US ambassador keeps away from Pompeo after experiencing respiratory symptoms
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US ambassador keeps away from Pompeo after experiencing respiratory symptoms

David Friedman has tested negative for COVID-19, US Embassy says, but has been advised not to be in proximity of US secretary of state during Israel visit in ‘abundance of caution’

In this March 21, 2019 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. (Jim Young/Pool photo via AP, File)
In this March 21, 2019 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. (Jim Young/Pool photo via AP, File)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has tested negative for COVID-19 after experiencing respiratory symptoms but will nonetheless not come close to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his flash visit to Jerusalem, the US Embassy said.

Pompeo landed in Israel on Wednesday morning for a lightning one-day trip for meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his incoming coalition partner Benny Gantz, which are expected to focus on Iran and West Bank annexation plans.

“Ambassador Friedman is experiencing mild upper-respiratory symptoms,” a US Embassy spokesperson said in a statement. “He was tested for COVID-19 and the result was negative.

“Nevertheless, in an abundance of caution, State Department medical staff have recommended that Ambassador Friedman not be in proximity with Secretary Pompeo,” the spokesperson added.

People in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem after it reopened according to the new government orders, May 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The trip by Pompeo is the first by a senior diplomatic figure to Jerusalem since Israel effectively shut its borders in late March to almost all-non nationals. It is also Pompeo’s first trip abroad since a surprise visit to Afghanistan in March.

The meetings, which will be heavily overshadowed by both the coronavirus crisis and the swearing-in of Israel’s new government scheduled for Thursday, are also expected to touch on ways of dealing with the pandemic and US attempts to pull Israel away from China’s sphere, amid growing tensions between Beijing and Washington over the source of the virus and China’s initial crackdown on information about it.

Pompeo will “discuss US and Israeli efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement earlier this week. “The US commitment to Israel has never been stronger than under President Trump’s leadership. The United States and Israel will face threats to the security and prosperity of our peoples together. In challenging times, we stand by our friends, and our friends stand by us.”

Pompeo is scheduled to meet Netanyahu for talks at the Prime Minister’s Residence at 10 a.m. At 1:30 p.m. he will meet in Jerusalem with Gantz, a former Netanyahu rival who will join his government as defense minister and alternate prime minister as part of a power-sharing arrangement Thursday.

No other public meetings are scheduled.

The trip will be Pompeo’s fourth to Israel since taking office in 2018. He last visited in October to discuss efforts to push Iranian fighters out of Syria.

Israel in recent weeks has rolled back lockdown restrictions as the virus outbreak appears to be under control. Israel’s death toll from the novel coronavirus rose by two to 260 on Tuesday, but fewer than 30 new cases were confirmed for the second straight day, the Health Ministry said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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