News Digest — 4/16/20

Gantz Runs Out Of Time: Israeli President Rivlin Transfers Mandate To Knesset

In a roller-coaster week of ups and downs in coalition negotiations between Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the verdict finally came in on Thursday morning (16th) – they failed.  Israeli President Reuven Rivlin took the mandate to form a government from Benny Gantz, leader of Blue and White, and handed it to the Knesset.

“I hope that the Knesset members will be able to formulate a majority in such a way that they can bring together a government as quickly as possible and avoid a fourth election campaign,” Rivlin said.

Gantz’s mandate lasted for 28 days and officially ended on Monday (13th).  After last minute talks appeared to be progressing, Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jointly requested from Rivlin that he extend the mandate until Wednesday (15th) at midnight.  Rivlin granted the request.

The last-ditch effort failed to lead to a unity government, however.

Blue and White officials blamed Netanyahu, saying that he wants a fourth election.  Likud officials replied that these accusations were “without foundation.” They said, “The prime minister is working to establish an emergency unity government while protecting the interest of the national camp and with concern that the two sides will honor the agreement in an equal manner.”

The Likud expressed anger earlier in the week when Rivlin announced he intended to give the mandate to the Knesset and not to Netanyahu.

Under Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, if the Knesset fails to agree on a candidate in the allotted three weeks, is automatically dissolved and new elections are called.  If a candidate does not secure 61 votes, that person has 14 additional days to form a government before an election must be called.

The move was widely seen as intended to force Netanyahu and Gantz to stop dithering and seal a unity deal quickly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision Thursday (16th) marks only the second time in Israel’s history that the mandate to form a governing coalition was handed to the Knesset.  The last time was after the September 2019 race.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz have reportedly expressed a willingness to go to a fourth election, even as the nation remains under lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, in which 12,591 persons have been infected and 140 patients have died.



Report: Israeli Drone Strikes Hezbollah Vehicle Carrying Weapons In Syria

An Israeli drone targeted a vehicle of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement just inside Syria near the border with Lebanon on Wednesday (15th), without casualties, a source from the Shiite terror group said.

“An Israeli drone first struck near a jeep transporting Hezbollah members,” the source said, asking for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

“The passengers got out before it was directly hit a second time, the source said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “the Israeli aircraft targeted a vehicle near the Jdaidit Yabous crossing,” with Lebanon which is closed due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported material damage to a “civilian vehicle” in the same area, without reporting what party had hit it.

There was no comment from the Israeli authorities.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has been officially fighting in Syria to support the Damascus regime since 2013, helping the regime regain key parts of the country.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the start of the war in 2011 targeting government troops as well as allied Iranian forces and Hezbollah fighters.

It is rare for Israel to claim responsibility for such strikes directly.

The Jewish State says Iran’s presence in neighboring Syria poses a threat, and it vows to continue airstrikes and prevent arms deliveries to its Hezbollah foes.



Hamas Slams Lebanese Cartoon For ‘Likening’ Palestinians To Coronavirus

Did the Lebanese newspaper Al-Joumhouria liken Palestinians to the coronavirus pandemic?

A cartoon published by the newspaper on April 15 to mark the 45th anniversary of the civil war in Lebanon features a portrait of a man whose face is covered with a keffiyeh headdress next to an image of the virus.

The keffiyeh has long been considered a symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

The portrait of the keffiyeh-clad man carries the date April 13, 1975, referencing the anniversary of the civil war in Lebanon.  The cartoon was interpreted by Hamas as an attempt to hold Palestinians responsible for the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990, and which resulted in the death of some 120,000 people.  Hamas expressed outrage over the “harmful” cartoon, dubbing it “racist, hateful and unethical.”

A Hamas statement said the cartoon “fuels racist sentiments” and comes at a time when the Lebanese and Palestinians are actually cooperating to defeat the coronavirus.

Senior Hamas official Ra’fat al-Murra demanded an apology from Al-Joumhouria and called on Lebanese officials to reject and denounce the “racist” cartoon.



Jackals Roam Deserted Tel-Aviv Park After Virus Forces Public Indoors

With the coronavirus keeping Israelis in doors, dozens of jackals have taken over a park in Tel Aviv, scavenging for food in what is usually a playground for joggers and families.

The normally timid animals wander freely among palm trees and across the grass of Hayarkon Park, an oasis in the Mediterranean city that was also a magnet for cyclists and picnickers until the arrival of COVID-19

The disease has taken 140 lives in Israel.

Hayarkon prides itself in being the lung of Tel Aviv, complete with a river and enough space for tourists to pitch tents.

Now the rare human visitors wear masks and use their phones to photograph jackals, the park’s new occupants.

Zoologist Yariv Malichi told AFP that “the jackals are wandering from their territories searching for food during the day.  They usually come out at night but now they feel comfortable in the park without people.”

Malichi warned against feeding the jackals, saying, “Once a wild animal makes the connection that ‘humans equal food,’ the danger is there and they’ll start approaching people expecting to get food, whether adult or child, they don’t differentiate – leave them alone, don’t feed them.” 

Meanwhile, in Haifa wild boars are taking to empty streets en masse.

Having wild boars in the northern city is nothing new, but with the area under coronavirus lockdown and void of humans, the animals’ presence is felt more than ever.



Residents Of Arab Towns In Galilee Asked To Stay Indoors Amid Virus Spread

The Israel Health Ministry on Wednesday morning (15th) asked residents of the Arab village Deir al-Asad, in the Galilee region, to remain in their homes due to an “unusually high rate” of coronavirus spread in the community.

The residents of the neighboring villages of Majd al-Krum, Bi’ina and Nahf were also asked to stay indoors.

As of Wednesday, (15th) there were 31 cases in the villages.  Deir al-Asad has a population of 12,000.

The Health Ministry said epidemiological investigation of the cases indicates there could be “hundreds” of potential infections in the area.

The Health Ministry, in coordination with the Home Front Command, Magen David Adom, the local councils and Israel Police, are managing the events,” said the ministry in a statement.

The municipality of the neighboring city of Karmiel said in light of the high rate of the virus spread in the nearby towns, it was decided to put up checkpoints at all entrances to the northern city.

The new coronavirus regulations announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday (14th), placing nearly all Israeli cities in quarantine until Thursday morning (16th) were not imposed on Israel’s Arab-majority cities.

“I am warning the Health Ministry about worryingly low rates of coronavirus testing in the Arab localities, one that may lead to a catastrophe of unseen proportions,” Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen said on Twitter.

Jabareen added the testing should be carried out “immediately so we would be able to have a better picture compared to the general population.”  

Arab citizens constitute 20% of Israel’s population.