Shas MK Yinon Azoulay confirmed to have caught coronavirus
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Health minister, virus czar to enter quarantine after staffer catches COVID-19

Host of other top Health Ministry officials, including its director-general and deputy minister, will also enter 14-day isolation

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during a visit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during a visit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Municipalities lambaste curfew decision, one says it won’t cooperate

Some municipalities are openly criticizing the government decision to impose nightly curfews in their cities or parts of them.

The municipality of Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement, goes as far as saying it won’t cooperate with the closure unless “fully transparent” explanations are provided.

The municipality argues that only Haredi towns are closed in their entirety (apparently ignoring Arab towns), while in others only select neighborhoods are included in the measures.

“We demand full transparency about infection rates and detailed explanations why a curfew is being imposed on an entire ultra-Orthodox city,” the municipality says in a statement.

“We cannot give our backing to steps taken without transparency. We will be able to cooperate in cutting morbidity rates only when such explanations are provided to the residents.”

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion says he will comply with the government order on the nighttime curfews in parts of the capital, though he strongly criticizes the policy.

“I don’t know what a nightly curfew is,” Lion tells the Kan public broadcaster. “For two months we’ve been warning about mass weddings in the eastern part of the city. When we speak about a nightly curfew in Ramot, a neighborhood of 55,000 residents, it means they’re going into lockdown because of about 300 patients. I can’t explain that to the residents.”

The Eilat municipality has waged a campaign that has prevented a curfew on the entire city, but now also says it is trying to cancel the decision to close one neighborhood, arguing that even that step “makes no sense.”

Iran’s Khamenei says Prophet Muhammad cartoons ‘unforgivable’

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that were republished by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week are “unforgivable.”

“The grave and unforgivable sin committed by a French weekly in insulting the luminous and holy personality of (the) Prophet revealed, once more, the hostility and malicious grudge harbored by political and cultural organisations in the West against Islam and the Muslim community,” Khamenei says in an English-language statement.

“The excuse of ‘freedom of expression’ made by some French politicians in order not to condemn this grave crime of insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam is completely unacceptable, wrong and demagogic.”

— AFP

Fire in Knesset building halts discussion on climate crisis

A meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee is halted after a fire breaks out in the room’s ceiling.

Committee chairwoman Miki Haimovich comments that there is a smell of smoke during the discussion of local authorities’ preparedness for the climate crisis.

The source is located in the ceiling, caused by an electrical short circuit. All participants have vacated the room.

Police chief says he expects cops to exercise judgment in enforcing curfew

About four hours before a nightly curfew to combat the spread of the coronavirus takes effect in 40 infection hotspots, acting police chief Motti Cohen concludes a briefing and says he expects officers to exercise judgment while enforcing the closure.

“Our enforcement policy will continue to be based first and foremost on dialogue, education, judgment and earning the public’s cooperation,” he says.

“That is my expectation from every commander and officer tasked with this mission.”

Iranian TV: British-Iranian dual national faces new charge

Iran’s state TV, citing an unnamed official, says British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is facing a new charge.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter, Gabriella, in 2016. (AFP)

The report does not elaborate.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been released from prison due to the coronavirus pandemic after serving nearly all of her five-year sentence. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested during a holiday with her toddler daughter in April 2016. Her family says she was in Iran to visit family, denying that she was plotting against Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

— AP

Palestinians report record 10 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours

Palestinians recorded 717 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours and a record ten deaths, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.

Around 177 cases were reported in Arab areas of East Jerusalem, while another 118 were confirmed in the Gaza Strip. While Hebron and East Jerusalem were once the centers of the pandemic — with other areas registering only a handful of cases per day — the distribution is more even. Nablus registers 75 new cases, and Ramallah has 60 new infections.

There are currently 11,000 active cases among Palestinians, and 215 have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

— Aaron Boxerman

In pilot program, US military to deploy Israel-developed drone

A pilot program in the US military has been launched to employ Skylord drones whose production was led by Israel’s Defense Ministry, the ministry says in a statement.

“The program has produced a drone system with a remote immersive interface that protects troops from various inbound aerial threats – particularly drones,” the Defense Ministry says in an English-language statement.

“The system’s capabilities have been demonstrated in Israel, with confirmed interceptions of incendiary devices flown over the Gaza border by terrorist organizations,” according to the ministry.

It says the program comes “following a joint R&D program led by the Directorate of Defense Research and Development in the Israel Ministry of Defense, together with Israeli company Xtend and the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) of the US Department of Defense.”

Several dozen drones will be employed, the statement says, adding that the research and development process took a year.

“Using an AR device and single handed controller, a military operator may employ the Skylord system to control the drone and perform complex tasks remotely, with great ease and precision,” the statement says.

An illustrative image of a new Skylord drone developed by Israels Defense Ministry in collaboration with the US military, September 2020. (Xtend/courtesy)

Report: Chad says it will open diplomatic mission in Jerusalem within a year

Chad has told Israel it plans to open an official diplomatic mission in Jerusalem within a year, Channel 12 reports.

The network says Chad’s cabinet chairman is currently visiting Israel and has met his Israeli counterpart, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.

According to the unsourced report, it is part of a security delegation currently in the Jewish state for professional meetings as part of the push to normalize ties with the African Muslim nation.

There is no immediate confirmation from officials.

Cyclist in Israeli team banned for 4 months over substance abuse

Patrick Schelling, a Swiss cyclist who is currently competing as part of the Israel Start-Up Nation team, has been banned from the sport for four months for substance abuse.

The development comes as Start-Up Nation makes a historic first appearance for a team from the Jewish state at the Tour de France, the world’s top cycling event. However, Schelling is not part of the team’s lineup for that race.

Infection rate in Israel’s ‘red’ towns among highest in the world — virus czar

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu says in a briefing that the morbidity rates in Israel’s high-infection areas, or “red” towns, is among the highest in the world.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks during a Health Ministry briefing on September 3, 2020. (Screen capture/Health Ministry livestream)

“We must stop gatherings that are hotbeds of infections, particularly in red cities,” Gamzu says.

“I am convinced that red cities can become orange,” he says, referring to the government’s “traffic light” program, which grades cities and towns as either “red,” “orange,” “yellow” or “green,” according to their infection rates.

Gamzu also says he aims for 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by November 1. He says an effective contact-tracing mechanism to stop infection chains likely won’t be ready until at least that date.

Earlier today, the Health Ministry said that 3,425 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday — the highest daily figure since the start of pandemic, shattering a previous record set last week. Testing levels also grew to a new high of more than 40,000.

Israeli officials don’t confirm report that Chad will open diplomatic mission

Israeli officials do not confirm the Channel 12 report that Chad has told Israel it will open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem within a year.

Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson Mark Regev only confirms that Benjamin Netanyahu has met with the son of Chad’s leader Idriss Deby, Abdelkarim Deby.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry tells The Times of Israel that to his best knowledge, the report is baseless. However, the visit has been organized by the National Security Council, not the Foreign Ministry.

Iran says it is building hall to replace Natanz centrifuge building hit by blast

The head of Iran’s nuclear program reportedly says Tehran has begun to construct a hall for the production of advanced centrifuges to replace the one in the Natanz site that was damaged in an explosion in July.

That blast was said to have been caused by sabotage, and reportedly posed a significant setback to the nuclear program.

The new site will be in “the heart of the mountains,” Ali Akbar Salehi tells state TV, according to Reuters.

“It was decided to establish a more modern, wider and more comprehensive hall in all dimensions in the heart of the mountains near Natanz. Of course, the work has begun,” he says.

Despite curfew, no restrictions to be placed on entry to ‘red’ zones — report

During nighttime curfews in coronavirus high-infection areas that take effect at 7 p.m. today for the first time, there will be no limitation on anyone entering the so-called “red” zones, the Ynet site reports, citing a decree handed to police.

People who don’t live in “red” zones can still enter and exit them freely. Residents of those areas won’t be allowed to exit them.

Protests will be allowed even in “red” zones.

Intelligence minister confirms Chadian official vowed to open Jerusalem mission

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen says Chad’s cabinet chairman, Abdelkarim Déby, who is also its president’s son, has told him the country will open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, confirming an earlier report.

Cohen says in a statement that he met Déby, who “expressed willingness” to open such a mission.

They also decided to “deepen the security cooperation” and agreed that a business delegation from Israel will go to Chad to promote economic projects in agriculture, and particularly in minerals.

They also praised Israel’s normalization with the United Arab Emirates, according to Cohen’s office.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen (L) and Chad’s cabinet chairman Abdelkarim Déby during a meeting in Jerusalem, September 8, 2020. (Intelligence Ministry)

US says China ‘afraid’ of free media after new restrictions

The United States accuses China of fearing a free media, citing new restrictions on international press.

China’s foreign ministry “has informed us that they plan to further limit access for foreign journalists working in the PRC,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus says.

“Why is the CCP afraid of independent and investigative media reporting?” she writes on Twitter, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

— AFP

The specifics of the nightly curfew that begins 7 p.m. in virus hotspots

The Health Ministry publishes the details of the nightly curfew to take place starting 7 p.m. today in coronavirus hotspots, as set out by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Following is a list of activities for which residents of the so-called “red” zones will be nevertheless allowed to leave their homes:

1. Going to work and returning from it, or transporting a person to and from work;

2. Purchasing food, medicine and vital products or receiving vital services;

3. Receiving medical treatment;

4. Donating blood;

5. Taking part in a demonstration;

6. Participating in legal proceedings involving the person or in which they are required to take part;

7. Going to the Knesset;

8. Receiving treatment from welfare authorities;

9. Sports activities alone or with people living in the same household, up to 500 meters away from the house;

10. A brief stay or walk outside, alone or with people living in the same household, up to 500 meters away from the house;

11. Women going to a mikveh ritual bath;

12. Participating in a funeral, brit milah circumcision, prayer or wedding of a first-degree relative;

13. Providing medical assistance or other necessary assistance to a person in need;

14. Transferring a minor whose parents live separately from one parent to the other;

15. Transferring a minor whose parent needs to go for a vital activity, with nobody in the house to leave the minor with.

During the curfew, businesses will not be allowed to open apart from vital businesses, which are food stores (not including restaurants); pharmacies; optical shops; shops whose main business is selling hygiene products; and labs for fixing communications devices and computers.

Beyond that, there are no more travel restrictions on entry and exit from the “red” zones.

IDF sends reserve battalion to provide civil aid to virus-stricken Triangle area

The Israel Defense Forces deploys a Home Front Command reserve battalion to the area of the so-called Triangle, a region of mostly Arab towns and cities along the border between Israel and the West Bank, to provide civil aid in light of a major outbreak of the coronavirus there, the military says.

“This morning, the 996th Reserve Battalion of the Home Front Command arrived to provide assistance to the area of the ‘Triangle,’ as part of the IDF’s assistance to areas with high infection rates,” the military says.

This includes establishing a drive-in coronavirus testing facility in the area of Daliyat al-Carmel “in order to increase the rate of testing carried out in the region in light of the growing [number of] infections,” the IDF says.

The military also releases a number of statistics from the past 24 hours that it says shows its efforts to combat the pandemic.

The nearly 300 soldiers trained to perform epidemiological surveys performed 3,406 of them over the past 24 hours.

The Home Front Command also took 8,793 of the 46,153 coronavirus samples taken today. Another 12,829 samples were transported to laboratories from drive-in testing facilities by the IDF. Ninety soldiers are currently working in coronavirus testing labs, the military says.

In addition, the IDF is currently operating 21 coronavirus hotels — 17 of which are being used to treat the 3,096 people who have confirmed cases of COVID-19 but only light symptoms, and four that are used to house 645 people who need to be in quarantine.

— Judah Ari Gross

IDF launches surprise drill simulating kidnapping in West Bank

The Israel Defense Forces launches a surprise exercise in the West Bank’s Judea and Samaria Division simulating the military’s response to a kidnapping, the military says.

The drill was launched as part of a series of surprise inspections by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

“During the exercise, the division’s ability to handle a kidnapping situation, including cooperation between organizations and between branches [of the military], will be tested,” the IDF says.

The military says residents of the West Bank can expect to see additional troop movements and vehicular activity.

This is Kohavi’s fourth such surprise exercise, following one held in the navy last September, one in the Northern Command last November and a cyber defense drill last December.

— Judah Ari Gross

Nightly curfew in virus hotspots takes effect

The first nightly curfew in some 40 cities and neighborhoods with high coronavirus morbidity rates has taken effect.

It will be in effect every day between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., for one week.

Netanyahu apologizes for calling Bedouin man killed in 2017 a terrorist

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologizes to the family of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an, a Bedouin man who was shot dead in 2017 by police, who said he was carrying out a terror attack, amid a push by the premier’s loyalists to claim police covered up the incident to protect the force’s image amid graft probes into Netanyahu.

Whereas police have continued to claim that Abu Al-Qia’an was killed while carrying out a car-ramming attack during a pre-dawn police operation to raze part of his village of Umm al-Hiran in 2017, investigations by the Shin Bet security organization and the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) have cast doubt on that allegation, finding indications that he lost control of the vehicle after being mistakenly shot. An officer was killed when he was run over by the car.

Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that crashed into police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

“They said he was a terrorist,” Netanyahu says during a press conference, addressing the family. “Yesterday it came out that he wasn’t a terrorist. Yesterday it came out that senior officials in the prosecution turned him into a terrorist to protect themselves.”

Netanyahu and his allies have been seizing on a television news report yesterday that raised questions about police handling of the affair, using it as a tool to question the charges against the premier.

The report alleged that then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan closed probes into alleged police wrongdoing, including in this case, out of fears it could tarnish the image of law enforcement as it was investigating Netanyahu for corruption, in cases that have now become a trial against the premier.

New initiative will significantly lower price of US Jewish teen trips to Israel

A new initiative will significantly lower the cost of group trips to Israel for Jewish-American teens.

The Jewish Education Project announces that it has received a $20 million gift from The Marcus Foundation for its RootOne initiative. The funds will subsidize trips by five US Jewish youth groups — the pluralistic BBYO, the Orthodox NCSY and the Reform NFTY, along with USY and Ramah, both affiliated with the Conservative movement.

With the subsidies, the groups can lower the cost of the trips by $3,000 per participant. The cost typically ranges from $4,500 to $8,000 for trips lasting three to six weeks.

The initiative hopes to increase the number of teens participating in the trips by 40% every year, according to a statement.

“We want young people stepping onto their college campuses with deep connections to Israel and strong Jewish identities,” Marcus Foundation Chairman Bernie Marcus says in the statement.

The first trips financed through the initiative are expected to take place next summer.

— JTA

Coronavirus czar Gamzu quarantined after staff member diagnosed with COVID-19

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the leader of Israel’s coronavirus response, has entered quarantine, Hebrew-language media reports.

The development comes after one of the members of Gamzu’s team was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Roni Gamzu during a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the Jerusalem city hall on August 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Brother of Bedouin killed in 2017 questions authenticity of Netanyahu’s apology

The brother of Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an comments on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology for calling his brother a terrorist over a 2017 incident that resulted in his death and the death of a policeman, in what police still insist was a terror attack.

“I hope the apology is honest and genuine, and that it isn’t because of the cases against him,” says Jabar Abu Al-Qia’an.

Whereas police have continued to claim that Abu Al-Qia’an was killed while carrying out a car-ramming attack during a pre-dawn police operation to raze part of his village of Umm al-Hiran in 2017, investigations by the Shin Bet security organization and the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) have cast doubt on that allegation, finding indications that he lost control of the vehicle after being mistakenly shot.

Netanyahu and his allies have been seizing on a television news report yesterday that raised questions about police handling of the affair, using it as a tool to question the charges against the premier.

The report alleged that then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan closed probes into alleged police wrongdoing, including in this case, out of fears it could tarnish the image of law enforcement as it was investigating Netanyahu for corruption, in cases that have now become a trial against the prime minister.

Almost 2,000 school students caught coronavirus in just a week — ministry

The Education Ministry says that 1,817 students in elementary, middle and high schools have caught the coronavirus since schools started a week ago.

It adds that 25,000 students are in quarantine after coming in contact with a confirmed carrier.

Palestinians said to scale down criticism of Israel-UAE deal

The Palestinian Authority has scaled down its criticism of the Israel-UAE normalization deal ahead of an Arab League meeting on the matter tomorrow in Cairo, the Reuters news agency reports.

The report says a draft resolution presented by the PA ambassador “does not include a call to condemn, or act against, the Emirates over the US-brokered deal.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas today issued instructions “banning any offensive statements or actions towards Arab leaders, including UAE rulers,” according to the report.

It is a stark departure from past rhetoric by Palestinian leaders, including Abbas, who have called the pact a “betrayal” and a “stab in the back.”

The draft resolution reportedly says the Israel-UAE agreement “doesn’t diminish Arab consensus over the Palestinian cause, the Palestinian cause is the cause of the entire Arab nation.”

It adds: “The trilateral announcement doesn’t change the principal Arab vision based on the fact that the two-state solution on the 1967 borders is the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East.”

Shas MK Yinon Azoulay confirmed to have caught coronavirus

MK Yinon Azoulay of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party has been confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to the Knesset spokesperson’s office.

Azoulay updated the Knesset Guard on the positive test result he received.

Shas party MK Yinon Azoulay (left) speaks at the Knesset, as Speaker Yuli Edelstein looks on. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After report on misconduct, Sara Netanyahu lawyers will file to overturn her conviction

Attorneys for Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, say they will demand her conviction last year in a case of misusing state funds be overturned, after a TV report yesterday alleged that a prosecutor in the case was in conflict of interest and his colleagues covered that fact up.

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives to a court hearing at the regional labor court in Jerusalem, in the case of Shira Raban, a former employee at the Prime Minister’s Residence, December 23, 2019. (Yonatan SIndel/FLASH90)

The defense team says in a statement that it will ask the state comptroller for all of the documents of the conversations revealed in the Channel 12 report.

“The information exposed proves that the case against Sara Netanyahu was tailor-made, polluted and corrupted from the start,” they say in the statement.

Yesterday’s report claimed that senior law enforcement officials filed a complaint with the state comptroller in recent days alleging that Superintendent Avi Rotenberg, the chief investigator into the allegations Sara Netanyahu misspent public funds for her personal benefit, did not disclose to his superiors in 2016 that he was in an extramarital relationship with Judy Nir-Mozes.

Nir-Mozes is the sister of Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, who has been charged together with the prime minister on allegations that they attempted an illegal quid-pro-quo deal, in one of the three cases against the premier.

US officials: Israel, UAE to sign deal at White House on September 15

Israel and the United Arab Emirates will sign a historic deal normalizing relations at a White House ceremony on September 15, US officials say.

The officials say senior delegations from both countries will likely be led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayad, the brother of the UAE crown prince. The officials, who are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, say the ceremony will either be on the South Lawn, the Rose Garden or inside depending on weather.

The ceremony will come just a month after the agreement to establish full diplomatic relations was announced on August 13. The The historic deal delivered a key foreign policy victory to US President Donald Trump as he seeks reelection, and reflected a changing Middle East in which shared concerns about arch-enemy Iran have largely overtaken traditional Arab support for the Palestinians.

That announcement has been followed by the first direct commercial flight between the countries, the establishment of telephone links and commitments to cooperate in numerous areas.

— AP

Health minister, host of top ministry officials to enter virus quarantine

In addition to coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and several other senior officials will enter a 14-day quarantine after a staff member in the government’s COVID-19 task force caught the coronavirus, the Health Ministry announces.

Following an epidemiological investigation, senior members of Edelstein’s office will also be required to quarantine, as will Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy and other top ministry officials, according to the statement.

Netanyahu confirms attendance at next week’s signing of UAE deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a statement confirming his attendance at next week’s White House signing ceremony for the Israel-UAE normalization agreement.

“I am proud to travel to Washington next week, at the invitation of [US] President [Donald] Trump, and to attend the historic White House ceremony establishing the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” he says.

— Jacob Magid

US sanctions 2 Lebanese politicians allied with Hezbollah

The US Treasury sanctions two former Lebanese Cabinet ministers who are allied with the Hezbollah terror group, in a rare move against politicians close to the Iran-backed group.

The sanctioned officials are former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works and transportation minister Youssef Fenianos.

Khalil is a senior official with the Shiite Amal group that is headed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Fenianos is a member of the Christian Marada group that is allied with Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

The US Treasury says Khalil and Fenianos “provided material support to Hezbollah and engaged in corruption.”

US officials have been warning that a new wave of sanctions will target allies of Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington, Israel and many other countries.

The US has been targeting Hezbollah with sanctions for years, but this is the first time it has imposed sanctions on officials of Amal and Marada that are closely allied with Hezbollah.

— with agencies

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Shas MK Yinon Azoulay confirmed to have caught coronavirus

MK Yinon Azoulay of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party has been confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to the Knesset spokesperson’s office.

Azoulay updated the Knesset Guard on the positive test result he received.

Shas party MK Yinon Azoulay (left) speaks at the Knesset, as Speaker Yuli Edelstein looks on. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)