claims can cure diabetes says the medical product is ready for clinical trials on humans.
Betalin Therapeutics tells the Guardian it will submit a request to British regulators next month to begin the trials, with the aim of starting testing next year. It hopes the device will be market ready by 2024.
The company says its invention will allow diabetics to forgo insulin shots and the need to monitor their blood sugar levels.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s death toll from the novel coronavirus surpasses 15,000, health authorities announce, as the country struggles to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak.
“Unfortunately we lost 221 of our dear compatriots to the COVID-19 disease in the course of the past 24 hours,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says on state television.
The fatalities bring the total number of deaths to 15,074 in the Islamic Republic.
The country has faced a rise in cases and deaths since the end of June, reporting today the highest single-day death toll of 229 since announcing its first cases in February.
Lari urges Iranians to avoid all non-essential travel, enclosed spaces and large gatherings to help stem the spread of the virus.
She adds that an additional 2,621 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed, bringing the total caseload to 284,034.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman underwent a successful surgery that removed his gallbladder, the kingdom says, just days after being admitted to the hospital over an inflammation of the organ.
Surgeons at Riyadh’s King Faisal Specialist Hospital operated on the king, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reports, describing the procedure as a laparoscopic surgery. That’s a low-risk procedure that usually involves only small incisions and a small camera to aid the surgeons’ work.
King Salman will remain at the hospital for some time to recover and be observed by doctors, the report says, citing a statement from the Saudi royal court.
The king thanked all his well-wishers, the report says.
King Salman has been in power since January 2015. He is considered the last Saudi monarch of his generation of brothers who have held power since the death of their father and founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is demanding that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recuse himself from formulating a list of the premier’s conflicts of interest.
In a letter to Mandelblit, Netanyahu family attorney Yossi Cohen makes a number of unsubstantiated claims on why the attorney general shouldn’t deal with the prime minister’s conflicts of interest, among them that his decision to indict Netanyahu in a series of graft cases was mainly due to “heavy public pressure on you.” He also claims the charge sheet was “flawed.”
Cohen says the matter should instead be handled by State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman or former Supreme Court justice Yaakov Turkel.
The letter comes after Mandelblit informed Netanyahu earlier this month he can’t make top legal or police appointments due to a conflict of interest resulting from his indictment on corruption charges.
Netanyahu, who faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, denies wrongdoing and has accused Mandelblit, whom he appointed, of seeking to remove him from office.
Israel’s ambassador to Germany decries the 2-year suspended sentence handed down today to a 93-year-old former SS concentration camp guard convicted of complicity in Nazi atrocities as insufficient.
“The punishment doesn’t reflect the severity of the accusations against the man,” Jeremy Issacharoff tweets. “The trial itself needs to demonstrate that there’s no forgiveness or statute of limitations for Nazi crimes against the Jewish people.”
He notes the trial against Bruno Dey, who was a guard at the Stutthof camp, comes as the trial of a man accused of killing two people in Halle after failing to storm a synagogue on Yom Kippur begins.
“Jew haters are still living among us and are deserving of the most severe punishments in accordance with [the] law,” Issacharoff says.
Israel has freed a senior Hamas leader in the West Bank after imprisoning him without trial for 16 months, his son says.
Hassan Yousef, a co-founder of the Palestinian Islamist terror group, was arrested on April 2 last year at his home near Ramallah.
“He is now at home and is in good health,” his son Owais Yousef tells AFP.
Following his arrest, Yousef was handed a six-month detention order that was extended for another six months and then for a further four, his son tells AFP.
The 65-year-old, who has been arrested multiple times, had been released from a previous 10-month term of imprisonment in October 2018.
Israel’s administrative detention system allows the internment of prisoners for renewable periods of up to six months each, without bringing charges.
Israel says the procedure allows authorities to hold suspects and prevent attacks while continuing to gather evidence, but critics and rights groups say the system is abused.
A leading Israeli pollster tells the Haaretz daily that internal surveys he has performed show the combined strength of right-wing religious parties and center-left/Arab factions at 55-56 seats a piece, indicating a fresh round of elections could result in renewed political deadlock.
While recent polls have shown Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party receiving a majority in the 120-seat Knesset together with ultra-Orthodox factions and the national-religious Yamina, Camil Fuchs says most undecided voters are on the center-left, skewing the survey results in favor of the right.
He therefore asked voters to choose whether they would vote for a right-wing, left-wing, centrist or ultra-Orthodox party, which brought the blocs to 55-56 seats each.
Such a result would again position Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, whose right-wing secularist party Fuchs predicts would get eight seats, as coalition kingmaker.
Fuchs’s findings come as reports say Netanyahu is seeking new elections later this year and intends to ditch his power-sharing agreement with Blue and White.
Twitter acknowledges that it accidentally closed the accounts of some users for posting the Star of David.
Several Twitter users reported to a British anti-Semitism watchdog that their accounts were locked after they posted the Jewish symbol, the watchdog says.
Twitter informed the users that they violated the social media platform’s rules against posting “hateful imagery,” according to the Campaign Against Antisemitism in the United Kingdom. If they removed the images, the users were told, their accounts could be unlocked.
The Star of David in the profile pictures of the locked accounts ranged from artistic images to the yellow stars worn by Jews during the Holocaust.
Twitter responded that it had mistakenly closed the accounts of some users. It noted that using a yellow Star of David like those worn by Jews in the Holocaust in order to target Jewish people is a violation of its Hateful Conduct Policy.
The Coordinator on Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry’s liaison to the Palestinians, denies widely circulated reports that the IDF demolished a Palestinian coronavirus testing center in the West Bank.
Ra’id Maswadeh, an engineer and Hebron resident, says the IDF destroyed a coronavirus facility outside of Hebron on his property.
“My family decided to donate our land at the northern entrance of Hebron for the purpose of constructing a Covid-19 test clinic,” Maswadeh told Middle East Eye on Tuesday.
While a building belonging to him was demolished, no official Palestinian source has yet confirmed that a coronavirus testing facility was being built on the site. COGAT claims that Maswadeh decided on his own to call his property a coronavirus testing facility as a ploy to prevent its demolition. Maswadeh’s original plan was to build a building for car exhibitions, COGAT says.
“We stress that we received no applications about establishing a coronavirus facility either from the Palestinian Authority or from international organizations,” a COGAT spokesperson says.
Local PA officials in Hebron tell The Times of Israel they had no knowledge of plans to build a coronavirus testing facility on the site.
— Aaron Boxerman
Donning full protective gear, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visits COVID-19 patients inside the coronavirus ward at Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center in Tzrifin.
“Not an easy experience. Terrible heat and horrible humidity inside the coverall,” Edelstein writes on Facebook. “Think of the 24/7 dedicated care of doctors, nurses and coronavirus department [medical] teams.”
Israel is expected to ink a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars with a US firm developing a coronavirus vaccine, Channel 12 news reports.
The Health Ministry refuses to comment on the reported talks with Arcturus Therapeutics, which earlier this week reached an agreement to begin clinical trials on humans in Singapore for its COVID-19 vaccine.
Prime Minister Netanyahu says the government will allow summer schools and other educational programs to continue operating in their current format until August 6.
Reports last week said the government was likely to order the immediate closure of schools as part of a series of new restrictions to contain the coronavirus, but after pushback from Education Minister Yoav Gallant a decision on the matter was pushed off to this week.
NEW YORK — A judge orders the release from prison of US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, saying he believes the government retaliated against him for writing a book about Trump.
Michael Cohen’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was ordered back to prison on July 9 after probation authorities said he refused to sign a form banning him from publishing the book or communicating publicly in other manners, US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein says.
Hellerstein orders Michael Cohen released from prison by 2 p.m. local time tomorrow.
Cohen, 53, sued federal prison officials and Attorney General William Barr on Monday, saying he was ordered back to prison because he was writing a book to be released before the November presidential election.
He has been in isolation at an Otisville, New York, prison camp.
The lawsuit said the book would address “Trump’s personality and proclivities, his private and professional affairs, and his personal and business ethics.”
The lawsuit said the government’s demand that Cohen agree not to speak to or through any media, including by publishing a book, violated his First Amendment rights.
Cohen had been furloughed in May along with other prisoners as authorities tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus in federal prisons.
He was one year into a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress, among other crimes.
Dozens of protesters have begun gathering outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official residence for a pair of dueling demonstrations.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters have been holding regular rallies outside the residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. Rallies against Netanyahu’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic have also been held.
In addition to the opponents of Netanyahu, his supporters are holding a counterprotest this evening.
Thousands of people are expected to attend the demonstrations, with a large number of police on hand to keep the sides apart.
There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, and police are reportedly wary of this. Protesters have also accused police of using excessive force during the demonstrations.
GENEVA — The director-general of the World Health Organization upbraids US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for making “untrue and unacceptable” allegations, responding to media reports saying Pompeo had claimed the health agency chief was “bought” by China.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted WHO was focusing on “saving lives” as he lashes out at the comments that British media said Pompeo had made at a closed-door event this week in London.
Tedros’ response to Pompeo represented some of his most defensive and full-throated statements yet in the wake of the Trump administration’s repeated criticism of the UN health agency in recent months.
British newspapers reported yesterday that Pompeo said at the London event that Tedros had been “bought” by the Chinese government, an exceptionally personal comment against the WHO chief following the many broadsides against the agency from Washington.
Critics say the Trump administration has been trying to distract attention from its own failings in managing the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, which has the most confirmed cases and virus-related deaths in the world.
In recent months, the administration has repeatedly criticized the WHO’s response to the pandemic and its alleged deference to Beijing. US President Donald Trump has ordered the United States to withdraw next year from the agency it has bankrolled and supported for decades.
A “Yasur” heavy transport helicopter makes an emergency landing on an Air Force base in northern Israel after the aircraft experienced a technical malfunction, in the latest in a series of incidents involving the military’s nearly 60-year-old fleet of the helicopters in recent months, the military says.
“The helicopter landed safely and there were no injuries,” the Israel Defense Forces says.
The military says the malfunction occurred while the crew was transporting a group of soldiers during “operational activities in the center of the country.”
After the malfunction occurred, the flight crew dropped the helicopter’s gas tank “in accordance with protocol” in an open field in northern Israel. “It was collected by IDF troops,” the military says.
Another Yasur helicopter collected the fighters from the air base in northern Israel and transported them to their destination, the IDF says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Health Ministry statistics show 1,758 new coronavirus cases were recorded over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 57,453.
The ministry reports seven more fatalities, raising the death toll to 440.
Of the 33,097 active cases, 302 people were in serious condition, the first time in Israel there have been over 300 serious patients. Another 127 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
There are 83 people on ventilators.
The Health Ministry also says 28,711 virus tests were performed yesterday.
The release of the figures comes shortly before Prime Minister Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein are set to give a press conference, following the overnight appointment of Prof. Ronni Gamzu to lead the government’s response to the pandemic.
A government decision on whether to reimpose a lockdown to halt the continued rise in new coronavirus infections has been pushed off until August 6, Channel 12 news reports.
Hundreds of people are now protesting outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, some scuffling broke out between protesters opposed to the premier and Netanyahu supporters. Police have tried to separate the two sides.
מדיטציה המונית בכיכר פריס pic.twitter.com/TBzJ1Qsh7x
— nir hasson (@nirhasson) July 23, 2020
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit dismisses Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that he not be involved with formulating a list of the premier’s conflicts of interest.
In a letter sent earlier today to Mandelblit, Netanyahu family lawyer Yossi Cohen said the attorney general had his own conflicts of interest, namely his decision to indict of the prime minister in a series of graft cases.
Mandelblit previously gave a legal opinion saying Netanyahu can’t appoint top legal or police officials due to the criminal charges against him.
Prime Minister Netanyahu says new coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu will be given “all the authority” to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
Speaking during a press conference at the Health Ministry, Netanyahu says Gamzu’s chief mission will be to cut the infection chain. To do this, Gamzu will be responsible for testing, epidemiological investigations and quarantines, Netanyahu adds.
The premier says decisions on lockdown and restrictions will be made in accordance with Gamzu’s policies, and that he wants to avoid a lockdown but the government will impose one if needed.
Netanyahu also says that he and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have agreed to slash the size of the so-called coronavirus cabinet to streamline decision-making.
Two TV surveys show Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud slipping, his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett’s Yamina rising fast, and widespread public dissatisfaction with the coalition’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
If elections were held today, a Channel 13 survey puts the party standings as follows: Likud, 31 seats; Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, 19; Yamina, 16; the Joint (Arab) List, 15; Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, 11; Yisrael Beytenu, 8; Meretz, 7; United Torah Judaism, 7; and Shas, 6.
These findings show an ongoing slide in support for Likud and a continuing rise for Yamina, the network notes. Bennett, a former defense minister, has been a prominent critic of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
In terms of blocs, that adds up to 60 seats for the right and ultra-Orthodox parties, 52 seats for the center, left and Arab parties, with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu assigned to neither side. (Currently, Bennett’s Yamina sits in the opposition, while Gantz’s centrist Blue and White is part of the “emergency coalition.”)
A Channel 12 survey adds up to slightly better reading for the right-Orthodox bloc.
It shows the parties as follows: Likud, 32 seats; Yesh Atid, 18; Joint List, 15; Yamina, 15; Blue and White, 9; Shas, 8; United Torah Judaism, 8; Meretz, 8; and Yisrael Beytenu, 7.
Those figures mean a right-Orthodox bloc on 63, a center-left-Arab bloc on 50, with Yisrael Beytenu not assigned to either side.
Netanyahu is reportedly considering a move toward elections as soon as November — for what would be the fourth time in less than 20 months — a scenario that President Reuven Rivlin intervened to warn against earlier today.
Channel 12’s Amit Segal says Netanyahu would grab the results of his channel’s poll “with both hands” if he could, but notes that the Likud is sliding — showing five fewer seats than in a similar poll two weeks ago, which means an election gambit could be extremely risky.
In response to further questions, the Channel 13 poll showed 76% unhappy with the coalition’s handling of the economic impact of the pandemic, and 60% dissatisfied with Netanyahu’s helming of the crisis. Even more, 66%, are not happy with Gantz’s performance as defense minister.
Asked for their preferred prime minister, 44% said Netanyahu, 16% Lapid and 11% Gantz.
Fifty-seven percent opposed elections now, and 53% said they’d consider Netanyahu to be responsible if Israel was pushed to new elections.
Channel 12’s survey, for its part, showed that public satisfaction with Netanyahu’s handling of the health crisis has crashed since May. In May, 74% said he was doing a good job; that figure is 38% today. In May, 23% said he was doing a bad job; that figure is 58% today.
The Channel 13 survey was conducted by Prof Camil Fuchs and the Midgam Project. 702 respondents were questioned. The margin of error was 3.9%.
The Channel 12 survey was conducted by Midgam among 503 respondents, with a 4% margin of error.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is asked during a press conference if he’s seeking new elections, as reports have said.
“That’s absurd,” he responds.
Netanyahu says there won’t be new elections if a budget is passed by the late-August deadline. He blames his coalition partners in the Blue and White party for the impasse, who are pushing for a budget that extends through 2021 as the coalition deal with Netanyahu’s Likud stipulated.
The premier is pushing for a budget that only covers the rest of this year, citing the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Such a short-term budget could allow Netanyahu to go to new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
New coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu expresses deep skepticism toward ordering a nationwide lockdown in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.
“The major mission is to do this while doing as little harm to society and the economy,” he says during a press conference at the Health Ministry, praising the government for acting with “social sensitivity” by refraining from reimposing a lockdown.
Acknowledging widespread discontent with the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, Gamzu says he’ll work to earn the public’s trust.
“This is one of my major missions,” he says.
He also says there’s a need “[for us to] work quickly” to cut the infection chain, calling on Israelis to observe quarantine rules and be tested for the coronavirus if needed.
With disagreements over the duration of the new national budget threatening to bring new elections, the Blue and White party rejects Prime Minister Netanyahu’s assertion that it is to blame for the impasse.
“The prime minister needs to stop propelling [Israel] to elections and do two things: Take care of the coronavirus crisis with a long-term budget and honor the [coalition] agreement he signed two months ago,” Blue and White says in a statement.
A number of women remove their shirts at an anti-Netanyahu protest near the prime minister’s residence.
The demonstrators hold signs with slogans including “Justice for Iyad,” in reference to Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian man killed by police in Jerusalem in late May, and “[breasts] photograph better than.”
One of the women tells Channel 12 that footage of the shooting has not been released, but “exposed breasts in public have been documented and viewed in every place possible,” apparently referring to a protester who raised a firestorm by removing her shirt on Tuesday while on a menorah statue near the Knesset.
Some of the women have the words “occupation,” in English, and “police violence,” in Hebrew, written on their chests.
Netanyahu at a press conference held during the protest says to protesters, also apparently referring to the topless woman at Tuesday’s protest, “don’t degrade the symbols of the state.”
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) July 23, 2020
Israel has reportedly sent a message to Hezbollah warning the Lebanese terror group against any retaliatory action in response to the killing of one of the organization’s fighters in an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel earlier this week.
According to a report today by the Hezbollah-linked Al Mayadeen broadcaster, Israel told the group by way of the UN that it didn’t intend to kill Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad in Monday’s strike outside Damascus.
Israel hasn’t acknowledged the strike, which a monitoring group said targeted a weapons depots and military posts used by Syrian regime forces and Iran-backed militiamen.
The Israeli military has boosted its defenses on the northern border following the strike, out of concern Hezbolalh could launch a retaliatory strike.