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Health Ministry officials said to conclude there’s no escaping 2nd lockdown

TV report comes hours after Health Ministry director assures Israelis his office working to prevent another statewide shutdown, but warns that infection rate has risen to 6%

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Police enforcing a lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, seen at a roadblock on Begin Road in Tel Aviv, April 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Police enforcing a lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, seen at a roadblock on Begin Road in Tel Aviv, April 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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

Meeting with PM over coronavirus enforcement, Haredi MKs demand ‘end to abuse’

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu act to stop what they allege is the selective enforcement of public health regulations that unfairly targets their community.

MKs from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties are meeting Netanyahu as well as Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana following days of complaints and even reported threats by the Haredi lawmakers that they would bolt the coalition.

“Discrimination is being enforced against the ultra-Orthodox community,” Shas head and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says at the meeting, according to a statement.

“I call on the prime minister and the internal security minister to work for equal enforcement.”

“A closure carried out without any aid package does not achieve its goal and harms the entire public,” he says, referring to the recent lockdowns of several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

Netanyahu says he called today’s meeting in order to allow the Haredi lawmakers to voice their frustration. “We want to help. Nobody wants to be harassed. The opposite is true, and I’m open to listening,” he says.

At least two people were arrested in Jerusalem Sunday and hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews set trashcans on fire and knocked down barriers, as they protested for a second night against localized lockdowns of neighborhoods aimed at curbing a spread of the coronavirus.

PM seeks to pressure Knesset committee chair to keep gyms, pools closed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with Knesset coronavirus committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton, in an effort to press her to prevent the reopening of workout facilities and pools that the cabinet voted to shutter last week.

Yesterday, Health Ministry officials told Shasha-Biton’s committee that there had only been 35 confirmed cases that had been contracted at gyms, leading MKs to call for the cabinet to reverse its decision.

Earlier today, the Walla news site reported that a Likud official threatened to strip Shasha-Biton of her post if she allowed the committee to vote to cancel the government’s decision.

The coronavirus committee will convene after the Netanyahu-Shasha-Biton meeting in order to vote on the matter.

Top Trump aide warns of ‘strong actions’ on TikTok, angering China

A top White House official says he expected US President Trump to act firmly against the TikTok and WeChat social media apps, prompting an angry response from China on Monday.

China dismissed White House trade adviser Peter Navarro’s comments as “ridiculous and narrow-minded,” and slammed the United States as “the world’s real hacker empire” amid rising tensions between the two superpowers.

“For a long time now, it (the US) has carried out indiscriminate and illegal cyber attacks, surveillance and theft of secrets on a global scale,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a routine briefing.

“The US continues to have strong values, but why is it so scared of a fun video-sharing social media network loved by young people?”

Trump last week had said he is considering banning the wildly popular TikTok app as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic.

— AFP

WATCH: Cops give NIS 500 fine for folded tables outside schnitzel shop as owner begs for mercy

Police officers are filmed giving the second of two NIS 500 fines in the span of less than a week to the owner of Tel Aviv’s Schnitzel Point over folded tables that were outside of the restaurant without a permit.

The shop’s owner, Avi Haimov, says he hadn’t received his bill for payment for June. The Tel Aviv municipality recently announced it was freezing aApril and May’s charges for such permits in light of the economic hardships caused by the coronavirus.

After he received the first of the week’s fines due to the placement of the tables, he reached out to the municipality and was told that the issue was being taken care of. However, earlier today, inspectors came to the restaurant and fined him again.

“Shame on you!” Haimov can be heard yelling in the video as he falls to the floor. “Please just leave me alone!”

“While businesses in Tel Aviv are collapsing, fighting for bread to feed their families, our mayor Ron Huldai boasts that he supports us, while his inspectors abuse us again and again,” he tells the Walla news site.

Knesset panel orders reopening of pools, gyms despite PM’s opposition

The Knesset’s cororonavirus committee has voted to reopen public pools and gyms that the cabinet shuttered last week in an effort to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The decision comes minutes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced that the premier and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had decided to keep gyms closed while establishing criteria that would allow for the reopening of public pools.

IDF coronavirus cases nearly triple in nine days

Over the course of the past nine days, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Israel Defense Forces has risen 180%, from 203 on July 4 to 568 today, according to figures released by the military.

The number of service members in quarantine has similarly shot up over the past week and a half, from 5,039 people on July 4 to 12,130 today, according to the IDF’s official tally.

Over 2,000 soldiers, officers and civilian employees of the IDF went into quarantine in the past day, according to the military’s figures.

This is a far greater jump than the military saw during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic, during which the IDF put in place harsher restrictions on its soldiers and bases than are currently in effect.

— Judah Ari Gross

After panel defies PM, Likud coalition whip moves to ax its Likud chairwoman

After the Knesset’s coronavirus committee voted to reopen gyms against the wishes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud coalition whip Miki Zohar has updated the House Committee head of his party’s intention to replace the coronavirus committee chairwoman, Yifat Shasha-Biton.

Zohar writes that a new Likud MK will be proposed at the next House Committee session.

Likud MK comes to defense of coronavirus panel head as party moves to replace her

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar issues a statement coming to the defense of the Knesset’s coronavirus commitee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton, who their party has moved to replace after her panel voted to approve the reopening of gyms and pools against the will of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Regardless of the content of the decisions made today by the Coronavirus Committee: 1. The Knesset is not a rubber stamp for the government. 2. It is more correct to convince the Knesset committee by means of data rather than threats and pressure. 3. The removal of the chairwoman of the committee is not the right thing to do,” Sa’ar says in a statement.

Likud MK: Saturday night economic protest attended only by ‘radical leftists’

Likud backbencher Osnat Mark claims Saturday night’s protest against the government’s economic response to the pandemic had been attended by “radical leftists.”

“I did not see the self-employed there. Only leftists and radical leftists who came and said one thing, ‘Down with Bibi.’ We are not in an election campaign right now, we are in the campaign to save the self-employed, and this must be done in conjunction with the government,” she says during a session of the Knesset’s Economic Committee.

 

‘You’re finished in Likud. Have a nice life!’ Likud bulldog tells panel head who voted against party line

Channel 12 reports that just before Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton voted to reverse the government’s decision to shutter gyms and pools, Likud coalition whip Miki Zohar angrily approached her and whispered in her ear, “You are finished in the Likud party. You [will be] ousted as committee chairwoman. Have a nice life.”

Court rejects petition to curb shady spyware company NSO Group

The Tel Aviv District Court has rejected a request to strip the controversial spyware firm NSO Group of its export license over the suspected use of the company’s technology in targeting journalists and dissidents worldwide.

The case, brought by Amnesty International in January, called on the court to prevent NSO from selling its technology abroad, especially to repressive regimes.

The court has ruled that Amnesty’s attorneys did not provide sufficient evidence “to prove the claim that an attempt was made to track a human rights activist by trying to hack his cellphone,” or that the hacking was done by NSO.

“Granting a license is done after the most rigorous process and also after granting the permit, the authority conducts oversight and close inspection, as necessary,” the court says. If human rights are found to be violated, that permit can be suspended or canceled, it added.

The court issued its ruling yesterday, but only made it public today.

NSO Group says in a statement that the company “will continue to work to provide technology to states and intelligence organizations, and that its purpose is to save human lives.”

Amnesty was not immediately available for comment.

In 2018, Amnesty claimed one of its employees was targeted by NSO’s malware, saying a hacker tried to break into the staffer’s smartphone, using a WhatsApp message about a protest in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington as bait.

NSO, an Israeli hacker-for-hire company, uses its Pegasus spyware to take control of a phone, its cameras and microphones, and mine the user’s personal data.

The company has been accused of selling its surveillance software to repressive governments that use it against dissidents. It doesn’t disclose clients, but they are believed to include Middle Eastern and Latin American states. The company says it sells its technology to Israeli-approved governments to help them combat criminals and terrorism.

In a report published last month, Amnesty International said Moroccan journalist Omar Radi’s phone was tapped using NSO’s technology as part of the government’s efforts to clamp down on dissent.

A Saudi dissident has accused NSO of involvement in Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing in 2018.

— AP

French police arrest most-wanted ‘darknet’ pedophile suspect

French prosecutors say that police arrested a man suspected of operating pedophilia sites on secret internet networks providing pornographic videos and pictures to thousands of people worldwide.

The 40-year-old arrested on July 7 near the southwestern city of Bordeaux was described by prosecutors as “one of the 10 most-wanted targets” of authorities fighting child sex crimes around the globe.

— AFP

Iran says virus death toll tops 13,000

Iran reports more than 200 new coronavirus fatalities that took the overall toll in the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak beyond 13,000.

“Unfortunately, in the past 24 hours, we have lost 203 of our compatriots due to the COVID-19 disease,” says health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari.

“Based on this figure, the total number of victims has reached 13,032,” she tells a televised news conference.

Lari says another 2,349 people had tested positive for the virus, raising the overall figure in the country’s outbreak to 259,652.

Iran has been struggling to contain the virus since announcing its first cases in February — two deaths in the Shiite holy city of Qom.

The Islamic Republic has refrained from enforcing full lockdowns to stop the pandemic’s spread.

— AFP

Rights groups denounce Lebanon ‘repression’

A coalition of rights groups say that “repression” and “intimidation” are threatening free speech in Lebanon, hit by an economic meltdown and months of angry protests.

Since mass demonstrations erupted in October demanding the wholesale removal of a ruling class deemed inept and corrupt, authorities have cracked down on protesters, the alliance said in a statement.

“Instead of heeding protesters’ calls for accountability, the authorities are waging a campaign of repression against people who expose corruption and rightfully criticize the government’s significant failings,” it sats.

The alliance includes international watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch along with local groups such as the Samir Kassir Foundation.

It warns that “powerful political and religious figures have increasingly used the country’s criminal insult and defamation laws as a tool for retaliation and repression against critics.”

The statement urges public prosecutors and security agencies “to refrain from summoning people to investigations for exercising their right to free speech”.

Debt-laden Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, with almost half its population now living in poverty.

Banks have severely restricted dollar withdrawals and the Lebanese pound has plummeted to record lows on the black market, sparking price hikes and fanning public anger.

The novel coronavirus, which has infected over 2,300 people and killed 36, has forced lockdown measures that further exacerbated the economic crisis.

— AFP

Protests erupt in Druze village after cops hand out demolition orders

Residents of Beit Jann are currently clashing with police after officers issued a series of demolition orders against agricultural buildings in the northern Druze village.

The locals argue that the timing of the orders — in the midst of the pandemic — shows that authorities are out of touch and employing selective enforcement that targets the country’s weaker population who as it is find it hard to get building approvals.

Health Ministry says 1,221 of 21,539 tests conducted Sunday came back positive

The Health Ministry updates that it confirmed 1,221 new cases of coronavirus from 21,539 tests carried out yesterday as the numbers refuse to drop.

There are currently 160 COVID-19 patients in serious condion, 51 of them hooked up to ventilators.

The death count stands at 364.

AP Source: Washington Redskins shedding name after 87 years

Washington’s NFL team will get rid of the name “Redskins,” sources tell the Associated Press.

It’s unclear when a new name will be revealed for one of the league’s oldest franchises.

USA Today, ESPN, The Washington Post, Washington Times and Sports Business Journal reported Sunday night that owner Dan Snyder is set to “retire” the name. Yahoo, on Saturday, reported a name change was imminent.

The team launched a “thorough review” of the name July 3, which the NFL supported. That came in the aftermath of prominent sponsors FedEx, Nike, PepsiCo and Bank of America asking the team to change the name.

FedEx is the title sponsor of the team’s stadium in Landover, Maryland, and CEO Frederick Smith is a minority owner. Nike and other companies pulled team gear from their online stores.

Over a dozen Native American leaders and organizations wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week demanding an immediate end to Washington’s use of the name. In the letter that was obtained by The Associated Press, they said they “expect the NFL to engage in a robust, meaningful reconciliation process with Native American movement leaders, tribes, and organizations to repair the decades of emotional violence and other serious harms this racist team name has caused to Native Peoples.”

— AP

Singer calls for Bastille Day torch-storming of PM’s residence

Singer and music producer Assaf Amdursky calls on Israelis to march toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home with torches in hand to protest his government’s shuttering of cultural activities amid the pandemic.

“A public servant who raises his own salary and arranges huge tax benefits for himself while imposing a closure on the economy that drops a million and a half citizens below the poverty line is a crook!” Amdursky says in reference to Netanyahu.

“Azza Street, Jerusalem. 7:30 p.m. tomorrow. We will overthrow the Bastille,” he adds.

Ministry cautions northern residents of possible Mediterranean spotted fever outbreak

Residents in the area of Haifa in the north are being advised to treat their dogs against ticks and get rid of weeds, among which ticks can gather, following reports of several cases of Mediterranean spotted fever.

The ministry is asking the Veterinary Services to convey the importance of tick treatment to dog owners in the affected region at this time.

Mediterranean spotted fever is spread by a parasite called Rickettsia conorii via the bites of the so-called brown dog tick, commonly found on pet dogs as well as wild animals such as jackals and foxes.

According to the Health Ministry website, symptoms are fever, headaches and rash, including on the hands and feet. The incubation period is five to ten days. The disease is treatable, but if not treated, can be fatal.

— Sue Surkes

Liberman calls on Blue and White to prevent ousting of Likud committee chair

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman tweets his support for Likud MK and Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton after her party moved to remove her from the latter post in response to her and her panel voting to reopen pools and gyms, against the recommendation of the government.

Liberman calls on the Blue and White party, which sits in a rocky unity coalition with Likud, to prevent Shasha-Biton’s ouster.

Blue and White notifies Likud it won’t seek to block removal of panel head who voted against gov’t

The Blue and White party has notified Likud that it will not seek to block the removal of Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton after she voted to reverse the government’s decision to shutter gyms and pools.

The Knesset’s House Committee will meet tomorrow to discuss replacing Shasha-Biton.

Taliban car bomb attack on Afghan intel office kills 11

At least 11 security personnel have been killed in an attack claimed by the Taliban on a rural office of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, officials say.

The insurgents say a suicide bomber detonated a device inside a car near the National Directorate of Security (NDS) while gunmen stormed the building in Aybak city in the north of the country.

Abdul Latif Ibrahimi, governor of Samangan province, tells AFP 11 people were killed and 63 others, mostly civilians, were wounded in the explosion and gunfire.

The attack, which lasted for nearly four hours, ended after security forces shot dead three armed men, the governor’s spokesman Sediq Azizi says.

In recent months, the Taliban have carried out near-daily attacks against Afghan forces — even as the government prepares to engage in peace talks with the militants aimed at ending the country’s decades-old war.

— AFP

Boutique hotel manager: We have 2 rooms filled. I don’t know how we’ll survive

A manager of a chain of boutique hotels in Tel Aviv tells Channel 12 that her main site currently is serving two rooms’ worth of guests as it struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

“If before I thought that closing a hotel would be difficult and to see it closed for three months, it turns out that reopening the hotel — which means three weeks of disinfecting and preparing it — only for the hotel to remain empty, it’s much more difficult now,” Gilat Ilan says.

She says that typically during the month of July, her hotels are 90% full, but that number has plummeted to just six percent.

“Every time we get a phone call from someone interested in coming we celebrate, but it’s very, very sad here.. The situation is very difficult and I just don’t know how we’re going to survive,” she says.

Likud official accuses Shasha-Biton of succumbing to the gym-lobby

Hebrew media outlets cite a “senior Likud official” who claims that Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton “succumbed to pressure from lobbyists who represented the gyms.”

“All health ministry experts warned that gyms present a real danger of infection because the virus can also be transferred through sweat with masks not providing sufficient defense,” the source says without citing proof.

Yesterday, health officials admitted to Shasha-Biton’s panel that there had only been 35 documented cases that were believed to have been contracted at gyms, leading the lawmakers to decry the government decision to shutter them along with pools. The Health Ministry failed to provide any data to justify the shuttering of pools as well.

“In such a situation, it is not possible accept [Shasha-Biton’s behavior], and therefore she will be removed from her post for a while,” the official says.

World hunger worsening as coronavirus weighs and obesity rises — UN

Nearly one in nine people in the world are going hungry, with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating already worsening trends this year, according to a United Nations report published today.

Economic slowdowns and climate-related shocks are pushing more people into hunger, while nutritious foods remain too expensive for many, contributing not only to undernourishment, but to growing rates of obesity in adults and children.

“After decades of long decline, the number of people suffering from hunger has been slowly increasing since 2014,” reads The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World annual report.

Beyond ensuring enough food, food must be nutritious, the study underlined, citing costly “health and environmental consequences” of sub-par diets.

Nearly 690 million people, or 8.9 percent of people around the globe, are hungry, the UN finds.

That number rose by 10 million people in just one year to 2019, and by 60 million in the past five years, found the study, which said eradicating hunger by 2030 – a goal set five years ago – will be impossible if trends continue.

By 2030, over 890 million people could be affected by hunger, or 9.8 percent of the world’s population, it estimated.

Five United Nations agencies co-authored the report: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last year, the report estimated over 820 million hungry, but estimates were recalculated following revised data from China for prior years.

— AFP

US stocks lifted by COVID-19 vaccine progress

Wall Street stocks open decisively higher today as progress on a coronavirus vaccine offset unease at worsening outbreaks in many parts of the United States.

About 10 minutes into trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at 26,298.79, up 0.9 percent.

The broad-based S&P 500 gained 0.8 percent to 3,210.72, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 1.4 percent to 10,766.29, rising further from record levels.

The state of Florida on Sunday reported more than 15,000 cases of coronavirus in a day, a new record for a US state. Numerous other states are also seeing a spike in cases and more and more hospitals are saying they’re overburdened.

But investors also got some good news on the COVID-19 front, with Pfizer and BioNTech announcing that two of four vaccine candidates for the coronavirus received “Fast Track” designation from the US Food and Drug Administration.

If ongoing tests are successful, the companies could manufacturer up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020, said a joint press release.

This week’s calendar includes a trove of earnings announcements from large banks and a handful of other companies. Other events on the calendar include reports on retail sales and consumer prices.

— AFP

WATCH: Caddie holds on for dear life as Trump zooms through golf green

After US President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that his “exercise” is playing golf, footage emerges of him preferring to take the golf cart to drive between holes, rather than walking.

NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell tweet that the course is “the only place he gets to drive himself.”

Likud bulldog: We’re not just planning to suspend Shasha-Biton, but remove her entirely

Speaking to Army Radio, Likud coalition whip Miki Zohar dismisses reports that his party will only suspend Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton after she voted to reverse the government’s decision to shutter gyms and pools.

“It won’t be a suspension, it will be a removal,” he says.

 

Cabinet approves Netanyahu, Katz’s economic relief package

The cabinet has approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s economic relief package.

The measures include:

An extension of eligibility for unemployment benefits through June 2021; “adjustment grants” for those above the age of 67, through the end of 2020.

A bimonthly grant of NIS 15,000 for self-employed businesses hit by the pandemic, through June 2021.

An extension of expenses reimbursement for businesses whose revenues were hit by at least 40% by increasing the maximum grant to NIS 500,000 per round.

An extension of the permit allowing veterans to take out money from their discharge deposit.

Tax exemptions for those withdrawing from their trust funds.

Washington Redskins confirm name to be changed

The Washington Redskins confirm the team is changing its name following pressure from sponsors over a word widely criticized as a racist slur against Native Americans.

Washington announced earlier this month that the Redskins name had been placed under review after a wave of rallies against racial injustice swept across the United States following George Floyd’s death on May 25.

“Today, we are announcing we will be retiring the Redskins name and logo upon completion of this review,” the NFL team says in a statement.

A replacement name was still being worked upon, the statement adds.

Washington owner Dan Snyder had long resisted calls to change the team’s name but faced mounting demands to rethink that position as protests erupted against systemic racism after the death of unarmed African-American man Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis.

— AFP

French court orders trial over woman’s ‘anti-Semitic’ death

French judges have ordered two men to stand trial for the brutal 2018 killing of an elderly Jewish woman that prompted an outcry over a rise in anti-Semitic acts.

Mireille Knoll, 85 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was stabbed in her Paris apartment by attackers who later set her body on fire, apparently to hide evidence of their crime.

She had escaped the mass deportation of Jews from France during World War II by fleeing abroad.

A longtime neighbor, Yacine Mihoub, and associate Alexandre Carrimbacus were later arrested on charges of murder and aggravated robbery, though prosecutors did not initially characterize the killing as anti-Semitic.

Under questioning Carrimbacus accused Mihoub of yelling “Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)” while stabbing Knoll and of justifying the attack by saying “Jews have money.”

The revelations outraged France’s Jewish community, which called it the latest in a series of increasingly brazen anti-Semitic acts, including violence and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries.

Thousands attended silent marches on the day of Knoll’s funeral, which was attended by President Emmanuel Macron.

However Carrimbacus, an unemployed 21-year-old with a history of robberies as well as psychiatric troubles, later walked back his testimony, casting doubt on the murder’s racist motive.

In May, prosecutors nonetheless said the evidence warranted a trial on charges of “murder of a vulnerable person committed because of the victim’s religion.”

Mihoub’s mother was also ordered to stand trial on charges of destroying evidence after investigators said she cleaned the knife used in the attack.

“As I’ve always maintained, Madame Knoll was killed both because she was an old person unable to defend herself, and because she inspired a particular hate because of her Jewish origins,” Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer for the Knoll family, told AFP.

But lawyers for Mihoub said the judges “were unable to resist the pressure of public opinion,” adding that “except for the statements by Alexandre Carrimbacus, nothing justifies an anti-Semitic motive in this case.”

An increase in anti-Jewish offenses in recent years — authorities reported a 74 percent jump in 2018 — has caused alarm in the country that is home to both the biggest Jewish and the biggest Muslim communities in Europe.

In December, the government announced the creation of a national police bureau charged with investigating hate crimes, after more than 100 graves were desecrated with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France.

— AFP

Months after letters fell, Golan ‘Trump Heights’ sign back in business

Months after most of the letters had fallen off the Trump Heights sign in the new community established by the government in the Golan to honor the US president, the placard is back up in its entirety and is now even accompanied by a golden eagle statue.

Hundreds of social workers protest outside Finance Ministry as strike continues

Hundreds of social workers have gathered outside the Finance Ministry to protest their working conditions.

Social workers have long complained of what they describe as an unreasonable workload, with low salaries and the constant danger of violence.

During the open-ended labor strike there have been no protection orders issued for children and youths in danger, no meetings of abortion committees, no respondents available to deal with inquiries from the elderly, no tending to domestic violence incidents, no allocation of minors to care homes, and no assessments of convicts or those under arrest.

PA eases lockdown measures amid outcry from business owners

The Palestinian Authority has amended its plans to continue a planned two-week lockdown after an outcry by business owners hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Small businesses will be allowed to open in addition to supermarkets and pharmacies, as long as they abide by social distancing guidelines, Palestinian Authority government spokesperson Ibrahim Milhim says. Weddings and funerals remain banned, and coffee shops will remain closed.

On Sunday, the PA announced that it would extend the coronavirus lockdown in the West Bank for an additional 19 days. The response was immediate: dozens of merchants in Hebron and Ramallah gathered last night to demonstrate against the continued closure of their shops.

A widely circulated video on Palestinian social media purportedly showed a small business owner at one of the gatherings in Ramallah today on the verge of tears as he opened his wallet to show all he had was NIS 20.

“We want to live,” he told journalists at the scene.

— Aaron Boxerman

In about-face, Blue and White says it won’t support removal of Shasha-Biton

In an apparent about-face, the Blue and White party announces that it will not support a Likud effort to ax Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton after she voted to reverse a government decision to shutter pools and gyms.

“In light of the importance of the Knesset’s role as a supervisory body, it is not appropriate to remove the chairwoman of the Coronavirus Committee, Yifat Shasha-Biton. If the Likud puts forth a vote on the issue – we will not take part in it,” the party says in a statement carried by Channel 12.

It was not immediately clear whether “not take part in it” meant that Blue and White would actually block Shasha-Biton’s removal or whether it would just not vote in favor of it.

In public warning, Health Ministry director says infection rate rose to 6%

Health Ministry director Chezy Levy warns that Israel is in the midst of a growing wave of infections, with the number of seriously ill patients climbing to 183 — 54 of whom are on ventilators.

Since midnight, there have been 932 new confirmed cases, he says during a press conference at the Health Ministry.

He says his office has increased testing to 27,000-28,000 a day, but it has still resulted in a roughly 6% infection rate.

“I am worried about the increase in numbers, and I am not sure we all understand just how significant the increase has been,” he says.

Levy says he regrets the decision by the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee to reverse the government’s shuttering of gyms and pools, adding that he will work to limit its scope as much as possible.

The Health Ministry director says he’s still working to appoint a “coronavirus commander” to lead the government’s effort to combat the pandemic but that talks with former Central Command head Roni Numa ended with no agreement.

“We need to understand the degree of infection we’re currently seeing. When there was a recurrence in other countries their government ordered shutdowns. We want to avoid having to do that,” he says.

Gantz announces 3 classified military projects are winners of Israel’s security prize

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announces this year’s recipients of Israel’s top security prize: three classified projects involving the military, Mossad spy agency, Shin Bet security service, Defense Ministry and defense contractors.

In addition, a lifetime achievement award was presented to a senior Mossad officer who can only be identified by the first Hebrew letter of his name: Aleph.

The nature of the projects that won the prize this year remain largely classified.

One was led by the Mossad, the Rafael defense contractor, the Israeli Air Force, and the Israel Defense Force’ visual intelligence Unit 9900. Another winner was a project led by the Israeli Aerospace Industries, with assistance from the IAF, Defense Ministry’s research-and-development department, Rafael, and the Elbit Systems defense contractor. The third project to receive the award this year was a joint effort by the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence.

In addition, “Aleph” of the Mossad will receive a lifetime achievement award for his “years-long contribution to the security of the state and for his initiative [in developing] many technological solutions, while displaying outstanding talent, creativity, curiosity and courage,” the ministry says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Days before scolding panel chair for voting to reopen gyms, Miki Zohar claimed to support move

Footage has emerged from a Saturday evening interview that Miki Zohar gave to Channel 12, in which the Likud coalition whip can be heard voicing his opposition to the government’s decision to shutter gyms.

Zohar can be heard saying that the gyms have been operating carefully, according to government guidelines and have the capacity of remaining open without risking a major outbreak.

Yesh Atid MK realizes he’s addressing wrong protest midway through speech

Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya’alon speaks passionately in favor of the social workers protesting outside the Knesset, only to find out that he is addressing a different demonstration of deaf activists.

The sign language interpreter signals to Ya’alon that he is talking to the wrong crowd and the lawmaker does his best to smile the gaffe off before speaking on the importance of recognizing the rights of Israel’s differently abled citizens.

WHO says no return to normality for ‘foreseeable future’

The World Health Organization warns that there could be no return to normality any time soon, as too many countries have been bungling their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In light of a daily record of 230,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the WHO on Sunday, the UN health agency says that the pandemic is only going to get worse, unless people stick to the basics of physical distancing, handwashing, and wearing masks.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns that countries that have been easing their way out of lockdowns are now witnessing a resurgence of the virus because they were not following proven methods to reduce risk.

“I want to be straight with you: there will be no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future,” Tedros tells a virtual news briefing.

“Let me blunt: too many countries are headed in the wrong direction.”

“The virus remains public enemy number one, but the actions of many governments and people do not reflect this.”

He says mixed messages from leaders have been undermining trust.

If governments do not roll out a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission of the virus, and if populations do not follow basic public health principles, “there is only one way this pandemic is going to go,” he says.

“It’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”

The novel coronavirus has killed nearly 570,000 people and infected more than 12.9 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

“Although the number of daily deaths remains relatively stable, there is a lot to be concerned about,” says Tedros.

He says there were four scenarios playing out around the world.

They are: countries that were alert and avoided large outbreaks, those that got a major outbreak under control, those that eased restrictions and are now backsliding, and those that are in an intense transmission phase.

Tedros says the epicenter of the virus remains the Americas.

— AFP

Likud bulldog vows ‘disciplinary measures’ against Shasha-Biton; stops short of calling for her axing

Likud coalition whip Miki Zohar says he just finished a conversation with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, during which he decided to take “disciplinary measures” against Coronavirus Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton, after she voted to reverse the government’s decision to shutter gyms and pools.

For the time being, legislative proposals will not be put before Shasha-Biton’s committee for debate, Zohar says. It is not clear what authority the Likud whip has to strip the panel of its authority.

However, Zohar notably has dropped any mention of removing Shasha-Biton from her post.

More than 200 US universities back lawsuit over foreign student rule

More than 200 universities are backing a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s new restrictions on international students, arguing that the policy jeopardizes students’ safety and forces schools to reconsider fall plans, which they have spent months preparing.

The schools have signed court briefs supporting Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as they sue US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in federal court in Boston. The lawsuit challenges a recently announced directive saying international students cannot stay in the US if they take all their classes online this fall.

A wide range of colleges and state and local officials are standing up to the policy, which faces mounting legal opposition. Massachusetts filed a federal suit Monday that was joined by Democratic attorneys general in 16 other states and the District of Columbia. Other suits have come from Johns Hopkins University, and the state of California. The University of California system has said it will sue.

A judge is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in the case brought by Harvard and MIT. If the judge does not suspend the rule, colleges across the US will have until Wednesday to notify ICE if they plan to be fully online this fall.

The Department of Homeland Security and ICE have not yet responded to the suit.

A brief filed by 59 universities says the rule throws their plans into disarray with less than a month before some schools start the fall term. They challenged the policy’s legal grounds and say it forces schools across the nation to “choose between opening their campuses regardless of the public health risks, or forcing their international students to leave the country.”

— AP

Police tell Halak’s family CCTV camera in garbage room where cops shot Iyad was not working

Police officials met with the parents of Iyad Halak earlier today and notified them that the security cameras in the garbage room where their autistic son had been shot dead by police officers in May were not working at the time of the incident, Haaretz reports.

Health Ministry officials reportedly conclude there’s no escaping 2nd lockdown

Channel 13 reports that Heath Ministry officials have concluded that there is no escaping a second lockdown, as the infection rate in Israel continues to rise.

Health officials seek to tighten criteria on gyms after Knesset OKs reopens

Health Ministry officials are working to tighten the “purple badge” criteria required of gyms to remain open, after the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee voted to reverse a government decision to shutter them, Channel 13 reports.

 

Likud bulldog: Other committees will debate virus legislation instead of Shasha-Biton’s panel

Likud coalition whip Miki Zohar tells Channel 13 that Knesset committees other than the Coronavirus Committee led by Yifat Shasha-Biton will debate legislation related to the pandemic, for the time being.

Zohar says the decision is a punishment against Shasha-Biton, who voted to reverse the government’s decision to shutter gyms and pools.

Zohar tells Channel 13 that he supports re-opening gyms, but not for another week, when the Health Ministry has finished writing up updated criteria allowing them to operate.

Despite PM vow of NIS 7,500 grants for self-employed, most receive far less

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed last week that self-employed business owners would receive grants of NIS 7,500 by the beginning of this week, figures from Israel’s Tax Authority show that the majority of them received far less.

116,000 of the self-employed received less than NIS 3,000.

136,000 of them received between NIS 3,000 and NIS 7,000.

Only 128,000 of them received the full NIS 7,500 promised by Netanyahu.

 

Health Ministry reports 1,578 coronavirus infections in the previous 24 hours

The Health Ministry reports 1,578 coronavirus infections in the previous 24 hours, as the total cases crossed the 40,000 mark.

The number of serious COVID-19 cases continued to surge and reached 183, a leap of 32 in one day. The tally has more than doubled in six days and has prompted growing concern by authorities.

Figures released by the ministry showed that 40,248 cases have been confirmed in the country since the start of the pandemic, including 20,560 active cases.

Of the 183 cases, 54 were on ventilators — seven more than a day before. Another 97 were in moderate condition, and the rest were displaying mild or no symptoms.

The figures showed 20,102 coronavirus tests were conducted on Sunday, of which 6.1 percent returned a positive result.

— Michael Bachner

Organizers of Saturday night economic protest weigh another demonstration

The organizers of Saturday night’s protest against the government’s economic response to the pandemic are considering holding another demonstration at the same time in five days, Channel 13 reports.

Over 100 from IDF elite intelligence unit in quarantine after comrades test positive

Over 100 soldiers in the elite IDF intelligence unit 8200 are currently in quarantine, after over a dozen of their comrades tested positive for COVID-19, Channel 13 reports.

Halak family accuses cops of wiping evidence, after police claim CCTV cameras from shooting weren’t working

The family of an autistic Palestinian man who was shot dead by police officers in the Old City of Jerusalem in May is demanding that an investigation be opened into suspicions that police tampered with evidence from the incident.

The statement from the attorney representing Iyad Halak’s family comes shortly after the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department announced that the CCTV cameras in the garbage room where the young man was killed were not working during the time of the shooting.

Gov’t unable to tap head of pandemic response due to limits in job’s authority

The former head of the IDF’s Central Command Roni Numa turned down an offer to head the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, after Health Ministry director Chezy Levy refused to grant him the authority to coordinate between the various ministries, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Poll: Plurality of parents would try to block hiring of Arab at their child’s daycare

A Channel 13 polls shows that a plurality  — 38 percent — of respondents would oppose the hiring of an Arab daycare teacher and would work to block such a move.

37% said it would not bother them

16% said it would make them uncomfortable, but they would still send their child to the daycare

9% said they didn’t know

Asked whether the hiring of an Arab worker at their child’s daycare would bother them, 54% said it would, 37% said it would not, and 9% said they did not know.

In apparent lack of confidence in successor, PM to meet with ex-Health Ministry director

In an apparent sign of his lack of confidence in Health Ministry director Chezy Levy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet tomorrow with Levy’s predecessor Moshe Bar Siman-Tov to discuss the ongoing rise in COVID-19 cases, Channel 12 reports.

7 children, 2 women killed in Yemen air strike — UN

Seven children and two women were killed in an air raid in northwest Yemen, a UN agency says, as Riyadh claims it intercepted missiles fired by Yemeni Huthi rebels.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also says another two women and two children were wounded in Sunday’s raid in Hajjah governorate.

The province near the capital Sanaa is a battlefront between Huthi rebels and pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition that provides air support.

“Initial reports… indicate that on 12 July an air strike killed seven children and two women in Washhah district of Hajjah governorate,” OCHA says.

Lisa Grande, the agency’s coordinator for Yemen, says it was “incomprehensible that in the middle of the COVID pandemic, when options for a ceasefire are on the table, civilians continue being killed in Yemen”.

UN experts have accused both sides in Yemen’s five-year-old conflict of multiple war crimes.

— AFP

Gantz: IDF should be ready to operate virus hotels through 2021

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tells the IDF Home Front Command to ready to operate hotels for coronavirus patients and those unable to quarantine at home through 2021, saying it appears unlikely the COVID-19 pandemic will be over by then.

“The working premise needs to be active until the end of 2021,” Gantz says in a Zoom video call with commanders in charge of the hotels. “The entire work year next year will also revolve around the crisis. Unfortunately it’s hard for me to see this ending before then.”

Maj. Gen. Uri Gordon, the head of Home Front Command, says the greatest challenge facing his unit is getting people to come to the hotels.

“At the end of the day, you’re uprooting a person from his home for a relatively long period, about a month, and this leads to many concerns and objections from the sick and the quarantined,” he says. “However, very large efforts are being made and the machine is already well oiled.”

He adds that over 400 people check into the hotels each day.

The Dan hotel in Jerusalem, which was turned into a quarantine facility, on April 13, 2020. (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
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Protests erupt in Druze village after cops hand out demolition orders

Residents of Beit Jann are currently clashing with police after officers issued a series of demolition orders against agricultural buildings in the northern Druze village.

The locals argue that the timing of the orders — in the midst of the pandemic — shows that authorities are out of touch and employing selective enforcement that targets the country’s weaker population who as it is find it hard to get building approvals.