Israel’s health minister hit by coronavirus

Israel’s Health Minister Litzman visits a tent for quarantined voters in Tel Aviv. (AP)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Israel’s health minister hit by coronavirus

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu returns to self-quarantine because of his contact with Litzman

JERUSALEM: The new coronavirus is forcing more top Israeli officials into isolation after the country’s health minister, who has had frequent contact with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tested positive, the Health Ministry said Thursday.

Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and his wife, who also contracted the virus, are in isolation, feel well and are being treated, the ministry statement said.

Shortly after the announcement, the prime minister’s office said Netanyahu returned to self-quarantine because of his contact with Litzman. Netanyahu had previously been in isolation after a top aide tested positive for the virus. Netanyahu has tested negative.

Hebrew language media reported that the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and the National Security Council were asked to self-quarantine because of their interactions with Litzman.

The Health Ministry director and Litzman’s staff also self-quarantined, and the ministry said that requests to enter isolation will be sent to those who came in contact with the minister in the past two weeks.

Israel has gone into ear-lockdown to try to contain the virus outbreak. The country has reported just over 6,200 confirmed cases and 29 people have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Israel’s large, insular ultra-Orthodox community, of which Litzman is a member, has been particularly hard hit by infections. In the early phases of the outbreak, some rabbis had pushed back or ignored government-mandated movement restrictions, but resistance appears to have diminished.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu ordered a police cordon around the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, east of Tel Aviv, to limit movement to and from the city. Bnei Brak has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Israel.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia or death.

In Syria, the government extended the closures of mosques until April 16, nearly a week before the start of the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims spend more time in prayers and worshiping. The government also extended indefinitely a ban on visits to prison and detention facilities, citing concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Rights groups have called on governments in the region to release thousands of political detainees held in crammed and unhygienic facilities with little recourse to justice. In government-controlled Syria, 10 cases of infection and two deaths were reported, amid concerns the virus may be more widespread.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 44 min 28 sec ago

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.