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Number of serious patients surges past 250 as Israel hits 50,000 case mark

Three more deaths recorded, bringing toll to 409, but number of new cases in last 24 hours slips to 831, possibly result of testing slowdown

Doctors at the coronavirus isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 30, 2020.  (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Doctors at the coronavirus isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 30, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

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

Health Ministry officials says pools fine, hospitals in crisis

Deputy Health Ministry head Itamar Grotto tells the Knesset’s coronavirus committee that there is no epidemiological data to show that pools are a major source of infections, indicating they are likely safe.

“Most pools have reopened gradually around the world,” he tells lawmakers reviewing the latest set of government restrictions, which would shut beaches on weekends, but leave pools open.

But he also warns that numbers of Israelis needing to be hospitalized will only continue to surge even if a full lockdown is imposed right now.

“We have over 550 coronavirus patients hospitalized and the crush is creating a crisis. From the moment someone is infected until they degrade to serious condition is about two weeks. We can look ahead with worry because even if we shut the whole economy and force everyone to remain at home, we will see the spread continuing.

According to current Health Ministry data, there are 649 patients hospitalized, including 238 in serious condition.

The data shows three major hospitals at 100 percent capacity or higher in their coronavirus wards, including Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem, which is at 184% capacity. Two more hospitals are at 94% capacity and another nine are at 50% or higher.

Six arrested at Jerusalem protest released, with conditions

Five of the people arrested during demonstrations in Jerusalem Saturday night and early Sunday have been freed, but given restraining orders keeping them away from the Prime Minister’s Residence until July 28, the Walla news site reports.

A sixth person has been sent to house arrest for five days.

Turkey says 27 IS suspects arrested in Istanbul

Turkish police have detained 27 people in Istanbul over suspected links to the Islamic State group Sunday, state-run media says.

The Anadolu news agency reports that the suspects were held in simultaneous early morning raids by anti-terrorist police in 15 districts across Istanbul as they allegedly prepared to carry out attacks.

The agency says the alleged attacks were in response to recent social media posts that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and that a “large number” of documents and digital material was recovered during the searches.

Turkey has suffered a number of attacks by Islamic State militants over the last five years, including the bombing of a peace rally in the capital Ankara in October 2015 that killed 102 people.

— AP

Coronavirus panel head says much more can be done before lockdown

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, head of the Knesset coronavirus committee reviewing government approved-restrictions, defends her panel’s role in second-guessing government moves and says that a lockdown, which has been increasingly threatened, is not yet necessary.

“It’s okay to disagree and argue. It’s not clear that a full lockdown is the right move,” she says.

“There is a lot we can do before we decree a lockdown on citizens,” Sasha-Biton says. “The question is not if we are remaining open, but rather how and under what conditions.”

“We will take restriction after restriction, examine each one point by point according to the data on it, and then we will decide,” she says.

Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto tells the committee that a weekend-only lockdown approved by the government can clamp down on infections by some 20 percent.

He says closed spaces and those where wearing a mask is impossible, like restaurants, are the main infection zones.

“The whole world put restrictions on restaurant activity, and anyplace where there was a rise in morbidity, the restaurants were closed again. The current morbidity level requires that even places abiding by Purple Seal [hygiene] standards be shut.”

MK seeking to cut quarantine period down to 12 days

MK Zvi Hauser is asking officials to look into the possibility of shortening the required quarantine period for those who were flagged by a Shin Bet phone tracking program as having been in contact with a coronavirus carrier to 12 days, according to media reports.

Hauser makes the suggestion at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which he is chairing.

The 14-day quarantine has been accepted worldwide as the safest way to be sure someone has not been infected, according to WHO guidance on the virus’s incubation period.

Earlier in the meeting, Hauser is told by a Health Ministry official that a new version of the Magen contact tracer app, which may replace the controversial Shin Bet program, has been completed and may be rolled out as early as Monday.

Incomplete Health Ministry figures show that many cases come from home

Figures released by the Health Ministry to lawmakers show that many people catch the virus at home.

The figures, in a presentation riddled with errors, cover the period from July 10 to July 16 and only the smaller subset of infectees who had epidemiological studies and where the source of infections could be traced. Of that subset, which covers about 28 percent of the total number of cases in the time period, or some 2,200 cases, 67% caught the virus at home.

Another 9.5% caught the virus at school, and 5.6% at an event. Houses of worship and other religious facilities make up almost 5% of the infections and restaurants and bars another 4%.

A total of eight cases came from abroad. Four came from pools, and another 24 cases came from sporting activities.

Nearly 70% of the cases remain a mystery.

This is the first time in months that the ministry has released any official data on where people are being infected.

New ‘mysterious’ fire reported at Iran factory

Video being shared on social media purports to show a large fire at a cellophane or yarn factory near the Iranian city of Tabriz, in the country’s northwest.

The fire could be the latest in a series of unexplained industrial accidents that have been closely watched by Western observers, some of which have been attributed to covert action by Israel or other Western actors.

Earlier in the day, an explosion was reported at a power station in the central Iranian province of Isfahan, the latest in a mysterious series of blasts and blazes that have occurred throughout the country.


Ministers spar over suggestion that alternative virus plans be formed

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) and Economy Minister Amir Peretz (Labor) got into a tiff during a cabinet meeting, according to several Hebrew media reports.

During the meeting Peretz suggested creating a committee that will form alternative plans to deal with the coronavirus for the government to consider beyond what ministers are being presented by the Health Ministry and National Security Council.

“We don’t need to rely only on the NSC reports. The time has come for every proposal that comes up to have an alternative proposals alongside the NSC proposals,” Peretz is quoted saying.

Gamliel reportedly shot back: “Things worked great during the first round without needing unity and power sharing. We need to let the prime minister manage the crisis and not put spokes in his wheels.”

Government okays East-Med pipeline deal with Greece, Cyprus

The government has approved a deal with Cyprus and Greece to build the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline and provide gas to southern Europe, the Energy Ministry says.

The three countries signed a deal in January for the pipeline and work is underway to plan out the 1,900-kilometer project to carry 10 billion cubic meters of gas a year from offshore reserves held by Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and then on to Italy and other southeastern European countries. The ministry says the pipeline can be doubled to provide 20 BCM of gas a year.

The platform of the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea, pictured from the northern beach of Dor on December 31, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The project is expected to cost some 6 billion euros.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz calls the government okay “another milestone in our efforts to turn Israel into an energy exporter — which will bring in tens of billions for the good of the country and its citizens in years to come.”

French officials mark 1942 Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews

France’s veterans’ minister, Geneviève Darrieussecq, leads a ceremony commemorating the Vel d’Hiv round-up, a mass arrest of Jews by French police in 1942.

Alongside Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, she takes part in a wreath-laying to pay her respects to the 13,000-plus victims of the round-up, one of the most shameful acts undertaken by the country’s wartime government.

Following the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, the country was ruled by a government commonly known as Vichy France, which collaborated with Nazi Germany.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe gives a speech during a ceremony commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup in Paris on July 22, 2018. (AFP/JACQUES DEMARTHON)

Vel d’Hiv derives from the name of the Winter Velodrome that many of the detainees were confined in, before they were deported to concentration and extermination camps such as Drancy and Auschwitz. Over 4,000 children were included in the round up.

In 1995, some 53 years later, President Jacques Chirac finally apologized for the role the French authorities had in the raid. President Emmanuel Macron went further, in 2017, acknowledging the responsibility the French State had in those events and in the Holocaust.

Darrieussecq says “there is no space for ambiguity, the Vel d’Hiv round-up is an issue belonging to France.”

— AP

Edelstein denounces ‘gossip’ after reports of pick for coronavirus czar job

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s office is responding to reports that Prof. Gabi Barbash will be appointed as the coronavirus czar, meant to oversee the nation’s response to the pandemic.

“We understand the desire to spice up news with juicy gossip, it’s just a shame that it is simply not true. Minister Edelstein is vetting candidates who are most fit for the job,” reads a message from the office carried by Hebrew media.

Trump retweet removed after complaint by Linkin Park

Twitter has taken down a campaign-style video retweeted by US President Donald Trump after rock group Linkin Park issued a cease-and-desist order over the unauthorized use of its music, media reports said.

The video, which featured a cover of the band’s 2001 hit “In the End,” was posted by White House social media director Dan Scavino and retweeted on Saturday by Trump.

The tweet now says: “This media has been disabled in response to a report by the copyright owner.”

Linkin Park said it did not authorize the use of its music by Trump or his campaign.

“Linkin Park did not and does not endorse Trump, nor authorize his organization to use any of our music. A cease and desist has been issued,” the rock group said on Twitter.


India sees almost 39,000 new virus cases, over 500 deaths in single day

A record 24-hour surge of 38,902 new cases has taken India’s coronavirus total to 1,077,618.

The Health Ministry on Sunday also reports 543 additional deaths for a total of 26,816.

The number of people who have recovered continues to grow. The Health Ministry data shows 677,422 patients have been cured so far across the country, putting the recovery rate at 62.82%.

Experts say India is likely to witness a series of peaks as the infection spreads in rural areas.

— AP

Ministers to hash out one-time handouts

The government has okayed a controversial plan to hand out billions of shekels to Israelis in stimulus money, though don’t check the mail for your free money yet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, Economy Minister Amir Peretz will reportedly meet later Sunday to hash out the best way to allocate the money.

Ina  statement, the Prime Minister’s Office says the quartet has until Monday to put together a plan to allocate the one-time payments, which will equal NIS 6 billion.

According to a plan announced last week, individuals over 18 will get NIS 750 each, and families with kids will get between NIS 2,000 and NIS 3,000. The plan has been derided for giving handouts to rich Israelis along with those in need, rather than directing the payments to only those who need it most.

However, according to Channel 12 news, Blue and White is pushing for those in need to be given preferential treatment. Netanyahu had said he preferred speed and wanted to avoid red tape and the need for income forms in order to figure out who should get what.

In a tweet, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) says on Twitter that while the plan is a good step, “we won’t give out the money blind. We will support aid that differentiates with regard to social sensitivities. This way, the emphasis will be on those whose income has been hurt.”

Alleged sex abuser Leifer may argue teen girls were almost consenting adults

The defense team for alleged child sex abuser Malka Leifer has hinted during a Supreme Court hearing earlier today that it will argue that the former ultra-Orthodox girls’ school principal had not sexually exploited her students because some of the alleged abuse took place when the girls were around the consenting age of 18.

Defense attorney Nick Kaufman, who has joined the long list of attorneys hired to represent Leifer, tells reporters after the hearing that both Australia and Israel would need to prove that the alleged victims did not consent to the sexual acts that were carried out with the principal — a peculiar assertion given that the alleged abuse began when the former students were as young as 15 and because Leifer was a figure with authority over them.

Moreover, the Israeli court system is not trying the crimes that took place in Australia, but rather only determining whether Leifer is fit to be extradited to face justice there.

In this photo from February 27, 2018, Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

Leifer herself appeared at the hearing for the first time in years, albeit over Zoom. During the proceedings Judge Daphna Barak-Erez scolded Leifer for putting her head down. She was photographed by one of the hearing’s attendees but the court barred him from distributing the photos for publication. The Times of Israel has filed a request with the court to publish the photos.

A decision on Leifer’s appeal is expected in the coming days.

The sides will reconvene tomorrow at the Jerusalem District Court for an extradition hearing, which was scheduled in May after Leifer was deemed to have been feigning mental illness to evade facing justice.

The defense has already appealed that decision and the Supreme Court is slated to reconvene on the matter on July 29.

— Jacob Magid

Trump says he won’t commit to honoring election results

US President Donald Trump is refusing to publicly commit to accepting the results of the upcoming White House election, recalling a similar threat he made weeks before the 2016 vote, as he scoffs at polls showing him lagging behind Democrat Joe Biden. Trump says it’s too early to make such an ironclad guarantee.

“I have to see. Look … I have to see,” Trump tells moderator Chris Wallace during a wide-ranging interview aired on “Fox News Sunday.” “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”

It is remarkable that a sitting president would express less than complete confidence in the American democracy’s electoral process. But for Trump, it comes from his insurgent playbook of four years ago, when in the closing stages of his race against Hillary Clinton, he said he would not commit to honoring the election results if the Democrat won.

Trump has seen his presidential popularity erode over his handing of the coronavirus pandemic and in the aftermath of nationwide protests centered on racial injustice that erupted after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis nearly two months.

Trump contends that a series of polls that show his popularity eroding and Biden holding an advantage are faulty. He believes Republican voters are underrepresented in such surveys.

“First of all, I’m not losing, because those are fake polls,” Trump says in the taped interview. “They were fake in 2016 and now they’re even more fake. The polls were much worse in 2016.”

— AP

Knesset coronavirus panel asks government to pare back some restrictions

After over four hours of meeting, the Knesset’s coronavirus committee is seeking for the government to ease several restrictions, but has not yet moved to overrule Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The committee says it wants the government to remove beaches from the list of places shuttered during weekend-only lockdowns. Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch says he sees no issue with keeping beaches open, but says there are points, like changing rooms, where crowding can happen, according to Ynet.

The panel is also asking the government to allow up to 35 percent capacity inside restaurants and only social distancing guidelines outside with seemingly no limits on crowd size, rather than shutting restaurants altogether. It’s unclear how that would work, with most gatherings now limited to 10 people or less. Restaurants are set to shutter on Tuesday in line with guidelines approved by the government on Friday.

The panel also wants to keep gyms open, and to sweeten the deal says that attendance should be capped at one person per 10 square meters, down from the current person per seven square meters.

The recommendations indicate that the panel is generally okay with other restrictions passed by the government and may not seek another direct confrontation, after Netanyahu threatened to fire panel head MK Yifat Shasha-Biton.

Restaurant owners threaten to again defy closures orders

Some eatery owners are threatening to defy closure orders and stay open on Tuesday to protest restrictions meant to stem the tide of coronavirus infections.

Some of the restaurants had already vowed to stay open on Friday to protest the lack of warning from the government for the shutdown order, leading officials to push off the planned closures from Friday to Tuesday.

“The decision to close restaurants is ridiculous and illogical. There is no scientific study that shows high infection rates in restaurants, but the opposite,” one rebel owner tells Ynet.

(The owner refuses to reveal his name for fear of being fined, though he will likely have trouble avoiding the law if he does open on Tuesday, unless he converts into a speakeasy.)

A waitress handles chairs in a restaurant in downtown Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some restaurateurs are demanding that the government agree to compensate them in advance, in exchange for compliance with the law, according to some reports.

Restaurant and bar owners are planning to hold a “protest” meal for the needy outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Representatives from the sector are set to meet with PM Benjamin Netanyahu at his office later Sunday, according to reports.

Rome region warns of fresh lockdown after 17 new infections

The Italian region that includes Rome is warning citizens that local lockdowns might have to be ordered if there are more clusters of coronavirus infections.

Lazio Region Health Commissioner Alessio D’Amato says 17 new COVID-19 cases were registered on Sunday, 10 of them “imported” from other countries when foreign residents returned to Italy. Many of the Rome area’s recent cases have been among returning workers from Bangladesh.

“I appeal for the use of masks, otherwise, we’ll have to close down again,” with restrictive measures on citizens’ activities and movements outside of homes, D’Amato says.

“We can’t turn back and waste all the efforts done till now,” D’Amato pleads in a Facebook post.

Lazio’s increases were included in Italy’s 219 new cases, raising to 244,434 the number of confirmed infections since the outbreak began. Italy’s known death toll on Sunday stood at 35,045, with the confirmation of three more deaths.

— AP

Number of serious cases passes 250 mark

The Health Ministry announces that the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition is up to 254, a large spike of 37 more patients in the ICU over the last 24 hours. There are 70 patients on ventilators.

It also announces another three new deaths, bringing the number of fatalities up to 409. There have been nine deaths in the last 24 hours, and 25 total deaths announced in the last three days.

The number of new cases shows a dramatic slowdown, with only 831 confirmed in the last 24 hours, but that may be due to a slowdown in testing. Figures show only 18,184 tests on Saturday, down from the nearly 30,000 daily tests Israel had been seeing. Thus far on Sunday, there have been fewer than 10,000 tests, according to the ministry.

The number of recoveries stands at 21,589.

Stimulus money stuck in intergovernmental squabble — report

Channel 12 news reports that ministers are rethinking stimulus handouts, after pressure from Blue and White to find a way to give those who are in need get a bigger piece of the NIS 6 billion pie.

Among the ideas being considered is a larger handout, after which some Israelis will have to pay income tax on it, based on the size of their wealth.

The channel reports that bad blood between Likud and Blue and White is rising, quoting a Likud source saying that “Blue and White is purposely blocking every decision. They want the coronavirus to stay here for a long time. They think that if the health and economic crises continue, Netanyahu will fall.”

Eilat asks to become virus restriction free zone

The mayor of Eilat is asking that his Red Sea resort city be exempted from coronavirus restriction that will shut beaches and other spaces over weekends.

“It’s better that someone should be in the open air at the beach, better that there should be a wide array of attractions to prevent crowding, and better that they should come to restaurants and sit in public spaces,” Itzik Halevy says, according to reports in Hebrew media.

People at the Red Sea in the southern city of Eilat on May 13, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

He says tens of thousands of Israelis visit the town every weekend.

The city has seen 198 total cases since the start of the pandemic, including 67 in the past week. Over 150 cases there are active, but no patients are hospitalized in the city.

Lebanon report says Israel took over Hezbollah drone on border

A Hezbollah drone flying near the Lebanese-Israeli border is “hijacked” by the Israel Defense Forces and flown into Israeli territory, where it was brought down, a Lebanese journalist affiliated with the terror group reports.

The IDF says it is aware of the reports and is looking into the matter.

According to the Lebanese reporter, Ali Shoeib, the drone was being used to film a music video for a Hezbollah orchestra along the border when the IDF “took control of it electronically” and flew it some three kilometers into Israel.

The device sent back photos from above Israeli territory before it was brought down, Shoeib says in a tweet, sharing one of the images.

— Judah Ari Gross

Likud MK pans Netanyahu handling of crisis: ‘Get a hold of yourself’

In the latest sign of possible growing unrest within the Likud party, an MK from the faction headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appeared on Channel 13 news to openly criticize him and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

“The economic crisis which started in February/March is not being managed,” says Michal Shir. “There is no organized plan for the next six months. Why do we need to get to Hanukkah to know what to do.”

She says she appreciates the prime minister and the work he has done, but accuses him of focusing his attention elsewhere, likely referring to his legal issues.

“The alertness was not there in time,” she says.

“We want [the government] to pay attention,” she says. “I call on the prime minister, my prime minister, the head of my party and the alternate prime minister [Benny Gantz]: Get a hold of yourselves and start to manage the crisis. The public demands it.”

Despite reported threats that Netanyahu could sack the head of a coronavirus panel who overruled him, Shir says she believes Netanyahu will especially listen to criticism within the party.

Shir is a former aide to Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who has had a rocky relationship with Netanyahu. The prime minister openly campaigned against the two in a party primary last year.

IDF confirms Lebanese drone may have crossed into Israel

The Israel Defense Forces says that a Lebanese drone “apparently” crossed the border and entered Israeli airspace earlier this evening, partially almost confirming a Lebanese report.

“IDF troops spotted a drone that apparently infiltrated from Lebanese territory into the airspace of the State of Israel,” the military says.

The IDF does not confirm a Lebanese report that it “hijacked” the device and forced it to land, but said that troops “took action against [the drone] with a variety of tools.”

The IDF refuses to comment on what happened to the drone, whether it indeed landed inside Israel, or flew back to Lebanon.

“The IDF will continue to act to prevent violations of Israeli sovereignty,” the military says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Police clash with protesters in Jaffa

There are reports of clashes between protesters and police in Jaffa, where local residents are opposing a plan to build a homeless shelter above an old Muslim cemetery.

Video shows police in riot gear and on horseback between a seaside promenade and the city’s clock tower square, as stun grenades or firecrackers go off.

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Turkey says 27 IS suspects arrested in Istanbul

Turkish police have detained 27 people in Istanbul over suspected links to the Islamic State group Sunday, state-run media says.

The Anadolu news agency reports that the suspects were held in simultaneous early morning raids by anti-terrorist police in 15 districts across Istanbul as they allegedly prepared to carry out attacks.

The agency says the alleged attacks were in response to recent social media posts that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and that a “large number” of documents and digital material was recovered during the searches.

Turkey has suffered a number of attacks by Islamic State militants over the last five years, including the bombing of a peace rally in the capital Ankara in October 2015 that killed 102 people.

— AP