Israel right-wing parties boycott parliament re-opening

Israel right-wing parties boycott parliament re-opening
Benjamin Netanyahu is escorted by security guards during a visit to the Hatikva market in Tel Aviv, last year. (AP Photo)
Short Url
Updated 24 March 2020

Israel right-wing parties boycott parliament re-opening

Israel right-wing parties boycott parliament re-opening
  • Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party accused the centrist Blue and White, led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz, of breaching standard practice in parliament
  • Gantz was last week tasked with forming a government, something that had proved impossible following the last two votes given deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu camp

JERUSALEM: Israeli right-wing parties backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boycotted the re-opening of parliament Monday to protest what they called the “dictatorial” conduct of their centrist rivals.
The dramatic move came after a year of political turmoil that saw three inconclusive elections, and as Netanyahu has imposed strict legal and security measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party accused the centrist Blue and White, led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz, of breaching standard practice in parliament, the Knesset, following March 2 elections.
The row centered on whether Gantz would use his bloc’s slight majority of lawmakers to shape the composition of a powerful parliamentary committee.
Noting the “severe health crisis” — with 1,442 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel — Likud accused Blue and White of “hate-driven, dictatorial and destructive conduct.”
The election early this month saw the anti-Netanyahu parties claim a narrow lead of 62 seats.
Right-wing and ultra-Orthodox factions that back the caretaker premier claimed 58.
Gantz was last week tasked with forming a government, something that had proved impossible following the last two votes given deep divisions within the anti-Netanyahu camp.
There was no guarantee Gantz would fare better this time.
Monday’s spat centered on the key arrangements committee, which is responsible for forming other parliamentary committees.
When the new Knesset was sworn in last Monday, lawmakers failed to agree on the committee’s composition, which is traditionally negotiated among different Knesset factions.
But Blue and White declared it would put the issue to a majority vote.
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, a Likud member and Netanyahu ally, scheduled the vote for Monday.
Hours before the chamber was due to re-open, Likud announced its boycott, saying it would not take part in the “disgraceful process.”
Gantz’s bloc voted despite the boycott, creating an arrangements committee that will see Knesset business move forward, including the formation of a new body to tackle the coronavirus.
Gantz accused Netanyahu of trying to “paralyze the Knesset,” in a speech to a near empty chamber on Monday.
Netanyahu has repeatedly called for Gantz to join him in a unity government, with the premier’s job rotating between them, and President Reuven Rivlin has backed such calls amid the pandemic.
Israel has imposed severe restrictions to contain coronavirus, including banning non-essential movements.
Netanyahu had also enlisted the Shin Bet internal security agency to track possible virus carriers through their mobile phones — without a court order.
That move triggered outrage over alleged national security over-reach, with the supreme court ruling last week such surveillance could not go ahead without Knesset oversight.
The committee tasked with overseeing the Shin Bet, the foreign and defense committee, was scheduled to be formed in the coming days.
A dispute also escalated over the powerful job of Knesset speaker.
Likud has argued that its member and Netanyahu loyalist Yuli Edelstein should remain as speaker until a new government is formed.
Blue and White asked the supreme court to weigh in. On Monday, judges told Edelstein he had two days to schedule a vote for a new speaker.
Edelstein rejected what he described as the court’s “ultimatum,” saying it was not the role of judges to set the Knesset agenda.
Blue and White in a statement warned Edelstein that he would be “shamefully remembered” for defying the court.
Netanyahu is also facing criminal corruptions charges, allegations he denies, but which could soon leave him vulnerable: MPs who oppose him have backed legislation that would bar anyone under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister.


Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
Lebanese soldiers patrol as they try to enforce a total lockdown in the southern suburbs of Beirut as a measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)
Updated 10 min 30 sec ago

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low

Patients die at home as Lebanese oxygen supplies run low
  • Hospitals are running out of space and supplies as infections continue to rise

BEIRUT: Many doctors specializing in bacterial and infectious diseases expect a further jump in the number of people of infected with COVID-19 next week in Lebanon with hospitals exceeding their capacity.

On Sunday, the total number of laboratory-confirmed infections exceeded a quarter of a million people in the country.

In the first 17 days of the year 67,655 new cases were recorded, and the lockdown period is expected to be extended for at least 10 more days.

Suleiman Haroun, head of the Lebanese Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said: “The epidemiological scene in Lebanon reflects part of the reality, not all of it. The real situation will be worse yet.”

He said: “All the beds designated for COVID-19 patients in hospitals are occupied, as well as in emergency departments, and there are dozens of patients moving from one hospital to another in search of a bed. Hospitals have exceeded their capacity.”

Pulmonologist and intensive care specialist Dr. Wael Jaroush said: “I have never seen anything like what I see in the hospitals now. I never imagined that I would ever go through such an experience. There is no room for patients in the emergency departments.

“They are dying in their homes. Some of them are begging to buy oxygen generators, new or second hand.

“The price of a new one is normally $700, yet people are selling used devices for about $5,000, and some patients are forced to buy them in foreign currency, meaning that the patient’s family buy the dollar on the black market for more than LBP8,000.”

Jaroush said that patients were infected with the virus because of mixing with other people at the end of last year and in the first 10 days of January. He expected that their number would increase during Monday and Tuesday. He would wait to see if the numbers declined on Wednesday and Thursday.

He said that 10-liter oxygen bottles and smaller ones are out of stock “because of the high demand on them, either for storage due to lack of confidence in the state, or because they are not available in hospitals.”

“As a doctor, I come across patients who tell me that they bought the oxygen bottle two months ago, for example, and put it in their homes, just as they did when they resorted to storing medicines.”

He pointed out: “These oxygen bottles do not last long. A COVID-19 patient who cannot find a vacant bed in the hospital and is asked to find oxygen and stay at home needs 40 or 50 liters of oxygen. So when the 10-liter oxygen bottle runs out, the patient dies because his heart stops. This is happening now and some patients have died in their homes.”

Jaroush said: “The cardiologist Dr. Mustafa Al-Khatib suffered from COVID-19 yesterday and could not find even a chair in the emergency department. Since yesterday we doctors have been trying to find a place for him so that he can have a blood test and a scan for his lungs. This is our situation.”

On Sunday, it was announced that the Military Hospital in Beirut also exceeded its capacity. The hospital cares for military personnel and their families.

This prompted its management to take 23 rooms in a private hospital that was damaged in the Beirut port explosion last August. The Lebanese Army Works Regiment is working to make it available within days to accommodate cases that need intensive care.

In addition to the lack of capacity, there was also a lack of medical supplies.

Activists on social media circulated calls to secure oxygen bottles that are needed for patients in hospitals that are needed for patients.

The search for hospital beds has caused disputes between the Lebanese Red Cross paramedics and some hospitals.

Georges Kettaneh, Lebanese Red Cross secretary-general, said: “The Red Cross responds to all crises in the country, especially COVID-19, and from the beginning we demanded hospitals to be ready. It was expected that disputes would arise between the Red Cross and some hospitals due to the decision of the Minister of Health in the caretaker government, Hamad Hassan, to receive all cases in hospitals.”

Assem Araji, the head of parliament’s health committee, said: “Despite the sanctions that the Ministry of Health decided to impose on some private hospitals that did not respond to the request to open departments to receive patients, certain hospitals did not comply. We have reached a catastrophic stage that calls for national responsibility.”

Araji expressed his belief that “a complete lockdown for 11 days is not sufficient to limit the spread of the virus. Rather, it should be closed for three weeks, as recommended by the World Health Organization.”

Many well-known figures in Lebanon have died of the coronavirus during the past days.