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Government to reportedly discuss lifting additional virus restrictions

Ending closure of parks and malls, lifting 100-meter limit Israelis can go from their homes if not for approved reason said to be among restrictions that ministers could scrap

Israelis at the beach in Rishon Lezion on May 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Israelis at the beach in Rishon Lezion on May 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Friday’s developments as they unfolded.

Shaare Zedek hospital closes coronavirus ward after all patients recover

A further coronavirus ward at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem has closed after the last of its patients recovered, Hebrew media reports.

The last three patients aged 88, 91 and 93 all made a full recovery.

The ward opened on March 9 and has since treated dozens of patients. Over the past week the hospital has closed three coronavirus wards and is reinstating its regular medical operations.

Ministers to vote on reopening of schools, kindergartens on Sunday

Ministers will meet at 10 a.m. to make a final decision on whether schools and kindergartens will reopen on Sunday.

The vote comes after the National Security Council recommended that schools remain shuttered for an additional week, saying that educational institutions have not made the necessary preparations to receive students during the pandemic.

Officials in the Health Ministry are pushing to also postpone the reopening of kindergartens and preschools until later in May.

German extremists plan May 1 protests against virus restrictions

A fringe protest group of extremists from the left and right of the political spectrum is plotting further rallies against Germany’s coronavirus restrictions today, to coincide with traditional May 1 demonstrations.

In the capital Berlin, 5,000 police officers are set to be deployed to enforce rules which limit registered protests to 20 people on a day usually characterised by large left-wing demonstrations and street festivals.

The city’s hard-left scene has vowed to adapt its traditional May 1 march to observe social distancing and reduce infection risk, but authorities face a further headache this year from others intending to oppose the coronavirus measures.

“May 1 must not become another Ischgl,” the interior minister for Berlin, Andreas Geisel, said this week, referencing the Austrian ski resort which became a hotbed of infection earlier this year.

Beijing’s parks and museums, including ancient Forbidden City, reopen to public

China’s Forbidden City reopens with all tickets for the May 1-5 holiday sold out, and a limit of 5,000 visitors a day, down from the earlier maximum of 80,000.

The Chinese capital reopens its parks and museums, with controlled entries, about three months after hundreds of millions of people were ordered into a near lockdown as the coronavirus outbreak erupted in the central city of Wuhan.

China reports 12 new cases, six of them brought from overseas, and no new deaths for the 16th day.

Beijing on Thursday downgraded its level of emergency response to the virus, but temperature checks and social distancing remain in force.

— AP

Ashkelon parents held over suspected abuse of baby

The mother and father of a baby from Ashkelon have been arrested after a hospital reported suspected abuse to local police.

The hospital says a physical examination of the baby revealed “severe injuries” to the upper body.

Ashkelon police say the couple are being held for questioning and a remand hearing will be held later today.

Israel said to strike Hezbollah munitions warehouse in Syria

Israel bombed a munitions warehouse in central Syria this morning, in a rare daylight strike, sparking a massive explosion, according to reports from Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor says the arms cache, located near Homs, belonged to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group and contained missiles and ammunition.

Syrian state media outlet SANA reported that the attack triggered secondary explosions and that a number of civilians were wounded, citing the local Homs governor.

SANA said the nature of the attack “was not yet known.”

Though the Syrian government did not immediately accuse Jerusalem of being behind the strike, a number of outlets in the country reported that Israel was responsible for it.

The attack came hours after a series of strikes on Iran-backed forces in the Syrian Golan Heights, across the border from Israel.

— Judah Ari Gross

Report finds 40 percent of recent coronavirus infections in children

Some 855 out of 2,090 new confirmed coronavirus cases from April 19 to 29 are children under the age of 19, Hebrew language website Ynet reports, citing a study published by the Health Ministry’s National Coronavirus Information Center.

According to the study the number of children infected with the novel coronavirus was initially low but has now climbed to 40%. The study also found that 36% of new cases are ages 20-44; 12% are ages 44-59; 5% are ages 60-70; 3% are ages 71 to-80, and the remainder of those infected are over 81.

Report – Netanyahu supports limited reopening of schools on Sunday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov have come out in support of reopening first to third grades this coming Sunday, according to Hebrew media reports from an ongoing meeting of ministers discussing further easing of coronavirus restrictions.

According to the reports, day care centers for children under three years of age will also reopen, while in ultra-Orthodox schools, fifth to eighth grades will be reopened instead of first to third grades.

Justice minister calls on judge to recuse himself from petition on acting state attorney’s term

Justice Minister Amir Ohana calls on High Court Justice Mani Mazuz to recuse himself from hearing a petition on the extension of the term of acting state attorney Dan Eldad, whose term ends tonight.

Ohana says that if Mazuz hears the cases there is a ” real fear of impartiality.”

He adds: “Justice Mazuz would do well to recuse himself from presiding over an issue where he has actually decided his position apriori, publicly and clearly (contrary to the law). Justice Mazuz would have done well not to speak out in public against a serving justice minister — and having done so should have disqualified himself from hearing the petitions against him, if only for the appearance of justice, I have decided to embark on a legal battle.”

Yesterday, the High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction preventing a three-month extension of the tenure of acting Eldad, which Ohana had been expected to announce later in the day.

Minister of Justice Amir Ohana speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ media group, February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Partial return to school confirmed for Sunday; all students to return by June 1 

First through third graders and 11th and 12th graders will return to school on Sunday, the government announces. 

A full return to school for all grades and frameworks is expected by June 1. 

The announcement reads: “Further to a debate held on April 27 and subject to the conditions set, this coming Sunday, May 3, schools will be reopened as follows subject to the health and sanitary requirement set by the Health Ministry

1. General Education [Opening Sunday]

Grades 1-3; Grades 11 and 12

Special education students

In ultra-Orthodox schools: 6th and 7th grades and “minor Yeshivas”

Children at risk: To be decided

2. Childcare and kindergartens  (Ages 0-6): To be reopened May 10

3. Grades 3-10 – No later than June 1

4. Pre-nursery: Up to five families

5.  Studies will not be defined as mandatory for the moment with the exception of matriculation exams

6. The Education Ministry will introduce measures to ensure social distancing

Some municipalities say won’t reopen schools on Sunday

Within minutes of the cabinet announcement of a partial return to school Sunday, several municipalities say they are not ready to comply with the last-minute decision, with some charging that the decision is irresponsible.

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai says: “Our schools and kindergartens are clean and the teams are ready, but we will not go by rules set by people who do not act responsibly.”

Ramat Gan mayor Carmel Schama Hacohen says that the decision is “disconnected from reality on the ground” and that Ramat Gan will open schools only when all problems have been solved.

So far, the Bat Yam, Safed and Kiryat Malachi municipalities have all said they will not return Sunday.

MK Ahmed Tibi says Arab schools will also not return Sunday.

Givatayim breaks ranks, welcomes return to school

The forum of 15 independent municipalities joins several others in saying that it will not open its schools Sunday to first through third graders and 11th and 12th graders in line with the government decision earlier this morning.

However, Givatayim, which is a member of the forum, welcomes the decision and says it will open its schools on Sunday. Mayor Ran Konik says, “since school is not mandatory, we will be happy to receive anyone who decides to come on Sunday.”

The forum of 15 cites “irregularities in the government’s guidelines.”

“Since out municipalities are the ones that have to implement the decisions on the ground, we wish to clarify that under the circumstances, and given the fact that we have yet to receive clear and practical guidelines for reopening the education system, we believe that the date set by the government does not enable us to implement it in a safe manner,” the forum says in a statement.

Confirmed coronavirus case said to have gone shopping at Ikea despite feeling ill

A resident of an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem went shopping at an Ikea branch in Rishon Lezion despite not feeling well, and was later confirmed as having been infected with coronavirus, Ynet reports.

According to the report, an epidemiological investigation found that the man spent an hour at the Ikea store between 4-5 p.m. on Monday, April 27.

Health Ministry sources tell Ynet that the man “knew he was suffering from symptoms.”

An Ikea spokesperson tells Ynet that the chain operates subject to Health Ministry guidelines and that it is checking the details of the incident.

Families, friends and comrades of fallen soldiers and terror victims hold a ceremony outside the Ikea store in Rishon Lezion April 28, 2020, as part of a protest against the government’s closure of military cemeteries on Memorial Day. (Cadya Levy/Flash90)

Biden denies former staffer’s sexual assault allegation

Joe Biden denies a former Senate staffer’s allegation of sexual assault, saying the accusation is “not true.”

“This never happened,” Biden says in a statement.

It’s Biden’s first public comment on an accusation of sexual assault by his former Senate staffer, Tara Reade. He is to appear on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss the allegation for the first time on television.

Biden said he will ask the National Archives to determine whether there is any record of such a complaint being filed.

— AP

Croatia’s leftist president leaves ceremony in protest of shirt displaying pro-Nazi salute

ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s leftist president walks out of a state ceremony in protest after one of the participants wore a T-shirt displaying a salute used during World War II by a pro-Nazi regime in the country.

“This is a deliberate provocation,” Zoran Milanovic says. “I don’t want to be part of it.”

The salute is often displayed by Croatia’s far-right extremists. Many glorify the WWII Croatian state although tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists were killed in its concentration camps.

Today’s incident happened during a formal ceremony marking the anniversary of a 1995 military operation when Croatia’s army liberated a swath of territory held by rebel Serbs during the countries’ 1991-95 war.

Croatian media reports that a man, apparently a former fighter from the 1991-95 conflict, was wearing a T-shirt with the WWII salute which prompted Milanovic’s walkout. Other top officials, including conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, stayed.

“No one knew they would wear those T-shirts,” says Plenkovic. “Anyone who died for Croatia has my respect … we are here to honor the fallen.”

Croatia’s conservative government has faced criticism for failing to curb pro-Nazi sentiments in the country. The dominant conservative party, the Croatian Democratic Union, has a strong right-wing faction.

Milanovic, who won election in January as the candidate of liberal opposition, has demanded that Croatia’s parliament formally outlaws the disputed salute.

— AP

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic addresses the media after talks with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, March 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Roland Zak)

Police said to complain of public’s ‘weakening discipline’ in adhering to virus restrictions

Police are complaining of a “significant weakening of discipline” among the public regarding adherence to coronavirus restrictions, Channel 13 news reports, as some Israelis take advantage of the warm weather to spend time outside.

As the number of new infections slows, the government has begun loosening restrictions meant to contain the pandemic, such as lifting the limit on the distance Israelis can exercise from their homes and allowing many businesses to reopen.

However, it has also kept in a place a ban on traveling more than 100 meters from one’s home if not for a permitted activity, while requiring Israelis to wear a mask outside and urging them to follow social distancing directives.

Police sources quoted by the network stress that they are continuing to enforce the restrictions.

The comments from police come as dozens of Israelis hangout at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square, many of whom are sitting close together and appear to be not wearing face coverings.

Education Ministry says schools must be reopened by Tuesday at the latest

The Education Ministry says municipalities must reopen some schools by Tuesday at the latest, after local authorities through Israel said they wouldn’t do so Sunday despite a cabinet decision.

2 yeshiva students in Ashdod fined for allegedly violating prayer restrictions

Police fine two seminary students in the southern coastal city of Ashdod for allegedly taking part in prayers on the roof of their yeshiva in violation of emergency directives meant to contain the coronavirus.

Video aired by the Kan public broadcaster shows a large group of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators standing outside the Grudna Yeshiva and yelling at the police.

Trial begins in Denmark of man accused of attack plot for Iran

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The trial of a Norwegian-Iranian man accused of espionage and attempted murder in Denmark on behalf of Iran opens today in Roskilde, west of Copenhagen.

The 40-year-old is accused of preparing the assassination of an Iranian exile, the leader of an Arab separatist group, ASMLA (the Arab Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz), prosecutor Soren Harbo tells the court.

The accused, who denies the charges, is said to have carried out an intelligence operation in Denmark “on the orders and under the instructions of the Iranian intelligence service,” according to the indictment consulted by AFP.

He is alleged to have photographed and filmed around the home of the exile for three days in September 2018.

To thwart the planned attack, the Danish Intelligence Service (PET) and the police carried out a major operation on September 28, 2018, which paralyzed the country for several hours.

Copenhagen believes the foiled attack was instigated by the Iranian regime in retaliation for an attack in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, that killed 24 people in September 2018.

Tehran has formally denied the plan to attack in Denmark.

A verdict is expected at the end of June.

— AFP

Woman hurt in Memorial Day terror stabbing released from hospital

A 62-year-old woman who was stabbed in a terror attack earlier this week in the central city of Kfar Saba is released from the hospital.

The woman was in serious to moderate condition after the attack on Tuesday, which was Israel’s Memorial Day.

Netanyahu slams as ‘libel’ AG’s reported concern he’s being followed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing back against a story in the Haaretz daily saying Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who indicted the premier in a series of graft cases, has told subordinates of concerns he’s being followed.

According to Haaretz, Mandelblit has told some people he works with that he acts as if his phone is being tapped and that he is being followed from place to place. The newspaper quoted him recently telling a subordinate to close the blinds in his office ahead of a meeting, concerned that someone could take pictures through the window.

The piece, an analysis saying Mandelblit believes Netanyahu is a danger to the country, did not quote the attorney general saying definitely that he was being tracked or that Netanyahu was responsible for this.

“Today [reporter] Gidi Weitz in Haaretz tells of another false and shocking libel against me, which this time is attributed to the attorney general. Unbelievable,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

The prime minister, who slammed Mandelblit’s decision to indict him in November as an “attempted coup,” grouped the attorney general’s reported concerns with past “libel” by ex-police chief Roni Alsheich and senior investigator Roni Rittman.

Alsheich had alleged in an interview that officers investigating Netanyahu were put under pressure and being followed, while leaked emails suggested that Rittman believed a female police officer who had accused him of sexual assault was doing so to try and bring him down.

Netanyahu, who denies any criminal wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that the charges against him are the efforts of political rivals, the media and law enforcement to remove him from office.

UK virus death toll rises by 739 to 27,510

LONDON — Britain’s health minister says 739 more people have died after testing positive for COVID-19, taking the total toll to 27,711.

Matt Hancock also announces that Britain had met its goal of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, saying that 122,347 tests were achieved yesterday, calling it an “incredible achievement.”

— AFP

With clock ticking, Netanyahu and Gantz say will continue to work on forming government

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz discuss efforts to form a new government, a joint statement parties says.

“[They] discussed the progress in the fight against the coronavirus, the gradual return to routine and the establishment of a coronavirus cabinet” that will focus on the pandemic, according to the statement.

They also agree “to continue to work in coordination” next week in the Knesset “to form an emergency and unity government soon.”

Next week will be a make or break situation for the prospective new government, as the Knesset will automatically dissolve on May 7 if no MK secures majority backing to assemble a coalition before then, leading to fresh elections.

Before the deadline, the High Court of Justice will hear petitions against the coalition deal between the prime minister’s Likud and Blue and White, as well against the tasking of Netanyahu with forming a government due to his indictment on graft charges.

Likud and Blue and White must also complete the legislative process to anchor their coalition deal in law.

Government to reportedly discuss lifting additional virus restrictions

The government will meet on Sunday to discuss easing further virus-related restrictions, the Ynet news site reports.

According to the report, on the table will be cancelling the closure of parks, malls and open-air markets, as well as lifting the limit of 100 meters Israelis can go from their homes if not for a permitted activity.

Ministers will also reportedly discuss allowing people to again swim at the beach and at pools.

TV: Only 4 cities in Israel have recorded more than 5 new infections in past few days

Only four cities in Israel have recorded more than five new coronavirus cases in the past days, Channel 12 news reports.

The cities are Jerusalem, Hura, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh.

Number of virus infections rises to 16,101, with 225 deaths

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rises to 16,101, an increase of 155 over the last 24 hours.

There have been 225 deaths in Israel from the virus, up three from last night.

According to the Health Ministry, 103 people infected with COVID-19 are in serious condition, 83 of whom are on ventilators.

Another 77 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 9,156 people have recovered from the virus, while 6,720 are currently sick.

France reports lowest daily virus death toll in five weeks

PARIS — France reports 218 coronavirus deaths, the smallest number in a 24-hour period in more than five weeks.

Meanwhile, 144 fewer people are being treated today in intensive care units, top health official Jerome Salomon says.

The number of ICU patients peaked at 7,200 on April 9.

The last time the country recorded such a low daily number of fatalities was March 23, when there were 186 registered deaths.

France has the fourth highest death toll in Europe, with 24,594.

For Europe as a whole, the death toll has topped 140,000, according to a tally compiled by AFP based on officials sources.

The French government has announced the country’s strict lockdown will be eased from May 11, but the pace will be slower in harder hit areas such as the greater Paris area and the northeast quarter of the country.

— AFP

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With clock ticking, Netanyahu and Gantz say will continue to work on forming government

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz discuss efforts to form a new government, a joint statement parties says.

“[They] discussed the progress in the fight against the coronavirus, the gradual return to routine and the establishment of a coronavirus cabinet” that will focus on the pandemic, according to the statement.

They also agree “to continue to work in coordination” next week in the Knesset “to form an emergency and unity government soon.”

Next week will be a make or break situation for the prospective new government, as the Knesset will automatically dissolve on May 7 if no MK secures majority backing to assemble a coalition before then, leading to fresh elections.

Before the deadline, the High Court of Justice will hear petitions against the coalition deal between the prime minister’s Likud and Blue and White, as well against the tasking of Netanyahu with forming a government due to his indictment on graft charges.

Likud and Blue and White must also complete the legislative process to anchor their coalition deal in law.