Israeli PM tests positive for Covid after Blinken talks

by AFP

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has tested positive for Covid-19, his office said Monday, after he met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Bennett, who met Blinken in Jerusalem on Sunday on the sidelines of a “historic summit” of Israeli and Arab diplomats, “is feeling well and will continue his schedule as planned from his home,” a statement from his office said.

Also on Sunday Bennett visited the northern Israeli city of Hadera after gunmen shot dead two police officers in an attack claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group.

Police said the two gunmen – Israeli Arabs identified by Israeli intelligence as local IS operatives — were killed by counterterrorism officers who happened to be nearby.

Bennett’s office said that on Monday the prime minister “will hold a situation assessment following the attack that took place last night with” the ministers of defence, public security, the army’s chief of staff and other officials.

Pictures published by Israeli media after his visit to Hadera, during which he was also briefed by the police on the attack, showed Bennett wearing a face mask.

But the prime minister did not have a face mask during a joint news conference with Blinken on Sunday.

The US top diplomat is in Israel to attend landmark talks with officials from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco – countries that normalised ties with the Jewish state in 2020.

His Egyptian counterpart will also join the group who are meeting later Monday in the Negev desert.

The talks come amid rising regional concerns over a deal Washington could soon reach with Iran to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

Israel and most Gulf Arab countries are sceptical of a revived deal with Tehran, which the Jewish state considers a threat to its existence.

The Negev meeting also takes place as the United States and European allies express quiet frustration that Middle East countries generally have not shown strong support for efforts to support Ukraine following Russia’s invasion or distanced themselves from Moscow.

On Sunday evening, after meeting Bennett, Blinken travelled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank for talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.