West Bank to reopen after virus lockdown, Palestinian PM announces
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Bashing Netanyahu prosecution, Yamina proposes law banning probe of sitting PM

Opposition party accuses law enforcement community of politically motivated attempt to oust prime minister, says premier can’t be expected to run country while defending self

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of right-wing parties, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of right-wing parties, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Japan lifts state of emergency

Japan has lifted a nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus, gradually reopening the world’s third-largest economy as government officials warn caution is still necessary to prevent another wave.

“We had very stringent criteria for lifting the state of emergency. We have judged that we have met this,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tells a nationally televised news conference.


Flights may not return until July — report

A top official at Ben-Gurion International Airport is estimating that Israel’s main gateway will likely only begin to ease back into normal operations in July.

The estimation runs counter to what officials had hopes would be a gradual reopening of Israel’s skies next month to countries that have also seemingly managed to get the coronavirus under control.

“Nobody wants infections to break out here again and we all know that the virus came to Israel by air,” Ben-Gurion CEO Shaul Zakai tells Channel 12 news after a tour by Health Ministry officials to test the airport’s readiness.

Despite new virus cases mostly dwindling, the airport remains on emergency footing, with only a few flights in and out of the country daily.

Olmert attacks Netanyahu as mafia head, says his family needs ‘therapy’

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has launched a series of scathing attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to resign and assailing his family as mentally unwell.

“Netanyahu is a criminal, a scoundrel, a thief and a criminal. He’s going to be sent to prison for a long time,” Olmert tells Army Radio.

Olmert, who served almost two years in prison for his own criminal actions, also says he hopes “Netanyahu will take his family of trolls and go with them to seek therapy.”

Olmert tells Ynet that Netanyahu’s attacks on the judiciary outside the courtroom on Sunday reminded him of Don Corleone in “The Godfather.”

“That was the outburst of a criminal gang that is headed by the prime minister of Israel,” he scolds.

West Bank to reopen after virus lockdown, Palestinian PM announces

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh says the West Bank will reopen on Tuesday after a dramatic slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus.

Shtayyeh says shops, restaurants and mosques and churches will reopen on Tuesday, while government offices will reopen on Wednesday following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous areas of the West Bank, imposed a strict lockdown in March.

The Palestinians reported 368 cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank, with two deaths.

— AP

Lapid: Netanyahu attempting to spark a civil war, he must go

Opposition leader Yair Lapid accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to start a civil war and to carry out a coup, railing against the prime minister’s statements bashing the judicial system that he made outside the Jerusalem courthouse where his trial opened Sunday.

“The moment he drags his ministers to the court with him, incites his followers, tries to lead us toward a civil war, then he can’t be allowed to remain in office,” Lapid tells his Yesh Atid faction at the Knesset, according to a party statement. “There was a coup attempt yesterday and it was led by Netanyahu. He tried to attack the police, the prosecution, the courts, the media. He tried to threaten his judges. He brought with him to the court the minister responsible for overseeing law enforcement and his representatives to the committee which appoints judges. He no longer has any boundaries.”

EuroLeague calls off rest of 2019-2020 season

EuroLeague basketball has announced it is calling off the rest of its season as well as the EuroCup league over COVID-19 concerns.

The move affects Maccabi Tel Aviv, which was in fifth place in the top-flight EuroLeague and will return next year, and Maccabi Rishon Lezion, which had a disappointing run in the lower EuroCup and is not guaranteed a spot next year after already failing to qualify for the EuroCup tournament.

The leagues have been suspended since March 12. Play for EuroLeague’s 2020-21 season will begin on October 1 and EuroCup will start a day earlier.

In a statement, the league says teams had been willing to resume play, but the virus made training and traveling for games impossible.

“Without a doubt, this is the most difficult decision we have had to take in our 20-year history. Due to reasons beyond our control, we have been forced to cut short the most successful and exciting season in European basketball history,” says EuroLeague CEO Jordi Bertomeu.

Five IDF officers punished for role in informant’s suicide

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi relieves one officer of duty and orders four more formally censured for their roles in the suicide of a Military Police informant, following the completion of a months-long probe into the incident, the army says.
Last September, two former IDF Military Police officers were indicted for failing to properly report the mental health of one of their informants, Cpl. Niv Lubaton, a soldier in the Givati Infantry Brigade, who was later found dead outside his base in southern Israel.

A month later, Kohavi ordered a full investigation of both the incident itself and the methods used by the Military Police Investigatory Unit, commonly known by its Hebrew acronym Metzah, for recruiting informants, the results of which were presented to him in recent days, the military says.

“This is a most painful and saddening incident, and the Military Police Investigatory Unit must learn lessons and implement them immediately,” Kohavi says.

In light of the investigation into Lubaton’s death, the army chief orders the removal of the then-commander of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s Beersheba station from the unit.

“The officer, who held the rank of major, was removed from Metzah, will not serve in positions of command and he will not be able to be promoted for six years in light of his command responsibility for the incidents,” the IDF says in a statement.

In addition, four other officers received official reprimands: the commander of the Military Police Investigatory Unit’s southern division and Lubaton’s three direct commanders in his squad leaders’ course for their failures during the searches for him after he went missing.

The military says the Military Police Investigatory Unit is also reviewing and updating its methods of recruiting informants.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu thanks Likud lawmakers for backing at court

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is speaking to his Likud faction in his first public comments since he appeared in court on Sunday.

He thanks lawmakers for standing beside him, and castigates what he says is “fake news” accusing him of trying to use the support of a Holocaust survivor to score points.

“You strengthened me,” he says and receives a round of muted applause from party lawmakers.

Among other matters, he also doubles down on his promise to start annexing parts of the West Bank despite threats of consequences from international allies.

Brussels Airlines to resume Israel flights next month

Struggling Brussels Airlines will restart commercial flights to Israel and other destinations next month with a significantly downsized summer schedule following a 12-week interruption due to the coronavirus.

The company says in a statement Monday it will restart flying operations to Tel Aviv and destinations around Europe the week of June 15, and plans to reach 59 destinations in 33 countries in Europe, Africa and the US by August.

Illustrative image of a Brussels Airlines Airbus A319-100 at the Brussels Airport on October 28, 2007. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)

Hard-hit by the crisis, the Lufthansa subsidiary announced earlier this month it is planning to cut a quarter of its workforce as part of a cost-cutting plan.

The company, which employs 4,000 people, has like many airlines suspended flights as a result of the pandemic. It said it is losing 1 million euros ($1.1 million) a day because of revenue losses, aircraft leasing and maintenance costs, and has asked the government for support.

— with AP

Court says army cannot raze home of Palestinian suspect in student’s slaying

The High Court has ordered a stop to the planned demolition of the family home of a Palestinian suspected of involvement in the terrorist killing of yeshiva student Dvir Sorek, 18, last year.

The court rules 2-1 that the family of Mahmoud Atouna did not support his actions and razing their home would have no deterrent effect.

Dvir Sorek, 18, a yeshiva student and off-duty IDF soldier who was found stabbed to death outside a West Bank settlement on August 8, 2019 (Courtesy)

Atouna is accused of being part of a five-man cell that grabbed Sorek as he got off a bus in the West Bank and killed him, leaving his body on the side of the road.

Sorek was a student at a hesder yeshiva which combines Torah study with military service.

The judges rule that Atouna’s wife and three children did not know about his actions or support them and that too much time has passed for the demolition to have an intended deterrent effect.

The IDF in November razed the homes of the four other members of the cell.

Israel asks Twitter to ban Iranian leader

Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen has sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey calling for the “immediate suspension” of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s account “over his consistent posting of anti-Semitic and genocidal posts,” her ministry says in a statement.

“Examples of such include Khamenei calling for the ‘elimination’ of the ‘Zionist entity’ while asserting the ‘Zionist regime is a deadly, cancerous growth,’ which must ‘be uprooted and destroyed.’ He also compared Israel to the deadly coronavirus, ‘the Zionist regime is a reality that the region must come to terms with. Today the #Covid_19 is a reality; should it be accepted or fought?!… Zionism will be uprooted,'” according to the statement.

Khamenei was most recently panned for his tweeting of a poster calling a Palestinian referendum “the final solution.”

The regime has defended the tweeting as not anti-Semitic, since it calls for destroying only Israel and not all Jews.

Farkash-Hacohen, a member of the security cabinet, says that Twitter’s own company policies ban the propagation of anti-Semitism, support of terror groups and calls for genocide.

“The company’s Hateful Conduct Policy stipulates that a user ‘may not promote violence against, or directly attack, or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religious affiliation… or calls for mass murder,'” her office says.

There is no immediate response from Twitter. As of this writing Khamenei’s account remains active.

In the past, Israel has managed to have Twitter ban only Israelis from seeing tweets from terror groups.

— with Raphael Ahren

Initial reports of stabbing in Jerusalem

There are initial reports of a stabbing in Jerusalem in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood.

The suspected stabber has been “neutralized” according to Channel 12 news.

Unclear if any injuries in Jerusalem stabbing

There are conflicting reports over whether a police officer was injured in the stabbing in Jerusalem, or whether there were no injuries.

The condition of the suspected attacker is also unknown.

The stabbing reportedly took place on Meir Nakar Street in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood.

Police confirm attempted stabbing; no injuries reported

Police confirm that an attempted stabbing took place in the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

According to the Zaka emergency response service, the assailant was shot by officers and was “neutralized.” His condition is not immediately known.

No other injuries are reported.

— Judah Ari Gross

Access to Jabel Mukaber blocked — report

The Kan broadcaster reports that police have shut entrances in and out of Jabel Mukaber following the attempted attack.

Video from the scene shows border police officer and emergency crews rushing around next to a police post in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood.

Jerusalem assailant tried to stab cop — police

Police say the assailant in Jerusalem attempted to stab a police officer, who shot the suspect, injuring him.

— Judah Ari Gross

Spain to lift mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers in July

Spain says it will lift a 2-week mandatory confinement for all travelers arriving from overseas starting July 1.

The government says in a brief statement that cabinet ministers made the decision to lift the mandatory quarantine during a meeting Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had already announced over the weekend that his nation was ready to welcome some foreign visitors in July.

The government is looking to establish safe corridors between parts of Spain that have the outbreak under control and similar areas in Europe that are an important source of tourists. There has been no talk so far of reopening to travelers from outside the European Union.

Spain is one of the world’s most visited countries, attracting over 80 million international tourists each year. The industry represents 12% of Spain’s GDP and employs 2.6 million people. Its economic importance is even greater on Spain’s Canary and Balearic archipelagos.

— AP

El Al union leaders accused of tossing chairs, coffee to blow up labor talks

The union leadership at struggling national carrier El Al has been suspended by the Histadrut labor federation after a labor meeting ended with overturned chairs and spilled coffee, Channel 12 news reports.

Video published by Hebrew media outlets show some chairs knocked over and coffee spilled on a desk. The channel says the meeting had been between the union leaders, the Histadrut and airline management.

However, according to Ynet, the union leaders busted into a meeting between pilots and the Histadrut and confronted them in an effort to blow up the talks, spilling drinks and throwing chairs.

Tensions at the carrier have been high as it has slashed its workforce by some 90 percent and dipped into pension accounts to stay afloat amid the coronavirus crisis. The airline is seeking a government bailout to save it from insolvency and being broken apart.

In a statement quoted by Ynet, labor leaders say half of the pilots have been rehired and more may be headed back, while almost all other workers remain laid off, accusing them and the Histadrut of “bullying behavior.”

Deaths in no-lockdown Sweden surpass 4,000 mark

Sweden, which has gained international attention for its softer approach to the coronavirus than many of its European neighbors, says its number of deaths passed the 4,000 mark.

The Public Health Agency says it has recorded 4,029 deaths and 33,843 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country of some 10.3 million inhabitants, with 90 percent of the deceased over the age of 70.

Sweden’s death toll has far surpassed the tolls in neighboring Nordic countries, which have all imposed more restrictive containment measures.

According to AFP’s own database, Sweden’s virus death rate of 399 per million inhabitants is far higher than Norway’s 43 per million, Denmark’s 97, or Finland’s 55.

However it is still lower than for France at 435 per million, Britain and Italy, both at 542, and Spain at 615.


Putin returns to Kremlin for rare meeting

Russia President Vladimir Putin has made a rare recent appearance in the Kremlin on Monday as Moscow prepares to ease restrictions imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.

The 67-year-old has worked remotely over the past few weeks from his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, chairing meetings with officials by video conference.

But on Monday, Putin held talks with the general director of Russian Railways, Oleg Belozerov, at the Kremlin, his office says.

A spokesman says he does not know if Putin would be returning to work full time in the Kremlin.

According to his official schedule, Putin was last in the Kremlin on May 9 for celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.


Health Ministry official: Some may be refusing to get tested for COVID-19

Health Ministry infectious diseases official Dr. Tal Brosh tells the Ynet news site that there appears to be a growing phenomenon of people showing symptoms of COVID-19 refusing to be tested because they are afraid of the results.

It’s unclear if the trend is connected to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. There were reports of a similar phenomenon in the lead-up to Passover as some were worried about having to spend the holiday alone.

People wear protective face masks as they shop at the Carmel market in Tel Aviv, on May 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Brosh says the low number of new confirmed daily infections is encouraging and says the ministry is prepared to respond to a second outbreak.

He also appears to criticize officials for not yet reopening train service. “I don’t understand why the trains are not running. There are risks with everyone and I don’t see any big difference between a bus and a train regarding this.”

Candidate Biden emerges for first time in two months

Joe Biden has made his first in-person appearance in more than two months on Monday, as he marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home.

Since abruptly canceling a March 10 rally in Cleveland at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has waged much of his campaign from his home in Wilmington. When Biden emerged on Monday, he wore a face mask, in contrast to President Donald Trump, who has refused to cover his face in public as health officials recommend.

Biden and his wife, Jill, laid a wreath of white flowers tied with a white bow, and bowed their heads in silence at the park.

Democratic presidential candidate and former US vice president Joe Biden with his wife Jill Biden, pay their respects to fallen service members on Memorial Day at Delaware Memorial Bridge Veteran’s Memorial Park in Wilmington, Delaware, May 25, 2020. (Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)

The appearance was a milestone in a presidential campaign that has largely been frozen by the coronavirus outbreak. While the feasibility of traditional events such as rallies and the presidential conventions are in doubt, Biden’s emergence suggests he will not spend the nearly five months that remain until the election entirely at home.

— AP

UK aide at center of storm defends breaking lockdown

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s aide Dominic Cummings says he was in an “exceptional situation” and broke no rules when he drove 250 miles (400 km) to his parents’ house during a nationwide lockdown.

In an exceptionally rare televised statement, Cummings gave a detailed account of his movements in late March and early April, which have caused an intense political storm.

Cummings said he traveled so that extended family could care for his 4-year-old son if he and his wife, who were infected with the coronavirus, both fell ill.

Number 10 special adviser Dominic Cummings speaks at a press conference in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street in central London on May 25, 2020 (Jonathan Brady / POOL / AFP)

His trip came after the government imposed a strict “stay home” order, and Cummings is being accused of flouting the rules he helped impose on the rest of the country.

Cummings insisted that “the rules … allowed me to exercise my judgment.”

He said “I don’t regret what I did,” though he acknowledged that “reasonable people” might disagree with his actions.

— AP

WHO freezes study of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine

The World Health Organization says that it will temporarily drop hydroxychloroquine — the malaria drug US President Trump said he is taking — from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments, saying that its experts need to review all available evidence to date.

In a news briefing on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that in light of a paper published last week in the Lancet, that showed people taking hydroxychloroquine were at higher risk of death and heart problems than those that were not, there would be “a temporary pause” on the hydroxychloroquine arm of its global clinical trial.

“This concern relates to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19,” Tedros said, adding that the drugs are accepted treatments for people with malaria or auto-immune diseases.

Hydroxychloroquine pills. (AP/John Locher)

Last month, Israel imported millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine from India, despite questions over its efficacy or safety, and despite the fact that locally-based Teva is a manufacturer of the drug.

The government said it had done so just in case the drug turned out to help against the coronavirus, though it has apparently not done so with other promising treatments.

Other treatments in the study, including the experimental drug Remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy, are still being pursued.

— with AP

Coronavirus death toll rises to 281

The Health Ministry confirms two new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday, the first fatalities in five days, bringing the death toll to 281.

It says there were 17 new cases since Sunday night, and 2,146 cases remain active.

The number of people on ventilators is down to 29, a decrease of five from the evening before.

41 people remain in serious condition.

Police excoriate Netanyahu after court tirade

Police sources are not taking vociferous criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu totally lying down, with a source from the force excoriating the Likud leader and criminal suspect, and hinting that another probe could be opened.

“There has never been a prime minister here who tried like this to goad and hurt the law enforcement in such an overt way,” Channel 12 quotes the unnamed source as saying. “Netanyahu’s baseless claims say more about him than about investigators and the prosecution.”

The source also defends police work thus far and says that if attorney general orders an investigation into a suspected questionable business deal “we’ll receive him respectfully, but, as with investigations in the past, won’t cut him any breaks.”

Netanyahu is alleged to have made millions by selling shares of a company that became a major supplier to ThyssenKrupp, the German shipbuilder accused of bribing officials close to Netanyahu for a tender to build military vessels for Israel, raising conflict of interest concerns.

Opposition Yamina sidles up to Netanyahu with proposal to ban probes of PMs

Despite being in the opposition, the right-wing Yamina party appears to be broadcasting a willingness to work for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing that it has introduced a proposal that would prevent the prosecution of a sitting prime minister except in serious cases.

The party says the law would prevent situations of the kind that they see now, in which the prime minister has trouble running the affairs of state, while also having to defend himself in court, giving the prosecution an edge, it says.

“Recently, we’ve borne testimony in the most concrete way to the heavy damage caused by investigations against a sitting prime minister to democracy, stability of the ruling powers and public trust in the law enforcement system, which is seen, rightly, as a political actor,” the party says, siding with Netanyahu, who has dismissed the allegations against him as a political witchhunt meant to oust him from power and undermine the will of the voting public.

The oft bandied, and rejected proposal is dubbed the “French Law,” after similar legislation that exists in the namesake country, though in France it is coupled with a term limit, which analysts say is the only way to keep it from turning into a legislative cover for unbridled law-breaking by a de facto dictator.

Netanyahu mulling pushing for more time in court, televised trial — reports

Channel 13 legal analyst Baruch Kara says Netanyahu is mulling whether he wants to be present more in his court case to try and impact the testimony of witnesses.

At the same time, according to Kara, doing so risks the attorney general recommending that he resign, since it may be impossible to run the country and be in court 2-3 times a week.

According to Channel 12, Netanyahu’s associates are also thinking about pushing to have the trial broadcast live, in order to make it into more of a media spectacle and put pressure on those who might not want to be seen in public trying to take the prime minister down.

Spain shaves coronavirus death toll by almost 2,000

In a surprise announcement, Spain has corrected its official death toll from COVID-19, saying that almost 2,000 fewer people than previously thought have died from the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

A Health Ministry statement Monday said that the death toll stands at 26,834 — down from the death toll published a day earlier of 28,752.

Fernando Simón, the director of Spain’s health alerts and emergency center, said the discrepancy was detected as officials sifted through and corrected data collected since the pandemic reached Spain.

Officials have deleted deaths counted twice and deceased people who were not cases confirmed by tests, for example. The quality of data being gathered has improved considerably, he said, adding that automated data collection had introduced errors.

However, the figures do not include the thousands of people who are believed to have died, especially in nursing homes, with symptoms attributable to the coronavirus, though unconfirmed.

Spanish regions have reported that the number of deaths in nursing homes, of both confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases, is close to 19,000.

The Health Ministry said 50 people died Monday, one of the lowest daily tolls in weeks.

Spain has officially recorded 235,400 cases, 246 of them new.

— AP

Hackers tried to sabotage Israeli anti-coronavirus efforts — report

Channel 12 news reports that among the cyber attacks on Israeli websites last week was an attempt to break into the computer system of institutes working to find a cure for the coronavirus.

According to the report, which does not cite a source, hackers attempted to break in, not to steal information, but to sabotage the research being done. It says the attempts were unsuccessful.

The report does not say what institutes were hacked. Israel’s military bio-defense institute is thought to be leading efforts for a vaccine, and has announced a possible breakthrough. A number of other Israeli bodies, both private and government-run are also doing research into how the disease develops and spreads in the hopes of stemming it.

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West Bank to reopen after virus lockdown, Palestinian PM announces

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh says the West Bank will reopen on Tuesday after a dramatic slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus.

Shtayyeh says shops, restaurants and mosques and churches will reopen on Tuesday, while government offices will reopen on Wednesday following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous areas of the West Bank, imposed a strict lockdown in March.

The Palestinians reported 368 cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank, with two deaths.

— AP