Ministers to rule on closure of 8 cities, parts of Jerusalem to stem outbreak

Ministers to rule on closure of 8 cities, parts of Jerusalem to stem outbreak

Move would place ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in capital, handful of areas around the country on lockdown, though restrictions will be more lax than in hotspot Bnei Brak

An Israeli border policeman inspects the papers of a driver at a checkpoint located at the exit of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 3, 2020. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
An Israeli border policeman inspects the papers of a driver at a checkpoint located at the exit of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 3, 2020. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

Ministers were set Monday to rule on enforcing a tighter closure over eight cities and 15 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

The cities set to be included in the decision are Tiberias, Elad, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Or Yehuda, Modiin Illit, and parts of Beit Shemesh.

The Jerusalem neighborhoods that are to be sealed include Har Nof, Bayit Vegan, Givat Mordechai, Ramat Shlomo, Sanhedria, Shmuel Hanavi, Beit Yisrael, Mea Shearim, Geula, Bucharim, Zichron Moshe, Ramot, Makor Baruch, Givat Shaul, and Kiryat Moshe.

Ministers were also expected to approve extending the lockdown of Bnei Brak — which began on Friday after the ultra-Orthodox town recorded one of Israel’s largest outbreaks of the coronavirus — for a further week.

It remains unclear what the new guidelines will be, though they will likely include a broader military presence to enforce the restrictions. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said on Sunday night that Jerusalem would be divided into eight regions, with residents only allowed to shop for essential supplies within the borders of their regions.

Israelis are already banned from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes, with exceptions made for work and purchasing essential supplies.

The new restrictions are, however, expected to be less severe than those currently in place in Bnei Brak, with the Ynet news site terming them a “breathing closure.”

Israeli police officers check vehicles at a checkpoint in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, on April 3, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Early Monday morning, the cabinet adopted several decisions to allow the government to close off the cities and neighborhoods across Israel and the West Bank.

The cabinet, which met via telephone, authorized a ministerial committee to declare various areas in Israel with high infection rates “restricted areas,” and gave the same powers to the Israel Defense Forces commander in the West Bank.

The cabinet statement, issued after midnight, did not say who the members of the committee would be.

According to Ynet, two cities, Migdal Haemek and Or Yehuda, were included on the list to meet the demand of Health Minister Yaacov Litzman and Deri, who insisted that not only areas with large ultra-Orthodox populations be put under lockdown. Both ministers were reported to have voiced opposition to further lockdowns on ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

The IDF is likely step up its operations in the locked down cities and neighborhoods, many of which are home to sizable ultra-Orthodox communities. Many in the ultra-Orthodox community initially dismissed social distancing regulations, which officials say has led to the high rate of infection.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visits troops operating in Bnei Brak after leaving isolation following contact with coronavirus carrier, April 5, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday night said he had given approval for the deployment of another 700 IDF soldiers to help police enforce emergency restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus. It was unclear when the troops would be deployed and there was no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces.

The Beitar Illit Municipality announced Sunday evening that, effective immediately, only residents of the ultra-Orthodox settlement would be allowed into the community.

On Sunday, Deri also said the government is considering imposing a general lockdown over all of Israel ahead of the Passover holiday.

Deri told Channel 12 that the potential nationwide closure was aimed at stopping extended families from gathering Wednesday night for the Passover Seder, the first eve of the seven-day festival, which is traditionally celebrated in large groups.

Deri called for Israelis to prepare for the potential closure and said anyone driving that evening could be stopped by police.

Speaking Monday morning, Health Ministry Deputy Director Itamar Grotto said a closure appeared to be the most likely course of action.

“Will there be a total closure on the Seder? As it seems right now, the answer is yes,” he told Army Radio. “There will be strong enforcement in this regard so that everyone will [celebrate the festival] with his or her family only.”

The disease has claimed the lives of at least 49 people in Israel as of Sunday evening, with over 8,400 people confirmed to be carriers of the virus.

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