News Digest — 4/23/20

Pompeo: ‘Annexation Is Israel’s Decision’

On Wednesday (22nd), U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed in on Israel’s plan to extend sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, fielding questions in the briefing room at the State Department.

“As for the annexation of Judea and Samaria, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions,” said Pompeo, answering a question regarding Israel’s new unity government and its plans to begin annexation in July.

“That’s an Israeli decision and we will work closely with them to share our views in a private setup,” Pompeo added.

The Secretary of State also said the Trump administration was “happy that a new Israeli government was formed,” referring to the coalition forged between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his primary challenger, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.  The two agreed to form a unity government on Monday evening (20th), with Netanyahu serving as prime minister for the first 18 months of the term, and Gantz taking over after that.

Pompeo also commented on the $5 million in aid that the U.S. recently released to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to assist it in the COVID-19 battle.

“We hope the aid will get to the right places,” said Pompeo.  “The reason we stopped providing assistance previously is that these resources weren’t getting to the Palestinian people.  We will evaluate whether these resources worked, and actually got to the right place,” Pompeo added.



Police Will Not Stop Families Visiting Cemeteries On Remembrance Day

Bereaved families who make their way to military cemeteries for Remembrance Day will not be stopped by force, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday (22nd).  

The cabinet voted in favor of a lockdown, canceling all public transportation and banning intercity travel on Remembrance Day and Independence Day, with no additional limitations within cities, starting on Monday night (27th) and ending Wednesday night (29th).

Police will close access routes to military cemeteries on Remembrance Day, but due to the lockdown, “we expect that people won’t come,” Bennett said, adding nevertheless that “if a bereaved father walks to the cemetery, he will be allowed in.  If hundreds come, it is still different from millions coming.  No one will use force against bereaved families.”

However, Bennett urged the bereaved families to use the days before Remembrance Day to come and visit their loved ones while keeping to regulations.

“It was a very hard decision, but every year more than 1 million people come to the cemeteries and we know that a lot of family members are elderly and there could be another explosion of coronavirus infections,” he said.

Due to the continued spread of the coronavirus, the Defense Ministry decided last month that the main ceremonies at the Western Wall Plaza, on Memorial Day eve (27th), and Mount Herzl on Memorial Day (28th) are to be held without an audience and instead to be broadcast live.

In addition, ceremonies in the 53 military cemeteries across the country will be canceled in their usual form, and instead IDF soldiers will hold candlelight vigils and military cantors will say the Kaddish.  The laying of wreaths and candles on graves will take place in accordance with guidelines set by the Health Ministry.



As Many As 10,000 Coronavirus Test Kits From China Found Faulty

Magen David Adom was forced to stop testing for coronavirus on Wednesday (22nd) for over an hour after it was discovered that the patented liquid into which the testing sticks were dipped, before a screening can be administered, was faulty, Shafir Bottner director of Magen David Adom’s paramedic education school, told The Jerusalem Post.

The liquid was part of a testing kit that had been purchased from China.

Concern over the substance was raised when an employee at one of the labs noticed that the color obtained during the test was different than it was supposed to be.  According to media reports, the health system believes that around 10,000 kits have been taken with the liquid in recent days and some, if not all of the tests, must be retaken.

Health workers, and the MDA are currently awaiting a decision by the Health Ministry as to the next steps.  In the meantime, they were asked only to use those kits that they are confident are not faulty from known kit competitors.

“In light of the fluid color changes in some of the test tubes, we recommend that you use only the systems produced by Biological Industries or NOMAD until we update otherwise,” the Health Ministry informed the testing teams.

Bottner said the MDA checked in with all the drive-throughs, home testing groups and other facilities and quickly confirmed what tests they had available.

“We took out what wasn’t compatible, and the test centers are working again,” he said, adding that MDA still completed around 6,000 to 7,000 tests on Wednesday (22nd).

As of Thursday morning (23rd), Israel reports 14,592 confirmed COVID-19 cases.  The death toll from the virus is 191. 



‘Victory Over Haters Of Jews’: Terrorist Victim’s Mother Gives Birth To Baby Girl

The mother of murdered teen Rina Shnerb gave birth Tuesday (21st), Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, to a baby girl in what the family is calling “a huge victory” over Jew-haters.

In a joyous message to their Lod community regarding the arrival of their 12th child, Rabbi Eitan and Shira Shnerb wrote,”Neither the Nazis nor the accused terrorists will defeat us.  We will continue to live with great faith and bring new life into the world.”

The rabbi said they had learned of the pregnancy during their week of mourning for their daughter Rina, who was killed on a hike on August 23, 2019 by a bomb planted by Palestinian terrorists near the Ein Dani spring.  Her brother and father, who were a few steps behind Rina when the device exploded, were also injured in the attack.

Rabbi Shnerb said the news of a new life coming “helped us heal.”

He said the birthing staff asked if they would name the infant after their daughter.  “No,” said the father, “we feel our daughter is still with us, and besides, we have a new granddaughter, born in February named Rina.”

He said Rina (his daughter) was full of faith, joy, and love, and enjoyed helping others.   He said he hoped his new granddaughter Rina would have those characteristics.        

The three-men terrorist cell that planted the bomb which killed Rina Shnerb was caught and arrested shortly after the attack.    



Iraq Resists Iranian Pressure To Reopen Border – Alissa J. Rubin

Iraq closed its borders with Iran on March 8 to limit the spread of the coronavirus.  Iran needs trade with Iraq to help stabilize its economy and wants the border reopened immediately.  The dispute comes at a time of mounting pressure in Iraq to reduce Iran’s influence.  The coronavirus first arrived in Iraq from Iran, and only through strenuous efforts has Iraq kept its caseload relatively low, with only 82 deaths attributed to the virus by Monday (20th).  Iran is one of the world’s coronavirus epicenters, with more than 75,000 cases, and 5,200 deaths reported.

In the coronavirus era, with the health of Iraqis at stake, the push to distance the country from Iran has gained broader appeal.  Political observers see Iraq’s resistance to reopening the border as a signal that Iraqis no longer want Iran to assume it can get whatever it wants from their country, whenever it wants it. 

“Many Iraqis understand that there are many negative sides in this relationship that damage the Iraqis,” said Yaseen al-Bakri, a political science professor at Al Nahrain University in Baghdad.  “They have concerns about mentioning these things publicly.  But today, the virus has given them an acceptable way to say it.”