News Digest — 8/6/20

Israel: Weekend Restrictions Lifted, Flights To Resume

The Coronavirus Cabinet decided on Wednesday night (5th) to lift the restrictions imposed on the opening of street shops, shopping centers and amusement facilities in public parks on weekends.

At the same time, the Coronavirus Cabinet approved the authorization of Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to promote the plan to restart flights starting August 16, and to make decisions on the issue.

“I thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for giving the green light to the resumption of flights,” said Minister Regev.  “Together with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, we will work to implement the outline that will allow flights to resume and protect Israeli aviation.”

During the meeting, coronavirus product manager Prof. Ronni Gamzu said, “No country in the world with a high level of infection such as Israel treats the infection levels without a lockdown.  The Israeli government is sensitive to the delicate socio-economic situation and difficulties of the public, and therefore trusts us to find a way that does not include a full lockdown.  This is probably the final chance for a moderate approach.  If the infection rate does not decrease within two weeks, we will have to reconsider restrictions and the possibility of a nationwide lockdown.”

It was also decided to abolish the restriction on playgrounds in public areas.

Gamzu added that “the premise is that a lockdown of any kind will cause great damage to the economy and society.  The prime minister and cabinet members fully understand the social and economic difficulty many citizens face.  The decision to try to reduce the infection rate without a lockdown is part of my promise to you in the new contract.  However, in the next two weeks, every citizen must be disciplined, wear masks, self-distance and observe all restrictions – thus bringing us to a reduction in the infection rate and no need for a lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health updated on Wednesday (5th) that, since midnight, 1,060 new cases of coronavirus were registered in Israel.

In the past day, a total of 1,727 patients were diagnosed, 345 of whom are in serious condition and 106 are on respirators.  The death toll rose by three to 565.



Dazed And Wounded, Lebanese Emerge From Massive Blast Angry At Rulers

Walid Assi was cooking at a Beirut pizza shop on Tuesday night (4th) when a huge blast-wave pushed him down.  The ground beneath him shook.  He saw a flash of white.  The roof caved in.

“We can’t believe we got out of this alive,” the chef told Reuters in a central district of the Lebanese capital.  “People were bleeding, lying on the ground, running around in the streets … It was like a nightmare.”

Staff stood aghast near the restaurant the morning after the explosion at the Beirut port blaming the tragedy on negligence.  Assi said that once the shock subsided, his next feeling was anger.

“Why should innocent people have to suffer like this because of worthless rulers?  Is this how cheap our lives are to them?”

Beirut residents woke Wednesday (4th) to a capital in desolation.  Rescuers dug through the rubble for survivors in a city that was already buckling under the weight of a financial meltdown and coronavirus outbreak.

The explosion killed at least 137 people, injured 5,000 and pushed up to 500,000 out of their homes as shockwaves ripped off doors and shattered windows miles inland.

For many Lebanese, it was the latest blow and they blamed it on the sectarian political elites who have ruled for decades.

The government said it would hold those responsible for the disaster. But for the workers and residents sweeping up debris, with clouds of dust swirling around them, it sounded like just empty promises that they were tired of hearing.

Thousands of Lebanese have protested since October against state waste and corruption that pushed the country into financial ruin.  The local currency has since crashed, sending prices soaring and leaving many poor.

“What more can happen to us other than death?  It’s as if they want us to die,” Rony Abu Saad said outside the blown-out storefront of his sandwich shop.  One of his employees died under the wreckage inside.

“This country looks like its rulers, the garbage and rubble in the streets looks like them,” he said.  “If any of them has a speck of consciousness left, they would leave.”

Around him, shards of glass and twisted metal littered the pub street.  The roof of a large petrol station had crashed atop its pumps.  Most of the city buildings lost all their balconies.  In one alleyway, collapsed billboards and tree branches smashed a row of cars, and a man paced back and forth amidst the rubble muttering “this is war.”

Abu Saad, whose furniture in his house near the sandwich shop was torn to pieces, hasn’t slept since the explosions. “We’re all in shock – none of us can understand the scale of the destruction,” he said.

The wreckage shocked many even in a city that has weathered crisis after crisis, including a 1975-1990 civil war, a 2005 war and a series of assassination bombings.

“The worst part is this government and all those before it did nothing.  Nobody cares.  Did they know this warehouse was there, and they kept it there near our houses?” said Habib Medawar, 65, landlord of a building where two people died.

He sat outside in a yellow plastic chair, staring out towards the sea.  “I don’t want to do anything, I can’t even bring myself to go inside.”

Nearby, Pierre Mrad, the medical director of a hospital nearby that was knocked out of service, held back tears.  The blast had wounded and killed his medical staff, including nurses.



Likelihood Of Hezbollah Revenge Attack Has Decreased

Israel estimates that the likelihood that Hezbollah will carry out its threats to harm Israel has dropped significantly following the explosion at the port in Beirut, Kan News reported.

It is estimated that Hezbollah’s efforts will be directed at internal affairs in Lebanon, and the risk of a confrontation with Israel would be considered too high after the disaster.

Nevertheless, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi decided to maintain alertness at the highest level on the northern border, but if there aren’t significant violations at the border, within a few days the level of alertness will decrease.

Earlier, Kan News reported that Israel is in discussions to send advanced medical equipment to Lebanon following the massive deadly explosions which shook the city of Beiruut on Tuesday (4th).

According to the report, the contacts between Israel and the Lebanese government are being moderated through the United Nations.

According to a source in UNIFIL, the Lebanese government has received Israel’s offer but has yet to make an official response.



Pompeo: UN Security Council To Vote Next Week On Extending Iran Embargo

The United Nations Security Council will vote next week on a US bid to extend an international arms embargo on Iran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday (5th), despite the warnings of some diplomats that the measure lacks support.

The arms embargo on Iran is currently set to end on October 18 under Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which US President Donald Trump’s administration quit in 2018.

The US-drafted resolution needs at least nine votes in favor to force Russia and China to use their vetoes, which Moscow and Beijing have signaled they will do.

“The United States will put forward a resolution in the Security Council to extend the arms embargo on Iran,” Pompeo told reporters.  “The proposal we put forward is eminently reasonable.  One way or another we will do the right thing.  We will ensure that the arms embargo is extended.”

If the United States is unsuccessful in extending the embargo, it has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under a process agreed in the 2015 deal.

Such a move would kill the deal, touted as a way to suspend Tehran’s suspected drive to develop nuclear weapons.  Washington argues it can trigger the sanctions because a Security Council resolution still names it as a participant.

Iran has breached parts of the nuclear deal in response to the US withdrawal and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions.

“For as long as Iran is allowed to enrich, we’re going to be having this discussion – how close is Iran to a nuclear breakout? … We need to restore the UN Security Council standard of no enrichment,” US Iran envoy Brian Hook told the Aspen Security Forum, held virtually, earlier on Wednesday (5th).

Iran denies it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

Diplomats say Washington would face a tough battle if it tries to trigger a return to sanctions.



Israeli Start-Up Enables Farmers To Grow Crops In Salty Water

An Israeli start-up has developed a technology that allows farmers to grow crops in spite of the salinity of the water or soil that they have at their disposal, offering hope to overcome challenges related to droughts and scarcity of freshwater.

As explained to The Jerusalem Post by the company’s CEO Dotan Borenstein, the idea behind Kfar Vitkin-based SaliCrop was first formulated when Rca Godbole, a plant biologist from India, visited Israel and met agronomist Omar Massarwa and agricultural engineer Sharon Devir.  

In 2013, the group decided to pursue a project that would help coastal farmers in the area of Mumbai.

“For a few years, they worked under the radar in central Israel to achieve a proof of concept of their idea on several types of produce,” he explained.  “Afterward, they went to experiment their solution in the fields, irrigating the crops with salty water.”

The product offered by SaliCrop does not involve the use of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but is based on wet chemistry.

“The materials are completely safe and give the crops a form of ‘immunity’ from salt and also drought conditions,” Borenstein said.

In 2018, the technology began to be employed by farmers both in Israel and India.  Over time, it has been used on a variety of crops, including rice, corn, wheat, millet, tomatoes, spinach and coriander.

“Two months ago, we started to experiment also with cotton in India,” the CEO said.

Overall, the use of SaliCrop’s solution has increased the crop production between 12% and 32%, with all other conditions being equal.

“Our vision is to allow small farmers, bigger farmers and even countries to practice agriculture where there is little or no freshwater –  under difficult conditions and in areas where before it was not economically viable,” Borenstein concluded.