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Fresh clashes in Beirut between Lebanese protesters, security forces

Police fire tear gas at rock-throwing demonstrators near Lebanon’s parliament amid anger over deadly blast at port

Lebanese protesters, enraged by a deadly explosion blamed on officials' negligence, clash with security forces for the second evening near an access street to the parliament in central Beirut on August 9, 2020. (Joseph Eid/AFP)
Lebanese protesters, enraged by a deadly explosion blamed on officials' negligence, clash with security forces for the second evening near an access street to the parliament in central Beirut on August 9, 2020. (Joseph Eid/AFP)

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

Blue and White, Likud further dig in over state budget

The Likud and Blue and White parties continue dig in over the state budget, which must be passed by August 25 or Israel will again face general elections.

“We want a budget for the state and Likud wants a political budget. No economist supports a budget for the holidays. This is nonsense,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz tells Blue and White ministers during a meeting, according to the Haaretz daily.

He says only two people are interested in elections, appearing to refer to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.

“There are only two people who want elections and nine people who don’t want or need. One wants [elections] to improve his political status, the other his legal and personal status,” Gantz is quoted as saying.

Netanyahu’s Likud quickly fires back, again blaming Blue and White for the cancellation of the cabinet meeting earlier today, which in Blue and White in turn has blamed on Likud.

“Gantz, the citizens of Israel are before everything — approve the budget today,” Army Radio reports a Likud statement as saying.

Blue and White is calling for a budget through 2021 as stipulated by the coalition agreement, while Likud is insisting on a budget for the next few months, citing the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. The passage of a short-term budget — or none at all — could allow Netanyahu to go to new elections without having to hand over the premiership to Gantz as part of the coalition deal.

Furious Lebanese call for further protests over deadly mega-blast

BEIRUT — Lebanese protesters enraged by official negligence blamed for Beirut’s enormous and deadly explosion vow to rally again, after a night of street clashes in which they stormed several ministries.

“Prepare the gallows because our anger doesn’t end in one day,” warns one message circulating on social media in response to Tuesday’s earthquake-strength blast of a huge pile of industrial chemicals.

The calls for renewed protests came as French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris was to oversee a UN-backed virtual donors conference to raise aid for Lebanon, a country already mired in a painful economic crisis.

In Beirut, the fury on the streets has further shaken the embattled government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, which saw its first cabinet resignation when the information minister, Manal Abdel Samad, quit earlier today.

The revelation that Lebanese state officials had long tolerated a ticking time-bomb in the heart of the capital has served as shocking proof to many Lebanese of the rot at the core of the state apparatus.

The death toll from the explosion of a long-neglected pile of ammonium nitrate stood at 158 people, with 60 still reported missing, and a staggering 6,000 wounded, many by flying glass, as the shockwave tore through the city.

— AFP

Likud nixes parliamentary sanctions against MKs, given deepening coalition crisis

Likud faction whip Miki Zohar announces he has cancelled parliamentary sanctions against a number of the ruling party’s lawmakers for allegedly violating coalition discipline, during a political coalition crisis over the state budget that is threatening to plunge Israel into elections for the fourth time since April 2019.

“I’m happy to see excellent and efficient conduct of the Likud faction over the past week. Only by working together, with the help of God, we can bring many more important accomplishments to State of Israel,” Zohar tweets.

He adds: “I’ve informed faction members in letters that all the sanctions are cancelled. This is the time to unite ranks. When we work together, we’re stronger than anyone.”

Yesh Atid to file bill that would bar Netanyahu from forming new government

The Yesh Atid-Telem faction says it will submit a bill to be voted on Wednesday that would bar a Knesset member under indictment from forming a government, which would prevent Prime Minister Netanyahu from cobbling together a new coalition.

“The fact that there was no cabinet meeting today and we’re galloping toward elections because the prime minister has indictments [against him] and this is all that occupies him is a complete disgrace,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid-Telem, says in a statement.

He adds: “People have nothing to eat, businesses are closing. The situation cannot continue like this.”

The announcement comes a day after MK Nitzan Horowitz, head of the left-wing Meretz party, also said he would file such a bill. The legislation would require the support of Defense Minister’s Blue and White party to have a shot at advancing it, and even then it doesn’t appear there would be a majority to pass it.

“Support for a law like this is right on an ethical level, but to agree to it is to go to elections. We entered the government because it was a difficult time,” Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg tells Army Radio.

Joint List’s Tibi to quarantine after exposure to virus carrier

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi has informed the Knesset that he will enter quarantine, after coming into contact with a coronavirus carrier, Hebrew media reports say.

He will be able to come out of quarantine on Saturday.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi arrives for a meeting at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu hails arrest of suspect in deadly 2010 attack on Gaza border

Prime Minister Netanyahu hails the Shin Bet’s of the arrest of a suspect in a 2010 attack along the Gaza border that left two soldiers dead.

“All those who seek to harm us should know that, even as the years pass, the State of Israel will not let up until we settle the score with the terrorists,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

Macron: World must respond ‘quickly and effectively’ to Lebanon disaster

French President Emmanuel Macron calls for speedy international backing for disaster-struck Lebanon and urged its leaders to prevent “chaos” as he opens an emergency aid conference following Beirut’s deadly port blast.

Macron hosts US President Donald Trump and other world leaders for the virtual conference to drum up aid for Lebanon, as the UN says some $117 million will be needed over the next three months for the emergency response.

“The objective today is to act quickly and effectively to coordinate our aid on the ground so that it goes as efficiently as possible to the Lebanese people,” Macron tells the conference also attended by Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, UN aid coordinator Mark Lowcock, representatives of the World Bank, the Red Cross, the IMF, the EU, the Arab League and several Middle Eastern leaders.

Israel, with whom Lebanon has no diplomatic relations, wasn’t on the list of participants, nor Iran which wields huge influence in Lebanon through the Shiite terror group Hezbollah.

— AFP

Energy Ministry grants NIS 7 million for clean energy projects in south

The Energy Ministry announces NIS 7 million ($2 million) in grants to local authorities, factories and commercial buildings in the south of the country to encourage energy efficiency projects in street lighting, air conditioning and energy management.

The grants — up to NIS 1 million ($293,000) per project — will constitute up to 35 percent of project costs, or 40% in the socioeconomically weakest areas.

The grants form part of a NIS 50 ($14.7) million multi-year plan for the development of southern Israel.

— Sue Surkes

Gantz, Netanyahu said to engage in shouting match over budget

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz engage in a shouting match during a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, Channel 12 news reports, against a deepening rift over the budget standoff that could send Israel to new elections.

According to the network, Gantz, shouting angrily, accuses Netanyahu of never intending to honor the stipulation in the coalition agreement between their parties that the government pass a government through 2021.

“Will someone turn up the volume? We can’t hear,” Netanyahu reportedly retorts sarcastically.

The report also says Gantz let loose at Finance Minister Israel Katz of Likud, saying he ordered Finance Ministry officials to draft a short-term budget in violation of the coalition deal.

November 18 seen as likely election day if coalition dissolves over budget

If Israel is sent to new elections due to the coalition crisis over the passage of a new budget, Channel 12 news says November 18 is seen as a likely election day.

American aid for Lebanon to go to medical authorities, US official says

A top USAID official says $15 million in American assistance in response to the port explosion in Beirut will not be under the control of the government there, but is intended to go directly to those who need it most.

Speaking ahead of his departure for Beirut, John Barsa says that assistance would be directed to medical authorities at the American University of Beirut and the American Lebanese University.

The US is providing money to the World Food Program for emergency meals for about 300,000 people affected by the explosion at the Beirut port in addition to emergency medical kits, US officials say.

— AP

2 blazes break out in Gaza border area

A pair of fires break out in the Eshkol Regional Council near the Gaza Strip.

Reports say Israeli authorities are investigating if the blazes were sparked by incendiary airborne devices launched from Gaza.

The fires break out shortly after media outlets links to Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, report a number of balloons were launched toward Israel.

Gulf states back extending UN arms embargo on Iran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A six-nation bloc of Gulf Arab nations torn apart by internal strife endorses an extension of a United Nations arms embargo on Iran, just two months before it is set to expire.

The Gulf Cooperation Council says it sent a letter to the UN Security Council backing an extension of an arms embargo that’s kept Iran from purchasing foreign-made weapons like fighter jets, tanks and warships.

The GCC — comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — alleges Iran has “not ceased or desisted from armed interventions in neighboring countries, directly and through organizations and movements armed and trained by Iran.”

A Saudi-led coalition continues to battle Yemen’s Houthi rebels, whom the UN, the US and armament experts have accused of receiving arms from Iran. Tehran denies arming the Houthis, even as Iranian armaments and components have repeatedly turned up in Yemen.

“As such, it is inappropriate to lift the restrictions on conventional weapons’ movement to and from Iran until it abandons its destabilizing activities in the region and ceases to provide weapons to terrorist and sectarian organizations,” the GCC says.

Iran’s mission to the UN does not immediately respond to a request for comment on the GCC statement.

— AP

Defense Ministry inks deal with MyHeritage to increase COVID-19 testing

The Defense Ministry signs a deal with the DNA testing firm MyHeritage to increase the number of tests it performs daily from 10,000 to 20,000.

Last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for his ministry to increase the number of tests conducted each day to 30,000. His office does not immediately explain the 10,000-test discrepancy.

Gantz visited MyHeritage’s laboratory this morning, along with the head of procurements for the Defense Ministry, Avi Dadon, who oversaw the negotiations with the company, as well as MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet and the director of the laboratory Asaf Younger.

“This is not a business deal but a partnership in the national effort,” Gantz says following the visit.

“It is very important that we continue the good work that you are doing here and to do so in partnership with the Health Ministry, that sets the standards and regulations,” he adds.

The MyHeritage laboratory is meant to play a key role in a government initiative to protect Israel’s elderly population from the coronavirus, known as “Shield of Fathers and Mothers.”

“We are taking a significant part in the ‘Shield of Fathers and Mothers’ network, and we are happy to take part in this mission along with other parts of the country,” Japhet says.

Last month, the Defense Ministry was charged with expanding the government’s coronavirus testing program, both in terms of the number and the speed at which tests are performed.

— Judah Ari Gross

US reaches 5 million confirmed coronavirus cases

The confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the US reaches 5 million, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

However, health officials believe that for every reported case, there are roughly 10 times as many people infected, given the limits on testing and the large number of mild infections that have unreported or unrecognized.

The bleak milestone is reached as new cases in the US run at about 54,000 a day. While that is down from a peak of well over 70,000 in the second half of July, cases are rising in nearly 20 states, and deaths are climbing in most. Many Americans have resisted wearing masks and social distancing.

— AP

90% of coronavirus handouts have been doled out

The National Insurance Institute says it has dished out 90 percent of the cash grants that Prime Minister Netanyahu championed as a way to jumpstart the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Likud’s Barkat to quarantine after contact with virus carrier

Likud MK Nir Barkat says he’ll enter quarantine after learning he was in contact with a coronavirus carrier.

“Happily I feel good and wish only health to all Israeli citizens,” Barkat writes on Twitter.

Bank of Israel chief: New elections will be ‘negative news’ for economy

Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron calls on the government to swiftly pass a state budget and warns that new elections would have a negative impact on the economy, which is already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The changing morbidity trends and developments are causing great uncertainty regarding employment, businesses’ income and government intake and expenses,” the Globes financial daily quotes him as saying.

Yaron says it is therefore important that there be “stability in the conduct of the government and an orderly decision-making process,” saying this would help reduce uncertainty for households and businesses.

“The government must move forward as quickly as possible in determining a clear outline for the state budget and other economic decisions needed at this time,” the central bank chief adds. “Reducing the political uncertainty will contribute to the confidence of the markets in the Israeli economy and improve the ability to deal with the crisis. Further elections would be negative news for the Israeli economy at this time.”

Amir Yaron, governor of the Bank of Israel, attends a press conference in Jerusalem, March 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Investigators said to determine blazes in south sparked by Gaza fire balloons

Fire investigators have determined a pair of fires in southern Israel earlier today were sparked by airborne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Lebanese army says little or no hope of finding survivors at blast site

BEIRUT — The Lebanese army says that hopes have dwindled of finding survivors at the blast site in Beirut following days of search and rescue operations supported by international experts.

“After three days of search and rescue operations we can say we have finished the first phase, which involved the possibility of finding survivors,” Colonel Roger Khoury tells a press conference.

“As technicians working on the ground, we can say we have fading hopes of finding survivors,” adds Khoury, who heads a team of military technicians operating at the blast site.

— AFP

Ministers approve new virus restrictions, extend others

The so-called coronavirus cabinet approves a number of new restrictions to contain the coronavirus outbreak and also extends some existing measures.

The restrictions include limiting the number of people in a car to three, requiring Israelis to maintain a distance of two meters (6.5 feet) from each other in public, capping outdoor gatherings at 20 people and indoor ones at 10, and only allowing one person per every seven square meters (75 square feet) in businesses or public areas.

It also extends the closure of bars, nightclubs, event halls and other recreational sites.

Additionally, ministers grant permission for local Health Ministry doctors to order the closure of businesses and other places if a coronavirus carrier is confirmed to to have been there.

Trump calls for Lebanon to hold ‘transparent investigation’ into blast

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump calls for Lebanon to conduct a “full and transparent investigation” into the huge explosion that hit Beirut, and expresses his support for protests demanding reform in the country.

Trump “urged the Government of Lebanon to conduct a full and transparent investigation, in which the United States stands ready to assist,” according to the White House, after he participated in a virtual conference on the international response to the disaster.

“The President called for calm in Lebanon and acknowledged the legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform and accountability,” the White House adds.

— AFP

Gantz, Kohavi said to agree Israel will respond forcefully to Gaza balloons

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi today to discuss the recent launches of incendiary airborne devices from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip toward Israel, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says the two agreed a continuation of the launches would lead to a significant Israeli response, even if doing so prompts an escalation in violence.

Anti-Netanyahu encampment in Jerusalem’s Independence Park cleared for second time Sunday

An encampment of a few dozen people in Jerusalem’s Independence Park set up as part of ongoing demonstrations calling for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s resignation has been cleared for the second time today.

Protesters say the inspectors didn’t identify themselves or explain how they had broken the law.

“They came with enormous force, 50 Border Police officers, 50 inspectors, most of whom were without a name tag which is illegal. They refused to identify themselves. They physically pulled us from our personal items,” says Nicole Schwartz, a 19-year-old from Ramat Gan.

A few protesters attempted to stop the truck with their belongings from leaving by climbing underneath it, but were “violently dragged” away from the scene, according to Schwartz.

The Jerusalem Municipality can’t be immediately reached for comment.

— Anat Peled

Jerusalem Municipality inspectors and police officers clear an anti-Netanyahu protest tent camp in Jerusalem’s Independence Park on August 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Donors pledge ‘major resources’ to assist Lebanese after Beirut blast

PARIS — Donor countries pledge to muster “major resources” to help Lebanon deal with the aftermath of the deadly Beirut port blast, saying assistance will be “directly delivered to the Lebanese population.”

In a joint statement issued after a remote donor conference hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and the UN and attended by US President Donald Trump, they also offer support for an “impartial, credible and independent inquiry” into the August 4 disaster.

— AFP

Coronavirus death toll in Israel rises to 600

The number of coronavirus fatalities in Israel rises to 600, as the Health Ministry reports three more deaths from coronavirus.

According to the latest ministry figures, there have been 82,670 infections since the start of the pandemic. Of the 24,554 active cases, there are 393 people in serious condition, with 118 on ventilators. Another 183 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

The ministry says only 8,596 tests were conducted yesterday. Testing levels typically drop sharply over the weekend.

Fresh clashes in Beirut between Lebanese protesters, security forces

BEIRUT — Lebanese protesters enraged by a deadly explosion they blame on government negligence clash for the second evening running with security forces in Beirut Sunday.

Police fire tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters hurling stones and shooting fireworks near an access street to parliament, AFP correspondents report.

— AFP

Ministers okay resumption of cultural events at outdoor venues

Government ministers say they’ll allow live performances to be held at outdoor venues, following months in which cultural events have been banned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office comes after a meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu, Finance Minister Israel Katz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Culture Minister Chili Tropper held with representatives of the culture industry.

A PMO statement says event-goers will be divided into “capsules” of 20 people and that every venue will need Health Ministry permission before hosting performances. It also says plans will be drawn up to allow events in closed spaces.

Coronavirus czar said weighing delaying start of school year

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is weighing delaying the start of the school year for grades four and up from September 1 until after the High Holidays in mid-October, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Lukashenko wins Belarus presidential vote with 79.7% — exit poll

MINSK, Belarus — Longtime Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko wins today’s presidential election with 79.7 percent of the vote, according to the official exit poll, after a tense campaign that saw a woman opposition candidate posing a historic challenge.

Main opposition challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya comes second with 6.8 percent, according to the poll, as the election commission announces voting will be extended at some polling stations where long lines had formed.

— AFP

Blue and White, Labor said discussing joint run if new elections held

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Economy Minister Amir Peretz are in talks to run on a joint slate in case Israel again goes to elections, Channel 13 news reports.

According to the network, Peretz’s Labor party is expected to receive two of the top 10 spots on the Blue and White list if an agreement is reached.

The agreement is likely to be met with internal opposition in Labor, the report says.

Labor party leader Amir Peretz (R) and Blue and White party chairmen Benny Gantz meet in Jerusalem on October 28, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar says many party members oppose new elections

MK Gideon Sa’ar, a Likud party rival of Prime Minister Netanyahu, comes out strongly against the possibility of new elections amid a standoff over the state budget.

In an interview with Channel 13 news, Sa’ar says Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will be at fault if elections are held because they don’t solve the impasse over the budget.

“Many of my friends in Likud think like me that there shouldn’t be elections,” Sa’ar says.

He says going to elections in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic crisis would lead to a further loss of trust in the political system.

“Elections will be a direct blow to the country,” Sa’ar says.

He stresses that elections aren’t a foregone conclusion and that if there’s goodwill on both sides a solution on the budget can be reached before the August 25 deadline.

“Fifteen days is a very long time in Israeli politics,” he says.

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Trump calls for Lebanon to hold ‘transparent investigation’ into blast

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump calls for Lebanon to conduct a “full and transparent investigation” into the huge explosion that hit Beirut, and expresses his support for protests demanding reform in the country.

Trump “urged the Government of Lebanon to conduct a full and transparent investigation, in which the United States stands ready to assist,” according to the White House, after he participated in a virtual conference on the international response to the disaster.

“The President called for calm in Lebanon and acknowledged the legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform and accountability,” the White House adds.

— AFP