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Rivlin, in nationwide address, apologizes for leaders’ failure to rein in virus

President warns government it must restore public trust and may not be given another chance, pleads with Israelis to heed lockdown rules, not blame others for outbreaks

President Reuven Rivlin reads a report on the state of young people at risk during the coronavirus pandemic prepared by the Elem organization on July 6, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin reads a report on the state of young people at risk during the coronavirus pandemic prepared by the Elem organization on July 6, 2020. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.

Health minister signals lockdown to be extended

Two days before Israel enters a three-week lockdown, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warns it will take time to bring down the infections.

“I am telling you honestly — anyone who thinks the situation will be encouraging in two weeks is mistaken,” Edelstein tells the Ynet news site. “We will be dealing with these restrictions for a while, and as I said, we may tighten them further.”

The health minister also defends the government’s decision to close schools a day early, from Thursday.

He says tens of thousands have been sent into quarantine and thousands have been infected in cases linked to schools, which opened just two weeks ago.

Knesset rejects bid to investigate judges

The Knesset rejects a proposal by opposition Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich to form a commission of inquiry into alleged conflicts of interests by judges and prosecutors.

Just six lawmakers vote in favor of the bid, and 47 oppose it.

Some coalition parties, including Likud and United Torah Judaism, skip the vote.

Hurricane Sally makes landfall in American south

Hurricane Sally makes landfall on the southern coast of the US, the National Hurricane Center says, hitting Gulf Shores, Alabama.

The Category 2 storm, packing sustained winds of up to 105 miles (165 kilometers) per hour, is likely to cause “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” in coastal areas, the Miami-based center says.

AFP

High Court gives government more time for decision on recycling deposit

The High Court allows the Environmental Protection Ministry to once again postpone submitting a response to a petition relating to the recycling of drinks bottles and cans.

Since 2001, when the government passed the Deposit Law on Beverage Containers, a refundable NIS 30 agorot ($0.09) has been added to the cost of all cans of drinks, and glass and plastic bottles containing 100 milliliters (3.4 fluid ounces) to 1.5 liters (1.6 quarts) of beverage. The aim is to encourage the public to take used containers back to retail outlets, from where they are sent for recycling.

But larger bottles have been exempt, largely due to pressure from ultra-Orthodox groups and drinks manufacturers.

In December 2019, in response to a petition filed by Adam Teva V’Din, the High Court gave Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel’s predecessor, Minister Ze’ev Elkin, until June 2020 to explain why the deposit law should not apply to bottles above 1.5 liters. Elkin got the court to postpone the deadline for a response. On Wednesday, the court postponed the deadline until October 18.

Gamliel told the Knesset Economics Committee on Monday that she needed another month to come to a decision that she hoped that all sides could live with.

Sue Surkes

Hamas says senior official in West Bank dies of COVID-19

The Hamas terror group says a founder of its West Bank branch, Ahmad Abu Erra, has died of COVID-19.

Abu Erra spent several years in Israeli prisons and was expelled to Lebanon upon his release, the terror group says.

Waqf closes Temple Mount for 3 weeks as virus cases soar

Jerusalem’s Temple Mount will be closed starting Friday following a spike in coronavirus cases, the authority that administers the city’s Muslim holy places announces.

With cases of the virus on the rise in Israel and the West Bank, the Waqf authority held an emergency meeting with health officials.

Waqf members decide to “suspend the entry of worshipers starting from Friday afternoon (September 18) for a period of three weeks.”

“We hope that citizens will understand this procedure, in order to preserve their health and wellbeing,” Waqf member Hatem Abdel Qader tells AFP.

Muslim worshipers pray at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 31, 2020, after the site had been closed for over two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The closure coincides with a three-week lockdown to be imposed by Israel, which controls the entrances of the compound.

The call to prayer will continue to ring out across Jerusalem’s Old City, Qader says, while Waqf employees will be allowed to pray at the site.

The Waqf shut the compound at the onset of the pandemic in March, when sweeping closures upended religious life in a way not seen for centuries.

Israeli authorities have reported nearly 167,000 coronavirus cases, with 1,147 deaths.

AFP

Returning Israeli delegation from US ordered to quarantine for 5 days

The Israeli delegation to Washington for the peace treaties’ signing will be forced to enter a five-day quarantine, despite attempts to persuade health officials to waive the requirement, according to the Haaretz daily.

The report says Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to be exempt from quarantine altogether. The government policy requires all those returning from highly infected countries, including the US, to self-isolate for two weeks.

Health officials conceded to a shortened isolation period.

“There was some screaming, but everyone is going to sit at home until Monday,” an unnamed health official tells Haaretz.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, did not wear masks during their meeting with US President Donald Trump. The prime minister also had no face covering during the signing ceremony.

Palestinians record 963 new virus cases

Palestinians record 963 new instances of the novel coronavirus today, bringing their total caseload to a record-high 12,520 active cases, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.

Health officials confirm 662 new cases among West Bank Palestinians, with the largest hot spots identified in Hebron and Ramallah. Cases are rising across PA-controlled areas, however, with dozens of new cases confirmed in major Palestinian cities such as Nablus and Jenin.

Another 207 were confirmed in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, the PA says.

PA Interior Ministry spokesperson Ghassan Nimr said yesterday that the PA was not ruling out a return to lockdown should infections continue to spike, but clarified that such measures “had not yet been proposed.”

In Gaza, health authorities see 94 new infections, raising the total number of active coronavirus cases in the coastal enclave to 1,728. Sixteen Gazans have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

Hamas officials warn that Gaza’s fragile health care system could be overwhelmed if the number of active cases exceeds 2,000.

Aaron Boxerman

More than 1,000 Hasidic pilgrims still stuck at Ukraine-Belarus border

More than one thousand Hasidic Jewish pilgrims including children are massed at the Ukraine-Belarus border after Kyiv denied them entry due to coronavirus restrictions, the two countries say.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel every Jewish New Year to the central Ukraine town of Uman to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

This year the Jewish New Year is celebrated September 18-20.

The pilgrims set off this year even though both the Ukrainian and Israeli governments last month called on Hasidic Jews not to travel to Uman, a town of 80,000 people.

Kiev has banned foreigners from entering the country until late September due to a spike in coronavirus infections.

A Ukrainian border guard spokesman, Andriy Demchenko, tells AFP “there are around 1,000 people” at the border crossing point.

The Belarus border guard service says 1,064 people had attempted to cross since Monday, including 242 children.

It says it is providing food and warm tents, while pilgrims have complained of being left cold and hungry in the open air.

AFP

OECD: Global economic outlook not as bad as expected

The global economy is not doing as bad as previously expected, especially in the United States and China, but has still suffered an unprecedented drop due to the coronavirus pandemic, an international watchdog says.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says in a report that the world’s gross domestic product is projected to decline by 4.5% this year – less than the 6% plunge it had predicted in June.

The global economy is expected to rebound and grow by 5% next year, the organization says.

Yet the OECD notes that its outlook is “subject to considerable uncertainty” as the pandemic continues, and assumes that “sporadic local outbreaks will continue” and a vaccine will not be available until late in 2021.

The OECD upgraded its forecast for the US economy, anticipating a contraction of 3.8% this year instead of a plunge of 7.3% forecast previously.

China is expected to be the only country in the group of 20 most powerful economies to grow this year – by 1.8%, instead of a drop of 2.6% previously projected.

The OECD cuts its forecasts for India, Mexico and South Africa.

The Paris-based organization, which advises developed countries on economic policy, urges governments not to raise taxes or cut spending next year “to preserve confidence and limit uncertainty.” Fiscal and monetary support for the economy need to be maintained, it says.

AP

Global virus death toll hits 936,095; nearly 30 million cases recorded

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 936,095 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Wednesday.

At least 29,633,590 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 19,787,400 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

On Tuesday, 6,257 new deaths and 296,401 new cases were recorded worldwide. Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were India with 1,290 new deaths, followed by United States with 1,250 and Brazil with 1,113.

The United States is the worst-hit country with 195,961 deaths from 6,606,674 cases. At least 2,495,127 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 133,119 deaths from 4,382,263 cases, India with 82,066 deaths from 5,020,359 cases, Mexico with 71,678 deaths from 676,487 cases, and United Kingdom with 41,664 deaths from 374,228 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Peru with 94 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Belgium at 86, Spain 64, Bolivia 64, and Chile with 63.

China — excluding Hong Kong and Macau — has to date declared 85,214 cases (12 new since Tuesday), including 4,634 deaths and 80,437 recoveries.

Latin America and the Caribbean overall have 314,495 deaths from 8,403,067 cases, Europe 222,734 deaths from 4,614,184 infections, the United States and Canada 205,187 deaths from 6,745,229 cases, Asia 118,964 deaths from 6,749,832 cases, Middle East 40,771 deaths from 1,722,231 cases, Africa 33,066 deaths from 1,368,342 cases, and Oceania 878 deaths from 30,713 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.

AFP

Teen accomplice in 2015 murder of Palestinian family sentenced to 3.5 years

The teenage accomplice in the 2015 murder of a Palestinian family in the West Bank is sentenced to 3.5 years in prison.

The suspect, 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.

According to the conviction, main suspect Amiram Ben Uliel and the teenage accomplice had planned to carry out an attack against Palestinians as revenge for a drive-by shooting days earlier in which Israeli civilian Malachy Rosenfeld was killed. But the younger accomplice failed to show up on time at the rendezvous point in July 2015, upon which Ben Uliel carried out the firebombing attack alone.

The prosecution had asked the court not to sentence the accomplice to more than five and a half years in prison.

Deducted from the sentence will be the time the teenager has already spent behind bars — about two and a half years.

The Duma arson attack, one of the most brutal acts of Jewish terror in recent years, claimed the lives of Sa’ad and Riham Dawabsha and their 18-month-old son Ali. Five-year-old Ahmed was the lone survivor of the attack.

Ben Uliel earlier this week was handed three life sentences.

Italian MP said to nominate Netanyahu for Nobel Peace Prize

An Italian lawmaker has nominated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Nobel Peace Prize over Israel’s normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, according to Channel 13.

US President Donald Trump has been nominated for the prize for brokering the deals.

Nominations can be made by a select group of people and organizations, including national lawmakers, heads of state and certain international institutions. In 2020, the committee has received 318 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, of which 211 are individuals and 107 are organizations.

with agencies

Jewish pilgrims standoff aggravates tensions between Ukraine, Belarus

The Ukrainian presidency accuses Belarus of aggravating tensions along their shared border after Kyiv barred entry to more than 1,000 Hasidic Jewish pilgrims over coronavirus travel restrictions.

“We call on the Belarusian authorities to stop creating additional tension on the border,” a statement says, accusing Belarus of giving the pilgrims false hope they would be allowed to enter Ukraine.

AFP

US government agencies outline sweeping plan to provide free COVID-19 vaccine

The US federal government outlines a sweeping plan to make vaccines for COVID-19 available for free to all Americans, even as polls show a strong undercurrent of skepticism rippling across the land.

In a report to Congress and an accompanying “playbook” for states and localities, federal health agencies and the Defense Department sketch out complex plans for a vaccination campaign to begin gradually in January or possibly later this year, eventually ramping up to reach any American who wants a shot. The Pentagon is involved with the distribution of vaccines, but civilian health workers will be the ones giving shots.

The campaign is “much larger in scope and complexity than seasonal influenza or other previous outbreak-related vaccination responses,” says the playbook for states from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the highlights:

• For most vaccines, people will need two doses, 21 to 28 days apart. Double-dose vaccines will have to come from the same drugmaker. There could be several vaccines from different manufacturers approved and available.

• Vaccination of the US population won’t be a sprint but a marathon. Initially there may be a limited supply of vaccines available, and the focus will be on protecting health workers, other essential employees, and people in vulnerable groups. The National Academy of Medicine is working on priorities for the first phase. A second and third phase would expand vaccination to the entire country.

• The vaccine itself will be free of charge, and patients won’t be charged out of pocket for the administration of shots, thanks to billions of dollars in taxpayer funding approved by Congress and allocated by the Trump administration.

• States and local communities will need to devise precise plans for receiving and locally distributing vaccines, some of which will require special handling such as refrigeration or freezing. States and cities have a month to submit plans.

Some of the broad components of the federal plan have already been discussed, but Wednesday’s reports attempt to put the key details into a comprehensive framework. Distribution is happening under the umbrella of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed initiative to have millions of doses ready to ship once a vaccine is given what’s expected to be an emergency use approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Several formulations are undergoing final trials.

AP

UN agency for Palestinians says it could be forced to halt some services

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, is experiencing a financial crisis that could force it to halt some services to an already impoverished population of more than 5 million people, the head of the agency says.

Philippe Lazzarini also warns in an interview with The Associated Press in Beirut that the spread of coronavirus, an economic meltdown in Lebanon and a huge deficit in UNRWA’s budget are deepening the hopelessness among Palestinian refugees, some of whom are trying to flee the Mediterranean nation on migrant boats.

UNRWA’s financial crisis was sparked by the loss of all funding from the United States, its largest donor, in 2018. The US gave $360 million to UNRWA in 2017, but only $60 million in 2018, and nothing last year or so far this year.

US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks with Israel to receive US aid money. He has since put forth a plan for resolving the conflict that was rejected by the Palestinians.

“I do believe that ceasing our activity in a context where there is such a level of despair, such a level of hopelessness, can only fuel the feeling that the Palestinian refugees are abandoned by the international community,” says Lazzarini, who took office in March.

Lazzarini says supporting UNRWA “is one of the best investments in stability in the region at a time of extraordinary unpredictability and volatility.”

“We cannot let the situation get worse in a highly volatile region,” he says.

Trump’s administration, along with Israel, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of homes in today’s Israel at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, rather than limiting refugee status only to the original refugees as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

AP, with TOI staff

Russian neo-Nazi vigilante ‘Hatchet’ found dead in jail

A notorious Russian neo-Nazi who carried out vigilante attacks on gay people, suspected pedophiles and drug dealers has been found dead in jail, investigators say.

Maxim Martsinkevich, nicknamed “Tesak,” or hatchet, was serving a 10-year term for attacks on people he considered to be drug dealers.

He ran far-right youth groups and posed with swastikas.

He was best known for a vigilante campaign called “Occupy Pedophilia” that targeted gay men, luring them to meetings with teenage boys and then filming attacks on them that included dousing them with urine.

He also led a similar campaign against those suspected of drug dealing.

“The prisoner’s body was found in the morning,” the Investigative Committee for the Chelyabinsk region in the Urals, where he was incarcerated, says in a statement that confirmed details in media reports but did not name Martsinkevich directly.

“According to preliminary information, the man left a note before his death,” investigators says, adding they were looking into the circumstances.

AFP

Study hints antibody drug may cut COVID-19 hospitalizations

A drug company says that partial results from a study testing an antibody drug give hints that it may help mild to moderately ill COVID-19 patients not need to be hospitalized, a goal no current coronavirus medicine has been able to meet.

Eli Lilly announces the results in a press release, but they have not been published or reviewed by independent scientists.

The drug missed the study’s main goal of reducing the amount of virus patients had after 11 days, except at the middle of three doses being tested. However, most study participants, even those given a placebo treatment, had cleared the virus by then, so that time point now seems too late to judge that potential benefit, the company says.

Other tests suggest the drug was reducing virus sooner, and the results are an encouraging “proof of principle” as this and other studies continue, Lilly says.

The company says it would talk with regulators about possible next steps but that it was too soon to speculate on whether these interim results might lead to any action to allow early use.

Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I’m strongly encouraged” by the results, says Dr. Myron Cohen, a University of North Carolina virologist. He had no role in the Lilly study but helps direct antibody studies for a public-private research group the federal government formed to speed testing of these drugs.

“This seems to demonstrate what we thought” — that such drugs would give a benefit, he says.

Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help it be eliminated. The blood of survivors is being tested as a treatment for COVID-19 patients because it contains such antibodies, but the strength and types of antibodies varies depending on each donor, and doing this on a large scale is impractical.

The drugs that Lilly and other companies are testing are concentrated versions of specific antibodies that worked best against the coronavirus in lab and animal tests, and can be made in large, standardized doses.

They are being tested to treat newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients in hope of preventing serious disease or death, and to try to prevent infection in people at high risk of that such as nursing home residents and health workers.

Wednesday’s results come from 450 people in a mid-stage study testing an antibody jointly developed by Indianapolis-based Lilly and the Canadian company AbCellera in people with COVID-19 symptoms not severe enough to warrant hospitalization. The drug is given once through an IV and was tested at three doses. Neither the patients nor their doctors knew which patients received the drug or placebo infusions.

AP

Lebanon misses deadline to form government

Lebanese politicians have missed a 15-day deadline to form a crisis Cabinet, with many remaining deadlocked on which political faction gets to have the key portfolio of the finance ministry.

The deadline was set as part of a French initiative by President Emmanuel Macron who has been pressing the leaders in Lebanon to form a Cabinet made up of specialists who can work on enacting urgent reforms to extract the country from a devastating economic and financial crisis.

The crisis has been worsened by the August 4 explosion at Beirut’s port caused by the detonation of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrates, which killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands and caused losses worth billions of dollars.

The French leader has described his initiative, which includes a road map and a timetable for reforms, as “the last chance for this system.”

While initially committing to the plan and naming a new prime minister-designate who promised to deliver a Cabinet within two weeks, Lebanese politicians have been unable to meet the deadline amid divisions over the initiative itself and the manner in which the government formation is being carried out, away from the usual consultations and horse-trading among political factions.

AP

1,000 IDF soldiers to help police enforce lockdown

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he has instructed the army to dispatch another 500 Israel Defense Forces soldiers to help police enforce a nationwide lockdown beginning Friday.

The reinforcements bring the total number of soldiers tasked with enforcing the closure to 1,000.

Syria seethes after Trump says he wanted to assassinate Assad

Damascus hits back at Donald Trump and likens the US to a “rogue” state or “terrorist group,” after the US president said he had wanted to assassinate Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad.

“Trump’s admission of such a step confirms that the US administration is a rogue… state,” Syria’s foreign ministry says in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

“It pursues the same tactics as terrorist groups such as murder and assassination,” it says, one day after Trump made the remarks to the morning show Fox & Friends.

The US president said his then-secretary of defense Jim Mattis opposed the assassination of Assad in 2017.

“I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set,” Trump said.

“Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general, and I let him go.”

Trump was reportedly mulling assassinating Assad after the Syrian president allegedly launched a chemical attack on civilians.

AFP

Left-wing US Jewish groups: Trump ad calling Biden a puppet is anti-Semitic

Two left-wing Jewish groups are accusing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign of anti-Semitism over an ad showing Bernie Sanders holding Joe Biden as a puppet.

The ad, according to screenshots posted on Twitter, has Biden dangling like a marionette from strings that are wrapped around Sanders’ fingers with text reading “Joe Biden: The radical left’s puppet.” Sanders, who challenged Biden from the left in the Democratic presidential primary, is Jewish.

IfNotNow and Bend the Arc say the ad perpetuates the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews nefariously pulling the world’s strings. The accusation that Biden is a puppet of the far left is a frequent one among Trump supporters, who often use images of Sanders to illustrate the argument.

“There’s a long, dangerous history of Jews being scapegoated as all-powerful puppet masters,” Bend the Arc tweets. “Trump is using this antisemitic lie to spread fear & division.”

Anti-Semitic cartoons throughout history have included images of Jews as puppet masters. In a tweet from 2018 regarding a different cartoon, the Anti-Defamation League wrote, “Even if no anti-Semitic insinuation is intended, casting a Jewish individual as a puppet master who manipulates national events perpetuates #antiSemitic tropes.”

Trump has also accused Biden of being the puppet of non-Jews. A Trump ad with a similar theme from May reads “Joe Biden: China’s puppet” and features a video of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping standing behind Biden and moving his mouth like that of a ventriloquist’s dummy.

JTA

140 virus patients to be moved from overcrowded Jerusalem, northern hospitals

In an attempt to reduce overcrowding at Israel’s hospitals and make room for more patients suffering from the coronavirus, the Health Ministry announces that 140 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in eight hospitals in the north and the Jerusalem area will be transferred to hospitals in the center of the country.

Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva and Soroka Hospital in Beersheba will take in the patients, the ministry says.

The transfer of the patients will take place from today till Friday.

Deputy health minister: Virus rates are ‘on verge of being uncontrollable’

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch urges Israelis to heed the lockdown rules, warning the virus rates are spiraling out of control.

He tells Channel 12 in an interview that “if in the end, Israelis look for ways to outsmart and violate it [the lockdown], then we won’t succeed in our mission.”

“I expect and hope that the public will understand the importance of the hour, understand we are hitting virus numbers that are on the verge of being uncontrollable,” he says.

He says the government “won’t make the mistake that we made after the first lockdown” and immediately lift all the restrictions.

Kisch says easing the rules will depend on the infection numbers in three weeks.

Rivlin to address virus rates, lockdown in speech

President Reuven Rivlin will make a special address this evening at 8:10 p.m. on the rising virus rates and the upcoming lockdown, his office says.

Trump posts faked video of Biden playing anti-police song

US President Donald Trump, who is trying to persuade voters that his challenger Joe Biden will encourage violent crime, retweets a faked video Wednesday purporting to show the Democrat playing a crudely worded anti-police rap song.

In the video, which Twitter later marked as “manipulated media,” Biden stands at a podium, takes out his cellphone and tells the audience, “I have just one thing to say.”

He then appears to play N.W.A’s 1988 protest song “Fuck tha Police” and dances slightly, smiling.

After a few seconds, he jokes: “If I had the talent of any one of these people, I’d be, I’d be elected president by acclamation.”

“China is drooling,” Trump writes over the retweet.

The problem is that Biden did not play N.W.A’s song.

AFP

Iran urges ICC to hear its case against US sanctions

Iran urges the UN’s top court to hear its bid to overturn US nuclear sanctions, saying they were destroying the Iranian economy and “ruining millions of lives.”

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is hearing arguments this week from Tehran and Washington before deciding whether it has jurisdiction to deal with the case.

Iran dragged the United States to the ICJ in 2018 when President Donald Trump pulled the US out of a landmark deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program and reimposed sanctions.

Tehran’s representative Hamidreza Oloumiyazdi tells the court by videolink that the sanctions were a “clear breach” of a 1955 “Treaty of Amity” between Iran and the United States.

“The US measures and the underlying policy of maximum pressure disregard the very foundation of international law,” Oloumiyazdi says.

He says the sanctions were causing “hardship and suffering” including a record drop in Iran’s trade, a near-doubling of food prices and “severe” effects on the health system.

“All that matters now for the US administration is whether its measures are succeeding in destroying the Iranian economy and ruining the lives of millions of Iranians,” Oloumiyazdi adds.

The US urged the ICJ to reject the case on Monday, saying the sanctions have nothing to do with the friendship treaty, which predated the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and subsequent severing of ties between the two countries.

It argued that the sanctions were necessary because Iran posed a “grave threat” to international security.

Washington formally ended the Treaty of Amity in late 2018 after the ICJ ordered it to ease sanctions on humanitarian goods as an emergency measure while the overall lawsuit is dealt with.

A decision on jurisdiction by the ICJ, which was set up after World War II to rule in disputes between nations, could take several months, while a final ruling would take years.

AFP

Tel Aviv bars ‘convert’ into synagogues in lockdown protest

The owners of a number of Tel Aviv bars have declared their businesses to be synagogues, in protest of government lockdown plans that will prevent all bars and restaurants from operating during the closure, while allowing dozens to take part in prayers at synagogues throughout the country during the High Holidays.

Channel 12 news reports on two Tel Aviv establishments, Kiton and Shishko, that have put up placards declaring them to be places of worship. The report notes that the two bars are currently treating the act as one of protest and satire and are not planning to rebel against government restrictions at this time — though they also aren’t entirely ruling it out.

Elad Dor, owner of Shishko, tells the network: “Does it sound reasonable to you that you can bring 100 people into a synagogue, and I, who have a restaurant for 300 people can’t let even 30 people in? Does that really make sense to you?

“And does it sound reasonable that supermarkets won’t have gatherings? And convenience shops can open, and yesterday they said [Jerusalem’s] Mahane Yehuda Market can open? Give me a break.”

Data indicates Israel averaging 435 virus cases a day per 1 million residents

A report by the National Bank of Canada on the past week indicates Israel is doing poorly on a global ranking of the most virus cases a day per one million residents.

The data, which is based on Johns Hopkins University tallies, gives the Jewish state more than twice as many daily cases per one million residents than the second-highest-ranked country, Spain (435.6 vs. 208.3).

Israel is also rising in its rankings of daily fatalities over the past 7 days per one million residents, it shows, placing fourth behind Mexico, Brazil and the United States.

 

Over 1,000 nurses worldwide have died of COVID-19

More than a thousand nurses are known to have died worldwide due to COVID-19, the International Council of Nurses says, adding that the true figure was likely far higher.

The ICN brands the situation “catastrophic” and lambastes governments for not doing enough to protect front-line health care workers during the new coronavirus pandemic.

The Geneva-based federation brings together more than 130 national nursing associations (NNAs), representing the more than 20 million nurses worldwide.

An ICN survey finds that in countries where separate data for nurses was available, more than 1,000 had died from the respiratory disease.

“As of August 14, the cumulative number of reported COVID-19 deaths in nurses in 44 countries is 1,097,” the ICN says in a report.

“As our dataset only covers 44 countries with recorded nurse deaths, ICN believes the number significantly underestimates the situation.”

It says there had been 351 COVID-19-related deaths among nurses in Brazil as of August 11 — the highest figure in the dataset — and 212 in Mexico, according to the latest figures.

Broadening out from nurses, the human rights organization Amnesty International said on September 3 that at least 7,000 health care workers of all types had died worldwide after contracting COVID-19.

The ICN report says there is still no global systematic record of the number of nurses and other health workers who have contracted or died from the disease.

AFP

US charges 5 Chinese citizens in global hacking campaign

The US Justice Department has charged five Chinese citizens with hacks targeting more than 100 companies and institutions in the United States and elsewhere, including social media and video game companies as well as universities and telecommunications providers, officials say.

The five defendants remain fugitives, but prosecutors say two Malaysian businessmen accused of conspiring with the alleged hackers to profit off the attacks on video game companies were arrested in that country this week and face extradition proceedings.

The indictments announced Wednesday are part of a broader effort by the Trump administration to call out cybercrimes by China. In July, prosecutors accused hackers of working with the Chinese government to target firms developing vaccines for the coronavirus and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world.

AP

In U-turn, Waqf says Al-Aqsa Mosque to remain open

The Islamic Waqf has retracted its decision to close the Al-Aqsa Mosque to prevent the spread of coronavirus, claiming that Israel intends to allow Jews to continue ascending the Temple Mount throughout the lockdown, according to a report in the Palestinian Authority official WAFA news agency.

The Temple Mount, one of the world’s holiest sites for all three Abrahamic faiths, has long been a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians. The area is administered by the Islamic Waqf, which is affiliated with the Jordanian authorities; Israel, however, retains security control of the site.

A source in the Waqf tells WAFA: “After we realized that the occupation authorities intended to open the Mughrabi Gate during the lockdown so that settlers could storm the mosque, we decided to keep the doors of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque open.”

“In the event that the occupation’s police do not abide by this decision, the mosque will remain open to worshipers,” the source says.

Israel Police could not be immediately reached for comment.

Aaron Boxerman

After rocket fire from Gaza, Gantz warns Hamas of fiercer Israeli response

Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatens Hamas after a volley of rockets are fired from Gaza at Israel on Tuesday night.

“If Hamas continues firing, last night’s retaliation will just be the tip of the iceberg,” says Gantz, referring to Israeli reprisal raids in the Strip following the firing of over a dozen rockets.

Netanyahu lands back in Israel after signing peace treaties at White House

The Israeli delegation to Washington, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has landed in Tel Aviv after the historic signing of peace deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House.

Upon landing in Israel, Netanyahu vows more peace deals to come

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells reporters upon his arrival in Tel Aviv that additional peace deals between Israel and regional states are to come, after signing normalization agreements in Washington with the UAE and Bahrain.

“We will bring additional peace [deals], but there is no doubt that we have already started a huge revolution,” says Netanyahu, according to the Kan public broadcaster. “It’s good for Israel, good for the region, good for humanity. It’s no small matter.”

State asks High Court for yet another extension to legislate Haredi enlistment

The government submits another request to the High Court of Justice, seeking more time to legislate a contentious bill on ultra-Orthodox conscription into the military which has been at the heart of several coalition crises.

The state invokes the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in its request, along with pressing security challenges facing the country and diplomatic developments that it says makes legislating the bill not possible right now.

This is the seventh time the government has asked for an extension, Channel 12 reports.

Previous versions of the bill have been rejected by the High Court as unconstitutional in a years-long saga.

 

 

Health Ministry: 16 people have died of virus since this morning

The Health Ministry records another 16 coronavirus deaths since this morning, bringing the national death toll to 1,163.

It says 2,547 new cases were diagnosed since midnight, and 5,494 confirmed yesterday.

Testing continues to rise, with 57,251 conducted Tuesday. Nearly 10 percent (9.8%) of tests returned positive yesterday.

Of the 45,145 active cases, 551 are in serious condition, 137 of them on ventilators. Another 235 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

It says the vast majority of cases confirmed yesterday (4,579) were outside of areas flagged as “red” for its high infection rates, indicating the outbreak has spread across the country.

Mossad chief predicts Saudi Arabia could make peace with Israel

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who was instrumental in brokering the peace deals between Israel and Gulf states, cautiously predicts another White House ceremony could soon be held to mark peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In a rare interview, he tells Channel 12 “there are countries in the Gulf and countries outside of the Gulf” who could make peace with Israel.

“I estimate there could be a situation like that,” he says when asked directly whether Saudi Arabia could be among them, “I certainly hope so.”

He laughs and says “I ask not to address that,” when asked whether he has met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.

Coronavirus czar blames schools for nationwide virus outbreak

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is attributing the sharp rise in cases across the country to the opening of schools on September 1.

According to Channel 12, Gamzu reportedly says in a closed-door meeting that while younger children are less likely to infect others, those over the age of 10 are rapidly spreading the disease.

“A ten-year-old infects others like an adult,” he is quoted saying.

He says the upcoming lockdown will be effective in driving down infection rates — if only because it shutters the schools.

Rivlin pleads with Israelis to heed lockdown, acknowledges government’s failure

President Reuven Rivlin apologizes to Israelis for the government’s failed response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I know, we didn’t do enough as leaders to be worthy of your attention. You trusted us, and we disappointed you,” he says in an address to the nation.

Rivlin says he understands the “disappointment” and “anxiety” felt by Israelis by the upcoming closure and its contradictory rules.

“I understand and I would like to apologize for it,” he says.

He apologizes both for his personal violations of lockdown during the Passover closure, for which he has previously apologized, as well as on behalf of Israel’s politicians.

“You paid a heavy price… Our synagogues were closed on Passover. The mosques were closed on Ramadan. And until today, my heart is pained by the bereaved families who did not visit the graves of their loved ones on Memorial Day.”

“And now, today, my fellow Israelis, we are forced to pay the price again. It is a high price.”

“And from here, I want to say to the government of Israel – its leaders, ministers and advisers: the trust of the people is beyond value. We must do everything to restore personal, medical and economic confidence to our fellow citizens. This is a second chance and we must take it because we will not, I fear, get a third one.”

He urges Israelis not to accuse specific communities for the pandemic, a reference to outbreaks in densely populated Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities.

“We will not prevail through finger-pointing and toxic accusations. Only together. We were destined to live together, to share the good years and the tough years, to build and to develop this land,” he says.

“My fellow Israelis, you cannot beat coronavirus alone, but no one can beat it without you. I believe in our people. I believe in our ability to prevail. I would like to ask you to believe in our people’s ability to prevail. This is the time to follow the instructions, to take care of yourselves and those dear to you, to join hands to help those around you in need of assistance. Because we have no other land, we have no other country, we have no other people and we have no other way.”

Pompeo insists US to enforce ‘UN sanctions’ on Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insists the United States will enforce new “UN” sanctions on Iran starting next week, despite overwhelming consensus that Washington is out of bounds.

“The United States will do what it always does. It will do its share as part of its responsibilities to enable peace, this time in the Middle East,” Pompeo tells a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

“We’ll do all the things we need to do to make sure that those sanctions are enforced,” he says.

Pompeo last month headed to the United Nations to announce the “snapback” of sanctions under a 2015 Security Council resolution after failing to extend an embargo on conventional arms sales to Iran.

The resolution allows any participant in a nuclear accord with Iran negotiated under former president Barack Obama to reimpose sanctions, which would take effect one month afterward.

The sanctions are authorized by a “valid UN Security Council resolution,” Pompeo says.

Trump has already enforced sweeping unilateral US sanctions on Iran, inflicting a heavy toll in a bid to curb the clerical state’s regional influence.

The United Nations has clearly said that it cannot proceed with the reimposition of UN sanctions, with 13 of the Security Council’s 15 nations objecting to the US move.

AFP

Mossad chief says UAE, Bahrain peace deals the culmination of a ‘dream’

In a highly rare interview with Channel 12, Yossi Cohen, the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, describes the years-long process that led to the establishment of ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain.

He says the peace deals with Gulf nations “shatters the glass ceiling somewhat” in Israel’s relations with Arab states. “There were years of contacts that were handled very delicately,” he says.

“In the end, it looks like the magic happens in the blink of an eye, but in truth, I don’t act alone on this, many people in my organization worked on this for years,” says Cohen. He says it’s a “good opportunity” to thank the shadowy Mossad agents who worked behind the scenes to make it happen.

“It’s a dream, it’s really a dream,” he says of the deals. “It’s truly an exciting thing.”

At the White House, “I sat in the audience, looked around, and said, ‘Is this really happening?'”

Cohen predicts other countries will follow and forge ties with Jerusalem, including, possibly, Saudi Arabia.

The Mossad chief and interviewer Dana Weiss also joke about the botched Mossad intelligence operation in Dubai, during which Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated.

Cohen mentions events that transpired, “according to foreign reports,” that had to be ironed out with Abu Dhabi.

“I imagine there’s a certain hotel you didn’t go back to,” says Weiss.

“It could be,” replies Cohen, laughing.

White House mum on reports of COVID-19 infections among staff

The White House press secretary declines to comment on reports that staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, a day after the historic signing of peace treaties between Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain.

“I don’t share people’s personal medical information,” says Kayleigh McEnany during a press briefing.

“I’ve seen the reporting out there, but again I’m not here to give people’s personal identities. In the past, when we’ve discussed a case, unfortunately that individual’s name was leaked to the media,” she adds.

The Tuesday ceremony saw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet US President Donald Trump, along with the Bahraini and UAE foreign ministers. None wore face masks. The event was attended by hundreds.

The question comes amid a report on Twitter that White House staffers have been infected.

IDF soldier moderately hurt in training accident, army says

An IDF soldier was moderately injured earlier today during training, the army says.

The serviceman fell during an exercise in central Israel and was hospitalized.

The incident will be investigated, the army says.

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Syria seethes after Trump says he wanted to assassinate Assad

Damascus hits back at Donald Trump and likens the US to a “rogue” state or “terrorist group,” after the US president said he had wanted to assassinate Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad.

“Trump’s admission of such a step confirms that the US administration is a rogue… state,” Syria’s foreign ministry says in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

“It pursues the same tactics as terrorist groups such as murder and assassination,” it says, one day after Trump made the remarks to the morning show Fox & Friends.

The US president said his then-secretary of defense Jim Mattis opposed the assassination of Assad in 2017.

“I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set,” Trump said.

“Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general, and I let him go.”

Trump was reportedly mulling assassinating Assad after the Syrian president allegedly launched a chemical attack on civilians.

AFP