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‘Either open entirely or don’t open at all’: mayors pan plan to reopen schools

Federation of Local Authorities chairman skewers Education Ministry’s plan to have some students come in 1 day a week while others arrive for 2 or 3

Israeli students in Jerusalem wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. May 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli students in Jerusalem wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. May 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it unfolded.

Saudi Arabia triples VAT, suspends handouts in virus led austerity drive

Saudi Arabia’s finance minister says the kingdom will triple its Value Added Tax (VAT) and halt monthly handout payments to citizens in new austerity measures amid record low oil prices and a coronavirus-led economic slump.

The measures, which could stir public resentment with the cost of living rising, come as the petro-state steps up emergency plans to slash government spending to deal with the twin economic blow.

“It has been decided the cost of living allowance will be halted from June 2020 and VAT will be raised from 5 percent to 15 percent from July 1,” Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan says in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Jadaan insists the measures are necessary to shore up state finances amid a “sharp decline” in oil revenue as the coronavirus pandemic saps global demand for crude.


South Korea reports highest coronavirus count in a month

South Korea reports the highest number of cases of coronavirus in more than a month following an outbreak of infections in a Seoul nightlife district.

The country has been considered a model in the fight against the virus after suppressing a major outbreak in February

South Korea reports 35 new cases today, bringing the total number of Covid-19 positive people to 10,909, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

South Korea had eased restrictions but this weekend, Seoul, the neighboring province of Gyeonggi and the nearby town of Incheon ordered the closure of clubs and bars, as authorities fear a second wave of infections.

A man waring a face mask passes by notices at the entrance of dance club closed due to a new coronavirus outbreak in Seoul, South Korea, May 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)


Minor quake centered in Jordan felt in Beit Shean

A minor tremor is felt in Beit Shean in the Jordan Valley after a 3.5-magnitude quake centered in Jordan, around 14 kilometers north of the town, the Geological Survey of Israel says.

No injuries or damage are reported.

The Beit Shean National Park and archeological is seen on January 10, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The quake comes after a 3.6-magnitude tremor in southern Israe  exactly a month ago.

Minor quakes have rattled parts of Israel in recent years.

Israel is situated along the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust running the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan, and which is part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.

The last major earthquake to hit the region was in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude tremor that killed 500 people and injured 700 more.

Mild earthquake shakes Rome

Rome has been hit by a mild earthquake but there have been no immediate reports of damage, emergency services say.

Firefighters say they received numerous inquiries from people after the tremor, estimated at 3.3 magnitude by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, struck shortly after 5 a.m.

Rome is not directly situated in a zone of strong seismic activity, but stronger earthquakes in the neighbouring Abruzzi region have often been felt in the Italian capital.

On April 6, 2009, a quake hit the medieval town of L’Aquila and the surrounding region, killing more than 300 people.


Economy minister calls for opening restaurants and cafes

Economy Minister Eli Cohen calls for restaurants to be allowed to open 10 days earlier than the May 31 date set by the government. Cohen says that in light of the continued decline in new coronavirus infections, the timetable for reopening the economy should be brought forward.

“Now that we are seeing an infection rate of just 30-40 people a day, we want to push ahead and get people back to work,” he tells Channel 12.

“In light of the positive data that we are seeing, we are pushing to accelerate the reopening of the economy. We are in control of the health situation and if there is another outbreak, the health system is better prepared.”

Health Ministry announces reopening of fertility clinics

The Health Ministry announces the reopening of fertility clinics and a resumption of treatments after they were suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The ministry says that for the moment, treatments will only be available for women who do not have any preexisting medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic lung diseases, immune system deficiencies or cardiac conditions, all of which are risk factors for coronavirus.

Israir CEO says trial resumption of flights by June

Israir Airlines CEO Uri Sirkis tells Channel 12 the airline expects to launch a trial resumption of flights from Ben Gurion Airport by the beginning of June and possibly as early as late May.

“The program will allow passengers to go on vacation in a ‘monitored’ fashion,” says Sirkis, adding that the flights will be to Rhodes and Cyprus.

“The pilot program will continue until mid-June and if it’s successful, skies will gradually be reopened,” he continues.

Sirkis cautions that flights will only be between certain countries, dependent on authorizations by health and aviation authorities, and adds that passenger volume for this summer is expected to be down by 60-70 percent compared to last summer.

A worker wearing protective clothing disinfects andIsrair plane after its arrival from Moscow at the Ben Gurion International Airport, May 5, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Iran confirms 19 dead in friendly fire incident

Iran’s Navy confirms that 19 soldiers were killed in a friendly fire incident between two navy ships in the Persian Gulf earlier today and 15 more were injured.

The incident occurred in the waters of the Jask Port in southern Iran, a statement says.

The Fars news agency reports that the damaged ship is the “Kenarak logistical vessel.”

According to Fars, the vessel is armed with a 20mm-caliber cannon and 4 Nour Anti-Ship Cruise missile launchers.

The ship is also used for naval surveillance and reconnaissance missions as it has also been equipped with mine-laying capability and drone launchers, Fars reports.

Just 15 new coronavirus cases confirmed overnight

The Health Ministry reports one overnight COVID-19 death, bringing the total number of fatalities to 254.

Fifteen news cases of the virus are confirmed since last night’s tally, bringing the total cumulative tally to 16,492.

Seventy-three people are in serious conditions; of those, 64 are on respiratory ventilation.

The number of active cases continues to decline, falling overnight by 47 to 4,690.

China trialing temperature bracelets as Beijing middle schools students back in class

Temperature-monitoring bracelets that alert an app if a student has a fever are being trialed at Beijing schools today.

The bracelets were rolled out in five Beijing districts for the first classes for middle school students in months.

The bands provide real-time temperature data that can be monitored by schools and parents via an app, the Beijing Daily reports.

“The bracelet is similar to a normal fitness tracker… We recommend that students wear them 24 hours a day,” one unnamed teacher tells the Beijing Daily.

If a student’s temperature rises above 37.2 degrees, the bracelet will prompt their teacher to alert the police, the state-run Beijing News says.


Russia reports a further sharp increase in coronavirus infections

Russia reports 11,656 new coronavirus infections, more than half of which were in Moscow.

The country now has a total of 221,344, but the official death toll remains relatively low with 2,009 victims.

Russian authorities say the sharp surge in cases over the past 10 days is due to an increase in testing and not to an acceleration of the propagation.


Treasury approves $400 million El Al loan guarantees

El Al notifies the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that the Finance Ministry has approved $400 million in loan guarantees for the national carrier, which has been forced to suspend all commercial passenger flights due to the coronavirus pandemic.

El Al says it was notified by the Finance Ministry last night that it would agree to provide the guarantees subject to certain conditions, but the company says that it has yet to receive an official letter stipulating the conditions of the guarantees.

El Al says it will study the conditions and report on them as required.

According to Hebrew media, the conditions are likely to include personnel cuts, wage reductions, selling off a number of planes and providing participating shares to the state, as well as scrapping free flight benefits for employees and their families.

An El Al Boeing 787 Dreamliner taxis to a welcome ceremony after landing at Ben Gurion Airport, September 19, 2019. (Flash90)


224,000 Israelis get virus benefits, Tax Authority says

The Tax Authority says 224,000 self-employed Israelis have filed and been approved for a benefit of up to NIS 10,500 ($2,983) for loss of income due to the coronavirus closure.

Of those, 147,000 have been found eligible for both second and third monthly payments from a government funded aid package.

The benefits are given to self-employed persons with a yearly take-in of no more than NIS 300,000 and come in addition to a first payment for the month of March of between NIS 700 to NIS 3,025.

So far, 210,000 people have been found eligible for the first payment.

Treasury calls for full reopening of kindergartens, citing loss of income to parents

Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad calls on the Health Ministry to allow full opening of kindergartens in municipalities where there is a low caseload of coronavirus infections.

Babad says in towns, the decision should be made per neighborhood.

Kindergartens reopened earlier this week, but with caps on class sizes meaning that children are able to attend only half the week.

In a letter to the Health Ministry, Babad writes: “Parents are losing 2.5 work days per week, imperiling their employment stability and causing a monthly loss to the economy of approximately NIS 3.2 billion.”

Unity government swearing in postponed to Thursday due to Pompeo visit

Israel’s new unity government will be sworn in Thursday after being postponed by a day due to the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announces Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who also currently serves as Knesset speaker.

Pompeo will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz to “discuss US and Israeli efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence,” the State Department said in announcing the visit last Friday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, April 29. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)


March Consumer Confidence Index slumps

The Central Bureau of Statistics reports that Israel’s Consumer Confidence Index dropped sharply from -6% at the end of February to -22% at the end of March.

The CBS report notes declines in three of the four parameters on which the index is based.

The expected state of household economies drops to -15% from -5% in February. The expected state of the Israeli economy drops from -16% to -45%, while the intention of individuals to make large purchases compared to last year drops from -9% to -21%.

The levels of confidence are the lowest since 2013.

Former UN secretary general warns against Israeli annexation plans

Former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon warns that “ Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank would not only be an act of aggressive folly, it would have a destructive influence on global rights and norms.”

The statement was part of a call by a group of former international statesmen and women founded by the late Nelson Mandela.

The statement calls for a new Middle East peace plan to counter the “Israeli annexation threat.”

A new initiative in the spirit of the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991 is needed to bring both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as regional and international powers, into meaningful dialogue on the way forward. Existing multilateral mechanisms like the Quartet should be revitalized and potentially expanded to give a greater role to other powers in the region, the statement adds.

It further warns that “annexation plans represent a unilateral repudiation of the two-state solution,” and risk “ plunging the region into deeper turmoil, further fomenting bitterness and alienation among Palestinians, antagonising Israel’s neighbours and eroding the democratic and constitutional framework of the Jewish state.”

Bat Yam murder victim named as Gregory Grigoriev, 63

Police name a 63-year-old man stabbed to death yesterday outside a hair salon in Bat Yam as Gregory Grigoriev.

The suspect in the murder, Sergei Yafimov, has had his remand extended for a further nine days. Yafimov was arrested shortly after the incident and confessed to the murder.

Grigoriev, a dentist, was a Bat Yam resident. He is reported to have had close ties with Yafimov, a hair salon employee.

A dispute between the two is reported to have led to the stabbing.

Report- Netanyahu seeks 36-minister government from the start

The national unity government to be sworn in Thursday will likely have 36 ministers, Channel 12 reports.

This is despite an agreement between Likud and Blue and White to expand the government from 32 to 36 ministers only after the initial six-month emergency period to combat the coronavirus.

Channel 12 says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a request in that vein to Blue and White Leader Benny Gantz a few days ago due to pressure for ministerial positions from within Likud.

Saying that Gantz is expected to agree to the request, the report also notes that expanding the government could pave way for the right-wing Yamina party to join despite its statement that it would sit in opposition.

Cyprus extends flight ban until May 28

Cyprus has extended a ban on all inbound and outbound flights for another two weeks until May 28 as part of its efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Cyprus’ Transport Ministry says only cargo flights, inbound flights of empty aircraft intending to fly out those wishing to depart the island nation and emergency and humanitarian flights are exempt.

Cyprus first imposed a flight ban on March 21 amid a strict lockdown. Cyprus authorities said airports could again open after June 9 depending on how the pandemic is unfolding domestically and abroad.

Authorities are still trying to come up with ways of safely bringing back travelers to the tourism-reliant country. Cyprus has been conservatively estimated to lose 60% of its annual tourist arrivals this year.

— AP

11 patients, four staff at rehab center test positive for coronavirus

Eleven patients and four staff members at the Maccabi Dormitory Rehabilitation Department at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the medical says

The patients were taken to the COVID-19 ward at the Bat Yam Rehabilitation Center, and the diagnosed staffers went into isolation at their homes, the hospital says.

Londoners urged to wear masks on Tube, avoid riding whenever possible

Travelers on the London Underground are being urged to wear face coverings as the government outlines plans to ease the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

The city’s transport authority urged people to “re-imagine” the way they travel and to stay off public transport unless absolutely necessary. Walking and cycling are being encouraged, together with a push to shop locally.

Social distancing rules will mean public transport will operate differently than before the start of the pandemic. That means the system will only be able to carry around 13% to 15% of the normal number of passengers on the Tube and bus networks — even after the service returns to normal. Demand will have to be reduced by 85%.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan says the public “will all have to continue playing our part in reducing demand on services by working from home if we possibly can. Please avoid public transport wherever possible.”

The comments come Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to set out details for a plan to ease the lockdown that began March 23.

— AP

Health Ministry chief reportedly weighs stepping down, to decide in coming days

Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is considering stepping down from his post and will decide in the coming days, the Ynet news site reports.

The decision will depend on the identity of the next health minister, sources close to Bar Siman-Tov tell Ynet.

The report comes days after the cabinet voted to significantly ease restrictions on movement, including to allow Israelis to once again use outdoor gyms, against the recommendation of Bar Siman-Tov.

The health ministry director has taken a hardline approach in favor of broadly shutting down the country since the beginning of the pandemic and has sparred with Finance Ministry officials who have warned that such drastic measures could destroy the economy and that if the country is not reopened soon enough, it will be difficult to recover from the impending recession. Ministers have also reportedly criticized Bar Siman Tov for having too much influence over the government’s handling  of the pandemic.

PM’s lawyer: Prosecution stacked in Netanyahu case as if dealing with Nazi crimes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorney makes quite an odd comparison when describing the makeup of the prosecution team in his client’s criminal trial that starts later this month.

“We are facing at least 20 prosecutors, the attorney general and an investigative power as if we’re talking about crimes against the Nazis,” Yossi Cohen says today’s High Court of Justice hearing on whether Netanyahu’s tycoon relative can fund his legal defense, according to Channel 13. Probably he means prosecution against the Nazis.

After knock from Bennett, Likud laments Yamina decision to team up with Yazbak

Responding to Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett’s claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not really want a right-wing government, Likud issues a statement lamenting the national religious parties “unfortunate” decision to join the leftist opposition with [Yesh Atid-Telem chairman] Yair Lapid and [Joint List MK] Heba Yazbak.”

National security adviser said to tell ministers they’re easing restrictions too quickly

National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat warned ministers during a meeting earlier today that they are easing virus-related restrictions too quickly in what could lead to another outbreak, Channel 12 reports.

Gantz will wait until swearing-in to notify Blue and White MKs tapped as ministers

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will wait until the day of the government swearing-in ceremony on Thursday to notify lawmakers of his party who will be tapped as ministers, Ynet reports.

Gantz will hold meetings with potential candidates on the day before.

Over 70 current, former French officials publish statement encouraging Israel-Arab ties

More than 70 current and former French officials, including two ex-prime ministers, publish a statement supporting an initiative encouraging Arabs to speak out in favor of establishing ties with Israel.

“We, political leaders of both the majority and the opposition, former ministers of the French Republic and civil society intellectuals, wish to lend our support to the historic initiative of the Arab Council for Regional Integration, whose members call for breaking the boycott of Israeli civil society in the Arab world,” they write in French magazine Le Point.

“The boycott of Israel… has negatively impacted the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic by preventing Arabs from influencing this conflict in a positive way, and by deepening Palestinian civil society’s isolation from its Arab environment,” the group writes.

The Arab Council for Regional Integration was founded in November by a group of intellectuals and politicians from 15 countries who called for the end of Israel’s isolation in the Arab world.

In their article, they called on the French government and others to “offer international protection to the members of the Arab Council for Regional Integration” and other Arabs who call for peace and dialogue with Israelis.

“Our diplomatic agents posted abroad should, where appropriate, be mobilized to provide such protection based on the principle of diplomatic inviolability, as recognized by international law,” they write.

Draft plan sees 4th-7th graders back in school for one day a week, 6th-10th for two days a week

The Education Ministry and Health Ministry have formulated a
a draft plan for government approval, according to which fourth through sixth graders will be allowed to return to classrooms beginning on Sunday for one day a week and that seventh through tenth graders will be able to attend classes two days a week, Hebrew media reports.

US says Chinese hacking vaccine research — reports

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation and cybersecurity experts believe Chinese hackers are trying to steal research on developing a vaccine against coronavirus, two newspapers report.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are planning to release a warning about the Chinese hacking as governments and private firms race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times report.

The hackers are also targeting information and intellectual property on treatments and testing for COVID-19.

US officials allege that the hackers are linked to the Chinese government, the reports say.

The official warning could come within days.

In Beijing Foreign Affairs ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has rejected the allegation, saying China firmly opposes all cyber attacks.

“We are leading the world in COVID-19 treatment and vaccine research. It is immoral to target China with rumors and slanders in the absence of any evidence,” Zhao says.


Elkin on government ‘exit strategy’: We’re running too fast

Concurring with National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat who reportedly warned ministers against approving the further easing of virus-related restrictions, Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin tells Army Radio, “I feel like we are running a little too fast.”

“Only today are we seeing the results of the [strict] policy during Passover, and we need to understand how everything is works” before making additional decisions.

According to Channel 12, Ben Shabbat sent a letter to ministers earlier today telling them that they were too quickly approving roll-backs on virus-related restrictions and that the latest approvals by the cabinet risk a new outbreak of the virus.

Finance Ministry director Shai Babad announces plan to step down

Finance Ministry director Shai Babad announces his intention to step down after five years in the top post.

A statement from the Finance Ministry says Babad has notified incoming minister Israel Katz of the decision.

“At the request of Minister Katz, the two agreed that the date of [Babad’s] final day will be coordinated between the parties,” the statement reads.

In a statement of his own, Babad thanked outgoing Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who appointed him to the position in 2015.

Report: Scientists find evidence that coronavirus is mutating, adapting to humans

Scientists have discovered that some strains of the coronavirus are able to mutate and may be adapting to humans after being transferred to them from bats, The Guardian reports.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine believe that after analyzing more than 5,000 genomes found in over 60 countries, the virus is fairly stable, but that some mutations have been sparked, including genetic changes that alter the key “spike protein” the virus uses to infect humans, The Guardian reports.

The scientists say that it is unclear how the mutations affects COVID-19, but that they do appear to allow it to spread faster.


WATCH: Meron Lag B’Omer bonfire ceremony

The Lag B’Omer bonfire ceremony at Mount Meron will be kicking off shortly. Watch it here!

The holiday usually sees hundreds of thousands of Israelis throng the Galilee site, famed as the burial place of the famed 2nd century CE sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Children and teenagers across the country also celebrate the holiday with local bonfires, which have been banned this year due to the coronavirus.

Entry to Mount Meron is prohibited, though exceptions will be made for residents and workers of the northern town surrounding the gravesite. The town of Meron will be reopened on May 13, but the site will remain closed to visitors through the weekend, until May 17.

The regulations approved by the cabinet last week permitted the religious affairs minister to sign off on a special dispensation for three Lag B’Omer celebrations at Meron for prominent rabbis, with the lightings staggered and each gathering capped at 50 participants. It said these events must ensure fair participation, including equal representation of women and men.

52-year-old woman succumbs to virus at Jerusalem hospital

A 52-year-old woman has succumbed to the coronavirus at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem Hospital.

The patient suffered from several pre-existing conditions and had been hospitalized for nearly a month, during which she had been hooked up to a ventilator, the hospital says, adding that the victim’s family was able to be at her bedside before she died.

Ombudsman rejects Justice Minister’s request to probe State Prosecutor’s Office

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman on Monday turned down Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s request for a wide-ranging probe of the State Prosecutor’s Office.

In a letter to Ohana, Englman wrote that there was “no reason to deviate from the work plan that was determined regarding the prosecutor’s office” and that the State Comptroller’s Office would continue its work in accordance with this plan.

“With this, the issues you raised will be brought to the attention of the relevant division,” Englman said.

The letter did not mention Ohana’s request to probe Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit over his role in the Harpaz Affair, which he was previously investigated over, but never charged.

Ohana, a confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been a sharp critic of the legal system since being appointed acting justice minister last year, and slammed prosecutors over the premier’s indictment on graft charges.

— Alexander Fulbright

Court rejects petition against Meron bonfire permits that were granted near-exclusively to men

The High Court of Justice has rejected an urgent petition filed by a group of Haredi women protesting the Religious Affairs Ministry’s granting of 149 of the 150 entry permits for Lag B’Omer bonfires at Mount Meron this evening to men.

The court acknowledges that the petitioners had legitimate complaints against the ministry, but unfortunately there was no legal grounds for interference.

Less than 1,000 virus patients in intensive care in Italy

Italy reports fewer than 1,000 people in intensive care treatment for the novel coronavirus for the first time since early March, when the country went into confinement, the civil protection agency says.

The number of daily deaths rose slightly to 179 from the last report of 165, but was still the third consecutive day below 200 fatalities, it says.


NW Syria clashes kill 48 in highest toll since truce — monitor

Clashes in northwest Syria killed 48 regime fighters and jihadists in the highest such death toll since the start of a two-month-old ceasefire there, a monitor says.

A truce since March 6 largely stemmed fighting in Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib after a months-long regime assault that killed hundreds of civilians and forced almost a million to flee.

But before dawn on Sunday, rebels attacked the positions of pro-regime fighters on the western flank of the jihadist-dominated region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

The clashes in the Sahl al-Ghab area killed 35 regime fighters as well as 13 jihadists including from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Deen group, the Britain-based monitor adds.

“It’s the highest death toll for fighters since the truce came into force,” says Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman, who relies on sources inside Syria.

“There had been intermittent clashes and mutual bombardment between both sides before, but this is the most violent attack yet.”

Abdel Rahman says clashes were ongoing after dark on Sunday night.


Report: PM offered Rafi Peretz deputy defense post, but was told no

In an effort to peel away Yamina MKs from the opposition and include them in his coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered MK Rafi Peretz the deputy defense minister post, but was told, “No thanks,” Israel Hayom reports.

Police dispersing illegal bonfires in Beit Shemesh where extremist Haredim attack journalists

Police are dispersing a number of illegal bonfires in Beit Shemesh, where dozens of Haredim have gathered, in violation of the government’s coronavirus guidelines for the Lag B’Omer holiday.

A number of the extremists are seen verbally and physically harassing a Channel 13 correspondent and his cameraman, as they try to report from the scene.

Yamina said to renew talks with Likud on joining government

Yamina has renewed its talks with the Likud party to join the government, despite the national religious party’s earlier assertion that it is heading to the opposition, Channel 13 reports.

The network says that Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett is re-considering an offer to be tapped as education minister, which he had previously dismissed.

France, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg aim for EU’s punishing response to annexation

French officials are pressuring their EU partners to consider threatening Israel with punitive measures if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming government goes forward with its West Bank annexation plan, Reuters reports.

France is joined by Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg, countries that also want to discuss a tough response against Israel, but all EU members must agree on any collective action taken, Reuters clarifies.

40 elderly test positive after having been told they healed from COVID-19

Forty elderly Israelis who tested positive for the coronavirus, were treated and then told that they had been cured, after testing negative for COVID-19, Channel 12  reports.

Thirty of the 40 are nursing home residents.

The carriers were likely given false test results, but what does that say, Channel 12 asks, about the overall “recovery” figures?

PM appoints Gilad Erdan envoy to UN and US

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has accepted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to serve as Israeli ambassador to the UN, as well as ambassador to the US, during the first year-and-a-half of the rotational government.

“I am proud and excited for the privilege of being able to fight on behalf of the righteousness of our path in the international arena, and to defend Israel in light of the challenges ahead,” Erdan says in a statement.

Public transportation buses to resume function on weekends

Public transportation buses will resume weekend operation, starting this Friday, Channel 13 reports.

Buses that function during the week will continue operating on the weekend, while those lines that had been cut during the week will remain on hold for the time being, the network reports.

In addition, Israel Railways announces that it will gradually begin restoring its operations on May 17.

Jewish attorney at center of New York area outbreak still has no idea how he got it

The attorney at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in the New York City area says he has no idea how he contracted the deadly virus.

Lawrence Garbuz, of suburban New Rochelle, tells Savannah Guthrie in an interview aired this morning on NBC’s “Today” show that he went to his doctor with a cough and a low-grade fever, and that COVID-19 never even came up. The doctor sent him to the emergency room.

“After we entered the emergency room, I have absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired until I woke up from the coma,” he says. “So it’s as if three weeks of my life completely disappeared and I was asleep for all of it.”

Garbuz, known as New York City’s coronavirus “Patient Zero,” was directly connected to at least 37 other confirmed cases in New York, including his wife, two of their children, and a neighbor. Following his diagnosis, a one-mile containment zone was set up around Garbuz’s synagogue and the New Rochelle community.

Garbuz, who describes himself as a lawyer who sits at a desk all day, said that, at the time of his diagnosis, US doctors were worried about people who traveled abroad, especially to China, where COVID-19 first emerged in the city of Wuhan.

His wife, Adina, told Guthrie that she decided to transfer her husband to New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan and asked for him to be intubated on the ambulance ride.

“He was suffering, and I couldn’t watch it,” she says. “I’m looking at him, and I just didn’t think he was going to make an ambulance ride in that state.”

Garbuz woke in his hospital room three weeks later to photos of his family, who were not allowed to visit him in the hospital. He was released from the hospital at the end of March, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during a news briefing.

He says he has tried to ignore his ignominy as one of the first people in the state to get the virus.


Education Ministry announces plan to return 4th through 10th graders to school

Fourth through 10th grade students will return to school this Sunday, in a limited format, the Education Ministry announces.

Fourth through sixth graders will return to school for five to six hours a week, and seventh through 10th graders will return for two to three days per week.

The plan will result in all students returning to school in some capacity, as grades one through three, 11, and 12 returned last week.

According to the Education Ministry announcement, classes for grades 4-12 will not exceed 20 students.

Fourth through sixth graders will attend school on Fridays, or alternatively in the afternoon, and after first through third graders have left the campus.

Tenth graders will return for two days a week, and 7th through 9th graders will spend three days at middle schools and two days a week at campuses for grades one through eight are combined.

Middle school and high school campuses will not exceed more than 60 students at a time.

In addition, students will be required to wear masks if they cannot keep two meters apart from one another.

Report: Pandemic stalls Israeli efforts to expand energy partnerships across region

The coronavirus pandemic has hampered Israeli efforts to expand energy partnerships throughout the Middle East and Europe, The New York Times reports.

Multi-billion-dollar natural gas export investments have been delayed or canceled in Australia, Mozambique, Qatar, Mauritania, Senegal, and the United States in recent weeks, NYT reports.

Natural gas discovery off the coast of Haifa saw Israel gearing up to ink sales deals with Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian consumers, but as prices crash, the expected “bigger windfall on global markets” has been delayed, the report says.


31 new virus cases in last day, as confirmed case tally climbs to 16,508

The Health Ministry announces that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 16,508, an increase of 31 over the past 24 hours and 16 since this morning.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 258, up four since this morning and six since last night.

According to the Health Ministry, 66 people infected with COVID-19 were in serious condition, 58 of whom were on ventilators.

Another 51 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 11,384 people have recovered from the virus, while 4,406 are still sick; 5,304 tests have been conducted today, and 4,848 yesterday.

Over a thousand Haredim crowd Mea Shearim streets to illegally celebrate Lag B’Omer

The Kan public broadcaster shows footage of well over a thousand residents of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim crowding the streets to celebrate the Lag B’Omer holiday.

Municipal leaders blast Education Ministry plan to return students to schools

The chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel issues a statement skewering the Education Ministry for the plan it announced this evening to return 4th through 10th grade students to schools.

“The plan presented to us tonight is way out of line and completely detached from reality,” Haim Bibas says. “Students cannot come for one day a week, when others are coming for two days a week.”

“Either open the entire education system or don’t open it at all.”

“I ask all of you to apply all of the pressure necessary so that all children, and all parents, can return to normalcy as soon as possible,” he adds.

Conference of Presidents congratulates Erdan on UN, DC envoy appointments

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issues a statement congratulating Gilad Erdan on his appointment as the next Israeli ambassador to the UN and to the US.

“Minister Erdan is a committed public servant with deep connections to the American Jewish community. His most recent postings provide him with extraordinary credentials for representing Israel in the diplomatic arena at the United Nations and with Israel’s greatest friend and ally, the United States of America,” the group says.

West Wing visitors, staff need to wear masks

The White House is requiring everyone who enters the West Wing to wear a mask or face covering, after a couple of coronavirus cases near President Donald Trump.

A memo sent to all staff outlines the new directive, after two staffers last week tested positive for COVID-19.

The memo says: “We are requiring everyone who enters the West Wing to wear a mask or facial covering.”

Staff will be allowed to remove their face coverings if they sit at least six feet apart from their colleagues.

The directive is meant to protect the president, who refrains from wearing a mask in public and in private.

— AP

WHO chief: There are around seven or eight ‘top’ candidates for a vaccine

The World Health Organization chief says there are around seven or eight “top” candidates for a vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells a UN Economic and Social Council video briefing that “we have more than a hundred candidates, and we are focusing on the few candidates we have which can bring probably better results, and accelerating those candidates with better potential.”

He does not identify the top candidates for a vaccine against COVID-19.

Tedros says the original thinking two months ago was that it may take 12 to 18 months for a vaccine, but an accelerated effort is under way, helped by 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) pledged a week ago by world leaders, organizations, and banks for research, treatment and testing.

He says the $8 billion will not be enough, and additional funds will be needed to speed up both the development of a vaccine and, more importantly, the production of enough “to make sure that this vaccine reaches everyone — (and) there’s no one left behind.”

Tedros stresses that COVID-19 is “very contagious and it’s a killer,” with more than 4 million cases now reported to WHO, and almost 275,000 lives lost.

While new cases are declining in Western Europe, they are increasing in Eastern Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, the eastern Mediterranean, and other regions, he says.

— AP

US official tells Iran to send plane for prisoner exchange

The United States and Iran are clashing over the prospect of a prisoner swap, with a US official mockingly urging the adversary to send a plane to repatriate its citizens.

An Iranian government spokesman said Sunday that Tehran had offered “some time ago” to exchange all Iranian and US prisoners, but was waiting for a response from the United States.

He received a reply of sorts today via social media as Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy homeland security secretary, insisted that the United States had been trying to send back Iranian nationals.

“We have 11 of your citizens who are illegal aliens who we have been trying to return to your country,” tweets Cuccinelli, who is known for his hardline views against immigration.

“You suddenly SAY you want them back, so how about you send a charter plane over and we’ll return all 11 at once?” he writes, attacking the credibility of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi hits back on Twitter, noting that Zarif has been publicly proposing a prisoner swap since September 2018, and tells Cuccinelli: “Stop talking rubbish!”

“Your regime has reacted callously and risked their lives. (The world) is watching your action, not your word. Let our citizens go!”

Cuccinelli charges that the United States has been trying to send back Sirous Asgari, an Iranian scientist acquitted in November on US charges that he stole secrets while on an academic visit to Ohio.

The Iranian foreign ministry says that Asgari contracted COVID-19 while in US custody.

Asgari told The Guardian in March that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was keeping him in a detention center in Louisiana without basic sanitation and refusing to let him return to Iran despite his exoneration.

The State Department has been more cautious about Iranian statements that the two nations, both hard hit by the coronavirus, are moving ahead on a prisoner swap.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanks the efforts of Switzerland, which represents US interest in Iran, in the absence of diplomatic relations, during a phone call with Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis.


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Report- Netanyahu seeks 36-minister government from the start

The national unity government to be sworn in Thursday will likely have 36 ministers, Channel 12 reports.

This is despite an agreement between Likud and Blue and White to expand the government from 32 to 36 ministers only after the initial six-month emergency period to combat the coronavirus.

Channel 12 says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a request in that vein to Blue and White Leader Benny Gantz a few days ago due to pressure for ministerial positions from within Likud.

Saying that Gantz is expected to agree to the request, the report also notes that expanding the government could pave way for the right-wing Yamina party to join despite its statement that it would sit in opposition.