News Digest — 4/15/20

Israel’s Coronavirus Death Toll Rises To 126 As Patients Rise To 12,200

Israelis entered the final day of Passover under coronavirus restrictions similar to Seder night that required the public to stay in their homes and celebrate only with their nuclear families.

The government unanimously approved that until 5 a.m. on Thursday (15th) Israelis will not be permitted to leave their towns and cities.  In Jerusalem, movement is being restricted within predefined neighborhoods.

Moreover, to prevent crowding following the conclusion of Passover on Wednesday evening (15th), bakeries and supermarket bread departments will not reopen until Thursday morning (16th).

As Passover ends, the government, the National Security Council and the Health and Defense ministries are supposed to hold a series of meetings to decide on the first phase of the country’s exit strategy.  However, even if the economy is opened somewhat, it was reported that a Passover-like lockdown is likely to be implemented for other upcoming holidays.

A total of 12,200 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed by the Health Ministry, including 176 patients in serious condition, with 132 requiring ventilation. Some 2,309 individuals have recovered from the virus.  126 have died.

A total of 7,680 coronavirus tests were carried out between Sunday (12th) and Monday morning (13th), the Health Ministry said, up from less than 6,000 previously.  The ministry said it is targeting 10,000 daily tests as the Passover holiday ends.



Another Lockdown Coming Memorial Day?

The National Security Council and the Defense Ministry are expected to recommend another shutdown, which would be in effect from the eve of Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism on April 27 and until the conclusion of Independence Day on April 28.

According to a report on Channel 12 News Tuesday (14th), the Ministry of Defense is preparing to carry out all of the official Memorial Day ceremonies in the cemeteries instead of the public who will not be able to attend.

Under the plan, every cemetery will have a military representative, a defense ministry representative and a military rabbi.  They will recite the Kaddish in memory of every victim and place a flower and a pennant on every tombstone.

In addition, the main cemetery at the Western Wall, which opens Memorial Day every year, will be held in a limited format: 20 participants, including the Chief of Staff  and the President, will arrive at the site for the ceremony, which will be broadcast live without an audience.

The Memorial Hall on Mount Herzl will light a candle in memory for every victim as well, and recite Kaddish in the name of their families so that they do not have to be physically present.



Report: Hamas Names 250 Prisoners It Wants Freed

Hamas has agreed on a list of 250 of its members currently imprisoned in Israel that it wants released as part of a deal to provide Israel with “information” about the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge in 2014 – Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul – and two captive civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported Monday (13th).

Two weeks ago, in an interview to Al-Aqsa TV about how the authorities in the Gaza Strip were preparing to confront the coronavirus epidemic, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar mentioned that Hamas might be willing to make concessions if Israel would release elderly prisoners, who were more at risk for COVID-19.

Since the interview, rumors and denials about a supposed deal have been rife.

A week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Yaron Blum, who leads Israel’s negotiations to bring its captives and fallen citizens home, and the National Security Council were prepared to take action to bring the missing Israelis home and were calling for immediate talks through mediators.

The Qatari newspaper al-Arabi al-Jadeed reported,  however, that Israel had not responded to Sinwar’s offer at all.  According to the Qatari paper, while Hamas has denied holding any negotiations for a prisoner exchange, a new mediator has entered the ring.

Al-Akhbar has reportedly learned that a former German mediator who was involved in the deal to release captive soldier Gilad Shalit starting in 2011, has delivered messages to Hamas.

Meanwhile, sources in Hamas are saying that the group is willing to carry out preliminary steps for a deal that would entail the release of 250 prisoners in exchange for “information.”  The sources said that Hamas was unwilling to talk about a final deal until Israel released 55 Hamas members who had been freed in exchange for Shalit but re-imprisoned by Israel.



Jordan River Baptismal Site Is Mine-Free After 53 Years – Melanie Lidman

After a massive explosion that triggered more than 500 landmines in a controlled demolition last month, the Qasr al-Yahud site where Jesus is believed to have been baptized in the Jordan River is free of landmines for the first time in 53 years.  Nearly all the major sects of Christianity have monasteries, churches and chapels at the site, 6 miles east of Jericho.

In 1968, after the Six-Day War, Israel made the site a closed military zone, fearing terrorists could use the churches as a staging ground for attacks.  The Jordan River is only a few meters wide at that point and is easily crossable on foot.

The site is also holy to some Jews. Qasr al-Yahud translates as “The Castle of the Jews,” and some believe it was the spot where the Jewish people crossed into Israel for the first time after leaving Egypt.  It is also believed to be the site of Elijah the Prophet’s ascent to heaven in a “chariot of fire” and the place where his disciple Elisha performed miracles.



Alabama Police Investigating Two Separate Synagogue Vandalisms during Passover

Police in Alabama were investigating on Monday (13th), cases of anti-Semitic vandalism that occurred at two separate synagogues during the ongoing Passover holiday.

The two incidents occurred within 24-hours of each other in the city of Huntsville.  Anti-Semitic epithets and symbols were found scrawled on the Etz Chayim Synagogue, a conservative congregation of about 60 families in South Huntsville on Thursday morning (9th), following the first night of Passover, while a similar outrage was discovered on Friday morning (10th) at the Chabad of Huntsville.

Huntsville police later released surveillance footage of an individual wanted in connection with the incidents.  The images showed a man wearing a tracksuit and ski mask and holding a spray can.

Huntsville police chief Mark McMurray told a news conference on Friday (10th) that the incidents were being treated as hate crimes rather than “criminal mischief,” as a result of an amended hate crimes law passed by the Alabama state legislature last year.

“Quick message to the person who did this.” McMurray said.  “We’re asking you to go ahead and turn yourself in.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle told the same news conference that he had immediately contacted the synagogues to express his sorrow and condemnation.

“We do not condone this.  We are not that community,” Battle said.

“We will protect our own – the rabbis, their families and the synagogues throughout this community, because that’s what this community is about,” Battle pledged.