Archive for March 5, 2020

Israel dramatically widens coronavirus rules, adds EU nations to quarantine list 

March 5, 2020

Source: Israel dramatically widens coronavirus rules, adds EU nations to quarantine list | The Times of Israel

Foreigners from 5 countries who can’t home quarantine in Israel will be barred; no special rules announced for arrivals from US; handshakes advised against, large gatherings banned

Electoral workers count ballots cast by Israelis under home quarantine after returning from coronavirus infected zones, in the central town of Shoham on March 4, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Israel on Wednesday announced a series of dramatic new measures and restrictions intended to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country, sending arrivals from five Western European nations into immediate quarantine and limiting mass gatherings throughout the country.

All Israelis returning from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland were instructed to enter self-quarantine for a period of 14 days after their last day in those countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a Health Ministry press conference alongside Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and other top officials.

The decision applied retroactively to all who have come from those nations in the last 14 days.

Foreign citizens arriving from those countries will not be allowed into Israel unless they can show a proven ability to self-quarantine at a home during their stay.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

An earlier report had said the US could also be added to the list of countries, but the country was absent from the Wednesday afternoon announcement, despite a dramatic increase of cases stateside.

In addition, tourists who have been to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon in the 14 days before their arrival in Israel will not be allowed in.

The ministry also announced that gatherings of over 5,000 people will henceforth not be permitted, and Netanyahu advised Israelis to avoid personal contact, including shaking hands. International conferences of any kind will not be permitted.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Another restriction is a ban on gatherings of over 100 people for people who have returned from anywhere abroad in the past 14 days.

Netanyahu told a press conference Wednesday that the virus was “a global epidemic,” possibly “one of the most dangerous in the past century.”

But he insisted that Israel “is in the best state of all nations” in containing the disease, which has so far been diagnosed in 15 Israelis and has sent thousands into quarantine.

“We are in control of the situation, thanks to the great caution we have adopted,” he said. “We have been forced to take very severe steps to slow the spread of the virus in Israel and that is what has happened. We have ordered quarantines and mass checkups that many other countries haven’t done.”

He said he would be the first to stop shaking hands, though he noted that avoiding all physical contact went against the nature of Israelis.

The Health Ministry announced several more recommendations Wednesday, including: a general recommendation to the public to keenly maintain hygienic practices; a recommendation to the Civil Service commissioner to stop all civil service members from travel abroad; a recommendation to people over the age of 60 and those with chronic health conditions (including immune disorders, diabetes, heart disease and the like) to avoid crowds and meetings with people who’ve recently been abroad, or who show symptoms of illness.

A voter at a special polling station for those quarantined due to possible exposure to the new coronavirus in Jerusalem, on March 2, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Earlier Wednesday the Health Ministry ordered hundreds of soccer fans to isolate themselves at home after it was discovered that a teenager who has been diagnosed with the disease attended a major game last week in Tel Aviv. It said anyone in his section of the stadium could be infected.

In a series of sweeping measures the ministry also instructed all 1,150 students at a high school attended by the teen, plus an elementary class in a different school where a 5th-grade teacher was diagnosed with the virus, to self-quarantine at home.

Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, previously banning entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelling all Israelis recently in those areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.

American tourists wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus tour at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on February 27, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In a statement last month, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to seriously consider refraining from traveling abroad. Israel was the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected over 93,000 worldwide and claimed over 3,200 lives, almost all of them in China.

The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.

 

IDF halts major air defense drill with US as coronavirus restrictions intensify

March 5, 2020

Source: IDF halts major air defense drill with US as coronavirus restrictions intensify | The Times of Israel

Military calls off ‘Juniper Cobra’ — one of its largest exercises of the year — as some of the American troops came from Germany, which was recently added to travel advisory list

American, Israeli troops deploy a Patriot missile defense battery during the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (US Army)

American, Israeli troops deploy a Patriot missile defense battery during the 2018 Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in March 2018. (US Army)

The Israel Defense Forces called off a major air defense exercise with the United States on Wednesday night, a day after it launched, following stricter safety restrictions issued by the Health Ministry aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The biennial Juniper Cobra exercise — one of the IDF’s largest international drills — was scheduled to be held over the course of 10 days, with thousands of American and Israeli soldiers taking part around the world.

On Wednesday night, the military announced it was halting the exercise with the US European Command (EUCOM), apparently as many of the American troops taking part in it came from Germany, which earlier in the day was added to the Health Ministry’s list of countries from which visitors are not allowed to enter Israel and returning Israeli are required to enter a 14-day self-quarantine.

The Health Ministry has also banned gatherings of over 100 people for people who have returned from anywhere abroad in the past 14 days.

“In light of the Health Ministry’s instructions and a situational assessment regarding the spread of the coronavirus, and in close coordination with EUCOM, the [IDF] chief of staff and the EUCOM commander decided to halt the exercise,” the IDF said in a statement.

The head of the Israeli Air Force Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin meets with a senior American officer during the biennial Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in Israel in March 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The IDF appreciates and values the close cooperation with the US military and anticipates joint exercises in the future,” the military said.

This was the second joint exercise with the US military that was canceled by the IDF in light of concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Earlier this week, the military preemptively called off an exercise between American paratroopers stationed out of Italy — where there has been a high incidence of the disease — and IDF Ground Forces.

On Wednesday night, the Israeli military also announced that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi was postponing a scheduled trip to the United States due to Health Ministry recommendations against travel abroad.

The Juniper Cobra exercise has been held every other year since 2001 and is one of the IDF’s largest international drills. The exercise simulates a large-scale missile attack on the State of Israel, with air defense units from the IDF and EUCOM working together to intercept the incoming projectiles and members of the IDF Home Front Command practicing responses to such an assault.

In total some 3,500 American and Israeli soldiers were due to take part in the exercise, which will be held in Israel, Europe and the US. Some 600 American troops arrived in Israel for the exercise, coming from the US and Germany, while another 1,900 US military soldiers would have participated in the drill from Europe and the US.

American and Israeli soldiers take part in the biennial Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in Israel in March 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Approximately 1,000 Israeli soldiers from the IDF’s Aerial Defense Array, logistics units, medical units and other units in the military were meant to take part in the drill.

As the virus spreads across the globe, Israel has tried to prevent it from reaching and spreading throughout the country, banning entry to visitors from several countries where the disease has taken hold, mostly east Asian and western European nations.

The Health Ministry has also encouraged Israelis not to travel to those countries and required those returning from them to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The IDF on Monday took the Health Ministry recommendation further and explicitly forbade troops and employees from visiting those countries unless absolutely necessary.

Israel regularly conducts various training drills with the US military in the country, including air force exercises and missile defense drills.

Last month, the IDF confirmed that soldiers from one of the East Asian countries hit the hardest by the disease were allowed to come to the Jewish state and participate in a military exercise with Israeli troops at a base in the south.

American and Israeli soldiers take part in the biennial Juniper Cobra air defense exercise in Israel in March 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

After emerging in China late last year, the virus has now infected upwards of 90,000 people worldwide and killed approximately 3,200, most of them in China and Iran, though cases have been reported in 81 countries and territories.

So far 15 people in Israel have been diagnosed with the disease, and tens of thousands have been quarantined.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced that gatherings of over 5,000 people would henceforth not be permitted and advised Israelis to avoid personal contact, including shaking hands.

The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.

Agencies contributed to this report.

 

Damascus says Israeli airstrikes target bases near Homs, southern Syria 

March 5, 2020

Source: Damascus says Israeli airstrikes target bases near Homs, southern Syria | The Times of Israel

Syrian state media says its air defenses engages Israeli missiles that were fired from over Lebanon and the Golan Heights

An explosion seen near the city of Homs in Syria attributed to ISraeli airstrikes on March 5 2020 (Screencapture/Twitter)

Damascus said early Thursday that Israel was carrying out airstrikes in central and southern Syria and that its air defenses had engaged the missiles.

The state-run SANA news agency said “our air defense confronted an Israeli missile attack in the southwest of Quneitra province” in the south and also an area in the center of the country.  Quneitra  is just over the border with the Israeli Golan Heights.

SANA quoted a military source saying that at 12.30 am on Thursday (2230 GMT Wednesday) “our air defense observed Israeli warplane movement… several missiles were fired towards the central region.

“The hostile missiles were immediately dealt with, and were successfully confronted, none was able to reach its target.” Syria routinely and falsely claims to have intercepted Israeli missiles.

In mid-February, Israeli strikes on Damascus airport killed seven Syrian and Iranian fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor.

SANA later said the missiles were fired from Lebanese airspace and from inside the Golan.

The short statement released after midnight did not provide details on the targets. Reports said the strikes in the center were near the city of Homs.

Israel has attacked the T-4, or Tiyas, air base near Homs on multiple occasions.

Israeli defense officials have previously claimed the base is being used by Iranian forces as part of the Islamic Republic’s efforts to entrench militarily in Syria, something Israel has vowed to prevent.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

Though Israeli officials generally refrain from taking responsibility for specific strikes in Syria, they have acknowledged conducting hundreds to thousands of raids in the country since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

These have overwhelmingly been directed against Iran and its proxies, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, but the IDF has also carried out strikes on Syrian air defenses when those batteries have fired at Israeli jets.

Satellite photos released by ImageSat International shows the aftermath of an airstrike attributed to Israel that targeted the Syrian T-4 air base near Palmyra on June 2, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Israel has in the past accused Iran of attempting to set up rocket launching crews and other “terror infrastructure” in the Syrian Golan Heights, to be used  against Israel.

An agreement with Russia was supposed to push Iranian and Tehran-backed militias, including Hezbollah, dozens of kilometers away from the border.

Last week Israeli aircraft attacked Syrian army positions in the Golan Heights as tensions rose along the border following an earlier reported strike.

Helicopters fired missiles at army positions in Quneitra, and the nearby towns of al-Qataniyah and al-Hurriyet, the state-run SANA news agency said.

It said three soldiers were injured in the strikes.

The bombings came hours after SANA reported that an Israeli drone killed one person in southern Syria’s Quneitra province, in the demilitarized zone near the border with Israel.

“A civilian was martyred when his car was targeted by a drone belonging to the Israeli enemy south of the town of Hader,” the SANA news agency reported.

The report did not specify when the alleged strike took place or identify the man.

Quoting Syrian reports, Hebrew-language media named him as Imad Tawil, a local resident who had been recruited by Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and served as a local commander for the organization.

The reports said Tawil was apparently involved in setting up “terror infrastructure” that could be used to launch attacks along the border.