The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s developments as they unfolded.
The Knesset’s Finance Committee approves far-reaching retroactive tax benefits worth hundreds of thousands of shekels for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The benefits would cover the cost of income tax Netanyahu owes due to upgrades to his vehicle, renovations at his private home in Caesarea, and other expenses dating back to 2009.
The clause effectively means Netanyahu will be absolved of all taxes not related to his salary through 2017, with Channel 12 noting that this could potentially include taxation on profits he made from stock trading and other private ventures.
Eight MKs on the committee back the measure, five oppose it, and one — Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich — abstains.
Blue and White lawmakers, Netanyahu’s coalition partners, do not attend the vote.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg berates the Finance Committee for its vote on Netanyahu’s taxes.
She calls the vote “disconnected [from the public], impudent and despicable.”
The committee is “giving tax benefits to a prime minister charged with bribery while 1 million unemployed don’t know if they’ll go back to work,” she rages in a statement.
Ministers will today roll out restrictions in areas that have seen high coronavirus infection rates, Hebrew media reports say.
The towns and cities will be declared “restricted” zones.
The details of the rules and the names of the areas are not detailed, though previous decisions in Rahat, Arara and a neighborhood in Jaffa have seen schools canceled and gatherings limited.
The decision will be announced after an evening meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet.
According to Health Ministry data, the areas that have recently seen a spike include Bat Yam, Bnei Brak, Elad, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Jerusalem and Petah Tikva.
Police in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim say they’re investigating a fatal shooting in the nearby Palestinian village of al-Azariya.
Police say four East Jerusalem residents, all with various gun wounds, arrived at the station to file a complaint. The victims say they were hit with gunfire while in al-Azariya.
One of the men has died of his wounds, police say. The three others are hospitalized with light injuries.
The circumstances of the incident are unclear.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms, in a tweet, plans to contain the virus in areas that have seen a spike of infections.
“We will make an announcement today on restricted areas in which there are high infection rates. If the rate of infection continues [to rise], we will expedite the process of bringing the digital means to the approval of the cabinet before Sunday,” writes Netanyahu, apparently referring to plans to renew the Shin Bet security agency surveillance to track virus carriers and those exposed to them.
Iran reports 121 new coronavirus deaths, its highest daily toll in over two months, as it battles to contain the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari tells a news conference that the new fatalities bring the overall virus death toll to 9,863.
That is Iran’s highest single-day fatality rate since April 11, when 125 deaths were recorded.
Syria refuses to “bow” to Washington’s demands under the latest US sanctions, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem says, charging that the sole aim was to undermine support for President Bashar Assad.
“If they (Washington) dreamt that Syria and its people would bow to their conditions, then I would say let them keep dreaming because this will never happen,” Muallem tells a news conference in Damascus, nearly a week after the Caesar Act came into force.
The sanctions laid down in the law, according to US officials, aim to force Assad to accept UN Security Council Resolution 2254 of 2015 that calls for a ceasefire, elections and political transition in Syria.
But the real objective is “to influence upcoming presidential elections” in Syria scheduled for next year, Muallem says, and weaken support for Assad ahead of polling.
“President Assad will remain as long as the Syrian people want him to,” the foreign minister stresses.
Assad, a dictator backed by Russia and Iran, has won back control of most of Syria after a nine-year war that has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced over half of the country’s prewar population.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says the government has no intention of announcing a “total lockdown,” but will rather introduce local restrictions.
“It may be that during the course of the day we will declare restricted zones to cut the infections, but we won’t get to a total lockdown,” he tells reporters.
A court is considering sentencing the minor in the 2015 Duma arson attack to community service, according to Channel 12.
The accomplice, whose name is barred from publication as he was a minor at the time of the incident, reached a plea agreement with the State Prosecutor’s Office last May in which he admitted to having planned the torching of the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma. In October, the Lod District Court ruled that he was a member of a terror organization, tacking the additional charge onto the rap sheet of the now-19-year-old.
According to the TV report, the suspect’s lawyers have asked that community service be weighed and the court is complying with the request. He is to be sentenced on August 2.
The state is seeking three life sentences and 40 additional years behind bars for the main perpetrator, Amiram Ben-Uliel, a 26-year-old religious extremist. On July 12, the court will hand down its sentence for Ben-Uliel, who hurled the firebomb into the Dawabsha home in the central West Bank village of Duma that burned to death 18-month-old Ali and his parents, Riham and Saad, and seriously injured 4-year-old Ahmad.
More than a hundred lawmakers from Europe and Israel are calling for the European Union to convene the EU-Israel Association Council, ministerial meetings that usually take place annually but which have been suspended since 2012 due to disagreements over the peace process.
In a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, which was initiated by Antonio López-Istúriz White, the chair of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Israel, the parliamentarians lament that the Council has not held a formal meeting for nearly a decade, “despite pressing challenges and significant shared interests.”
Signatories, which include former French prime minister Manuel Valls, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid and Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, urge the EU to relaunch the Council as an “effective forum for close dialogue and consultation.”
— Raphael Ahren
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is working behind the scenes to prevent unilateral West Bank annexation, a United Nations official tells Israeli politicians, according to Army Radio.
The UN official says there is “not a single logical reason for Israel to take a unilateral step,” the Hebrew-language report says.
A statement from Ashkenazi’s office, in response, says the foreign minister is fully committed to the Trump peace plan, but annexation must be fully coordinated with the United States and countries in the region.
The two-meter social distancing rule to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be cut in England from July 4, after complaints from companies that keeping it makes business impossible.
“Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one metre plus,” says Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic says he has tested positive for coronavirus, joining a slew of other infected players who took part in an exhibition tennis tournament in the Balkans.
“Novak Djokovic tested positive for a virus COVID-19,” reads a statement from his staff. “He is not showing any symptoms,” it adds.
A man in his fifties has drowned in northern Israel, Hebrew reports say.
The man is pulled unconscious from the water near Rosh Hanikra. He is pronounced dead by medics.
The areas that will be declared “restricted zones” due to high COVID-19 infection rates will likely include neighborhoods in the northern city of Tiberias and parts of Bat Yam and Elad in central Israel, Army Radio reports.
There are particular concerns about the beachfront town of Bat Yam, which has a relatively older population in comparison with other outbreak areas.
A man allegedly attempts to run over Border Police officers with his car in the West Bank, prompting Israeli security forces to open fire and injure him, according to police.
Police say it appears to be a deliberate attack.
There are no Israeli injuries in the incident near Abu Dis, police say.
The driver of the car is seriously injured and receiving medical treatment.
Egypt is gradually loosening its partial coronavirus lockdown amid a steady increase of daily infections in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly says his government will reopen mosques and churches starting Saturday and the ban on Friday’s Muslim prayers at mosques and Sunday’s masses at churches would remain in place for now.
He says restaurants, coffee shops, clubs and theaters will allowed to reopen at 25% capacity. The government has also extended the hours public and private transposition can operate by four hours, until midnight. It also lifted the country’s nighttime curfew.
Madbouky says Egypt’s beaches and parks remain closed until further notice.
The gradual reopening was announced as the the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Egypt has often surpassed 1,000 in recent weeks.
The Arab world’s most populous country has officially reported around 57,000 confirmed cases, including at least 2,278 deaths.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, ahead of Russia’s Victory Day tomorrow, his office says.
Ashkenazi thanked Lavrov for an invitation to the events marking the defeat of Nazi Germany, and expressed regret Israeli representatives could not attend due to the pandemic, the statement says.
“In addition, the two discussed developments and opportunities in the region,” the statement says, without elaborating.
This is the second phone conversation between the two since Ashkenazi entered office last month “and the two agreed to meet as soon as possible when the situation allows it,” the Foreign Ministry says.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he has reviewed with the army potential responses to the possible annexation of West Bank land, while laying out his conditions for backing the extension of sovereignty designated for Israel under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
“We won’t take Palestinians into our territory, we won’t harm human rights or the right of movement, we’ll work in coordination with regional countries and we’re in contact with them, we won’t endanger the peace agreements,” he says in a briefing to reporters.
Stressing his support for Trump’s peace plan, which the Palestinian Authority has rejected, Gantz indicates he could back moving forward unilaterally with annexation if there is no progress toward a peace process.
“We won’t continue to wait for the Palestinians. If they say ‘no’ forever to everything then we’ll be forced to move forward without them,” he says.
— Alexander Fulbright
In an update, police say a female officer was lightly injured in the suspected car-ramming attack near Abu Dis in the West Bank.
She has been hospitalized, police say.
Reports say the alleged attacker, a Palestinian man, has died of his injuries.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi says Israeli annexation of the West Bank would create “institutionalized apartheid.”
“Only the two-state solution, on the basis of international law, that will ensure the emergence of a viable Palestinian state with occupied Jerusalem as its capital on June 4, 1967, lines that lives in peace side by side a secure and accepted Israel as envisioned by the Arab Peace initiative, will produce that peace. The alternative is institutionalized apartheid that is the certain outcome of Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian lands,” he says.
The foreign ministers of Israel and nearby Cyprus meet שד the Jewish state seeks to defuse European opposition to its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
Israel’s Gabi Ashkenazi meets his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides at Tel Aviv’s main airport after plans for a larger delegation led by President Nicos Anastasiades were revised over coronavirus concerns.
“Ashkenazi asked Christodoulides for Cyprus to act as a moderating voice in discourse with European countries,” an Israeli foreign ministry statement says.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the statement says, Ashkenazi tells Christodoulides that his country was committed to proceeding “in a responsible and coordinated manner with the various parties in the region.”
The Jewish state, he adds, would do so “while maintaining Israel’s strategic and security interests based on President Trump’s peace plan.”
Mohammad al-Emadi, head of the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee, says that Qatar’s financial aid package to “deserving Gazan families” will arrive in the Strip early next week.
The $10 million in aid will be equally divided among 100,000 families in the Gaza Strip, al-Emadi says, with each family receiving $100.
Al-Emadi said in a statement last week that the funds, originally scheduled to arrive in early May, had been delayed due to “coronavirus procedures.” The aid package’s much-anticipated arrival in the Strip has already been announced and postponed several times.
— Aaron Boxerman
The Jerusalem municipality has signed a deal with a development company that will see the first elevator built linking the Western Wall and Old City.
The NIS 55 million ($16 million) project will take three years to complete and aims to make the holy site more accessible for people with disabilities, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion says in a statement.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York is laying off about 40 percent of its staff in order to weather the financial crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
The museum’s president and CEO, Jack Kliger, made the announcement Monday in a call with the staff, the Forward reports, citing an audio recording of the call provided by a museum employee.
Some 34 employees will be laid off and other staff will face reduced hours, according to the report. Senior and executive staff will not take pay cuts.
The museum, subtitled A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, has been closed since March because of the pandemic. The downtown Manhattan site plans to reopen in September.
The anti-settlements Peace Now organization berates Defense Minister Benny Gantz over his comments on the Trump peace plan and West Bank annexation.
“After he withdrew his promise to replace Netanyahu, Gantz has officially become his collaborator. The man who pledged to bring peace has signed on to the project to set the Middle East on fire. His support for unilateral annexation and his comments on the day after on Palestinian intransigence raise concerns that the man is disconnected from reality, and is willing to betray the will of his voters and lead us all to disaster — all for a rotation [of the premiership] that will never come about,” it says.
A Brazilian federal judge orders President Jair Bolsonaro to comply with local rules to wear a face mask whenever he is outdoors in the capital of Brasilia.
In recent weekends, a sometimes unmasked Bolsonaro has joined throngs of people protesting against Brazil’s Congress and Supreme Court and he has often visited bakeries and outdoor food stalls, drawing crowds around him.
Brazil’s federal district requires people to wear face masks in public to help control the spread of the new coronavirus. Failure to comply carries a possible daily fine of $390.
Judge Renato Coelho Borelli says in his ruling that Bolsonaro “has exposed other people to the contagion of a disease that has caused national commotion.”
Bolsonaro often appears in public events with a mask, unlike some other heads of state, including US President Donald Trump, Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Argentina’s Alberto Fernandez, who has often hugged supporters and taken selfies with them while not wearing a mask, although use of a mask is mandatory in Argentina’s capital.
The Brazilian president has downplayed the risk of COVID-19 and insisted the negative economic impacts of social isolation will be worse than the harm caused by the virus. More than 51,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil.
A powerful earthquake shakes southern and central Mexico. There are no immediate reports of the extent of damage or injury.
The US Geologic Survey says the quake had a magnitude of 7.7 and was centered along the Pacific coast of Oaxaca state.
Sixteen students and two teachers at a school in Or Yehuda have contracted the coronavirus.
The school, Or Chana, as well as schools located nearby, have been shut as a precaution.
The top infectious disease expert in the United States tells House lawmakers it’s a question of “when, not if” the United States will have a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health tells the House Energy and Commerce Committee that he thinks a coronavirus vaccine could be available by the end of this year or early 2021.
One vaccine candidate will enter advanced trials next month. Fauci says “we feel cautiously optimistic based on the concerted effort.”
The White House has launched an effort called “Operation Warp Speed” to make sure a vaccine can be quickly mass-produced and distributed when it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Government data on the coronavirus indicates there have been 459 new cases in the past 24 hours, and over 200 since this morning.
It also records another fatality, bringing the death toll to 308. No details are immediately released on the latest death.
The data, released by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry, says 40 people are in serious condition, 27 of them on ventilators. There are 5,299 active COVID-19 cases in the country, it says.
It says 13,451 tests have been conducted today.
According to the Health Ministry, Jerusalem — Israel’s largest city — has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the past three days.
The capital has 90 new cases, followed by Bnei Brak (58), Ashdod (52), Tel Aviv-Jaffa (48), and Bat Yam (40).
Over a dozen new cases have been reported in the following cities since Sunday: Arara, Rahat, Elad, Or Yehuda, Beersheba, Beitar Illit, Petach Tikva, Holon, Haifa, Ramat Gan, Rehovot, and Kfar Saba, signaling the virus spread is dispersed across the country.
Top officials of Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Doha, Qatar to discuss “the latest developments in the Palestinian question,” Hamas-linked al-Resalah news reports.
Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh, former political chief Khaled Mashal, and Hamas international relations director Mousa Abu Marzouq attend the meeting with Bogdanov, who also serves as Russia’s Special Presidential Envoy to the Middle East and Africa. Russia’s ambassador to Qatar, Nurmakhmad Kholov, is also present.
Al-Resalah reports that the two sides discussed Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank and agreed to continue “coordination and consultation with regards to the Palestinian question.”
— Aaron Boxerman
Ministers have decided to impose a lockdown on areas of the northern city of Tiberias and the central Israel town of Elad to stem the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The decision will affect the municipality area of Elad and the following areas in Tiberias: Ramat Tiberias Bet, Ramat Tiberias Gimmel, Neighborhood 200, Tiberias Illit and the Ben Gurion neighborhood.
It goes into effect tomorrow at 8 a.m. for seven days.
The ministers are still debating whether to introduce similar restrictions in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, amid a sharp rise of coronavirus infections there, according to Channel 12.
In the statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the ministers will discuss whether to declare other areas “restricted zones” tomorrow morning.
The Health Ministry has yet to release the specific guidelines on the new restrictions.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warns Israel could soon see an outbreak of violence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as the July 1 date for Israel’s planned annexation of West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley nears.
In comments at a military exercise in the north, Kohavi addresses the IDF’s decision to tighten coronavirus-related restrictions amid a national rise in new infections.
“We must remain ready. Citizens can be at home in quarantine, the IDF cannot. From what I see here, the level of fighting is good and is naturally aimed toward… Hezbollah in the north, and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip,” he’s quoted saying in an IDF statement.
While not directly mentioning annexation, Kohavi warns of violent unrest in the West Bank, which he says can spill over to Gaza.
“You could find yourself in a few weeks in the area of Judea and Samaria, because of riots and terror,” he says, using the biblical names of the West Bank. “The upcoming events can develop into fighting in Gaza.”
— Alexander Fulbright
In a statement, the Border Police double down and say the alleged car-ramming in the West Bank was a deliberate attack on an Israeli servicewoman.
“This is the second car-ramming attack at the Kiosk Junction in Abu Dis in two months. The Border Police notes that the forces acted appropriately and as is expected of them to behave in such incidents,” it says.
The Israeli security forces shot dead the Palestinian driver of the car, who was later identified as Ahmad Erekat, 27. Family members said he was on the way to his sister’s wedding, denying the collision was an attack on soldiers.
The female border policewoman had signaled to Erekat to stop, police say, but he instead swerved and struck the post where she was standing, leaving her with light injuries.
France’s much-heralded new phone app for tracking coronavirus cases has only alerted 14 people that they were at risk of infection since its launch three weeks ago, the digital affairs minister says.
The StopCovid app keeps track of users who have been in close proximity of one another over a two-week period. If any become infected, they inform the platform, which alerts the others.
French officials defended the app as a vital tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19, although critics expressed data privacy concerns.
Since its launch, 68 people informed the platform they had been infected and only 14 users were alerted that they were now at risk because of their contacts with these people, digital affairs minister Cedric O says at a press conference.
The minister nevertheless defends the usefulness of the app, arguing that the numbers reflect a decrease in the virus’ prevalence.
But he admits the number of downloads in France pales in comparison with Germany, where 10 million people downloaded the app versus just nearly 2 million in France.
The US Embassy in Jerusalem removes a pride sign after the city claims it must request permission to hang the LGBT banner.
“The PRIDE sign at the US Embassy Jerusalem was temporarily taken down today [Tuesday, June 23, 2020] pending a discussion with the City of Jerusalem municipal government. The PRIDE sign will be rehung as soon as possible on the Embassy property,” the US Embassy says in a statement.
Hebrew media reports say Deputy Mayor Arieh King sent inspectors to cover up the sign.
Sources in the municipality tell the Walla news site that the sign was removed due to the embassy’s failure to gain approval from the municipality.
But Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum says on Twitter that no such approval is required.
No he can’t, they didn’t need permission according to the law.. I am rectifying the situation
— פלר חסן נחום Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (@FleurHassanN) June 23, 2020
International donors pledge over $130 million to the United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees, an amount the organization’s head says is encouraging but not enough to keep operations running through the end of the year.
The UN Relief and Works Agency has faced a financial crisis since the United States pulled all funding in 2018, leaving the organization with a massive budgetary shortfall.
Agency Director-General Philippe Lazzarini tells reporters following a virtual fundraising conference that despite the “very strong expression of support” by international donors “we are still in the dark and we do not know if our operations will run until the end of the year.”
He says the donations cover only a fraction of the roughly $400 million budget gap the agency is facing.
Lazzarini says there was no intention at this time to cut any of UNRWA’s core services, but “in reality, there is nothing left to cut without impacting the scope and the quality of the services.”
The Palestinian Authority health ministry says it has confirmed 179 new cases of the novel coronavirus since Tuesday morning, raising the total number of cases in the West Bank to 1,097.
“Unfortunately, there are signs of a lack of compliance with health instructions, even in the current state of lockdown,” PA health official Dr. Ali Abd Rabu says in a statement.
The majority of the newly-confirmed cases are concentrated in Hebron governorate, which has emerged as the center of a second wave of infections in the West Bank.
Eight cases were detected in Bethlehem, as well as one in Nablus. Abd Rabu says the PA health ministry is not excluding the possibility that other governorates may be experiencing undetected outbreaks.
— Aaron Boxerman
Residents of Elad are annoyed that they have been placed under partial lockdown and think the move may be based on the city’s ultra-Orthodox character, the Ynet news site reports.
According to residents, the decision to name the city a restricted zone, which means that barring certain specific reasons, people cannot enter or exit, is only hurting people and not actually helping cut down on virus cases.
Most entrances to the city have been closed and a police checkpoint is stopping cars at the one remaining open. The report notes that only one bus station at the entrance to the city is allowed to operate, meaning that anyone who needs to leave to work has to crowd there.
“This is not a real lockdown, you can enter, you can do whatever, this lockdown just hurts businesses and people and nobody cares,” one resident says.