Friday, April 24, 2020

From Ian:

Virus cases in Israel reach 14,882, with 193 fatalities and 107 on ventilators
The Health Ministry on Friday said there were 14,882 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, an increase of 79 from the previous evening.

In a statement, the ministry confirmed that the death toll is now 193, up by one since Thursday evening with the death of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Heber whose kidney donation organization saved 800 people over the past decade.

The ministry figures showed 139 Israelis are in serious condition, of whom 107 are on ventilators, and 101 are in moderate condition. The remainder have mild or no symptoms.

In addition, 5,685 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19, a number which is included in the tally of total cases.

Heber, 55, died Thursday of COVID-19 and was mourned by many senior public officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

Heber, himself a recipient of a kidney donation, had been sedated and on a ventilator at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem for about two weeks. His condition worsened on April 14.

The kidney donation organization Heber founded, Matnat Chaim (Gift of Life), last week celebrated its 800th transplant over the past decade. Matnat Chaim facilitates voluntary kidney donations in Israel.

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper recently donated a kidney in a life-saving procedure for a man he did not know through Heber’s organization.

Tropper mourned Heber on Thursday, calling the rabbi one of Israel’s “heroes” who “dedicated his life to save lives, with infinite dedication, exceptional humility and love for humans that is hard to come by.”

“Many owe him their lives and Israeli society is better and more humane thanks to his life’s work,” Tropper said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his “deep sorrow about the passing of the rabbi,” saying Heber “instilled in the general public the awareness of the importance of donation.”

“Thanks to him, hundreds of people in Israel were granted a new life,” Netanyahu said. “Rabbi Heber was a model of humanity, kindness and mutual responsibility.”


42 fallen soldiers since last Remembrance Day, ceremonies held online
A total of 42 deaths were added to Israel's list of fallen soldiers between the previous Remembrance Day until now, the Defense Ministry announced on Friday morning, with another 33 disabled persons dying as a result of injury in defense services. Since coronavirus regulations limit bereaved families from visiting their lost ones' graves, the names of all fallen soldiers will be read in succession prior to the Remembrance Day ceremony on Tuesday morning.

Remembrance Day "expresses the painful partnership of bereaved families and the moral obligation to remember and perpetuate the fallen," said Arieh Moalem, Deputy Directer of the Family, Memorial and Heritage Department of the Defense Ministry. "This year, Remembrance Day events will be held without the participation of the general public. We will continue to march alongside you, the bereaved families, in the long and neverending journey of coping with the memory of your loved ones.

"This year, we will all stay home and remember," he concluded.

As is every year, a siren will go off on the eve of Remembrance Day this coming Monday at 8 p.m., and another one on Remembrance Day itself at 11 a.m., during which the country stands still for a moment of silence and remembrance for the fallen soldiers of the IDF.

Due to the continued spread of the coronavirus, the Defense Ministry decided last month that the main ceremonies at the Western Wall plaza (on Remembrance Day eve) and Mount Herzl (Remembrance Day) to be held without an audience and instead to be broadcast live.



Ha'aretz: Unsung Heroes Battling Covid-19 in Israel
Ida Katan, 67, is a senior radiographer at Sharon Hospital in Petah Tikva. Hers is quite a hazardous job because she must enter sickrooms and touch patients in order to do x-rays and other types of scans. Katan was supposed to have retired in February, after 44 years on the job, but she opted to stay on. "I extended my contract, because there aren't enough radiographers - it's a field where there's a shortage of personnel," she explained. "And I'm glad I did, because I have the great privilege of working at this particular time."

"My family is definitely afraid....But I have to help, like everyone else here. I am deputy chief radiographer, and I've asked members of our staff who never do night shifts - mothers of small children, some with risk factors - to work longer shifts. They all agreed."

Natasha Blausov, 50, is director of quality control in a microbiology laboratory at Sheba Medical Center, where she has worked for 22 years. She says, "The lab is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Everyone has been mobilized, not just the permanent staff but students and volunteers, too....There's plenty of work, but we are pleased and feel we have a mission."

Q: Are you afraid of being infected?
Blausov: "None of our workers are sick. I feel safer in the coronavirus labs than at home. I'm protected by two robes, two pairs of gloves, an N-95 face mask, a face shield and something that protects my head. I look like an astronaut. Plus the room is ventilated, and I open the test tubes under a special hood."
Israel will soon be able to test hundreds of thousands daily, scientist claims
Within a matter of weeks, Israel will have the technology to boost daily coronavirus testing to hundreds of thousands of people, according to a Hebrew University innovator who is developing new lab protocols.

Dr. Naomi Habib said that her team is developing a method that will enable batches of 40,000 test samples to be examined simultaneously using a sequencing machine. “This can open up the possibility of mass testing all over the world,” she said.

“I strongly believe that Hebrew University will soon have the technology to do sequencing-based testing that will enable us to test hundreds of thousands of people a day,” Habib told The Times of Israel.

Israel’s record so far, set on Monday, is only 13,342 tests in a day.

Habib voiced confidence that other teams around the world will make similar breakthroughs, saying that with her method in the pipeline along with others, people can be optimistic that large-scale testing will help get the world back to routine. She expects it to be used in various ways, including spot checks in the general population to identify high-risk areas and prevent the second-wave scenario that is increasingly worrying health officials.

But she said that while the science will soon be in place, it will prove worthless if politicians don’t commit funds to implementing it. “The scientists will deliver the technology, and we need policymakers to follow,” she said.

There are two main lab processes needed to deal with coronavirus samples, and Habib’s lab is working to simplify both of them. The sequencing machines are intended for the second lab stage, when the ribonucleic acid (RNA) that has been extracted from test samples and which holds the key to test results, is analyzed.

But before the RNA can be analyzed it needs to be extracted from test samples. Habib’s team has also come up with a solution which she says can boost the capacity of labs for performing the extraction by up to ten times. It uses tiny magnetic beads instead of chemicals to extract the RNA.
Technion developing rapid coronavirus test with results within an hour
The Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at Technion Institute of Technlogy is developing a home test that can rapidly detect the novel coronavirus in less than an hour.

Prof. Naama Geva-Zatorsky and her research team are working to make the method usable as a mass testing kit at workplaces, points of care and households. The test requires only a saliva sample, reagents and a thermal cup.

"The new test's reliability was measured using 200 biological samples from confirmed coronavirus patients and patients suspected of infection with the virus. The samples were supplied by the coronavirus biobank at Rambam Health Care Campus," explained Geva-Zatorsky.

The test is done by immersing the saliva sample in a test tube that contains a reactive material and then placing the tube in a thermal cup with hot water. A color change in the material indicates the presence of the coronavirus. "The test is not designed to replace the current conventional method," added Geva-Zatorsky.

The test currently identifies 99% of cases when tested on standard swabs in medium and high concentrations of the virus, but a second test is required when dealing with low concentrations of the virus. "We are now completing the experiments in order to improve sensitivity to the presence of the virus, even in low concentrations," explained the professor.

Once the test is approved by the Health Ministry, it could be used at entrances to hospitals, nursing homes, airports and drive-through facilities.
StandWithUs: How the IDF is Fighting Coronavirus
How is the IDF dealing with coronavirus? Get all the crucial information about the situation in Israel directly from the expert.

Join us Live as we chat with IDF International Spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus who will give us a geopolitical briefing on Israel’s borders, its current strategic threats and how the IDF is dealing with the coronavirus pandemi


Amb Danon to the Palestinian representative: How dare you lie about the brave soldiers of the IDF?
April 23rd, 2020 | Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, addressed the Security Council.


Jason Greenblatt: Israelis and Palestinians work together against coronavirus
Israelis and Palestinians share a trench in their fight against a common enemy – the spread of the coronavirus. Other than a few ugly exceptions, each society understands that this deadly, silent enemy must be confronted together, without politics or propaganda.

The pandemic reminds Palestinians and Israelis how intertwined their fate is. The border between Israel and what some call the West Bank and others call Judea and Samaria is porous, with tens of thousands of people crossing daily from one side to the other. The dangers posed to Israelis are the same dangers posed to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. If they are not vigilant, and if they do not fight this virus diligently together, they will both suffer.

The response to the pandemic by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority is an indication that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of overcoming some of the seemingly insurmountable impasses that have characterized their relationship over the past decades. We are mindful that much of this cooperation is due to the recognition that their collective health, economic well-being and security could be undermined without such cooperation. Nevertheless, this cooperation is a good start and should not be taken lightly or ignored.

Perhaps President Reuven Rivlin expressed it properly when he called PA President Mahmoud Abbas and declared that “[t]he world is dealing with a crisis that does not distinguish between people or where they live” and when he emphasized that “cooperation between us is vital to ensure the health of both Israelis and Palestinians.” In return, Abbas offered his full cooperation in the fight against this deadly disease.

The Palestinian taboo of dealing with Israelis was lifted (other than with some exceptions from a few Palestinian so-called leaders and influencers) and Palestinian and Israeli officials coordinated activities to confront the pandemic. Both sides have been working productively side by side. According to Yotam Shefer, the head of the international department of Israel’s Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, coordination between Israel and the Palestinians is “very tight and very strong.”
Israeli Military and Local Arab Leadership Discuss COVID-19 Ramadan Celebrations
The upcoming holy Muslim month of Ramadan represents the biggest challenge facing Israel in its efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said Thursday.

The statement came one day after the Israeli Health Ministry warned of an emerging coronavirus breakout centered in northern Israel, leading to government officials weighing the possibility of imposing a total lockdown on several Arab communities.


Gov't eases restrictions: Beauty salons and clothing stores to open
At the end of a meeting that started early Friday morning, the government approved easing the emergency regulations on the public, allowing more businesses to open, including hairdressers and beauty salons and restaurants and cafes for pickup and takeaway. The new regulations go into effect at midnight on Saturday night.

Business owners will be required to maintain a two-meter distance between people, make sure to disinfect internal surfaces and require employees to wear gloves and masks. Shop owners will also be required to prevent crowding at the entrance to their stores and no more than two to four people can be in a checkout line at the same time, depending on the size of the store. Customers will have their temperatures taken on entry into any business and will be asked if they have symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, coughing or difficulty breathing.

On the other hand, malls will remain closed, as will acupuncturists and massage therapists - any business that is not medically essential but requires direct contact between the client and staff. Although salons can open, hairdressers will be required to disinfect equipment between haircuts or treatments. Moreover, beauty technicians will need to wear face guards that cover their eyes in addition to the masks that cover their mouths and noses.

Only up to two people may be served by a barber at a time.

A new team of municipal inspectors will join police and local authority inspectors in enforcing the regulations. Business owners are required to sign a declaration and file it with the municipality indicating that they will be open and following the rules, and that they themselves do not have symptoms.

In every shift, there must be one staff member assigned to ensuring coronavirus regulations are maintained.
Health Ministry: Israeli Olympic athletes can return to training
Israel's Health Ministry announced early Friday that Olympic athletes are allowed to return to their training regiments in light of the recent easing of coronavirus restrictions on commerce and educational institutions, according to a press release from the Olympic Committee of Israel.

The return to normalcy of Olympic-caliber athletes will be applied to all participating organizations and types of athletes, including the Olympics, Paralympics and 'Ayelet' Association of Motor Sports, consisting of about 350 Israeli athletes total.

The report also noted that discussions are ongoing regarding the return of professional sports activities.

"I am delighted and welcome the decision that should have been made earlier. These are prominent and leading Israeli athletes, and I have no doubt that they will continue to bring great achievements and pride to the State of Israel," said Eric Kaplan, President of the Eilat Association.
Mossad chief said to allege Iran, some Arab states lying about their virus stats
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen reportedly told health officials during a briefing Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic was more serious in a number of Arab states and in Iran than the governments there have been acknowledging.

“In Lebanon, Iraq and Syria there is a high morbidity and they’re lying,” Channel 13 news quoted Cohen as saying.

“The number of infected and dead that the Iranians are reporting is also not true. The numbers I’m familiar with are much higher,” he added.

Many have accused the Islamic Republic of under-reporting the scope of its coronavirus outbreak.

Iran, the Middle Eastern country hardest hit by the pandemic, on Thursday put its death toll from the virus at 5,481 out of more than 87,000 confirmed cases. State TV said there were 1,030 new cases and the death toll was 90 more than Wednesday.

Iraq has confirmed 1,677 cases and 83 deaths, Lebanon has reported 688 infections and 22 deaths, and Syria has confirmed just 42 cases and three deaths.


Jonathan S. Tobin: Is It Wrong to Let Israel Make Decisions for Itself?
The agreement on Israel's new coalition government allows for a Knesset vote in the upcoming months about extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, including settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. As far as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is concerned, whether or not they do so is up to the Israelis.

The current American government doesn't think that it is entitled to dictate policy to the Israelis. And it is this unwillingness to give orders to the Jewish state that really shocks critics of Israel and the foreign-policy establishment. These critics had sought to "save Israel from itself" since the policies adopted by its democratically elected government were not in accord with their own vision of how to achieve peace. They believed they had the right to override the will of the Israeli people as expressed at the ballot box.

As Israel's sole superpower ally, the U.S. has always arrogated to itself the right to expect the Israelis to do as Washington instructed. Indeed, every U.S. ambassador prior to David Friedman acted like a pro-consul of the Roman or British empires, whose job it was to issue orders to a client state that held pretensions of sovereignty that were not to be treated with too much deference.

The principle at stake here is Israel's right to decide its own fate. The problem is not only that the wisdom of the critics' policy prescriptions for Israel is questionable, it's also that they are rooted in a misguided belief that Israelis are too stupid or too driven by ideology or faith to do what's right. Israelis deserve more respect from Americans.
Unity Government Paves Way for Israeli Annexation Plans
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the decision to annex parts of the West Bank is ultimately up to Israel.

"As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions," Pompeo told reporters. "That's an Israeli decision."

Pompeo's comments come as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and incoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz put the finishing details on a unity government deal, which includes annexing parts of the West Bank in coordination with the Trump administration.

Details regarding the process and which territories Jerusalem intends to annex is still being planned, with US envoy to Israel David Friedman leading Washington's efforts in the decision.


UN, EU officials warn new Israeli government against annexing West Bank
Senior officials in the European Union and United Nations on Thursday warned Israel not to annex parts of the West Bank, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz signed a coalition agreement saying the move could potentially go ahead as early as July.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, issued a stark warning against the intention to annex parts of the West Bank, saying that such a move “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”

Borrell said the 27-member bloc does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory and that it will “continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly.”

The Foreign Ministry slammed Borrell over his statement.

“It’s unfortunate that Josep Borrell, who pretends to be responsible for the foreign relations of the European Union, chooses in this manner to welcome a new government of a central partner to the EU and prefers to see relations between Israel and the EU through the prism of the pandemic and the ‘status of the territories,’” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry questioned Borrell’s decision to issue the statement, saying he did so only after failing to gain backing for it from all EU states.

“We wonder which states the honorable gentleman is choosing to represent,” the ministry said.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz thanked EU states that refused to back Borrell’s statement, but didn’t name them.

“I thank our friends in Europe who oppose Borrell’s announcement and prevented the adoption of the text in the EU’s name. These states recognize the value of relations with Israel and we’ll continue to advance relations between Israel and Europe together with them,” he said.

However, a diplomatic source told The Times of Israel that the EU did not hold a vote on approving the text and the meeting dealt more with timing than substance.




PMW: Terrorists who planned Olympics Massacre of 11 Israeli athletes glorified by PA and Fatah
Tragically, the Corona crisis has not stopped the Palestinian Authority and Fatah from presenting terrorists as heroes and role models. This month, both of Abbas’ institutions have made sure to mark the anniversary of the “deaths as Martyrs” of three terrorists from Fatah's Black September terror organization who were involved in planning the kidnapping and subsequent murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Mahmoud Yusuf Al-Najjar, Kamal Nasser, and Kamal Adwan were all senior members of the PLO and Black September in the 1970s and were all killed by Israeli forces in April 1973.

These terrorist leaders were honored by Abbas’ PA Presidential Guard:

Text on image: “The 47th anniversary of the deaths as Martyrs of the two Kamals and Al-Najjar
The 47th anniversary of the deaths as Martyrs of the three leaders:
Martyr Muhammad Al-Najjar
Martyr Kamal Nasser
Martyr Kamal Adwan”

Posted text: "47 years after the deaths as Martyrs of the leaders – the two Kamals and Al-Najjar
Tomorrow, Friday, April 10, 2020, will be the 47th anniversary of the assassination of leaders Mahmoud Yusuf Al-Najjar 'Abu Yusuf Al-Najjar,' Kamal Nasser, and Kamal Adwan.
On April 10, 1973, the Israeli Mossad (Secret Intelligence Service) assassinated the three leaders in Beirut because of their prominent activity in the Fatah Movement and the Palestinian resistance, claiming they participated in planning the Munich operation in September 1972."

[Official Facebook page of the PA Presidential Guard, April 10, 2020,
the posted text was also printed in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 10, 2020]


The Fatah Movement and Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi similarly honored them as “leaders” who understood “the value of self-sacrificing activity” and “redeemed Palestine with their souls”:
Khaled Abu Toameh: Coronavirus: More Palestinian Libels Against Israel
By talking falsely about sick workers being smuggled through water drainage systems and Jews walking around and spitting, the Palestinian leadership is seeking to create the impression that Palestinians are under attack and must therefore defend themselves -- by launching violent attacks against Israelis on the pretext of attempting to stop them from spreading a deadly disease.

The international community, meanwhile, appears blithely unperturbed about the Palestinian leadership's continued libels against Israel and their continuing incitement to murder.

The indifference of the international community does not bode well for any future talk of peace or coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians. After all, why would any Palestinian want to make peace or live next to a Jew who, according to Palestinian leaders, is spreading a deadly disease and professedly trying to kill him?
As coronavirus rises, press freedom falls under the Palestinian Authority
The Palestinian Authority remains low on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, released this week by Reporters Without Borders, at 137 out of the 180 countries or territories ranked.

It occupies the same position it did on last year’s index.

One of the major reasons for the low ranking is the internal divisions between Fatah and Hamas, which have a direct impact on journalists.
“The political rivalry between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories includes threats, heavy-handed interrogation, arrest without charge, intimidatory lawsuits and prosecutions, and bans on covering certain events,” the 2020 report for the PA says.

Jihad Harb, an expert on Palestinian media and a columnist for the Wattan news agency and other Palestinian outlets, cited a continued PA crackdown.

“The Magistrate’s Court decision last year to shut down Palestinian news websites had a major impact” on the ranking, he told The Media Line.
Violations of media freedoms are increasingly widespread in the Gaza Strip as well, according to the report.








Iranian Satellite Launch Inconsistent With Civilian Uses: US Official
The United States believes an Iranian military satellite launch this week was overseen by a high-ranking commander involved in past attacks on American targets, a senior administration official said on Thursday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a declassified assessment of the launch determined that it was overseen by Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, at a site in eastern Iran.

Hajizadeh was behind the downing of a US military drone in the Gulf last June, a missile attack on US service members in Iraq in January, and the downing of a Ukrainian Airlines flight near Tehran the same month, the official said.

No US troops were killed in the attacks in Iraq but more than 100 were later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. Both Iranian and US officials have said the shooting down of the Ukrainian civilian plane was an error.

Iranian state TV reported that the Revolutionary Guards launched Iran’s first military satellite on Tuesday. It said the satellite named “Noor” had reached orbit.

The space shot was from “a rapid deployment, mobile launch system, which is inconsistent with any civilian application,” the administration official said.

“This was a space launch conducted by the Iranian military for military purposes,” the official said.
UK Says Iran’s Ballistic Missile Launch Is of ‘Significant Concern’
The United Kingdom said on Friday that an Iranian satellite launch earlier this week was of significant concern and inconsistent with a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“Reports that Iran has carried out a satellite launch — using ballistic missile technology — are of significant concern and inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.

“The UN has called upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Iran must abide by this,” the spokesman said.

“We have significant and longstanding concerns, alongside our international partners, over Iran’s ballistic missile program, which is destabilizing for the region and poses a threat to regional security,” the Foreign Office spokesman said.
MEMRI: Iranian Regime Circles Criticize Supreme Leader Khamenei: Release The Billions Of Dollars In Funds You Control To The Desperate Iranian Public
In the past weeks, Iran has been pressing the international community for financial aid to help it deal with the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. In March 2020 Iran appealed to the International Monetary Fund for a $5 billion emergency loan to fight the virus.

On April 7, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei approved President Hassan Rouhani's request of a $1 billion withdrawal from the National Development Fund of Iran for the fight against the pandemic. [1] The fund, established in 2011, holds Iran's foreign reserves estimated at approximately $90 billion, obtained from the country’s oil and gas exports.[2]

In light of the severe economic situation of Iranian society due to strict sanctions prompted by the regime's policy, coupled with the regime's mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak, there has been criticism within the regime itself over the failure of its charity funds, whose holdings are estimated in billions, to come to the aid of the hard-hit Iranian public. The criticism was voiced by the editor-in-chief of the Jomhouri-ye Eslami daily, Masih Mohajeri, by a former senior reformist official, Mostafa Tajzadeh, and by Majlis Member Bahram Parsaei. They urged Khamenei to immediately release the billions he controls for the benefit of Iranians and to fight the pandemic and the economic crisis. They pointed out that these funds, which are intended for the wellbeing of the poor and disadvantaged in Iranian society, do not reach them. These funds, it should be noted, benefit a small circle of Khamenei's loyalists and his project of exporting the Iranian revolution – namely of consolidating Iran's influence in the region and investing in other countries such as Syria and Iraq.[3]

This report reviews the criticism in regime circles of Khamenei's refusal to release funds under his control for the benefit of the Iranian people amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Foundations Under Khamenei's Control
Among the foundations under Khamenei's control mentioned by Mohajeri, Tajzadeh and Parsaei are the Executive Headquarters of the Imam's Directive (SETAD), whose holdings were estimated in 2013 at about $100 billion[4], and the Mostazafan Foundation (Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled), believed to be one of the regime's major funds, whose assets are based on seized and abandoned property. In a March 28, 2018 interview with the Tabnak website, the foundation’s head, Mohammad Saeedikia, said that it "has a strong presence in [Iran’s] industry," that "nobody knows the extent of its assets” and that "it would take two years to estimate its net worth.” He added that its annual income was 26 billion tomans (about $6 million dollars).[5] Also mentioned by the three speakers was the Astan-e Quds Razavi Foundation, which manages the assets of the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad, a conglomerate with holdings worth billions in Iran and abroad.




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