The Chinese ambassador to Israel was found dead in his home north of Tel Aviv on Sunday, Israel's Foreign Ministry said.
Israeli Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the ambassador's death was believed to be from natural causes.
Du Wei, 58, was appointed envoy in February in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He previously served as China's envoy to Ukraine. He was found dead at the ambassador's official residence in Herzliya.
He is survived by a wife and son, both of whom were not in Israel.
Israel enjoys good relations with China. Bilateral trade has grown in recent years, as have American concerns over Chinese investment, and concerns over spying on one of its key regional allies.
The ambassador's death came just two days after he condemned comments by visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who denounced Chinese investments in Israel and accused China of hiding information about the coronavirus outbreak.
Pompeo told Hebrew-language daily Israel Hayom that the U.S. and Israel have an opportunity to "build upon our relationship rather than give the Chinese Community Party the opportunity to undermine it."
The Chinese Embassy published an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday rebuffing Pompeo's claims that China was responsible for the outbreak and American concerns about Chinese investment in Israel.
"We trust that the Jewish friends are not only able to defeat the coronavirus but also the 'political virus,' and choose the course of action that best serves its interests," the embassy said.
Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Wednesday said it launched a military satellite into the orbit amid wider tensions with the United States, describing it as a successful launch after months of failures.
There was no immediate independent confirmation of the launch of the satellite, which the Guard called "Noor," or light. The U.S. State Department and the Pentagon, which contend that such launches advance Iran's ballistic missile program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On its official website, the Guard said the satellite successfully reached an orbit of 425 kilometers (264 miles) above the Earth's surface. The Guard called it the first military satellite ever launched by Tehran.
The two-stage satellite launch took off from Iran's Central Desert, the Guard said, without elaborating or saying when exactly the launch took place. The paramilitary force said it used a Ghased, or "Messenger," satellite carrier to put the device into space, a previously unheard-of system.
The launch comes amid tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal and after a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January.
Iran has suffered several failed satellite launches in recent months. The latest came in February, when Iran failed to put its Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit.
That failure came after two failed launches of the Payam and Doosti satellites last year, as well as a launchpad rocket explosion in August. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
The rocket explosion in August drew even the attention of President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran's program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the U.S. "was not involved in the catastrophic accident."
The U.S. alleges such satellite launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. American officials, as well as European nations, worry that these launches could help Iran develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. The Guard launching its own satellite now calls that into question.
Tehran also says it hasn't violated a U.N. resolution on its ballistic missile program as it only "called upon" Iran not to conduct such tests. Western missile experts have also questioned the U.S. contention that Iran's program could have a dual use for nuclear weapons.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
The launch comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. Iran since has broken all the deal's limitations while still allowing U.N. inspectors to its sites.
On Sunday, the Guard acknowledged it had a tense encounter with U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf last week, but alleged without offering evidence that American forces sparked the incident.
A U.S. Navy release video of the incident last Wednesday shows small Iranian fast boats coming close to American warships as they operated in the northern Persian Gulf near Kuwait, with U.S. Army Apache helicopters.
In the Guard's telling, for which it released no evidence to support its allegations, its forces were conducting a drill and faced "the unprofessional and provocative actions of the United States and their indifference to warnings." It said the Americans later withdrew.
Then on Monday, the Guard said it has significantly upgraded the range of its anti-warship missiles and that it now possesses surface-to-surface and subsurface anti-warship missiles with a range as high as 700 kilometers (430 miles).
Iran periodically announces major advances in its weapons capabilities that cannot be verified independently. Its armed forces are believed to have surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers, or 1,250 miles, that can reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Mideast.
Even as both face the same invisible enemy in the coronavirus pandemic, Iran and the United States remain locked in retaliatory pressure campaigns that now view the outbreak as just the latest battleground.
Initially overwhelmed, Tehran now seeks to sway international opinion on U.S. sanctions — imposed by the Trump administration after the U.S. president pulled America out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers — by highlighting its struggles with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. In Iran, the regional epicenter of the outbreak, the virus has killed more than 5,290 people, from among over 84,800 reported cases.
Israel's domestic security agency said Tuesday it arrested an Israeli citizen alleged to have spied for Iran.
The Shin Bet alleged in a statement the man was in contact with Iranian agents abroad, where he was given money, guidance and encryption tools.
The Shin Bet said the man was expected to provide information on strategic Israeli sites, ways to promote division in Israeli society, carry out attacks against Israeli targets and enlist Arab citizens of Israel to assist Iran.
The man, whose identity was barred from publication by an Israeli court, was arrested last month and indicted Tuesday for "serious security-related offenses."
The Shin Bet said the arrest highlights Iranian efforts "to carry out spy and terror activity within Israel, this also at a time when the world is facing the coronavirus epidemic which has badly spread in Iran."
Iran is facing the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East. Iran's state TV said Tuesday the new coronavirus has killed another 133 people, pushing the country's death toll to 3,872 amid 62,589 confirmed cases.
Israel and Iran are bitter enemies who have long fought a shadow war that over the last year has increasingly spilled out into the open. And although both countries are occupied with fighting COVID-19, the illness caused by the new virus, hostilities between them remain.
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.
The Middle East has over 81,000 confirmed cases of the virus, most of those in Iran, and over 3,600 deaths. Iran's Health Ministry said Thursday that the new coronavirus killed another 124 people, pushing the country's death toll to 3,160.
In a rare acknowledgment of the severity of the outbreak by a senior Iranian official, President Hassan Rouhani said the new coronavirus may remain through the end of the Iranian year, which just began late last month, state TV reported Thursday.
"The corona issue is not an issue that we can say it will be ended (on a specific) day. It is possible corona will be with us for the coming months. It is possible it will be with us by the end of the year. We always have to follow healthy protocols provided by the health ministry," Rouhani said.
In Lebanon, the Philippines ambassador, Bernardita Catalla, died of complications from the coronavirus Thursday, the Philippines said. Lebanon has recorded 494 cases, including 16 deaths.
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 near-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.
In rebel-controlled northwest Syria, the World Health Organization said it is increasing preparedness and testing capacities in the region that is home to nearly 4 million people, most of them displaced by the war and where health facilities have been targeted in repeated government military offensives.
Testing facilities were only delivered to the war-battered region late last month, and now there are up to 900 tests are available in the northwest.
Hedinn Halldorsson, spokesman for WHO, said 5,000 more tests arrive Friday while 90 new ventilators are procured to be sent to the rebel-held area, while WHO is looking to equip a second lab. Of 23 tests carried out in northwest Idlib, 20 were negative and three are pending, he said.
Concerns are high that in northwestern Syria, where only half of the health facilities are functioning and where displaced camps are crowded, the virus transmission would be fast once it reaches the area.
Iran's leaders vowed to overcome the coronavirus outbreak in upbeat messages marking the Persian New Year on Friday, even as the Health Ministry announced 149 more fatalities, bringing the country's death toll to 1,433.
Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with nearly 20,000 confirmed cases, and has been widely criticized for its slow response.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, called the new year "the year of leaps in production" in Iran's economy, which has been under strain since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord and imposed .harsh new sanctions.
President Hassan Rouhani also marked the new year, known as Nowruz, by promising a better economy. "We will put the coronavirus behind us soon with unity, with hard work and with cooperation," he said.
Most people who come down with the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus experience only minor symptoms and recover within weeks. But the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by people showing no symptoms. It can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, particularly in sick or elderly patients.
More than 240,000 people have been infected worldwide. More than 10,000 have died, while more than 85,000 have recovered.
Rouhani has defended his government's response to the pandemic in the face of widespread criticism that officials acted too slowly and may have even covered up initial cases before infections spread rapidly across the country.
He also sought to highlight what he viewed as the achievements of the past year, including the downing of a sophisticated U.S. drone and missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Iran's top general in Baghdad.
Rouhani assured Iranians his administration will prioritize health in the coming year and said it had stockpiled basic supplies.
Nowruz is a major holiday in Iran, when shoppers typically pack local markets and take extended vacations. Most shops are closed this year, and those merchants who are still working can be seen warily accepting cash or debit cards from customers in face masks.
Khamenei issued a religious edict this week prohibiting all unnecessary travel and authorities have restricted travel between cities. After weeks of heavy criticism, authorities finally closed two major religious shrines in recent days.
Other countries in the region have imposed far stricter measures to contain the virus, including canceling flights, sealing borders and forcing nonessential businesses to close.
In Tel Aviv, the sprawling Mediterranean beachfront is deserted and authorities have roped off outdoor gyms and playgrounds to keep people from using them. Israel has reported more than 700 confirmed cases.
Jordan announced a total curfew starting Saturday, saying all shops would be closed. Government spokesman Amjad Adaileh said a "mechanism" would be announced Tuesday to allow people to shop for essential goods at specific times. Anyone violating the curfew could face up to a year in jail. Jordan has reported 69 cases, one of whom recovered.
In Iraq, which has one of the highest death rates in the region, authorities struggled to keep Shiite pilgrims from marking the annual commemoration of the death of Imam Mousa al-Kazim despite a week-long curfew in the capital. Thousands of Iraqis typically walk to the shrine of the imam in the Khazimiyah area of Baghdad.
Security forces have been stopping pilgrims in recent days, but more keep arriving. Late Thursday, the doors of the shrine were closed and the electricity switched off. Officials urged the faithful to perform the pilgrimage "remotely" to keep themselves and others safe.
Iraq has been grappling with anti-government protests for months. The coronavirus outbreak, which has infected 192 people and killed 13, and the fallout from cratered oil prices, threaten to plunge the country into a major crisis.
The U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad says it will "temporarily return some" of its forces from Iraq to their home countries in coming days and weeks in response to the Iraqi government's decision to suspend all training. It provided no numbers. The coalition also said that some coalition troops are being moved off a few smaller bases, partly to protect them from the coronavirus and partly because of progress in the campaign against the Islamic State group.
Saudi Arabia announced it would shut down domestic air travel, buses, taxis and trains for the next two weeks, beginning Saturday. The monarchy has reported 274 confirmed cases, eight of whom recovered.
In a televised address late Thursday, King Salman said: "We are living through a difficult phase of the world's history."
"However, we are completely certain that this phase will end and pass, despite its harshness and bitterness and its difficulties," he said, assuring Saudis the country had sufficient medical care and supplies to get through the crisis.
Pakistan reported its third death from the virus, a 77-year-old cancer patient, in its southern Sindh province. Pakistan has reported 452 confirmed cases, most of them linked to travel to neighboring Iran.
Pakistan closed its borders with Iran and Afghanistan weeks ago, but Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday asked authorities to allow trucks carrying food and other essentials to cross into landlocked Afghanistan, where infections are also rising.
Pakistan closed its border with India near Lahore on Thursday. It is also placing hundreds of returning religious pilgrims into quarantine.