The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
Israel’s plan to build new settler homes in an area of the West Bank would destroy the prospect of a two-state solution, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said Wednesday.
The plan to build 3,500 new homes in an area known as E1 “is so dangerous, more dangerous than any other settlement plans in the West Bank,” al-Maliki tells reporters on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Al-Maliki says the plan “intends to destroy the two-state solution” and would “kill any possibility” for a peace plan proposed by US President Donald Trump and accepted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month.
Netanyahu made the pledge to build new settler homes on Tuesday in the latest in a string of promises to expand settlements as the right-wing premier faces both a tight general election and a corruption trial.
An Israeli venture capital firm says it has hired the Trump administration’s former Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt as a business developer for the region.
OurCrowd says the former attorney for Donald Trump will be acting as a partner responsible for “building ties with the Middle East region.”
Greenblatt was the architect of Trump’s recently unveiled Mideast plan that largely favored Israel. He worked as the White House’s special representative for international negotiations until resigning in October 2019.
Greenblatt tells The Associated Press his focus would be on cultivating investment from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain — all countries that have developed behind-the-scenes relations with Israel in recent years, and who were to be key investors in the economic development side of the Trump administration’s Mideast plan.
“I’m hoping to be able to utilize the platform that I have and connect Israel and the Gulf in a way to continue the momentum that we’ve seen over the last three years,” Greenblatt says. “They work together on security to a degree. And, you know, there’s enough commerce going on in a small way that leads me to believe we’re going to see a bigger impact.”
Spain is trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from Italy after eight cases of the flu-like disease were detected within a 24-hour period all linked to the country.
Hundreds of tourists remained confined to a Tenerife hotel Wednesday for a second straight day as a precaution after an Italian man and his wife tested positive for the disease which has so far killed 11 people in Italy. The couple are in quarantine at a Tenerife hospital.
Two other Italians who were part of the same group of holidaymakers who flew to the island and were staying at the hotel have also tested positive, health authorities on the Canary Islands say.
Four other cases have been detected in mainland Spain — two in the Madrid region, one in the Valencia region and one in Barcelona, that of a 36-year-old Italian woman who lives in the city and had recently made a trip to the north of Italy, the worst affected region.
The World Health Organization says Wednesday there are now more new daily cases of the coronavirus outside China than inside the hard-hit country, marking a shift in the outbreak.
“Yesterday, the number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells diplomats in Geneva.
The UN health agency puts the number of new cases in China Tuesday at 411 while those registered outside the country stands at 427.
The outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe is concerning but no reason for alarm, the European Union says.
“This is a situation of concern but we must not give in to panic,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides tells reporters in Rome after meeting Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
“We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation as well as xenophobic statements which are misleading citizens and putting in question the work of public authorities,” she adds.
A woman in her twenties has been seriously injured while skiing at the Hermon resort in northern Israel, medics say.
She is receiving medical treatment. Details about the accident are not immediately available.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with new immigrants from Ethiopia who moved to Israel earlier this week, his office says.
The abrupt, government-sponsored arrival of 43 immigrants less than a week before the elections had been opposed by the attorney general, who ruled it could be seen as a campaign move courting Ethiopian Israeli voters.
Netanyahu, Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant, Communications Minister David Amsalem welcome them to Israel at the prime minister’s Jerusalem office.
Netanyahu has recently been pushing to bring 400 Falash Mura to Israel, where many of their family members already live. Some community members have been waiting for years to immigrate to Israel.
A 60-year-old teacher has become the first French casualty of the coronavirus, the health ministry announces on Wednesday.
The man dies overnight in a Paris hospital, bringing the coronavirus death toll in the country to two, says the ministry’s deputy head Jerome Salomon.
The first victim was an 80-year-old Chinese tourist who died in hospital in mid-February.
The latest victim, who worked at a junior-high school in the town of Crepy-en-Valois, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Paris, is not believed to have traveled to an area affected by the global coronavirus outbreak, the education ministry says.
Le Parisien newspaper quotes the mayor of the teacher’s hometown of Vaumoise as saying he had “begun to feel ill at the start of the (mid-term) holidays and had been quickly hospitalized.”
Greece on Wednesday reports its first coronavirus case, a woman who had recently traveled to northern Italy.
A health ministry spokesman says the 38-year-old woman is in a Thessaloniki hospital and in good condition.
“She is in good health and being monitored by a team of excellent colleagues in Thessaloniki,” says the ministry’s spokesman Sotiris Tsiodras, a leading expert on infectious diseases.
“Her contacts are being tracked. Close contacts will be placed under voluntary quarantine and their health will be monitored,” he says.
Tsiodras adds that travelers from north Italy should stay at home in case of virus symptoms and inform doctors of their condition.
The announcement comes as the COVID-19 virus continues to surge in Italy, making it the hardest-hit country in Europe.
Japan reports two more deaths linked to the coronavirus Wednesday as the government calls for organizers to reconsider holding major events in the coming weeks to limit the outbreak.
The news comes as dozens of passengers allowed off a virus-stricken cruise ship were reported to have developed symptoms including fever, and will be asked to be re-tested for the virus.
A Tokyo man in his 80s who tested positive for the infection died of pneumonia, the health ministry says.
He had not traveled to China recently and there was no sign he had contact with known infected individuals, it says in a statement.
Another elderly person in the Hokkaido region of northern Japan died of viral pneumonia, the ministry says.
“In light of the significant infection risks, we will ask that national sporting or cultural events that will attract large crowds be either cancelled, postponed or downsized for the next two weeks,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tells a cabinet task force meeting on the outbreak.
Iranian cyberpolice arrest 24 people accused of online rumor-mongering about the spread of the coronavirus in the country, semi-official news agency ISNA reports on Wednesday.
The Islamic Republic has been battling to control an outbreak of the coronavirus that has claimed 19 lives among 139 infections in the past week.
“Twenty-four people were arrested and handed over to the judiciary and 118 (internet) users were talked to and let go” after receiving warnings, says Vahid Majid, head of the Iranian police force’s cyber unit.
The arrests were carried out after the establishment of a special unit to “combat rumor-mongers regarding the ‘spread of coronavirus in the country,'” he is quoted as saying.
“The police are monitoring all the news published in the country’s cyberspace.”
Majid says the unit would take action over news, pictures or videos that “contain rumors or fake news meant to disturb the public and increase concern in society.”
Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar condemns Blue and White for comparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“They compared him to a tyrant, one of the worst haters of Israel in this generation,” Sa’ar tells the Ynet news site. The senior Likud member says the rival centrist party “crossed a red line” with their video that featured the comparison.
“It’s very important that Blue and White distance themselves from this campaign, shelve it and apologize,” adds Sa’ar, who has in the past challenged Netanyahu for the Likud leadership and is seen as a possible successor.
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will deliver a “special statement” to the press at 7.30 p.m., the party says.
The statement, to be given at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan, will include a “personal message for Netanyahu.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Prosecutors announce they intend to file criminal charges against Eliezer Berland, a rabbi who is accused of fleecing terminally ill people out of millions of shekels with fake medications and promises of miraculous recoveries.
Police are seeking to keep Berland — who was previously convicted of sex offenses — in custody for the next five days until the indictment is lodged.
The specific charges are not listed, though he has been accused by police of fraud, tax evasion, extortion, and money laundering in 21 cases.
US President Donald Trump announces a news conference from the White House on the coronavirus epidemic, with experts warning they expect it to spread in the United States.
“I will be having a News Conference at the White House, on this subject, today at 6:00 P.M.” Trump tweets, adding that officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would attend.
Officials have urged Americans to develop plans to avoid mass gatherings amid dire warnings that countries are not ready to contain an outbreak that has infected 80,000 people, mostly in China.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman vows to seek a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud following Monday’s election.
He pledges to “build a government without Netanyahu,” and says “there is no more [prospect of a] unity [government].”
That is a reference to his previous efforts to force a unity government between Likud and Blue and White, which were unsuccessful in the previous round of coalition negotiations in the fall.
Liberman’s party has held a kingmaker position after the April and September elections.
Currently, neither the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc or the Blue and White-led center-left bloc have enough seats to form a majority government, with opinion polls signaling there would be no dramatic change after Monday’s vote.
Liberman has ruled out partnering with the predominantly Arab Joint List, which would be the only path to Gantz forming a government.
Israel will reopen the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings with the Gaza Strip on Thursday morning unless violence resumes, the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories says.
The fishing zone will also be expanded to 15 nautical miles, the military says.
The announcement comes after a flareup in violence earlier this week saw 90 rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
Beijing announces Wednesday that people landing in the Chinese capital from countries hit by the new coronavirus epidemic will have to go into 14-day self-quarantine.
A day earlier, more than 250 people arriving in eastern China from South Korea were placed in isolation after passengers on two flights were discovered to have fevers.
Beijing had already ordered people returning to the capital to go into self-quarantine following the Lunar New Year holiday but exempted those arriving from abroad.
With the deadly virus now hitting countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Beijing’s health commission spokesman Gao Xiaojun tells reporters on Wednesday that people arriving “from areas with severe epidemic situations abroad … must accept home or concentrated medical observation for 14 days.”
The eastern city of Qingdao and Dalian in the northeast announces similar measures.
Separately, the foreign ministry says China is “exploring the possibility” of adopting “scientific, appropriate, and targeted prevention and control measures” for people arriving from abroad.
Wall Street stocks open higher as markets sought to shake off a two-day drubbing on mounting worries over the coronavirus.
Shortly after the opening bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.5 percent at 27,222.53. The blue-chip index has shed nearly 2,000 points in the last two sessions.
The broad-based S&P 500 gained 0.6 percent to 3,145.70, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.7 percent to 9,027.54.
Hundreds attend the funeral of former Sderot mayor Eli Moyal.
Moyal died on Tuesday night at the age of 67.
He served as mayor of the Gaza-adjacent town from 1998 and 2008.
During his tenure, he was outspoken in seeking stronger Israeli military responses to Gaza Strip rocket fire at southern Israel.
Moyal is buried in his hometown and survived by a son.
Brazil’s health ministry says a Sao Paulo resident has been diagnosed with coronavirus, the first such case recorded in Latin America.
The 61-year-old patient had returned on February 21 from the Lombardy region of Italy, the epicenter of an outbreak in the European country, Brazil’s Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta says.
Spain’s foreign minister condemns a carnival parade featuring gun-toting Nazis and lines of dancing Jewish victims, a day after Israel’s ambassador expressed outrage over the spectacle.
The display, which also featured a parade float designed like a gas chamber, was the second such incident this week after a Belgian town earned a stiff rebuke from the European Commission.
Its weekend carnival parade featured floats with anti-Semitic caricatures showing Jews with hooked noses, obsessed with money and dressed up like insects. Images on Twitter showed dozens of people in full Nazi-style regalia and others wearing the striped pajamas worn by concentration camp prisoners.
Children were dressed in the yellow Star of David that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi-occupied areas. On top of one float, a woman in Nazi uniform could be seen gyrating alongside a model Doberman under two giant chimneys. Elsewhere a line of Jewish victims in red hot-pants and bustiers with a gunshot wound to the heart danced with Israeli-style flags.
The footage and images quickly sparked a furious backlash.
“Horrified at the carnival parade in Campo de Criptana,” Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya writes on her official Twitter account.
“I totally reject any banalization of the Holocaust,” she adds.
“Following contact with the organizers, they have apologized to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain. It is essential to keep teaching about the memory of the Holocaust.”
Far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir announces he’ll give a press conference tonight, sparking speculation over whether he could pull his party out of the race in an eleventh-hour move.
Ben Gvir has, thus far, resisted right-wing pressure to drop his candidacy. Polls have shows his extremist party will fail to clear the electoral threshhold in Monday’s vote, in a repeat of the September elections.
Speaking to Army Radio, Netanyahu urges voters not to support Otzma Yehudit, saying it was tantamount to throwing right-wing votes “in the trash.”
Three people are injured as a car hits them outside an outdoor market in the city of Ramle in central Israel, medics say.
The circumstances of the incident are being investigated.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says the victims are in moderate to serious condition.
— Judah Ari Gross
The world powers that remain party to the nuclear deal with Iran express “serious concerns” about Tehran’s violations of the pact, while acknowledging that time is running out to find a way to salvage it.
Wang Qun, Chinese ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, tells reporters after talks in Vienna between the parties to the deal, including Iran, that they are “racing against time to work out a specific solution so as to safeguard” the landmark 2015 agreement.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi tells reporters that Iran still remains “open to any initiative which can ensure Iran’s dividends of the JCPOA.”
“We are fully prepared to reverse the steps we have taken so far in return for the fulfillment of the other side’s commitments in the JCPOA,” he says.
In a statement following the meeting, the EU’s top official for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, says “serious concerns were expressed regarding the implementation of Iran’s nuclear commitments under the agreement.”
Borrell, who chairs the joint commission of the JCPOA, was represented at the meeting by EU official Helga Schmid.
He says that “participants also acknowledged that the re-imposition of US sanctions did not allow Iran to reap the full benefits arising from sanctions-lifting.”
He also says that “all participants reaffirmed the importance of preserving the agreement recalling that it is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture.”
Lebanon’s health ministry says Wednesday a second case of coronavirus was confirmed in a woman who entered the country on the same flight from Tehran that carried the first case.
“A second laboratory-confirmed case of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was recorded,” it says.
The ministry says the patient is a woman who had been visiting religious sites in Iran and returned to Lebanon on February 20.
The authorities had said when announcing the first case last week that two other suspected cases were being investigated.
The woman infected with the second case was hospitalized on Monday, the ministry says, adding that her condition was stable.
US President Donald Trump says he’ll discuss the coronavirus threat at a White House news conference Wednesday, a day after he sought to minimize fears of the virus spreading widely across the US.
Trump tweets that representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others, would join him at the late-afternoon appearance.
Trump and members of the administration have been sending mixed messages about the virus.
The CDC on Tuesday warned the American public to prepare for an an outbreak of the disease, which has spawned more than 80,000 cases around the world but relatively few so far in the US.
But before he flew home from India on Tuesday, Trump said the coronavirus situation is “very well under control in our country.” The administration has asked Congress for an additional $2.5 billion to speed development of a vaccine, support preparedness and response activities, and to gather needed equipment and supplies.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have questioned whether the request is sufficient.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, on Wednesday unveils an $8.5 billion request to respond to the virus outbreak, more than triple Trump’s request. Schumer is asking for $4.5 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to work to contain the outbreak in the US, $1 billion to develop and manufacture a vaccine, $1 billion to help other countries battle the coronavirus, and $2 billion to reimburse states for costs incurred in tackling the outbreak.
The Pentagon says Wednesday it has resumed training Saudi military pilots two months after a trainee shot dead three Americans at a Florida naval base in what was called an act of terrorism.
The US Navy says it restarted the program at the US Naval Air Station in Pensacola on Tuesday under tighter controls, including an absolute ban on the cadet pilots owning guns.
Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani used a pistol obtained under a legal loophole to kill three sailors and wound eight other people on December 6 in a classroom building. He was shot dead at the scene by law enforcement officers.
Alshamrani had been taking part in a training course that the US offers to hundreds of foreign military officials every year. The Pentagon froze the training of about 850 Saudis, putting into question a decades-old program crucial to the US-Saudi relationship, which involves billions of dollars of military sales to the kingdom.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, fresh off a feisty debate showing, receives a key endorsement, boosting his hopes of winning the South Carolina primary and blunting the momentum of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Jim Clyburn, an influential member of the US House of Representatives from South Carolina, announces he was endorsing the 77-year-old former vice president at an event in Charleston.
“South Carolina should be voting for Joe Biden,” Clyburn says. “It is time for us to restore this country’s dignity, this country’s respect. And I can think of no one better suited, better prepared.”
The endorsement of Clyburn, an African-American who is the third-ranking Democrat in the House, carries weight in South Carolina, where black voters make up a majority of the Democratic electorate.
South Carolina holds its Democratic presidential primary on Saturday, the last major test before “Super Tuesday” on March 3, when 14 states go to the polls and a whopping one-third of all delegates who pick the nominee at the party’s July convention are up for grabs.
Expanding already strict travel advisories due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Health Ministry is now urging Israelis to seriously weigh all non-essential travel abroad.
The Health Ministry also announces that travelers entering Israel from Italy from Sunday must self-quarantine for 14 days over fears of the spread of the coronavirus.
It further advises Israelis to avoid international conferences or any gatherings, including of a religious nature, which bring together people from numerous countries.
Far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir says he’ll quit the election race if Netanyahu drops the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.
And that’s just one of his demands.
He’s also conditioning it on the scrapping of the mixed-gender plaza at the Western Wall, reforms on the process of appointing judges, the razing of the Palestinian hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar, ending the Jordanian custodianship over the Temple Mount and more.
Netanyahu has urged the far-right list not to run, as polls show it won’t clear the electoral threshold.
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, condemns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledges to build settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“I am very concerned about Israel’s recent announcements regarding the advancement of settlement construction in Giv’at Hamatos and Har Homa, as well as the worrying plans for 3,500 units in the controversial E1 area of the occupied West Bank,” he says in a statement.
“All settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace. If the E1 plan were to be implemented, it would sever the connection between northern and southern West Bank, significantly undermining the chances for establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution.
“I urge the Israeli authorities to refrain from such unilateral actions that fuel instability and further erode the prospects for resuming Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”
El Al cancels a flight to Milan scheduled for tomorrow morning, as Israel begins ordering a home quarantine for travelers returning from Italy.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Korean Air has also suspended all flights on its Tel Aviv-Seoul route until March 31.
Iranian authorities on Wednesday announces domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected cases of the novel coronavirus.
“Instead of quarantining cities, we are going to implement movement restrictions for those suspected of infection or those infected,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki says during a televised press conference.
Dramatically stepping up his attacks on his rival days before the national election, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz furiously lashes out at Netanyahu, accusing him of “lying” and “inciting” against him, while ruling out a future coalition partnership.
“Netanyahu, look me in the eyes. Due to your obsession with evading prosecution, you are lying, dividing, sowing division… spreading malicious rumors and incitement,” says Gantz at a press conference.
“Netanyahu, you are poisoning Israel. Only a year and a half ago, you offered me to join Likud and be your defense minister and just two months ago you called for a partnership and offered me to be prime minister [in rotation]. Netanyahu, you lost it, and you aren’t worthy of being prime minister for even a single day longer. I won’t sit with you [in a coalition].”
Netanyahu, adds Gantz, is perpetrating “a hate crime against democracy and Israeli society.”
Georgia on Tuesday announces the first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus in the South Caucasus region.
“A Georgian national has tested positive for the novel coronavirus,” Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze tells a press conference, adding that the infected man has been placed in isolation in a Tbilisi hospital.
Another worker at the Prime Minister’s Residence is suing Sara Netanyahu for mistreatment, Channel 12 reports.
The woman, a 56-year-old immigrant from France, is seeking NIS 650,000 ($189,000) in damages, the network says.
The mother of five worked at the residence for five months, until November 2019.
In diary entries submitted to the court, she describes outbursts and verbal attacks by the prime minister’s wife.
Several former employees have claimed mistreatment and abuse by the prime minister’s wife. The official residence’s former caretaker successfully sued her for verbal and emotional abuse, as did another former worker.
In the wake of Bernie Sanders’s decision to not attend the AIPAC Israel lobby’s annual conference for what he called the organization’s support of “bigotry,” a group of 347 rabbis sign an open letter to Sanders supporting AIPAC’s role in advancing the US-Israel relationship.
Sanders, now the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, said AIPAC provides a “platform” for “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
“As strong supporters of the US-Israel relationship and AIPAC’s role in advancing it, we reject Senator Bernie Sanders’ outrageous comment accusing AIPAC of fostering bigotry. AIPAC’s mission is one that we and our congregants care deeply about,” the rabbis, who are from Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations, write in the letter.
“AIPAC is one of the last remaining vehicles in American politics that proactively seeks to bring Americans from across the political spectrum together to achieve a common goal. The AIPAC Policy Conference may be the largest political gathering of Democrats and Republicans in the entire country,” the rabbis add.
In response to Gantz’s speech, Netanyahu’s Likud party tells him to calm down.
“Gantz seemed very ill at ease this evening. We urge him to calm down, drink a cup of water and come to a debate [with Netanyahu],” Likud says. Netanyahu has challenged Gantz to a debate in this election cycle, after eschewing the practice for a decade.
“Don’t whine and don’t act out. Politics are hard. The job of prime minister is a lot harder. It seems Gantz is simply incapable,” the party says.
A plane carrying NIS 1 billion in cash, printed in 50-shekel bills in an unnamed European country, is reportedly being held up there as part of a labor dispute between the Defense Ministry and Israel’s treasury, according to Channel 12.
A Defense Ministry employee union is taking the dramatic labor action against the Finance Ministry as part of a fight over their wages, the television report says. The Bank of Israel prints its currency in this unnamed country and its transportation to Israel is overseen and secured by the defense establishment, according to the network.
Israel’s national carrier El Al is warning that Israeli airlines could collapse financially in a matter of “weeks” due to the Jewish state’s increasingly stringent travel restrictions related to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
“It’s a catastrophe,” an El Al official tells the Kan public broadcaster. “The airlines here will collapse within weeks. El Al, even before the Health Ministry announcement [urging Israelis to avoid all non-essential travel abroad], sustained damage of NIS 200 million from the coronavirus.”
“If the state doesn’t wake up there won’t be an airline here in a matter of weeks,” the official says.