Four hot air ballons took off from Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport on Sunday for the first time ever due to the low number of flights.
The balloons, flown by Israeli companies Rize Up and Skytrek took off after receiving the permission of the Israel Airports Authority (IAA), reports Xinhua.
Dozens of aviation enthusiasts came to the airport to watch the event and photograph it, as the balloons took off on a runway near the airport's main terminal reaching an altitude of about 2km.
Recently, the IAA allowed aviation enthusiasts from all sectors, such as flying ATVs and ultra-light aircraft, to conduct special flights from the airport, which previously could not be possible due to heavy air traffic.
The Hebrew news website "Ynet" reported that one of the participants in the balloons flight was a 72-year-old recovered coronavirus patient, after being hospitalised in critical condition.
In mid-June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu estimated that the opening of Israeli skies to flights would be on Aug 1.
However, the number of new daily coronavirus cases has since jumped from a few dozen to more than 2,000, which has delayed the plan.
On July 20, Israel extended flight restrictions until at least Sept 1, following the recent sharp increase in morbidity.
The restrictions ban the entry of foreign nationals into Israel, excluding exceptional cases approved by the Population and Immigration Authority, with a 14-day mandatory quarantine.
Thousands of Muslims attended the Friday prayer at Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia after 86 years.
The structure once was one of Christendom’s most significant cathedrals, then a mosque and museum before its reconversion into a Muslim place of worship, reports AP.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also attended the prayers inside the sixth-century monument along with around 500 dignitaries.
Thousands of men and women, including many who travelled from across Turkey, quickly filled specially-designated, segregated areas outside of Hagia Sophia, to be part of the first prayers in nearly nine decades.
Many people camped near the structure overnight while dozens of worshipers broke through one police checkpoint to rush toward Hagia Sophia and social distancing practices, in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, were being ignored, Turkish media reported.
Orthodox Church leaders in Greece and the United States, meanwhile, were scheduled to observe ‘a day of mourning’ over the inaugural prayers.
Earlier this month, Erdogan issued a decree restoring the iconic building as a mosque, shortly after a Turkish high court ruled that the Hagia Sophia had been illegally made into a museum more than eight decades ago.
The structure, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, has since been renamed “The Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque.”
But the move sparked dismay in Greece, the United States and among Christian churches who had called on Erdogan to maintain it as a museum as a nod to Istanbul’s multi-religious heritage and the structure’s status as a symbol of Christian and Muslim unity.
Pope Francis also expressed his sadness.
Last week Erdogan said: “This is Hagia Sophia breaking away from its captivity chains. It was the greatest dream of our youth.”
“It was the yearning of our people and it has been accomplished,” said Erdogan adding that its conversion into a museum by the republic’s founding leaders as a mistake that is being rectified.
History of Hagia Sophia
Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque with the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Istanbul.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding leader of the secular Turkish republic, converted the structure into a museum in 1934.
Although an annex to the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan’s pavilion, has been open to prayers since the 1990s, religious and nationalists group in Turkey have long yearned for the nearly 1,500-year-old edifice, which they regard as the legacy of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer, to be reverted into a mosque.
After using water cannons to disperse protesters in central Jerusalem, Israeli police arrested over 55 as clashes broke out overnight after thousands demonstrated against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.
People of Israel held a series of demonstrations in recent weeks calling on Netanyahu to resign and demanded his trial on corruption charges.
They blamed the PM for his fractious unity government’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The protest near Netanyahu’s residence began around sundown on Thursday and was initially largely peaceful.
However, a smaller counter-protest in support of Netanyahu was also held nearby, with the two camps separated by metal barricades and a large police presence.
Police said that they moved in to disperse the protesters when they tried to stage a procession through the city.
Police scuffled with demonstrators before four large trucks roared into action, spraying water cannons back and forth, scattering the protesters.
The first coronavirus cases appeared in March and by May, Israel imposed a general lockdown. The country also moved quickly to lift virtually all restrictions, and in the following weeks Covid-19 cases surged.
Israel has reported more than 57,000 cases and 442 deaths until now.
A unity government formed in May following three inconclusive elections in less than a year was supposed to prioritise the pandemic. Instead, it has been plagued by infighting and unable to agree on clear policies to combat the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister faced charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over a series of long-running corruption investigations. Critics said he is more focused on escaping legal accountability than on containing the pandemic.
Many speculated that Israeli PM intends to call yet another election, allegations he dismissed as “absurd” in a Thursday press conference.
Iran and Syria signed an agreement on Wednesday to expand their "comprehensive" military and security cooperation.
It was signed between Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammad Baqeri and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayyoub in Damascus, reports Xinhua quoting a semi-official Fars news agency.
As part of the agreement, Iran "will strengthen Syria's air defense system," Baqeri said, adding that "the agreement will increase our determination for joint cooperation to confront the US pressures".
The people do not welcome the US presence in the region, he noted.
The Iranian commander also urged Turkey to settle problems with Syria through dialogue.
For his part, Ayyoub said that the US has been "unable to bring Iran, Syria and the resistance front to their knees."
Iran has been a major ally of the Syrian government in its fight against the armed rebels since 2011.
To curb the spread of coronavirus, the Palestine government declared an extension of the state of emergency by 30 days in the Palestinian territories.
President Mahmoud Abbas came up with the announcement on Sunday, reports Xinhua.
In a presidential decree, Abbas urged the authorities concerned "to continue to take all necessary measures to face the dangers resulting from the coronavirus, protect public health and achieve security and stability."
So far, Abbas has issued a presidential decree for the fourth time to extend the state of emergency to fight the pandemic, which has so far claimed the lives of 19 people in the country.
On Sunday afternoon, Palestine announced 208 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in the Palestinian territories up to 4,458.
The majority of the cases were found in the southern West Bank district of Hebron, the largest district in West Bank, which has become the new epicentre of the pandemic in Palestine.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said that out of the total coronavirus infections in the country, 50 are medical staff who contracted the disease during treatment of patients at hospitals.
It said three of the total cases are currently connected to a respirator, adding that the total number of respirators available in Palestine is 350, and most of which are occupied.
According to the ministry, 150 new respirators are expected to arrive in Palestine soon.