May 25, 2020

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04/07 Links Pt1: Netanyahu announces Passover closure and curfew, but says exit may be in sight; Israeli researchers design low-cost open-source ventilator

From Ian:

Israel’s death toll rises to 60 as coronavirus cases top 9,000
The death toll in Israel from the coronavirus pandemic climbed to 60 on Tuesday, with over 9,000 infections recorded by the Health Ministry.

Among the three new victims since Monday night was an 80-year-old man who died in central Israel on Tuesday. The man, who had unspecified underlying illnesses, had been hospitalized at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva. He had been sedated and on a ventilator for several weeks prior to his death, the hospital said.

On Tuesday, the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv said a 95-year-old woman with preexisting health issues succumbed to the virus.

The third fatality, who died late Monday, was not immediately identified.

According to the ministry, 9,006 people were sick with the virus as of Tuesday morning, 153 of them seriously. Of the serious cases, 113 were on ventilators. Another 181 people were in moderate condition, with the remaining patients showing mild symptoms. The updated figures marked a rise of 102 cases since the previous evening.

The death Tuesday came after eight fatalities from the virus were reported a day earlier and as officials say they scrambling to secure more medical equipment amid a furious global battle over ventilators, masks, test kits and other essentials in the fight against the virus.

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said Tuesday that Israel had secured enough ventilators to bring the country’s count of the machines up to 3,000.

Netanyahu announces Passover closure and curfew, but says exit may be in sight

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced that Israelis would be barred from leaving their homes during the first night of Passover, as part of a general lockdown throughout the country over the holiday.

He also said restrictions meant to contain the coronavirus may begin to be rolled back after the holiday, but that the next few days were “fateful” to tackling the outbreak.

Beginning at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Israelis will not be able to leave the communities where they live until Friday at 7 a.m., Netanyahu said, while residents of some Jerusalem neighborhoods will be not be allowed to travel beyond restricted areas.

However, later Monday, Hebrew media, citing a draft of the measures that still need to be approved by the cabinet, said the lockdown would only end on Saturday evening at 7 p.m.

On Passover itself, which begins Wednesday evening, the prime minister said all Israelis must remain at their homes from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. Thursday morning.

“We’re in a fateful week. A fateful week for the world and for Israel,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement from his official residence in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said there were some “positive signs on the horizon,” but called on Israelis not become “complacent” and not to ease up on social distancing measures.

“Pesach won’t be Purim,” he declared, referring to the holiday festivities in early March that health officials believe contributed to the spread of the virus.

Israel PM Netanyahu Announces Nationwide Lockdown During Passover Holiday

Due to the restrictive measures taken by the Israeli authorities “we see positive signs on the horizon”, Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday as he announced new anti-coronavirus restrictions ahead of the Passover holiday in Israel, with inter-city travels for non-essential reasons banned.

The full lockdown is to come into force Tuesday 4 pm local time — 10 am EST — and will end Friday morning.

Wednesday evening will also see what is apparently a full curfew for Israel, with Israelis urged to stay at home, except for the Arab communities that do not celebrate Passover.

Announcing the move, Netanyahu stressed that the week to come will determine whether the situation in the country deteriorates or takes a turn for the better and said that the upcoming Passover will not be like the holiday of Purim, which saw an uptick in transmissions.

Israel Makes Wearing Masks in Public Compulsory to Stem Coronavirus Spread

The Israeli government issued orders on Tuesday making the wearing of masks in public compulsory to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

It also approved a timeline for tightened travel restrictions for the Passover holiday, which begins on Wednesday when Jewish families gather for a festive meal commemorating the Biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that this year the dinner should be a small affair, limited to household members, in a bid to keep infection rates in check.

Netanyahu last week urged Israelis to wear masks while in public, a measure the government said would become compulsory as of Sunday. Children under the age of six, the mentally disabled or those alone in vehicles or workplaces are exempted. The government said masks could be homemade.

From Tuesday evening until Friday morning, a ban on unnecessary out-of-town travel will be in place, effectively preventing large gatherings for Passover.

From 3 p.m. on Wednesday, a few hours before the meal gets underway, until 7 a.m. on Thursday, food shopping within towns will also be forbidden, in a tightened lockdown. Israelis are already banned from moving more than 100 metres from home except for visits to grocery stores and pharmacies, and travel to work.

Announcing an exemption in the Passover restrictions, a government statement said the holiday shopping ban would not apply to “non-Jewish minorities.” Around a fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, mostly Muslims, Druze and Christians.

Public transportation, including flights in and out of Israel, will be suspended from 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Tuesday until 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) on Sunday, the statement said.

Coronavirus: Israeli researchers design low-cost open-source ventilator

A group of Israeli researchers and experts from a variety of companies, governmental, organizations and non-profits have partnered to create a low-cost ventilator whose blueprints, design and codes are completely opensource and that has the potential of saving millions of lives as the coronavirus crisis continues to sweep through the world.

As explained to The Jerusalem Post by the project coordinator Dr. Eitan Eliram, in the four days since the material has been made available online, over 30,000 people have accessed the website and over 100 groups of experts from all over the world – including Iran, Egypt, South Africa, Guatemala, Italy and the United States – are already working to build up their first prototypes.

“We are not talking about a website for the general public, we are talking about engineers and other experts, and we know the groups who are working on it because they are in touch with us via WhatsApp and emails, to ask questions and understand how to proceed,” he said.

“AmboVent” is a device inspired by the bag-valve mask ventilators that paramedics use when they’re manually ventilating patients in an ambulance, which also offers controls for respiration rate, volume, and maximum peak pressure. Organizations involved in its development include the Magen David Adom, Israeli Air Force 108 Electronics Depot; physicians from Hadassah and Tel Aviv Sourasky medical centers; Microsoft; Rafael, an Israeli defense contractor; Israeli Aerospace Industries; and mentors and students from FIRST Israel, a student robotics organization.

A key feature of the project is that not only the technology is opensource, but its components can be easily built with limited tools and parts, for example 3D printers and car pieces, making the production much more accessible even in less developed country.

Face recognition startup AnyVision to deploy heat cameras at Tel Aviv hospital

In the upcoming days, Israel-based artificial intelligence-based face recognition startup AnyVision Interactive Technologies Ltd. will deploy thermal cameras at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital), the company’s chief operating officer Alex Zilberman told Calcalist. The cameras can measure body temperature from a distance and are capable of determining whether a high temperature is caused by disease or by another cause such as physical activity.

“The system will be able to identify potential coronavirus (Covid-19) carriers at the entrance and before they arrive at locations where they might infect a large number of people,” Zilberman said.

Measuring body temperature at the entrance to hospitals and shopping centers has become a routine measure throughout the world since the outbreak of coronavirus. However, current tests are done manually and one at a time, two issues addressed by AnyVision’s system. In addition, the commonly used thermometer guns only measure the temperature of the face and cannot differentiate between the different causes that could bring the temperature up. This being the case, a person arriving at his destination after a bike ride, might be mistaken to be ill.

AnyVision’s system is based on MiniPOP thermal cameras provided by Israeli government-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The technology was originally developed for military warships and drones.

What is special about the system is the ability to use the heat pattern created by the body to understand the reason its temperature went up, said Zilberman. “In the future, we will be able to use this system wherever there are large public gatherings, like airports, stadiums and train stations and passively check who has a fever,” he added.

Israeli Defense Companies are Turning Radars Into Coronavirus Symptom Detectors

Two major Israeli defense companies have developed cutting-edge coronavirus symptom detectors that will allow doctors to remotely pick up on suspicious symptoms of COVID-19. The sensors were created by adapting radar and camera technology that come from the defense and homeland security world.

The program, initiated by the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development, has seen Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems rapidly take radars and elecro-optic (camera) sensors and convert them into highly sensitive sensors that will enable medical teams to screen patients from another room, thereby greatly enhancing their safety.

In recent days, the Defense Ministry announced that its National Emergency Team, together with IAI and Elbit, have developed the prototypes to measure the vital signs of patients, including pulse, respiratory rate and temperature, and pick out patterns that indicate a likely coronavirus infection.

“I don’t know of any adaption of defense technology or homeland security radars for this purpose until now,” said Yossi Cohen, vice president and chief technological officer at Elbit Systems’ C4i and Cyber Division. “Until now, the civilian world didn’t have this need.”

Now, however, and likely in the near future, there will be a dramatic need for remote sensing that protects medical personnel from the risk of infection.

“This development came as a result of a capability that we want to give doctors at the entrance to Emergency Rooms to distinguish [between] patients that have a respiratory and have a chance of [contracting] coronavirus from patients suffering from other patients,” said Cohen.

Coronavirus: Rothschild Foundation donates NIS 50m. to Israeli hospitals

The Edmond de Rothschild Foundation said this week it donated NIS 50 million to 22 Israeli hospitals to help in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The donation will help the cash-strapped hospitals acquire 100 new respirators, 150 ICU beds, 110 monitors, nine special COVID-19 testing stations, 15 CPR devices, 84 transfusion devices, 15 different resuscitation devices, ECG implants, X-rays and much more.

The donation will also pay for tens of millions of gloves, masks, and other protective equipment for the hospitals.
Hospitals were given the utmost flexibility to define their needs and goals for the funds, the foundation said.

Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, who heads the foundation, noted that “as has been the custom of the Rothschild family throughout the years, we are committed to providing needed medical equipment for hospitals across Israel, to enable the dedicated medical teams at the forefront of the battle against coronavirus continue to save lives and win.”

The hospitals receiving the donation include Ichilov, the EMMS Nazareth Hospital, Assaf Harofeh, Beilinson, Bnei Zion, Barzilai, Hadassah, Hillel Yaffe, HaEmek, Hasharon, Wolfson, Ziv, Carmel, Meir, Nahariya, Soroka, Poriah, Kaplan, Rambam, Shiba Tel Hashomer, Schneider and Shaare Zedek.

Nearly 140 US Jewish leaders urge Gantz, Ashkenazi to block annexation

Nearly 140 US Jewish leaders unveiled an open letter Monday to Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his deputy, MK Gabi Ashkenazi, urging them to “remain steadfast” in their opposition to West Bank annexation under a unity government.

The missive warns against allowing the coronavirus pandemic to enable Israel to annex West Bank settlements, at a time when the country needs to unify in the face of a public health emergency.

“In the midst of this unprecedented health and financial crisis for Israel, we respectfully urge you not to use the need for unity in the face of emergency to create a different crisis for Israel by moving forward on unilateral annexation,” the American Jewish leaders write.

The letter was orchestrated by the Israel Policy Forum, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for a two-state solution.

It was signed by a number of prominent Jewish philanthropists, such as Charles Bronfman and Donald Sussman, and religious leaders, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who heads the Union for Reform Judiasm, and David Saperstein, former head of the Religious Action Center and US ambassador for International Religious Freedom in the Obama administration.

Other signatories include former Florida Congressman Steve Israel and current head of the National Council of Jewish Women Sheila Katz, among others.

Describing themselves as “proudly Zionist, unquestionably pro-Israel,” the Jewish leaders said that Jerusalem unilaterally annexing the West Bank would estrange American Jews.

Shin Bet nabs Israeli citizen accused of spying for Iran

The Shin Bet security service on Tuesday said it arrested an Israeli citizen last month who had made contact with Iranian intelligence agents and was asked to work on their behalf against the country.

On Tuesday, the suspect — whose name is subject to a gag order — was indicted in a Central District court after being arrested on March 16.

According to the security service, the man’s Iranian handlers asked him to carry out terror attacks against Israeli targets, provide information about Israeli defense and strategic sites, recommend ways to sow discord in Israeli society, and locate Arab Israelis who may also be interested in working on behalf of Iran.

“This investigation shows again that Iran and its proxies are working to recruit and take advantage of Israelis for the interests of Iran,” the Shin Bet said.

The security service said the man made multiple trips abroad to meet his handlers, including a Lebanese national, Khaled Yamani, who is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group and who the Shin Bet said was working on behalf of the Iranians.

“During these trips, he received funds, training, encryption tools and codes in order to be able to maintain contact with them in an encrypted way after he returned to Israel,” the Shin Bet said.

When the man was arrested, the arresting officers found an encryption device and a USB drive that the Shin Bet said the suspect tried to destroy. The security service did not say what was found on the USB drive.

Netanyahu: Israel ready for ‘constructive action’ to return captives from Gaza

In a Tuesday message to Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is prepared to take “constructive action” to bring back Israelis and soldiers’ remains held in Gaza.

Israel’s chief negotiator for the release of Gaza captives, Yaron Blum, in collaboration with the National Security Council and the defense establishment, is “committed to acting constructively with the aim of bringing back the soldiers’ bodies and missing civilians and putting an end to the issue,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement, adding that the premier was calling “for immediate dialogue between mediators” to facilitate a deal.

Hamas is believed to be holding two Israeli civilians — Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who are though to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014-2015, as well as the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

Hamas issued a statement responding to Netanyahu, saying, “The ball was now in [Israel’s] court to take practical steps” toward a deal and that it would “reply responsibly to any real response” from Israel.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office appeared to be in response to an interview Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar gave last Thursday in which he revealed the terror group’s willingness to reach a deal.

Israel helps Palestinian sheikhs return from Indonesia

Israel helped evacuate five Palestinian sheikhs from Indonesia, with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, after it banned foreigners due to the spread of coronavirus.

Travel Agency Amsalem Tours, which has worked with the Foreign Ministry on many of its operations to bring home Israelis as borders close around the world, took on the cause of the sheikhs from Nablus together with a Jewish Israeli lawyer who helped them and asked to remain anonymous.

“This was one of our most humanitarian operations ever,” Amsalem Tours CEO Yaakov Amsalem said on Tuesday, “because no country was willing to accept the Palestinian sheikhs. Israel proved its humanitarian values in the most respectful way, because we are all human without differences of religion, race or nationality.”

The sheikhs were stranded in Jakarta for three weeks, and the Palestinian Authority was unable to help them after several Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan, declined to allow them to travel through their territory to reach home.

Prospect of COVID-19 flare-up strikes fear ahead of Ramadan

Israeli officials on Tuesday expressed concern that the holy month of Ramadan, which hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide will mark starting on April 24, will cause a flare-up of the coronavirus.

The Arab world is struggling to keep the pandemic at bay, with Iran hit the hardest by it. The Islamic republic has recorded 60,500 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths, but western experts believe the actual numbers are higher.

In Israel, authorities have made sure to make information and every form of assistance available to the Arab sector, but compliance with the Health Ministry’s prevention directives, especially with respect to social distancing, has been slow.

As of Tuesday morning, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel was 9,006. Sixty Israelis have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 683 have recovered from it.

Health Ministry officials have expressed concerns that the considerable efforts Israel has invested to “flatten the curb” of infections will be severely compromised if all Ramadan customs are observed as always during the pandemic.

Large gathering for prayer and particularly family gatherings for the daily breaking of the Ramadan fast are a key part of Muslim tradition during the holiday, as is the custom of visiting the elderly – a group that is particularly vulnerable to the virus.

A senior Arab Israeli official told Israel Hayom that it was only in recent days that the Health Ministry began to consult with senior officials in the sector about how to successfully weather Ramadan with minimal impact on religious customs but with maximal compliance with public health directives.

Joint Arab List MKs were also weighing in on the issue, he said, noting that there is a consensus about the need for a comprehensive information campaign.

Khaled Abu Toameh: PA warns Palestinians against smuggling workers back from Israel

The Palestinian Authority on Monday warned against attempts to smuggle Palestinian workers in Israel back to their homes in the West Bank in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Recently, the PA called on Palestinians workers in Israel to return to their homes for fear they would be infected with the disease.

In the past few days, however, PA officials have expressed deep concern that the tens of thousands of workers would help spread the disease in the West Bank after their return from Israel. The officials demanded that Israeli authorities coordinate with the PA the return of the workers.

Several Palestinians who were caught trying to smuggle workers from Israel in their vehicles were arrested by the PA security forces in the past few days.

Thousands of Palestinian workers are expected to return to their homes before the start of the Jewish Holiday of Passover. The PA fears that some of the workers may have contracted the disease during their stay in Israel.

The PA Ministry of Health has instructed all the returning workers to remain in isolation in their homes for two weeks to prevent the spread of the disease. Palestinian health officials said that although many have abided by the instructions, others have returned to their homes without notifying the PA.

The PA Ministry of Labor warned on Monday that anyone caught smuggling workers from Israel into the West Bank would be held legally accountable.

Hamas plans to demand medical aid from Israel due to coronavirus – report

Should Hamas see it is facing a collapse in the Gaza Strip due to COVID-19, it plans to demand Israel provide medical aid, Channel 13 reporter Zvi Yehezkeli said on Tuesday, Maariv reported.

“We need to examine this thing,” he said, “and the IDF is also looking into it. Eventually, the coronavirus crisis can become rockets fired at Israel.”

Speaking about the larger Arab world, Yehezkeli argued that it is still in a state of denial about the true scope of the virus. According to him, Turkey and Syria are about to experience massive shocks.

Quoting the Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who said “we Arabs love to drive a Mercedes, yet we never invented one,” Yehezkeli argued that people in the Arab world are very much aware of the technological gap between them and others, including Israel.

“They are all waiting for the Jews [to help],” he said.

JCPA: Iran in Crisis: Corona, Sanctions, Uranium

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser:
– Maximum pressure on Iran should be maintained because there is no other option and because it is working. It puts the regime in a very difficult position. It is losing a lot of money and if its propaganda campaign to blame the U.S. for its failures fails, it may not see a way out of the difficult position it is in.
– Israel wants to see more pressure on Iran and is fully behind what the U.S. is doing right now. At the same time, Israel is trying very hard to prevent Iran from harming it, and is fighting the Iranian presence in Syria and the Iranian efforts to improve the capabilities of Hizbullah in Lebanon with precision-guided rockets.
– The Iranians are very rapidly accumulating 4.5%-enriched uranium, not 3.67% as the JCPOA allowed up to 300 kilograms. They have everything working, both new centrifuges they have developed and the old centrifuges, including in the underground fuel enrichment plant in Fordow. I think they are about four to six months away from having enough fissile material for the first nuclear device if they choose to, and they are continuously shortening the time.
– Everybody is worried, but no one is doing anything about it. This is very dangerous because if the Iranians feel cornered, they could try to make a dash for a bomb. This poses a great danger to the entire world. Even though their chances of success are small – the Americans have already sent two aircraft carriers to the Gulf in order to send a warning – left without any other options, the Iranians may consider it.

Dr. Michael Doran:
– There’s not a lot of appetite in the Trump administration to do anything to change the status quo at the moment because it calculates that time is on its side, that the more time goes on, the deeper these sanctions bite into the Iranians.
– I follow the Iranian social media and see lots of postings by Iranians about warehouses full of antiseptic materials and protective equipment for hospitals that isn’t getting to the hospitals. Collecting these stories, validating them, and making them better known would be a useful activity.
– The Iranian regime has no compassion for its own people; it only cares about its base. Social media now coming out of Iran gives us lots of opportunities to explain to American college students what a rapacious regime looks like, how it behaves, and how it uses our own sense of compassion against us.
– The Iranians got the fear of God put in them with the killing of Qasem Soleimani. It showed that the United States is capable of escalating and can inflict a very big price on them with a single drone or two from Qatar, not even launched from inside Iraq.

Tehran University Lecturer: COVID-19 May Have Originated in the U.S. Like the Spanish Flu Did

Tehran University lecturer Foad Izadi said in a March 31, 2020 episode of Iranian filmmaker Nader Talebzadeh’s show on Ofogh TV (Iran) that he does not know whether COVID-19 was manufactured in the United States, but that some Americans reported symptoms of coronavirus before the virus officially spread to the United States. He speculated that this, along with President Trump’s statement that 40,000 Americans had died of the flu in the previous year, may be an indication that the coronavirus started in the United States before spreading to China and other parts of the world. He said that this is what had happened with the Spanish Flu, which he said originated in Kansas but was given its name because of a conflict between the U.S. and Spain and because America’s propaganda had been more effective than Spain’s.

MEMRI: Tablighi Jamaat Emir Maulana Mohammad Saad Opposes Social Distancing During Coronavirus Epidemic, Says: ‘The Satan Is Using This Opportunity… To Lead Us Astray From Our Religious Duties In The Name Of Precautions, Treatment, And Protection’

Tablighi Jamaat is a transnational revivalist Islamic movement that landed in controversy for organizing conferences in mid-March 2020 at its international headquarters in New Delhi. It appears that thousands of devout foreign and Indian Muslims who attended these conferences spread the Coronavirus across other Indian states.[2]

Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhlawi, who took over as emir of the revivalist group in November 2015, was born on May 10, 1965, and has three children. The Tablighi Jamaat was founded by his grandfather Maulana Muhammad Kandhlawi in 1926 in Mewat, a region near Delhi. Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhlawi completed his religious education at Madrassa Kashif-ul-Uloom, which is part of the Nizamuddin Markaz, the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat.[3]

According to one report, Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhlawi “has roughly 100 crore [2 billion] followers in 214 countries. By some measures, this makes the Tablighi Jamaat the largest Muslim movement in the world. The majority of the followers of the Tablighi Jamaat live in South Asia.”[4]

Maulana Mohammad Saad Kandhlawi delivered three speeches on the Coronavirus epidemic at the Nizamuddin Markaz on March 20, 22, and 25. The Indian government had declared a national curfew on March 22 from 7 am to 9 pm and began a 21-day lockdown on March 25. Following are translations, produced by Delhi-based New Age Islam group, of the cleric’s three speeches.

Following are excerpts from the March 20 speech:[5]
“This Is The Time For Repentance And For Reciting The Koran And For Reverting Towards God; This Is The Time To Bring The Ummah To The Mosques, Not Of Leaving The Mosque”

“The point is that in the current situation every Muslim should think that Allah has directly put his hand on me. This should also be kept in mind that it can never happen that the wrath of God will inflict the Kafirs [unbelievers] and the Muslims will also be afflicted by it. Some people have got the wrong belief that the contagion was meant for the ‘others’ but Muslims fell prey to it. God directly deals with every momin [believers].

“In the light of faith and belief, we cannot subscribe to the idea that the wrath of God had descended on the ‘people of the world’ but Muslims also got trapped in it. The Koran says that, we know who will be afflicted by our wrath and who will not. All will not be afflicted by our wrath. However, if we bring our wrath on others as well, it is because we bring it as a warning to them and to drive them towards good deeds.

“Therefore, these circumstances inspire us to learn a lesson. But it does not mean that we should leave namaz [prayer] for some time or suspend other religious duties for some time and the calamity will be taken away. Oh really! (Recites a verse) In this verse of the Koran Allah says that, such contagions and calamities will not hold any lessons for these people. They don’t think that this is a transitory period and will pass on. So, let’s go ahead and do. Exhortations do not benefit such people.

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