Netanyahu Vows ‘Forceful’ Response If More Attacks From Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020. – Israel and the UAE agreed to normalise relations in a landmark US-brokered deal, only the third such accord the Jewish state has struck with an Arab nation. The agreement, first announced by US President Donald Trump on Twitter, will see Israel halt its plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, according to the UAE. (Photo by Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel views with “great gravity” the latest flare-up on the Lebanese border and pledged a tough response in the event of further incidents.

“We shall react forcefully to any attack against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “I advise Hezbollah not to test Israel’s strength. Hezbollah is once again endangering Lebanon due to its aggression.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in 2006.

Israel said earlier it had launched air strikes against Hezbollah observation posts in Lebanon after shots were fired from across the border towards its troops the previous evening.

The border flare-up came hours after Lebanon rejected an Israeli call to reform the UN peacekeeping force which patrols the border ahead of a UN Security Council vote to renew its mandate.

The Israeli army had said earlier that a “security incident” was unfolding near Manara, a kibbutz near the UN-demarcated border between the two countries, and urged residents to take shelter.

It reported no Israeli casualties.

Manara was quiet on Wednesday morning, an AFP journalist reported. The army told residents they could come into the open and resume work in the fields.

AFP

Israel Planning UAE Flights Over Saudi – Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the state memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, at the Hall of Remembrance on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem on October 10, 2019. GALI TIBBON / AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel is working on opening a corridor over Saudi Arabia for flights to the UAE, following last week’s historic deal to normalise ties.

“We are working with maximum energy, and we have already begun to work on opening an air route over Saudi Arabia, which will simply shorten flights between Israel and the UAE,” he said during a visit to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.

“I estimate that we will reach an agreement that will genuinely allow direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai,” he said. “It is a major revolution.”

In March 2018, Air India launched the first scheduled service to Israel allowed to cross Saudi airspace.

It was seen at the time as a sign of a behind-the-scenes improvement in ties between the Arab kingdom and the Jewish state.

During a May 2017 Middle East tour, US President Donald Trump flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One, in a first known direct flights from Saudi Arabia to Israel.

A surprise announcement from Trump last Thursday revealed that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have decided to normalise relations.

It is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has been conspicuously silent on the deal, with no official reaction emerging from Riyadh.

Netanyahu said the deal would not only change Israel’s aviation options, but also its maritime trade.

“Dubai has the largest free trade zones in the world,” he said.

“Now these goods will — under the peace agreement –- reach the State of Israel and lower the prices of products.”

In a letter to UAE leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the deal.

“In these fateful days, leadership is measured by its courage and ability to be groundbreaking and far-sighted,” he wrote in Arabic.

“I make no secret of my hope that this move will also serve as a beacon, illuminating the road ahead for others,” he wrote, extending an invitation to Sheikh Mohamed to visit Israel.

AFP

UAE Deal Marks ‘New Era’ For Israel, Arab World – Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020. – Israel and the UAE agreed to normalise relations in a landmark US-brokered deal, only the third such accord the Jewish state has struck with an Arab nation. Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed “a new era” between Israel and the Arab world on Thursday following a historic US-brokered deal to normalise ties with the United Arab Emirates.

The pact first announced by President Donald Trump includes an agreement from Israel to “suspend” its plans to annex Jewish settlements and territory in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called an “urgent meeting” of his leadership team before announcing the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the deal.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, rejected the Israel-UAE pact as “a reward for the Israeli occupation and crimes” and said it “does not serve the Palestinian people”.

Speaking after Trump’s announcement, Netanyahu said he had agreed to delayed annexation plans, but that the project remained “on the table”.

“I will never give up our rights to our land,” the right-wing premier said.

Netanyahu told a televised news conference: “Today a new era began in the relations between Israel and the Arab world.”

Netanyahu, like many in the Jewish state, refers to the occupied West Bank as Judea and Samaria and claims the territory as part of the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

Israeli plans to annex roughly 30 percent of the West Bank, as outlined in a Trump Middle East peace proposal unveiled in January which triggered global outcry and threats of retaliation against the Jewish state, including from the European Union.

Israel’s alternate prime minister and Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, called the agreement “important and significant”.

“I call upon other Arab nations to advance diplomatic relations in additional peace agreements,” he said.

Once the deal is signed, the UAE will become the third Arab nation to have full diplomatic ties with Israel, following Israeli peace deals with Egypt and Jordan.

AFP

Growing Protests For Resignation Of Israeli PM Netanyahu

A protester clad in mask due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic stands holding a sign reading in English “Bibi let my people go” during a demonstration against the Israeli government near the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

 

“We won’t leave until Bibi leaves.” Israel’s struggle to contain the coronavirus has stirred deep-seated resentment towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and protests demanding his resignation are growing by the week. 

As the Shabbat rest-day was ending on Saturday evening, thousands of demonstrators headed towards Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, the main site for protests that have taken place in multiple cities.

Some demonstrators branded Netanyahu — who has been indicted with bribery, fraud and breach of trust — as corrupt, while others condemned a lack of coherence in the government’s response to the pandemic.

For Tamir Gay-Tsabary, who travels each day to the Jerusalem protests with his wife Tami from southern Israel, coronavirus was “a trigger” that brought renewed focus to Netanyahu’s leadership faults.

The pandemic made people “understand that he doesn’t care (about) Israel, he just cares for himself,” the 56-year-old sales manager told AFP.

Netanyahu won praise for his initial response to the virus.

His government’s quick decisions in March to curb travel and impose a lockdown brought the daily case-count to a trickle by early May.

But an economic re-opening that began in late April has led to an explosion in transmission in the country of about 9 million people, with daily COVID-19 tallies ranging between 1,000 and 2,000 cases in recent weeks.

Anti-government protests that initially included a few hundred people in Tel Aviv, now regularly count several thousand there and in Jerusalem.

Reflecting on the movement, Einav Schiff of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said it began in response to “a premature victory celebration for having defeated the coronavirus”.

That false victory “morphed into a healthcare and economic failure, which has left a severe crisis of confidence between the public and the government in its wake,” he said.

 No ‘plan’ 

In response to rising cases, Netanyahu’s centre-right coalition has re-imposed economically painful restrictions, including targeting shops and markets.

It has also approved additional relief measures, notably cash deposits to all citizens.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu

Protester Amit Finkerstin said the government’s recent moves reveal it does not “have any plan,” making it impossible for people to prepare for the future.

The 27-year-old waitress, currently unemployed because of the pandemic, pointed to restaurant closures as evidence of the policy chaos.

On July 17, the government announced restaurants would mainly be limited to delivery and takeaway.

Four days later, parliament overturned that decision. Then the government passed a law allowing it to bypass parliament on coronavirus restrictions, casting further uncertainty over the sector.

“One day yes one day no,” Finkerstin said. “People can’t earn any money.”

The government’s plan to send at least 750 shekels ($220) to every citizen has been criticised by some economists as a knee-jerk response to mounting economic suffering in the place of smart, targeted aid.

Finkerstin accused the government of giving everyone cash “just to shut our mouth up.”

 ‘Something is happening’ 

Netanyahu has taken responsibility for re-opening the economy too soon but said he was seeking a tricky balance between protecting livelihoods and limiting viral transmission, a challenge faced by many leaders.

A protester holds up a sign reading in English “Bibi Netanyahu & Viktor Orban, same shit, the different name” during a demonstration against the Israeli government near the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

He has also acknowledged the financial pain felt by many in a country where unemployment currently exceeds 20 per cent, compared to 3.4 per cent in February, when Israel recorded its first COVID-19 case.

But, in a series of tweets, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has also sought to undermine the protests as a product of the “anarchist left” and accused the media of exaggerating their size.

In a July 19 tweet that dismissed the protests as an “embarrassment and a disgrace,” Netanyahu highlighted the presence of a Palestinian flag at one rally, saying “the secret is out,” about the movement.

Despite those dismissals, Schiff insisted that “something is happening” in the protest movement known as “black flag”.

“We can all hear, see and mainly feel it,” he wrote on Sunday.

“It isn’t clear yet whether this is a full-fledged earthquake or whether it is merely a tremor that will ultimately pass, but it’s everywhere.”

Israel’s last major protest movement — 2011 demonstrations over the rising cost of living — fizzled without large-scale impact.

AFP

Netanyahu Graft Trial To Start Hearing Evidence In January – Judge

In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

An Israeli court will start hearing evidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial in January, the judge presiding over the case ruled Sunday.

Netanyahu has denied charges against him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The first hearing in the case was on May 24 and a second session was held Sunday, without Netanyahu in attendance.

In a transcript of the session obtained by AFP, Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman set out a timetable for the next stages of the trial, including the stipulation that Netanyahu must enter a plea in writing by October 18.

“The sides should prepare for the hearing of testimony starting from the month of January 2021, (with sessions) three times a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” she wrote, without giving precise dates.

The trial is being held in the Jerusalem district court. Media restrictions are in place due to coronavirus precautions.

At the opening of the trial in May, Netanyahu asked for proceedings to be carried live on television, but cameras were banned from Sunday’s session.

The longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, Netanyahu claims the charges against him — filed by an attorney general that he appointed – are part of a witch-hunt to drive him from office.

The prosecution has assembled over 300 witnesses to back its charges.

The trial had been due to open in March but was postponed to May 24 due to lockdown measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The charges allege that Netanyahu, the first prime minister in Israeli history to be indicted while in office, accepted improper gifts and sought to illegally trade favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.

Israeli law professor Gad Barzilai has predicted that the proceedings will be “long and tedious.”

Netanyahu’s lawyers, he told reporters last week, were likely to seek further delays, asking for more prosecution documents and for a ruling that he is eligible for state aid toward his legal costs.

“The prosecution would like to end procedures in about two or three years,” Barzilai said.

One of Netanyahu’s top defence lawyers dropped his client last week, sources said, after the premier was denied permission to receive private funding for his legal team.

Israel’s Netanyahu Urges Caution As COVID-19 Cases Spike

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israelis to continue wearing masks and respect social distancing measures, as confirmed novel coronavirus cases spiked following the easing of lockdown measures.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting on the virus, he said the past 24 hours had seen nearly 1,000 new infections confirmed.

Israel had imposed tight lockdown restrictions following its first registered COVID-19 case in February, then began cautiously easing them in mid-April.

Netanyahu said that for the moment, places of worship, bars, event halls and clubs would stay open, but with gatherings limited to 50 people — or 20 in private homes.

“We don’t want to go back to a policy of general lockdown,” he said.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also urged strict adherence to personal hygiene protocols and said the country was “at war for the benefit of citizens”.

Israel, with its nine million inhabitants, has registered some 26,452 infections including 324 deaths.

The Israeli parliament on Wednesday passed a law enabling the government to use its domestic security agency to track coronavirus infections as cases surged.

AFP

Netanyahu Warns Assad To Keep Out Iran

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday he would be “risking the future” of his regime if he allowed Iran to be entrenched militarily in his country.

“We will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria,” he told reporters alongside visiting US pointman on Iran policy, Brian Hook.

The two men called for an extension of an arms embargo on Iran, archfoe of both their countries, that expires in October.

“I say to the ayatollahs in Tehran: ‘Israel will continue to take the actions necessary to prevent you from creating another terror and military front against Israel'” in neighbouring Syria, the premier said.

“And I say to Bashar al-Assad: ‘You’re risking the future of your country and your regime,” Netanyahu said.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of its civil war in 2011, targeting government troops, allied Iranian forces and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

It rarely confirms details of operations in Syria, but says Iran’s presence in support of Assad is a threat to the Jewish state and that it will keep up such attacks.

“We are absolutely resolved to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in our immediate vicinity,” said Netanyahu.

Hook focused on the arms embargo, put in place as part of a multilateral nuclear accord signed by Tehran, Washington and other major powers in 2015.

A lifting of that embargo would allow Iran “to freely import fighter jets, attack helicopters, warships, submarines, large-calibre artillery systems and missiles of certain ranges”, the US envoy said.

“Iran will then be in a position to export these weapons and their technologies to their proxies such as Hezbollah, (Palestinian groups) Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Shiite militia groups in Iraq and Shiite militant networks in Bahrain and to the Huthis in Yemen,” Hook said.

“The last thing that this region needs is more Iranian weapons.”

The US unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord in 2018.

AFP

Netanyahu’s Corruption Trial Set To Open

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

 

A new page in Israeli history opens Sunday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the first sitting premier to face criminal charges, accused of a string of corruption allegations he denies.

After more than 500 days of electoral deadlock in which he fought for his political survival Netanyahu is to take his seat in the Jerusalem District Court for a new battle — to stay out of prison and avoid a stain on his legacy.

The 70-year-old is used to setting precedents: he is the first Israeli prime minister born after the foundation of the state in 1948 and the longest-serving in its history.

But the impending trial is a deeply-unwanted first.

In 2009, prime minister Ehud Olmert stepped down after police recommended he be indicted for graft.

He was later tried and convicted of taking bribes and sentenced to 27 months in prison but was paroled after less than a year and a half.

Like Netanyahu, Olmert came from the right-wing Likud party, although he subsequently defected to the centrist Kadima.

Netanyahu is fighting tooth and nail to avoid Olmert’s fate.

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Among the charges he faces is that he sought to illegally trade favours in exchange for positive coverage for himself in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s top-selling newspaper.

He is also accused of accepting cigars, champagne and jewellery worth 700,000 shekels (180,000 euros) from wealthy personalities in exchange for favours.

Perhaps most serious of all is the claim that Netanyahu offered media mogul Shaul Elovitch regulatory changes worth millions of dollars to his telecom giant Bezeq in exchange for favourable reporting on the Walla! news website.

That charge is also the most complex, said Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, who says it differs from “classic” bribery cases where money changes hands.

– ‘Political death warrant’ –

In this case, Fuchs argued, the allegation is that Netanyahu “is getting only media coverage,” rather than cash.

“It is unprecedented,” he told reporters.

But in the Bezeq case, Fuchs adds, Netanyahu, is accused of doing far more than seek flattering write-ups.

“It was actually complete editorial control of this site even on the specifics of which posts to make, or which pictures to make.”

Netanyahu denies all the accusations and claims he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media and legal officials.

After months of suspense and repeated police questioning of Netanyahu, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in January filed charges against the premier.

Many commentators considered this the premier’s political death warrant.

But Netanyahu retained the Likud leadership and after three inconclusive general elections managed to hammer out a power-sharing deal with his chief rival Benny Gantz.

Under the agreement, Netanyahu will continue to lead the government for 18 months before handing over the premiership to Gantz.

 

– ‘Conflict of interest’ –

Netanyahu’s trial had been due to open in mid-March, but the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a postponement to May 24, and the proceedings will be marked by social-distancing and other hygiene measures.

Netanyahu’s lawyers requested that he be excused from appearing in person on Sunday afternoon (1200 GMT) at the opening of a trial that will stretch over months or even years with possible appeals.

They argued that his attendance, to hear the formal reading of the charges against him and confirm that he has read and understands them, was merely technical.

But the court rejected the request, citing a clause in Israeli criminal law stating that “a person may not be tried on criminal charges except in his presence.”

Under Israeli law, a sitting prime minister does not have automatic immunity from prosecution but also is not obliged to resign when charged, only when convicted and after all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

Yuval Shany, professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, argues that there is “a basic incompatibility” between Netanyahu’s role as head of the government and his status as a criminal defendant.

In the latter role, Shany says, the premier will be “fighting very aggressively and maybe effectively to weaken the government authorities that are prosecuting him”.

“There is a very serious conflict of interest situation,” he said.

Once the trial is underway the three judges selected by the Supreme Court will be able to demand Netanyahu’s presence in court when they consider it necessary.

At any time before the verdict Israeli law allows Netanyahu to change his plea in exchange for lesser or fewer charges.

Such plea bargains are common in Israeli courts.

AFP

Israel Under Netanyahu: Key Dates

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 9, 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP.

 

Here are key dates in the Israeli governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009.

– Return to power –

The right-wing Likud party chief Netanyahu becomes prime minister for a second time in March 2009, after a first stint between 1996 and 1999.

He forms a coalition firmly anchored to the right, with the post of foreign minister going to ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman.

In March 2013, Netanyahu’s new governing coalition takes office after snap January polls, with a strong showing of hardliners in favour of Israeli construction on Palestinian land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War.

– Gaza wars –

In July 2014, Israel launches a military operation against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip with the aim of ending rocket fire and destroying smuggling tunnels used by militant groups in the blockaded territory.

The war leaves 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

– Most right-wing government –

In May 2015, Netanyahu wins a confidence vote in parliament for his fourth government.

A year later, he signs a coalition agreement with Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, naming him defence minister.

The government is the most right-wing in Israeli history.

In June 2017, Israel starts building its first new government-sanctioned settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1991 in defiance of international concern.

Settlement building takes on momentum under Netanyahu, with the support of his staunch US ally President Donald Trump.

– Deadly Gaza flare-up –

A mass protest is launched in Gaza in March 2018 to demand the right for Palestinians to return to homes in Israel that they fled or were expelled from after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.

It sees a surge in violence on the border where Palestinians gather every Friday.

From March 2018 to December 2019 at least 352 Palestinians are killed by Israeli fire, mostly during protests along the border. Eight Israelis also perish.

A ceasefire is currently in force between Hamas and Israel.

– Political crisis –

On April 9, 2019, Likud wins 35 of the 120 seats in parliament, the same number as Netanyahu’s centrist challenger Benny Gantz at a general election.

On April 17, President Reuven Rivlin formally tasks Netanyahu with forming a government, but the prime minister is unable to secure a majority coalition.

On May 29, parliament votes to dissolve itself and holds a new election.

In the September 17 polls, Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White alliance are again almost neck-and-neck.

Neither man can manage to form a coalition government, propelling the country into a third poll.

– Trump support –

On January 28, 2020, Trump, who has been an unfailing backer of Netanyahu’s Israel since taking power in January 2017, unveils a Middle East peace plan, which includes many concessions to Israel.

– Third stalemate –

On March 2, Israelis go to the polls for the third time in less than a year, resulting in another stalemate between Netanyahu and Gantz.

On March 15, an Israeli court postpones Netanyahu’s graft trial amid fears of the spread of the new coronavirus.

In late March Gantz decides to seek a deal with Netanyahu for an interim emergency alliance to lead Israel during the coronavirus pandemic.

– Unity government –

On April 20 Netanyahu and Gantz announce a deal to form an emergency unity government.

The three-year agreement will allow Netanyahu to stay in office for 18 months while Gantz, a former army chief, heads the defence ministry.

Gantz will then take over as premier for another 18 months before a new round of elections.

On May 7 Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming a new government, which has earlier been backed by parliament.

AFP

Israel Health Minister Contracts COVID-19, Netanyahu Re-enters Quarantine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2019./AFP

 

Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a leading member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, has tested positive for COVID-19, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to re-enter precautionary quarantine, officials said Thursday.

Netanyahu’s previous quarantine, imposed earlier this week after one of his staffers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, had ended Wednesday night, his office said.

The premier’s new seven-day self-isolation was imposed following his contacts with the 71-year-old Litzman, the prime minister’s office said.

Litzman of the Gur Hassidic sect — whose wife also tested positive — is the most prominent member of the hard-hit ultra-Orthodox community to test positive for the virus that has infected more than 6,200 Israelis.

“Litzman and his wife feel well, are receiving treatment and will be quarantined and supervised,” a health ministry statement said.

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The ministry added that its director-general, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, along with other senior officials, will also enter quarantine following contacts with Litzman.

Israeli media also reported that the head of the Mossad spy agency, Yossi Cohen, may also be compelled to self-isolate after having had contact with Litzman, but that information could not be immediately confirmed.

– Ultra-Orthodox restrictions –

The rising caseload has spurred Israel to increasingly tighten restrictions, with the latest measures aimed directly at ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities that have resisted social distancing rules.

According to health ministry data, ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods and cities have become COVID-19 hotspots after leading rabbis had initially ignored and even refuted state orders to close educational institutions and limit synagogue attendance.

Netanyahu on Wednesday said there had been “a very positive change among the ultra-Orthodox public”.

He said the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim in Hebrew, had now “well internalised the danger of the spread of the coronavirus”.

They are “listening to the instructions and behaving responsibly, with full backing from the rabbis,” he added.

In a televised address, Netanyahu said movement to and from the central Israeli ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak would be reduced “to the necessary minimum”.

The quarantined and sick from Bnei Brak would be taken away to hotels elsewhere in the country, the right-wing premier added.

Netanyahu also told Israelis to wear face masks in public, in a reversal of policy.

“If you do not have a mask, use a scarf or any other face covering that will reduce the spread of the virus to others,” he said.

AFP

Israel’s Netanyahu Under Precautionary COVID-19 Quarantine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 1, 2019.
Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his close aides have been placed under quarantine after a staffer within his office tested positive for COVID-19, a statement and Israeli media said.

“Before the epidemiological investigation was completed and to dispel any doubts, the prime minister decided that he and his close staff would be in confinement until (tests) were completed,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

The statement did not mention the positive test of a staffer, but multiple Israeli media outlets have reported the case, which was confirmed to AFP by separate sources.

AFP

Netanyahu’s Ally Resigns As Speaker Of Israel Parliament

FILES) In this file photo taken on May 16, 2018 Israeli parliament (Knesset) speaker Yuli Edelstein gestures prior to attending a session of Questions to the government at the French National Assembly in Paris, as part of his state visit to France.  Eric Feferberg / AFP

 

A right-wing ally of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped down as speaker of parliament on Wednesday in a blow to the embattled premier, the latest development in a months-long political crisis.

Yuli Edelstein’s resignation paved the way for Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, who is trying to form a government, to place an ally in the powerful post.

That could spell new risks for the premier as he faces trial for alleged corruption.

Lawmakers who oppose Netanyahu have pushed for a law blocking him from remaining prime minister while facing the charges, all of which he denies.

Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, had refused to schedule a speakership vote until a new government was formed, resigning instead after the Supreme Court set a Wednesday deadline for the vote.

“The High Court ruling constitutes a crude and arrogant intervention of the judiciary in the matters of the elected legislature,” Edelstein said.

“I won’t allow Israel to descend into anarchy. I won’t lend a hand to civil war,” he said as the court’s deadline approached.

“I hereby resign from my position as Knesset speaker.”

His departure, however, would take effect only in 48 hours.

That means he remains bound to call the vote on Wednesday in line with the Supreme Court order, according to attorney general Avichai Mandelblit.

Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking to have Edelstein held in contempt.

But Edelstein doubled down, insisting he would not schedule the vote for Wednesday.

“My conscience does not let me obey the ruling, which is why I resigned,” he told the court on Wednesday, noting his replacement could decide on the matter.

“I have no desire to hold the esteemed court in contempt, but in the light of its ruling, I have found myself in an impossible position, which is why I resigned,” he said.

In an address later Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin said it was “the duty of every one of us to obey the rulings of the courts, and that it is inconceivable that anyone would not do so.”

Political turmoil 

The latest drama came after a year of political turmoil that has seen three inconclusive elections, followed by Netanyahu imposing strict legal and security measures against a novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 2,000 Israelis.

Anti-Netanyahu forces claimed 62 seats in the 120-member Knesset in the March 2 election, with the premier’s right-wing party and its religious allies winning 58.

Gantz has been tasked with trying to form a government.

That proved impossible following two previous elections last year, given the deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu bloc which includes the mainly Arab Joint List and its bitter rival, the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.

There was no guarantee Gantz would fare better this time, fuelling calls from many sides for a short-term unity government to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the divides within the anti-Netanyahu camp, it has been unified in backing legislation that would bar anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister.

Removing Edelstein as a speaker could expedite that legislation.

But Netanyahu has made a series of offers to Gantz on forming a unity government, including deals that would see the premier’s job rotate between the two men.

“There’s deep unrest among all parts of the nation, we must put it aside,” he said in a televised address late Wednesday focusing on anti-coronavirus measures.

“I call for the immediate formation of a national unity government to deal with the crisis.”

As he announced his resignation, Edelstein also said Israel needed a unity government “as a pandemic endangers us from without”.

“We all need to act like human beings, to act, to unify, to rise above,” he said.

AFP