Regime bombing kills 19 civilians in northwestern Syria — monitor
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Hamas said to demand Israel cancel all restrictions imposed this week on Gaza

Terror group reportedly says government should announce tonight it is reopening crossings into Israel and reinstating 15-mile fishing zone

A masked Palestinian checks the damage following overnight Israeli airstrikes on an Islamic Jihad military base in the town of Khan Younis, Southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
A masked Palestinian checks the damage following overnight Israeli airstrikes on an Islamic Jihad military base in the town of Khan Younis, Southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

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

Korean flight attendant who was in Israel, LA tests positive for coronavirus

A Korean Air flight attendant who recently visited Israel and the United States has tested positive for COVID-19, South Korean media reports.

The cabin crew member flew to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv aboard the flight that brought some 200 Korean pilgrims to Israel, many of whom were later confirmed to have the virus.

After leaving Israel on February 16, the flight attendant then flew to Los Angeles and back to Seoul’s Incheon Airport on February 21, before being diagnosed with coronavirus and entering quarantine, according to the wow.co.kr news website.

Iran deputy health minister has coronavirus

Iran’s deputy health minister has been infected with the new coronavirus, a ministry official says, amid a major outbreak in the Islamic Republic.

“The coronavirus test for Mr. Harirchi, the deputy health minister who was on the front lines combating the coronavirus, was positive,” Alireza Vahabzadeh, a media adviser to the health minister, says in a tweet.

Iraj Harirchi coughed occasionally and appeared to be sweating during a press conference yesterday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

— AFP

Croatia reports first case of novel coronavirus in Balkans

Croatia’s prime minister announces his country’s first confirmed case of the new coronavirus, the first in the Balkans region.

“It has been confirmed that the first patient was infected with the COVID-19 virus,” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says at a press conference at a hospital in Zagreb.

The patient is a young man “showing mild symptoms,” he adds.

— AFP

First virus cases reported confirmed in Austria

Austrian public broadcaster ORF reports that authorities have confirmed the first COVID-19 cases in the Alpine country.

ORF quotes authorities in the western state of Tyrol saying that one of the two confirmed cases involves a person from northern Italy. It isn’t immediately clear whether the individual recently traveled there.

ORF reports that the patients currently have a slight fever and are being isolated at an Innsbruck hospital.

— AP

Netanyahu mourns ‘my personal friend’ Hosni Mubarak

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mourns former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who died today aged 91.

“On behalf of Israel’s citizens and the government of Israel, I want to express deep sorrow over the passing of President Hosni Mubarak,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

“President Mubarak, my personal friend, was a leader who led his nation to peace and security, to peace with Israel,” he adds. Mubarak was vice president when president Anwar Sadat signed the 1979 peace accord with the Jewish state.

“I have met [Mubarak] many times, I was impressed by his dedication, and we will continue along that common path. I want to also send my condolences to President Sissi, the Mubarak family and the Egyptian nation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak meet in Cairo, July 2010 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/Government Press Office/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak meet in Cairo, July 2010. (Moshe Milner/Government Press Office/Flash90)

Trump says Weinstein conviction ‘sends very strong message’

Harvey Weinstein’s conviction of rape and sexual assault was a “great victory” for women and sends a “very strong message,” US President Donald Trump says.

“I think that from the standpoint of women, I think it was a great thing,” Trump says at a news conference in India, a day after Weinstein was convicted.

“It was a great victory. And sends a very strong message, very, very strong message.”

The conviction of the once-powerful Hollywood producer has been hailed as a historic victory by the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct.

— AFP

Ultra-Orthodox leader vows to stick with Netanyahu, even at cost of 4th vote

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, vows to only join a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

“We are going with Netanyahu at any cost, even fourth elections,” Deri tells Channel 12.

He says he “definitely” won’t join a coalition formed by Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz even if the latter manages to form a government.

Shas party chairman and Minister of Interior Affairs Aryeh Deri (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony marking the six year anniversary of death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, at the Knesset, November 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Abbas hails Mubarak for supporting Palestinians

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hails former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, after he passed away today aged 91.

A statement from Abbas’s office says he is mourning the death “with great sorrow” and hails the “late president’s positions in support of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people in achieving their freedom and independence.”

— with AFP

Hillary Clinton says she’ll support Sanders if nominated by Democrats

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed her skepticism about Bernie Sanders but says she will support the Democratic nominee regardless of who it is.

Bernie Sanders introducing the then-presumptive Democratic US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, July 12, 2016. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Clinton, who beat Sanders for the Democratic nomination only to lose the 2016 election to Donald Trump, has made waves with comments about Sanders in the new documentary “Hillary” saying “nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him.”

But in comments at the Berlinale film festival where she is promoting the four-hour documentary that will debut on Hulu in March, Clinton says her top priority is unseating Trump.

“I’m going to wait and see who we nominate,” she says. “I will support the nominee, and it won’t surprise you to hear me say that I think that it’s imperative that we retire the incumbent.”

— AP

Iranian lawmaker says he has tested positive for coronavirus

Iranian MP Mahmoud Sadeghi says he has tested positive for COVID-19, hours after the country’s deputy health minister was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

Sadeghi, an anti-government reformist, says in a tweet in Persian that he has “little hope of living in this world,” indicating he doesn’t believe he will survive. He adds a demand that “political prisoners” and their families be allowed to “leave the epidemic to prevent the outbreak.”

US drugmaker readies possible coronavirus vaccine for testing

The drugmaker Moderna has shipped a potential coronavirus vaccine for humans to US government researchers for testing.

Shares of the biotech company soar, a day after the company said it sent vials to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for early-stage testing in the United States.

More than 80,000 people have been infected globally from the viral outbreak that began late last year in China. A total of 35 cases have been reported in the United States.

More than 2,600 people have died from the virus in mainland China, including one US citizen.

Shares of Moderna Inc., based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have jumped nearly 16% in premarket trading.

The stock started trading in late 2018 and set an all-time high price of $29.79 last April, according to FactSet.

— AP

Saudi court sentences 8 for spying for Iran — state TV

A Saudi criminal court has sentenced one citizen to death and seven others to jail on charges of treason and spying for the kingdom’s enemy Iran, state television reports.

The Saudi sentenced to death is accused of “betraying his country and offering intelligence to Iran,” Al-Ekhbariya television says on Twitter.

Seven others have been sentenced to a total jail term of 58 years for having “associated and cooperated with people working in the embassy of Iran,” it adds.

The broadcaster does not identify the people nor explain with which Iranian embassy they are accused of cooperating.

Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia snapped diplomatic relations with Shiite-dominated Iran following 2016 attacks by demonstrators on its missions in Iran after the kingdom executed revered Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Saudi Arabia, home of the birthplace of Islam, has been at odds with Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979 ushered in a Shiite theocracy and set the two countries on a collision course.

Tensions have risen in recent months after a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and Saudi oil installations, incidents that roiled global energy markets last year.

Both Washington and Riyadh have accused Iran of being behind those attacks, a charge denied by Tehran.

— AFP

Netanyahu refrains from shaking supporters’ hands due to coronavirus fears

A video circulating on social media shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refusing to shake hands with worshipers and supporters during a visit yesterday to the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The premier’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, is heard in the video saying it is by orders of the government, to avoid the chance of the prime minister catching coronavirus.

“Namaste,” Netanyahu is heard telling people, after someone shouts “no hand-shaking.”

Separately, senior IDF commander Ofer Winter has been excluded from a security briefing with Netanyahu because his daughter recently returned from Thailand and has entered a two-week quarantine, and the Prime Minister’s Office is taking no chances.

Pompeo says Iran must ‘tell the truth’ on coronavirus

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demands that Iran “tell the truth” about a coronavirus outbreak, voicing alarm at allegations of a cover-up.

“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo tells reporters in Washington.

“All nations including Iran should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations,” he says.

— AFP

Jailed French academic hospitalized in Iran — lawyer

French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, jailed in Iran since last year, has been transferred to a prison hospital after her health deteriorated following a hunger strike, her lawyer says.

“This is a consequence of the hunger strike she had. Unfortunately, her kidneys have been damaged,” Saeed Dehqan tells AFP, emphasizing that her situation is “concerning.”

Fariba Adelkhah (France 24 screenshot)

— AFP

Switzerland reports first case of new coronavirus

Switzerland reports its first case of new coronavirus, after outbreaks were identified in its main neighbors Austria, France, Germany and Italy.

“It’s confirmed,” a spokeswoman for Switzerland’s federal health office tells AFP, adding that more details about the case will be released later today.

The case was found in the Italian-speaking Ticino canton on the border with Italy, the canton says on its website.

Switzerland yesterday said the country was in a state of “heightened vigilance” because of a surge in Italy.

Prior to this case, the country tested some 300 suspect cases that were all found to be negative.

The government said yesterday that it had stepped up testing on patients with flu-like symptoms and was working to raise awareness at all border points.

— AFP

Likud said to give up on efforts to convince far-right party to quit elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has given up on attempts to persuade Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, to withdraw from the race, according to senior sources within the party cited by the Kan public broadcaster.

According to the report, the Likud officials have said all the various offers presented to Ben Gvir have been rejected, and that chances of convincing him are now zero.

Otzma Yehudit will not get enough support to clear the 3.25% electoral threshold in next week’s election, according to all recent polls, and Likud has been warning of right-wing votes being wasted.

Report: PM associate hired intel firm responsible for probing Gantz phone hack

A private intelligence firm was hired several weeks ago by an associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gather embarrassing or damaging information on the premier’s main rival in next week’s elections, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, according to a report.

The report by business news website The Marker, which does not cite a source, says the unidentified person close to Netanyahu brokered a deal estimated at hundreds of thousands of shekels (tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of US dollars) between a body linked to Likud and the CGI Group intelligence company. It adds that it is unknown whether the payment has been made.

Benny Gantz, Head of Blue and White party speaks on a phone during an elections campaign event in Petah Tikva on March 13, 2019 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

CGI Group — co-owned by Yaakov Perry, a former MK for Yesh Atid, one of the factions that make up Blue and White — is the firm hired last year by Blue and White to investigate the suspected Iranian hack into Gantz’s phone.

The investigation conclusion that a hack could indeed have taken place was leaked to the media, leading to mutual accusations between CGI and Blue and White and to both cutting their ties.

According to the report, the Likud-linked body asked CGI for documents related to Blue and White’s ties with the PR company owned by Gantz’s campaign manager Ronen Tzur, following claims that a certain person — unidentified in the report — was employed in the past by the firm, a fact that could have helped the Likud campaign.

It isn’t known if that goal has been achieved.

Netanyahu’s spokesperson Ofer Golan responds that the report is “a complete lie.” CGI Group and its owners refuse to comment.

Regime bombing kills 19 civilians in northwestern Syria — monitor

Regime air strikes and artillery fire in northwestern Syria, including on schools in the city of Idlib, killed 19 civilians today, a war monitor says.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says eight children are among those killed in the raids on Idlib city and the towns of Binnish and Maarat Misrin.

— AFP

Bennett taps new acting IDF chief censor

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett appoints Eyal Samuelov as the new acting IDF chief censor, the officer in charge of preventing publications that could hurt Israel’s national security.

Samuelov, who has been the deputy censor, will succeed Col. Ariella Ben-Avraham who held the position since 2015.

Since Israel is ruled by a transitional government, it cannot make permanent appointments to senior roles.

World ‘simply not ready’ for virus spread: WHO-China mission chief

The world is “simply not ready” to rein in the new coronavirus outbreak, the head of a joint WHO-China mission of experts says, urging countries to learn from China’s expertise.

“You have to be ready to manage this at a larger scale… and it has to be done fast,” Bruce Aylward tells reporters in Geneva, insisting countries everywhere have to “be ready as if this hits us tomorrow.”

— AFP

2 Israeli diplomats in Japan ordered to self-quarantine over coronavirus fears

Two Israeli diplomats in Japan have been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days since they last week accompanied the 11 Israelis who returned from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

It is a precaution taken after two of those Israeli passengers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 after they returned to Israel and were quarantined at Sheba Medical Center.

Italy sees 45% rise in virus cases, 10 deaths

Civil protection officials in Italy say the number of virus cases in the country increased 45% in the last day and there now have been 100 deaths.

Officials say that 322 people have confirmed infections, 100 more than reported last night.

The new cases also include ones well outside the two hard-hit northern regions, including three in Sicily, two in Tuscany and one in Liguria.

— AP

Gantz says he believes judiciary should be ‘above’ political system

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz says he believes the judicial system should be above the political system and warns of serious danger to Israeli democracy if the situation is reversed.

“We are facing a great danger to the institutions of democracy and rule of law in Israel,” he tells 103FM Radio.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many right-wing lawmakers who support him have sought legislation to rein in and limit the powers of the High Court of Justice, angry that the court has repeatedly struck down legislative efforts by the right that it deemed to be illegal.

Netanyahu and his allies have also railed repeatedly against the attorney general and prosecution and sought to portray them as corrupt and politicized due to the investigations and indictment of the premier in three criminal cases.

Gantz says “changes to the balance between the High Court of Justice and the Knesset should be done responsibly. The Israeli Institute of Democracy has ideas on the matter. What determines things is the law, and the judicial system rules according to that. It’s good that it is above the political system.”

He adds: “The political system must be reined in, and I lack the words to describe what will happen here if the political system is stronger than the judicial system. It will be a disaster… There — I, as someone who wants to be prime minister, relinquish that power.”

Gas explosion at Jerusalem synagogue; no casualties immediately reported

A gas explosion has been reported at a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood.

Fire and Rescue Service says its staff have arrived at the scene and searching to see if there are people hurt or trapped inside.

No casualties have been reported.

After ban over COVID-19, some foreigners to be able to run in Tel Aviv Marathon

After earlier barring foreign nationals from taking part in the Tel Aviv Marathon this week — at the government’s request — over coronavirus fears, the Tel Aviv Municipality says is has obtained an approval to let foreigners who are already in the country participate.

Following a request by the municipality, the Health Ministry director general “has approved the participation of international runners who are already in the country, diplomats, and other foreign residents in the Tel Aviv Samsung Marathon this Friday, February 28,” the statement says.

“Marathon officials will contact the hundreds of relevant registrants,” it adds.

Hamas said to demand Israel cancel all restrictions imposed this week on Gaza

The Hamas terror group has demanded that Israel immediately cancel the restrictions it imposed this week on the Gaza Strip during the round of escalation in which dozens of rockets were fired at Israeli cities and communities, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

According to the report, Hamas is demanding that the government announce tonight that it is reopening the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings between Gaza and Israel and reinstating the 15-mile fishing zone of the Strip’s coast.

The report adds that the terror group says it has not received a demand to halt the launch of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices in exchange for the concessions.

Syrian regime retakes Kafranbel in Idlib province — monitor

Syrian regime forces have recaptured Kafranbel in the Idlib province, a war monitor says, a symbolic victory in a town that was among the first to rebel against Damascus.

Supported by Russian air strikes, pro-regime forces advancing on the last major rebel-held bastion in northwest Syria have captured Kafranbel and 18 nearby towns and villages over the past 48 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

— AFP

Israel protests carnival float in Spain that features Nazi uniforms, crematoria

The Israeli Embassy in Madrid protests a carnival procession in Spain where participants last weekend dressed like Nazis and Jewish concentration camp prisoners while dancing next to a float evoking crematoria.

The display happened at the annual carnival procession in Campo de Criptana, a town situated about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of the capital.

“We condemn the vile and repugnant representation that disrespects the victims of the Holocaust, making fun of the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis,” the embassy writes on Twitter. “European nations must collectively fight anti-Semitism.”

A video of the procession shows the participants marching in their fake Nazi uniforms. Behind them, dancers wearing striped outfits evoking concentration camp uniforms followed while waving flags of Israel. They were followed by the float shaped like a train locomotive with two large chimneys.

— JTA

Embassies told to disinvite expert who opposes Israel’s Iran policy — report

The Foreign Ministry has told Israel’s embassies in Russia, Bulgaria and Canada to cancel planned lectures by an Israeli Iran expert because the academic has criticized the government’s “maximum pressure” strategy against the Islamic Republic, Channel 13 reports.

The report says Haim Asraf, head of the ministry’s strategic division, today sent a letter to the three embassies regarding the planned appearances — by invitation of the embassies and with partial or full funding by the Foreign Ministry — by Dr. Raz Zimmt of the Tel Aviv University, one of the leading Israeli experts on Iran.

In the letter, Asraf says Zimmt “does not advance our diplomatic goals but rather serves as a vocal and scholarly opposition to them. As much as it is possible — I ask that you stop his visit.”

Zimmt and the Foreign Ministry refuse to comment on the report.

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Regime bombing kills 19 civilians in northwestern Syria — monitor

Regime air strikes and artillery fire in northwestern Syria, including on schools in the city of Idlib, killed 19 civilians today, a war monitor says.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says eight children are among those killed in the raids on Idlib city and the towns of Binnish and Maarat Misrin.

— AFP