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Polls show Netanyahu slightly gaining support after landmark UAE deal

Surveys show PM’s bloc getting 63-65 seats if elections held today, more than most recent polls; 63% view normalization pact as achievement for premier

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces the establishment of full ties with the United Arab Emirates, during a news conference in Jerusalem, August 13, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces the establishment of full ties with the United Arab Emirates, during a news conference in Jerusalem, August 13, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

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

Telephone service begins between Israel and UAE

Telephone service between the United Arab Emirates and Israel begins working, as the two countries open diplomatic ties, part of a deal brokered by the US that has required Israel to freeze plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

Associated Press journalists in Jerusalem and Dubai have been able to call each other from both landline and cellular phones registered to Israel’s country code +972.

Israel’s Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel welcomes UAE authorities for removing the call block.

“Many economic opportunities will now be opened, and such trust-building steps are an important step in furthering the interests of both countries,” Hendel says in a statement.

Officials in the UAE have not immediately acknowledged the lines have begun working.

In the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, a recorded message in Arabic and English would typically play, prior to today, saying calls to +972 numbers could not be connected. The advent of internet calling allowed people to get around the ban, though those calls too were often interrupted.

Some in Israel used Palestinian mobile phone numbers with +970 numbers, which those in the UAE could call.

Meanwhile, Israeli news websites that have previously been blocked by UAE authorities, including The Times of Israel, can now be accessed without using means to bypass internet filtering in the Emirates.

The connection of phone service represents the first concrete sign of the deal between the Emiratis and Israelis.

— with AP

Israeli, UAE foreign ministers speak on phone as direct calls launched

The UAE Foreign Ministry confirms phone service has begun with Israel.

A spokeswoman for the ministry says Israel’s foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, has spoken on the phone with his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed, to kickstart the direct telephone service.

During the call, both ministers expressed commitment to implementing the normalization agreement, the statement says.

New rules take effect, capping outdoor gatherings at 30 people

New rules on gatherings in public spaces, approved on Friday, have taken effect at 2 p.m.

According to the new rules, gatherings in outdoor spaces are capped at 30 people.

In indoor spaces smaller than 80 square meters (860 square feet), gatherings are capped at 10 people. In larger spaces, 20 people are allowed.

In any place that is not a house of worship or a restaurant, larger gatherings are allowed, as long as there is no more than one person per 7 square meters (75 square feet).

Those are the rules for all public spaces that have not been forced to close down.

Mauritania praises UAE’s ‘wisdom and good judgment’ in reaching deal with Israel

Mauritania joins several Muslim countries that have praised the UAE’s decision to normalize ties with Israel, saying it trusts Abu Dhabi’s “wisdom and good judgment,” according to the Reuters news agency.

“The UAE possesses absolute sovereignty and complete independence in conducting its relations and assessing the positions it takes in accordance with its national interest and the interests of Arabs and Muslims,” the outlet cites UAE state news agency, WAM, as reporting, citing a statement by Mauritania’s foreign ministry.

Mauritania, a member of the Arab League, had full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state until cutting them in 2009, due to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Iran says it will hold UAE responsible if ‘something happens’ in Persian Gulf

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Mohammad Bagheri, says Tehran’s approach to the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf will change, following the normalization pact with Israel, according to the Reuters news agency.

“Tehran’s approach to the UAE will change … If something happens in the Persian Gulf region and if our national security is damaged, however small, we will hold the UAE responsible for that and we will not tolerate it,” Bagheri says.

President Hassan Rouhani, right, listens to Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri during the army parade commemorating National Army Day in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran on April 18, 2019. (The official website of the Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

IDF says Sderot home damaged by Iron Dome missile fragment, not Gaza rocket

The Israeli military says the object that struck outside a home last night in the southern town of Sderot was not a rocket fired from Gaza — as was first reported by police — but was in fact a fragment of an Iron Dome interceptor missile that had shot down the incoming projectile.

“Regarding the report of a rocket strike near a home in Sderot last night, an IDF investigation found that it appears to be fragments of an interceptor that fell while intercepting the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip inside Israeli territory,” the military says.

The impact of the shrapnel lightly injured a 58-year-old man, and caused damage to the home, emergency response officials say.

View of damage to a house caused from a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, August 16, 2020. (Flash90)

— Judah Ari Gross

Jerusalem says Israeli, UAE foreign ministers have spoken, agreed to meet soon

Israel’s Foreign Ministry formally confirms the initiation of phone service with the UAE and that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has spoken with his Emirati counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The two ministers “jointly decided to establish a direct channel of communications between them, ahead of the signing of the normalization agreement between both countries, and agreed to meet soon,” the statement says.

Kuwait government says it will be ‘last’ country to normalize ties with Israel — report

Kuwaiti government sources have said that the country will be the last to normalize relations with Israel, the Reuters news agency reports, citing the al-Qabas newspaper.

“The Kuwaiti position is consistent with its decades-old foreign policy approach in support of the Palestinian cause, as it is the premier Arab issue, and only accepting a solution if it is what the Palestinians accept,” the paper cites an official as saying.

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry has not commented on the report.

Fellow Gulf nations Bahrain and Oman have praised the Israel-UAE normalization deal, and there are signs that they could be following suit soon.

Israel exempts travelers from 20 countries from quarantine

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy has signed an order allowing travelers from 20 countries to enter Israel without any quarantine, the Health Ministry says in a statement.

All the countries are regarded as “green,” meaning they have relatively low coronavirus infection rates.

They are Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand and Slovenia.

The order is retroactive, meaning anyone who arrived from one of those countries in the last 14 days and is quarantining no longer needs to do so.

The exemption from isolation is in effect only if the person did not visit any other country in addition to the “green” countries.

Minister confirms Bahrain, Oman, Sudan could be next to normalize Israel ties

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen says that after the normalization deal with the UAE, next in line to sign similar agreements could be Bahrain, Oman and Sudan. All three have been rumored in reports to be in advanced stages of such talks.

Then-economy minister Eli Cohen at a meeting in Tel Aviv, April 1, 2019. (Flash90)

“In the wake of this agreement will come additional agreements, both with more Gulf countries and with Muslim countries in Africa,” Cohen tells Army Radio, according to a translation by the Reuters news agency.

“I think that Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda. In addition, in my assessment, there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be a peace deal with additional countries in Africa, chief among them, Sudan,” he adds.

Man stabs his girlfriend, then himself, in Tel Aviv park

A 25-year-old Turkish man has stabbed his 30-year-old girlfriend in Tel Aviv, and then stabbed himself, Hebrew-language media reports.

The woman is said to be in moderate condition, while the man is seriously injured.

The couple are foreign residents of the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood. The suspicion is that the violence broke out during an argument between them at a local park.

Paramedics have taken both to the hospital, and police say there is no previous record of violence between them.

Netanyahu says deal with UAE will eventually lead to peace with Palestinians

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in a statement that he expects “additional countries” to normalize their ties with Israel after the agreement with the UAE, and that it will eventually also drive peace with the Palestinians.

“This is a historic step that advances peace with the Arab world, and eventually will also promote peace — real, secure and supervised peace — with the Palestinians as well,” Netanyahu says.

Gaza’s only power plant to shut down after Israel bans fuel imports

Gaza’s only electrical power station will shut down on Tuesday, the Hamas-run Gaza Energy Authority says in a statement. The station runs on diesel fuel, which Israel has banned from entering the Strip, following hundreds of explosive balloons launched from Gaza into Israeli territory.

The power station provides roughly a third of the Gaza Strip’s electricity, according to figures provided by the Quartet; the remainder is provided by the Israeli Electric Corporation.

Blackouts are a regular feature of life in the Gaza Strip, where electricity is often only available between 10-12 hours a day — a 50 percent deficit. The Gaza Energy Authority estimates that the electricity deficit will increase to 75% without the Gaza power station.

Palestinians ride a donkey near the Gaza power plant in Nuseirat, in the central Gaza Strip October 9, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB/File)

Gaza-based terror groups have launched numerous explosive balloons from Gaza over the past several days. Last night, they launched rockets into Israel, some of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome. In response, the Israeli Air Force has conducted numerous strikes against Hamas targets and closed Gaza’s main commercial crossing save for humanitarian aid.

After clashes between Gazans and Israeli forces close to the border fence last night, COGAT announced Israel was shutting down the Gaza fishing zone as well.

— Aaron Boxerman

17 fires started since noon as result of suspected Gaza arson balloons

The Israel Fire and Rescue Service says 17 brush fires have been sparked since 12 p.m. today in the Western Negev region, presumably by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip.

Some 80 dunams (19.7 acres) have burned down, with the blazes centered around the forests near the kibbutzim of Kissufim, Be’eri and Ein Hashlosha, the fire service says.

Gaza-based terror groups have launched numerous explosive balloons from Gaza over the past several days, sparking hundreds of wildfires and drawing retaliatory measures by Israel.

Last night, they launched rockets into Israel, some of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome. In response, the Israeli Air Force has conducted numerous strikes against Hamas targets and closed Gaza’s main commercial crossing save for humanitarian aid.

Netanyahu insists US didn’t force him to choose between annexation and UAE deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to reject the claim by UAE and US officials that in exchange for the normalization deal with Abu Dhabi, Israel has taken West Bank annexation plans off the table.

“It’s not as if someone gave me a choice and told me to pick either sovereignty or normalization,” Netanyahu tells Army Radio.

“Just as nobody believed I would bring a peace agreement — I will also bring the sovereignty [declaration in parts of the West Bank],” he adds.

Netanyahu has insisted that annexation has only been frozen, despite both the UAE and White House adviser Jared Kushner saying the move is now off the table.

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Earlier today, Finance Minister Israel Katz of the ruling Likud party took the denial further, saying that annexation had already been postponed, without any connection to the UAE deal.

The UAE “just needed an alibi to explain the relations with Israel,” Katz told the Kan public broadcaster this morning.

Israeli airline requests approval to fly to Dubai

An Israeli airline has requested an approval to fly to the Dubai airport, which could come into effect within months.

Uri Sirkis, CEO of Israir, confirms the development in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster.

UAE summons Iranian envoy over ‘unacceptable’ threats following Israel deal

The United Arab Emirates has summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in the country for a dressing down, after Tehran said it would hold Abu Dhabi responsible if “anything happens” in the Persian Gulf, state news agency WAM reports, according to Al-Arabiya.

The UAE’s Foreign Ministry calls a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the matter “unacceptable and inciting,” according to the report.

The spat came after the UAE announced a normalization of its ties with Israel.

Israel’s UN envoy says West Bank annexation will be back on agenda

Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, joins a chorus of allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying Israel has not nixed its planned West Bank annexation, as the UAE and White House officials have said.

“Applying sovereignty isn’t off the table and will be back on the agenda,” Erdan, until recently a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, tells the Kan public broadcaster.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a press conference on January 2, 2019. (Flash90)

Top rabbi rushed to COVID-19 ward 11 days after grandson’s mass wedding — reports

A senior ultra-Orthodox spiritual leader has been taken to a coronavirus hospital ward, 11 days after the mass wedding of his grandson in violation of distancing rules sparked alarm, Hebrew-language media reports.

Yissachar Dov Rokeach, 72, the Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Belz, has been taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, the reports say.

However, the medical center issues a statement denying that he has been taken to the hospital.

A screenshot from a video said to show thousands of ultra-Orthodox at a wedding in Jerusalem, in violation of coronavirus restrictions, on August 5, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Most Israelis prefer UAE deal over annexation, but say Netanyahu broke a promise

The vast majority of Israelis prefer the normalization of ties with the UAE over annexation of parts of the West Bank, a Channel 12 survey finds.

However, while 76.7% of respondents say they prefer the deal with Abu Dhabi, 61.4% — including 50% of right-wingers — say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has broken his promise to his voters by giving up the plan to immediately annex the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements.

Just 16.5% prefer annexation over the UAE deal, according to the poll.

It also finds that 85.8% will not change their vote as a result of the deal. Just 7.5% said it affects their vote, including 10% of right-wing voters.

The poll was conducted today by the Direct Polls group among 545 respondents representing Israel’s adult population, with a margin of error of 4.4%.

Netanyahu says government would have crumbled if not for COVID-19 crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in an interview with Army Radio that the current government “isn’t ideal,” and that if not for the coronavirus crisis it would have crumbled.

“Sometimes I find a government within a government,” he says of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.

Settler leaders accuse Netanyahu of ‘adopting the rhetoric of the extreme left’

Prominent settler leaders lambaste Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with one accusing him of adopting the “rhetoric of the extreme left.”

The remark comes in reaction to Netanyahu dismissing right-wing criticism of the normalization deal with the UAE and the shelving of plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“The same people who now tell me to apply sovereignty [in the West Bank] told me several months ago that we must not apply sovereignty because it will lead to a Palestinian state,” the premier told Army Radio. “This is not serious.”

Samaria Regional Council leader Yossi Dagan at a protest tent of settler leaders outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, February 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Those comments infuriate Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council.

In a statement, Dagan says that Netanyahu “has failed embarrassingly to fulfill his central promise in three election cycles that gave him the victory.”

Now, he adds, the premier “is adding insult to injury and adopting the rhetoric of the extreme left by blaming the settler movement for everything.”

“Netanyahu used the settler leaders and then abandoned us,” Dagan charges. “The prime minister deceived us and deceived the entire Israeli public.”

Yisrael Gantz, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, accuses Netanyahu of “misleading the public” and says the premier had promised “sovereignty without a Palestinian state.”

“If your intention had been to promote annexation with a Palestinian state, it is good that you shelved it and it is good that we fought it, but it is a shame that you didn’t inform the Israeli public,” Gantz says. “Don’t try to cast us now as extremists.”

Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz (L) gives an award to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an inaugural ceremony of a new interchange at the central West Bank settlement of Adam on December 11, 2018. (Yossi Zamir)

Palestinian official says Israel-UAE deal ‘a killer’ for two-state solution

The agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties will kill the two-state solution, strengthen “extremists” and undermine the “possibility of peace,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says.

The fractured Palestinian leadership — from the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank to the Hamas Islamist terror group in the Gaza Strip — is united in its opposition to the UAE-Israel deal announced Thursday by US President Donald Trump.

Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, in Washington, October 28, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“I really believe that this step is a killer to the two-state solution,” Erekat says.

He argues that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have less incentive to compromise on a viable Palestinian state “if he believes that Arab countries will line up to make peace with him.”

In a conference call with foreign reporters, Erekat says that “people like Netanyahu and extremists in Israel believe that the two-state solution is off the table.”

Meanwhile, “extremists on my side are (saying), ‘we told you so from the beginning: the two state solution is off the table’,” he adds.

Erekat condemns the agreement as a “desperate attempt” by Trump to notch a foreign policy success.

— with AFP

Bahrain, Arab League have snubbed Palestinians over Israel-UAE deal — Erekat

The Palestinians have called for emergency meetings of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to reject the Israel-UAE normalization deal, but have not received replies from either body, says top Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat.

He also says he has written to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to ask them to pressure the UAE to cancel the agreement.

“I have received an answer from the Saudi foreign minister reassuring me that Saudi Arabia’s position is for a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution,” Erekat says, noting Bahrain “did not answer me yet.”

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has been conspicuously silent on the deal, with no official reaction emerging from Riyadh.

— AFP

Netanyahu, Gantz send condolences to Trump over brother’s death

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a message of condolence to US President Donald Trump over the death of his younger brother Robert Trump.

In a tweet, Netanyahu notes that he has likewise lost a brother — Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed in the 1970s during an operation to save Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz issues a similar tweet.

Likud, Blue and White teams to meet to try and solve budget crisis

Representatives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White will meet tonight to try and solve the budget crisis, which will trigger elections if not resolved within 9 days, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Netanyahu is insisting on passing a single-year budget (which would in practice only cover the remainder of 2020) despite the coalition deal mandating a two-year budget (which would cover the rest of 2020 and all of 2021), as demanded by Blue and White.

The true issue at hand is believed to be whether Gantz will become prime minister in November 2021, since failure to pass the budget is the only clear scenario that can trigger elections without Gantz automatically becoming transitional prime minister. If a budget is approved until the end of 2021, there will seemingly be no preventing Gantz from becoming premier in November 2021.

Health Ministry confirms 6 more virus deaths, 482 new cases as testing slumps

The Health Ministry announces 482 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, but the relatively low figure appears to be the result of fewer tests conducted over the weekend, not an actual decline in infections.

Just 8,748 test results were returned Saturday, 8.7% of which were positive, according to the data.

The number of confirmed cases stands at 92,680, including 23,491 active cases.

There are six new deaths for a total of 685.

Serious cases stand at 382, including 112 on ventilators. Another 183 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

65% disappointed with Netanyahu’s handling of economic crisis — poll

Most Israelis continue to be dissatisfied with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, a survey aired by Channel 12 shows.

Some 65% are disappointed with Netanyahu’s managing of the economy, while only 34% think it has been good.

The poll shows 49% are against imposing a general lockdown while 43% support the move.

Poll shows Netanyahu slightly gaining support after UAE deal

An opinion poll aired by Channel 12 shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slightly gaining from the UAE normalization deal if elections are called.

A Knesset election survey shows Likud getting 30 seats, the right-wing Yamina getting 18 and the opposition Yesh Atid-Telem getting 16.

The Joint List gets 15, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White gets 12, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu get 8 each, Shas gets 7 and Meretz gets 6.

Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters gets a narrow majority of 63 while the center-left gets 49, with Liberman in the middle.

Netanyahu is seen as more suited to be premier than Gantz (43% to 16%), Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (46% to 22%) and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett (39% to 24%).

A big majority views the UAE deal as an achievement for Netanyahu, while just 13% view it as a failure for him.

Separate election poll shows better result for Netanyahu

Another election poll by Channel 13 shows better results for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud than the Channel 12 poll.

According to Channel 13, Likud gets 33 seats in the Knesset, Yesh Atid-Telem gets 20, Yamina gets 19, Joint List gets 12, Blue and White gets 10, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas get 7 each, United Torah Judaism gets 6 and so does Meretz.

Netanyahu’s bloc gets 65 seats, more than in most recent polls.

Netanyahu-Gantz political wrangling seems to delay departure of delegation to UAE

The Israeli delegation to the United Arab Emirates ahead of the signing of the normalization deal will not depart this week, amid disagreements over its makeup, Hebrew-language media reports.

“There is no date yet for the delegation’s departure,” the Walla news site quotes a senior Israeli official as saying.

The disagreements appear to be over public credit rather than substance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the delegation to be led by the National Security Council, which belongs to the Prime Minister’s Office. Meanwhile, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party wants the Foreign Ministry to lead it. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is from Blue and White.

The cabinet is expected to be briefed on the agreement on Tuesday, Walla reports.

After the initiation of direct phone calls between the countries earlier today, the next normalization steps to be discussed are expected to be flights between the countries and mutual travel.

Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster reports that Bahrain intends to wait until the formal signing of the Israel-UAE deal before announcing its own normalization of ties with the Jewish state.

Incendiary balloon found in private backyard in Beersheba

An incendiary balloon has been discovered in a private backyard in the southern city of Beersheba, according to police.

Officers and a sapper were called in and neutralized the suspected explosive device, apparently launched by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, police say.

There are no reported casualties or property damage.

Education minister says schools won’t shut down if coronavirus carrier discovered

Education Minister Yoav Gallant promises the school year will begin on September 1 as planned, and adds that if a student contracts the coronavirus, the school won’t close entirely as has been done thus far.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, August 6, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Speaking with Channel 12, Gallant says that if a student is infected, only their grade will be sent to quarantine, with authorities conducting epidemiological investigations.

“Every week in which there are no studies costs the economy NIS 2 billion ($587 million),” Gallant says.

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Top rabbi rushed to COVID-19 ward 11 days after grandson’s mass wedding — reports

A senior ultra-Orthodox spiritual leader has been taken to a coronavirus hospital ward, 11 days after the mass wedding of his grandson in violation of distancing rules sparked alarm, Hebrew-language media reports.

Yissachar Dov Rokeach, 72, the Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Belz, has been taken to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, the reports say.

However, the medical center issues a statement denying that he has been taken to the hospital.

A screenshot from a video said to show thousands of ultra-Orthodox at a wedding in Jerusalem, in violation of coronavirus restrictions, on August 5, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)