As FMs meet, Israel vows to help Brazil fight COVID ‘in every way possible’

Brazil’s Ernesto Araujo meets with Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem on Israeli-developed nasal spray treatment; the two also discuss ICC war crimes probe, Iran

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (L) with his Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Araujo in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (L) with his Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Araujo in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Sunday pledged Israel would support Brazil in its fight against COVID-19 following a meeting with his Brazilian counterpart in Jerusalem.

A senior delegation of Brazilian government officials arrived in Israel Sunday for a series of meetings with Israeli counterparts about efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, including an Israeli-developed nasal spray for patients that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described as a “miracle” treatment.

The delegation, which included Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo and chair of the Congress Foreign Affairs Committee Eduardo Bolsonaro — the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — was allowed into the country without having to undergo quarantine, despite a general ban on foreign citizens entering Israel and the threat of a Brazilian COVID-19 variant.

After meeting Araujo, Ashkenazi said the sides were “working together to expand cooperation between our countries in the fight against the virus.” He said Israel “will assist Brazil in every way possible and will also explore ways to deepen research and development on medicines and other solutions to deal with the virus.”

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (C) with his Brazilian counterpart, Ernesto Araujo (right) in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)

The two also discussed Iran’s nuclear program and the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to open a probe into alleged war crimes by Israel and Palestinian terror groups, according to a readout from Ashkenazi’s office.

Ashkenazi thanked the Brazilian government “for its firm stance against the ICC prosecutor’s decision. This is a decision that harms international law and reduces the possibility of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

He also urged the international community to take action against Iran and warned that the Islamic Republic was seeking to attack Israeli targets abroad.

“We clearly recognize Iran’s fingerprints in recent attempts to harm Israeli targets around the world. The international community must ensure that Iran ceases its efforts to reach the threshold of military nuclear technology and fulfills its commitments [under the 2015 nuclear deal] down to the last detail,” said Ashkenazi.

The Ynet news site reported that the Brazilian delegation would be confined to their hotel for the entire visit except for their meetings with Netanyahu and Ashkenazi.

The Foreign Ministry said earlier that the visit would be taking place “according to Health Ministry guidelines.”

It said that the delegation will meet with Netanyahu and Health Ministry officials “in order to examine ways of cooperating on the coronavirus issue.”

COVID nasal spray

Representatives from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, which is behind the EXO-CD24 nasal spray, will reportedly meet with members of the delegation in their hotel after a request was denied for a visit at the hospital.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak during a joint press conference at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, on March 31, 2019. (DEBBIE HILL/POOL/AFP)

Jair Bolsonaro said last month that his government would seek emergency use authorization for the Israeli-developed nasal spray.

“EXO-CD24 is a nasal spray developed by the Ichilov Medical Center in Israel, with nearly 100 percent effectiveness — 29 out of 30 — against COVID in serious cases,” Bolsonaro tweeted, two days after speaking on the phone with Netanyahu.

“A request to analyze this medication for emergency use will be sent shortly to (federal health regulator) Anvisa,” Bolsonaro wrote.

Ichilov Hospital announced in early February that one of its researchers had carried out Phase 1 testing — typically the first of three phases of clinical trials — on a nasal spray he developed against respiratory symptoms linked to COVID-19.

The researcher, Nadir Arber, reported that he had administered the spray to 30 patients with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, and that 29 of them had been released from hospital in three to five days.

But the hospital did not say whether a placebo had been given to a control group, and has yet to publish its findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In order to  be accepted by scientists as effective, new treatments must generally undergo randomized, controlled, blind clinical trials that are then shared in a research publication.

However, that did not stop Netanyahu from hailing EXO-CD24 as a “miracle” drug.

A fierce critic of lockdown measures, Bolsonaro has at times fervently pushed the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to fight COVID-19.

Bolsonaro has sought to cultivate close ties with Netanyahu.

In one of his first moves after winning election in 2018, he vowed to follow the lead of his political role model, then-US president Donald Trump, and move Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The South American country opened a trade office in the Israeli capital in 2019, in a move hailed as a harbinger to opening an embassy in the city.

AFP contributed to this report.

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