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Even as his party members desert him, Gantz insists he’s running in March

‘I believe I am doing what’s right for Israel. Therefore, I’ll continue ahead’ to remove Netanyahu from office, Blue and White leader says

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the Atlit naval base in northern Israel on January 5, 2021. (Screen capture)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the Atlit naval base in northern Israel on January 5, 2021. (Screen capture)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.

China state media mocks riot at US Capitol by Trump supporters

China’s internet erupts in mirth at America’s troubled democracy after supporters of President Donald Trump broke into the US Capitol, comparing the chaos to the Hong Kong anti-government protests of 2019.

State media tabloid Global Times tweets side-by-side photo comparisons of Hong Kong protesters occupying the city’s Legislative Council Complex in July 2019 with Wednesday’s Washington riots.

“@SpeakerPelosi once referred to the Hong Kong riots as ‘a beautiful sight to behold’,” the Global Times says in the tweet, referring to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s June 2019 comment about Hong Kong’s mass pro-democracy demonstrations, which were mostly peaceful at that time.

“It remains yet to be seen whether she will say the same about the recent developments in Capitol Hill.”

DC police arrest 30 for violating curfew imposed after Capitol riot

Police arrest 30 people for violating a curfew imposed in Washington, D.C., after rioters stormed the US Capitol.

Officials say the 30 people were arrested after being found on the streets after the 6 p.m.

The curfew had been imposed after scores of supporters of US President Donald Trump broke into the Capitol, halting the constitutional process of voting to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win. They were later forcibly removed from the Capitol.

Congress splits up to debate Pennsylvania vote count

Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri object to the counting of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, triggering up to two hours of debate in the House and Senate.

The objections come 11 hours after the congressional count to confirm Democrat Joe Biden’s US presidential victory began, and after lawmakers had to evacuate both chambers for several hours to escape a mob that had violently breached the Capitol.

Hawley said last week that he would object to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, saying Congress should investigate voter fraud. US President Donald Trump has falsely said since his defeat that there was widespread fraud in the election.

Biden won Pennsylvania by just over 80,000 votes. Since the Nov. 3 election, Trump and his allies filed at least a half-dozen lawsuits challenging Biden’s win on various grounds, including that many or all of the state’s mail-in ballots were illegal.

The lawsuits failed as judge after judge found no violation of state law or constitutional rights, or no grounds to grant an immediate halt to certifying the election.

US Senate quickly rejects challenge to Pennsylvania electors

The US Senate kills Republican objections to Pennsylvania’s electoral vote for President-elect Joe Biden.

Senators vote 92-7 to derail the GOP attempt to overturn Pennsylvania’s support for the Democrat.

It’s the second state for which a group of Republicans tried and failed to reverse the will of voters. Some GOP lawmakers have backed President Donald Trump’s bogus claims that the election was fraudulent.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he believes no other states’ votes will be challenged. That means Congress’ formal certification of Biden’s victory could finish quickly once the House votes on the Pennsylvania challenge.

The Senate rejects the effort to cancel Pennsylvania’s votes without any debate.

Those objecting to Pennsylvania’s votes included 80 House Republicans and Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, who is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender.

Ashkenazi says he’s ‘shocked’ by assault on US Capitol, the ‘global bulwark of democracy’

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi says he is “shocked” by the attack on the US Capitol Building by supporters of US President Donald Trump, adding that the incident should be widely denounced.

“I was shocked to see the attack on the American Congress, a global bulwark of democracy, and this must be roundly condemned from sunup to sundown. United States, our great and strong friend, is a lighthouse for democracy and for values of freedom, justice and independence,” Ashkenazi says in a statement, nearly 12 hours after the assault on the Capitol.

“I am confident that the American people and their representatives will know how to rebuff this attack and to continue to defend the important values on which the United States was founded,” he says.

New Hope’s Sa’ar: Scenes in US show we mustn’t take democracy for granted

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar says images from the US show the dangers of polarization, adding it’s important not to take democracy for granted.

“I was sad to see the pictures from Washington DC last night. Order has been restored and I am sure there will be an orderly transition of power in the United States, our greatest friend in the world,” says Sa’ar.

“The events serve as an important reminder of the dangers of polarization and extremism in society. We must never take democracy and its institutions for granted,” says lawmaker who split from Likud to set up his own party to directly challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership.

Netanyahu, a key ally of US President Donald Trump, has yet to publicly comment on the situation.

7,820 new cases of coronavirus as Israel heads into tightened lockdown

Daily new coronavirus cases drop slightly below 8,000 as Israel heads into a tighter lockdown from midnight.

The ministry says 7,820 new cases were confirmed a day earlier, after new cases crossed the 8,000 case threshold for two days in a row.

466,377 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel since the start of the pandemic. There are 64,180 active cases including 873 patients in serious condition, 210 of them on a ventilator.

The number of tests conducted on Tuesday, 127,140, is the highest since the pandemic began, with a positive rate of 6.2 percent.

Iconic Tel Aviv fountain dyed red to protest death of teen in police car chase

Activists dye Tel Aviv’s iconic Dizengoff fountain red to protest the death of a 16-year-old settler last month in a car crash during a police chase after he and others allegedly hurled rocks at Palestinians.

Ahuvia Sandak’s death ignited days of near-nightly protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank, many of which turned violent.

“Ahuvia’s blood continues to bubble,” reads the sign placed next to the water feature.

Initial IDF probe finds Palestinian shot unintentionally during scuffle over generator

An initial military investigation into the shooting of a Palestinian man last Friday finds that the bullet was not aimed at the man’s neck, but was fired unintentionally after another Palestinian grabbed the soldier’s gun.

The shooting left the 24-year-old man, Haroun Abu Aram, paralyzed from the neck down, according to Palestinian health officials.

A Military Police investigation has been opened into the incident. “This will include taking testimonies from Palestinians and collecting medical documents,” the Israel Defense Forces says.

The military says the lives of the soldiers involved were in danger.

The incident took place in the south Hebron Hills as troops arrived to confiscate an electric generator and other equipment from the unrecognized West Bank village of al-Rakeez that was allegedly used in illegal construction.

The IDF says the initial probe of the incident by the Central Command determined that a riot broke out as the soldiers attempted to seize the materials.

“After the Palestinians refused to leave the area and continued to attack the soldiers, the commander of the unit began an arrest protocol, which included firing into the air.

“While he was shooting, two Palestinian violently attacked the unit commander: one Palestinian forcefully grabbed the commander, and another Palestinian wildly grabbed his gun. Because of this, an unaimed shot was fired, which hit a different Palestinian, who was part of the rioters,” the military says in a statement.

Palestinian eyewitnesses have disputed this description of the events, saying the shot was not fired randomly, but intentionally.

“The soldier was, at the absolute most, two meters away from the young man. He raised his rifle and fired. It was deliberate,” al-Rakeez resident Murad Hamamdeh, who attested that he was at the scene, told The Times of Israel this week.

Edelstein says US Capitol riot should be viewed in Israel as a warning

Likud Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says that Israel should see the attack on the US Capitol as a warning of things that could happen here.

“We should all calm down before — heaven forbid — things get out of control for us too,” he tells Army Radio.

Lawmakers almost come to blows as US House debates Pennsylvania electoral vote

A small group of House lawmakers comes close to physically fighting as the congressional count of electoral votes stretched into the wee hours and a Pennsylvania Democrat charges that Republicans had been telling “lies” about his state’s votes.

Rep. Morgan Griffiths of Virginia objected after Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb says a breach of the Capitol by an angry mob was “inspired by lies, the same lies you are hearing in this room tonight.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shoots down the objection, but a few minutes later Republicans and Democrats stream to the middle aisle, with around a dozen lawmakers getting close to each other and arguing. But the group quickly breaks up when Pelosi calls for order on the floor.

US President Donald Trump has falsely claimed there was widespread fraud in Pennsylvania and other states and Republicans have echoed those claims as they have challenged electoral votes.

Netanyahu expected to deliver first remarks on US Capitol chaos

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a joint statement with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sometime after their meeting, which is scheduled to take place within the hour.

Netanyahu has thus far refrained from commenting on the events at the US Capitol yesterday, but is widely expected to do so in his remarks after the meeting.

Mnuchin tweeted last night: “Violence is always unacceptable. We must respect our constitution and democratic process.”

 

Iran’s Rouhani scolds ‘Western democracy’ after DC donnybrook

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Western democracy is “fragile” and “vulnerable,” commenting on the riot by Trump supporters at the US Capitol on Wednesday.

“What we saw in the United States last night showed annihilation of Western democracy in the world,” he says, according to Iran’s Mehr news outlet.

“Everyone saw what a populist did to his country and damaged his country’s reputation in the international arena.”

He also says he hopes incoming president Joe Biden learns some lessons from what happened.

Congress rejects Republican bid to overturn Pennsylvania votes

The US House of Representatives has joined the Senate in turning aside Republican objections to Pennsylvania’s electoral vote for President-elect Joe Biden.

Lawmakers in the House vote 282-138 against the objection as the counting of Electoral College votes continues into the early hours of Thursday morning. The Senate shut down the same objection 92-7 just after midnight, and unlike the House, declined to debate before voting.

After a long day dominated by pro-Trump rioters’ deadly storming of the Capitol, it was the second state for which a group of Republicans tried and failed to reverse the will of voters. Some GOP lawmakers have backed President Donald Trump’s bogus claims that the election was fraudulent.

Those objecting to Pennsylvania’s votes included 80 House Republicans and Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, who is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender.

Cruz defends objections to Electoral College votes as ‘right thing’

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is defending his objection to the Electoral College results as “the right thing to do.”

The Texas senator condemned the violence that erupted as supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in an extraordinary attack over the election outcome.

Cruz led the first challenge to Joe Biden’s defeat of President Donald Trump by objecting to Arizona’s results. He sought to have Congress launch a commission to investigate the election. His effort was roundly defeated in the House and Senate.

Cruz said he was confident the country will have a “peaceful and orderly transition of power.” Biden is set to be inaugurated January 20.

Pence confirms Electoral College victory for Biden

US Vice President Mike Pence has certified more than 270 Electoral College votes for Joe Biden, officially making him the next US president.

Pence is continuing to certify votes state by state, and nearing the end of the process with Wyoming.

A challenge by a Wisconsin lawmaker is shot down for procedural reasons.

The process comes some 14 hours after the congressional count to confirm Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory began, and after lawmakers had to evacuate both chambers for several hours to escape a mob that had violently breached the Capitol.

Pence certifies Biden Electoral College win

A joint session of Congress erupts into clapping and cheers as Senator Amy Klobuchar recommends US Vice President Mike Pence certify the Electoral College victory for President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.

Pence reads out the results of the vote 306-232 in a monotone, officially certifying the results, in what is normally a little-watched procedural motion.

Following an invocation by a chaplain condemning violence, Pence closes the joint session and declares the session closed, to a smaller round of applause.

Netanyahu says ‘violent rioting’ in Washington opposite of US, Israeli values

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the attack on the US Capitol Building by pro-Trump rioters was “disgraceful” and the “opposite” of American and Israeli values.

Speaking alongside US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the premier says the “rampage at the Capitol was a disgraceful act that must be vigorously condemned.”

“For generations, American democracy has inspired millions around the world and in Israel. American democracy has always inspired me,” he says.

“Lawlessness and violence are the opposite of the values we know Americans and Israelis cherish.I have no doubt that American democracy will prevail – it always has,” the prime minister adds.

Netanyahu does not mention US President Donald Trump by name.

Trump commits to orderly transition of power, in first

US President Donald Trump now says there “will be an orderly transition on January 20th” after Congress concluded the electoral vote count certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and after a day of violence when his supporters stormed the US Capitol.

Trump says in a statement tweeted by his social media director Dan Scavino, “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.”

He adds: “I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.”

Trump’s account is currently locked by Twitter.

Trump has spent the last two months refusing to concede the election and making baseless allegations of mass voter fraud that have been rejected by dozens of courts and Republican officials, including his former attorney general.

Vice President Mike Pence presided over the formal session that ended early Thursday morning tallying the electoral college vote.

In Jerusalem, Mnuchin says attack on Capitol ‘unacceptable’

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says the attack on the US Capitol Building was “unacceptable” and calls for Americans to respect the “democratic process.”

Mnuchin makes his comments in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel following the signing of the Abraham Accords with Sudan, which mark Khartoum’s intentions to normalize ties with Jerusalem.

“The violence that occurred last night at the Capitol in Washington, DC, was completely unacceptable. Now is the time for our nation to come together as one and to respect the democratic process in the US,” he says.

Former Israeli envoy to NY says Trump Heights ‘an embarrassment’

Dani Dayan, a right-wing settler leader who spent much of the last four years as Israel’s consul general in New York, expresses some shame over Israel’s close ties to US President Donald Trump in the wake of the deadly storming of the US Capitol Building by a pro-Trump mob.

Dayan says Trump may have been a “diplomatic miracle” for Israel, but was a “wreck for American democracy.”

Noting that he could not speak his mind when he was a diplomat, he says Israel’s decision to name a town after Trump in the Golan Heights was a “step too far and even embarrassing.”

“Now, of course, that we’ll be left with a town called Trump Heights is very embarrassing,” he says.

He also says the only thing that surprises him about the violence is that it took so long after the election, and that it occurred where it did. “I admit I did not think it was possible there would be an outbreak inside the congressional chamber.”

Dayan says that while he didn’t think Israel’s partisan approach to the US during the Trump era was a smart play, he changed his mind after seeing what “dividends” the friendship brought in, likely referring to the administration’s support for settlement building, annexation and other goodies.

He calls Joe Biden “the best Democrat we could have gotten as US president.”

 

War monitor claims 3 killed in Syria strikes blamed on Israel

Strikes conducted overnight by Israel in Syria left three fighters from Iran-backed groups dead, a war monitor claimed Thursday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organization with an extensive network on the ground, was not immediately able to provide the casualties’ nationalities. Some of the reporting of the pro-rebel group has been questioned over its reliability in the past, and verification of such claims is usually not possible.

Syrian state media had reported an “Israeli aggression” overnight against targets in the south of the country, adding that its anti-air defense system had intercepted most missiles.

According to Syrian outlets, the attacks struck the area of el-Kisweh, south of the capital, and around the town of al-Dimas, west of Damascus.

 

Top Netanyahu ally compares Balfour protesters to mob that stormed Capitol

Likud coalition whip Miki Zohar, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, compares pro-Trump extremists who stormed the US Capitol building in a melee that left four dead with Israelis who have protested outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem.

“A question that’s bothering me. Which is worse and [more] harmful to democracy? An onslaught of violence by Americans on the Capitol Building in Washington, or an onslaught of violence by Israeli citizens on the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem,” Zohar tweets.

Protesters have gathered outside the prime minister’s residence for months and while there have been minor scuffles with police, the demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful with no concerted efforts to break into the residence or any other government building.

Israelis clash with police during a protest march against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on their way to Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street, September 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Washington, a violent mob loyal to US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol, forcing lawmakers into hiding, and ransacking offices in an unprecedented assault on US democracy.

Four people died in the melee as police attempted to secure the US seat of power, in what Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a “failed insurrection.”

Supporters of US President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Zohar indicates that his comments are directed against the media, saying it should “try to be objective from time to time.”

Netanyahu earlier said the “rampage… was a disgraceful act that must be vigorously condemned.”

Japan declares state of emergency as coronavirus cases spike

Japan has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby areas as coronavirus cases continue to surge, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued the declaration at the government task force for the coronavirus. It kicks in Friday until February 7, and centers around asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.

The declaration carries no penalties. But it works as a strong request while Japan juggles to keep the economy going.

Shopping malls and schools will remain open. Movie theaters, museums and other events will be asked to reduce attendance. Places that defy the request will get publicized on a list, while those that comply will be eligible for aid, according to officials.

Coronavirus cases have been surging in Japan after the year-end and New Year’s holidays.

Netanyahu says US return to Iran deal will spark Mideast nuclear arms race

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning against the United States returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying it would lead to an atomic arms race in the region.

“If we return to the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, many other countries in the Middle East will rush to arm themselves with a nuclear weapon. This is a mistake — and we can’t let it happen,” he says, following a meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Netanyahu praises Mnuchin for leading the effort to impose sanctions on Iran and calls for this strategy to continue.

“An important meeting with the American treasury secretary, my friend, Steve Mnuchin. I thanked him for his efforts to lead the imposition of sanctions on Iran and I told him that we must continue this policy in order to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic weapon,” he says.

He also thanks US President Donald Trump and his administration “for everything you have done for peace,” referring to US-brokered normalization accords with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

Predictions of more chaos, possible attempt to remove Trump

Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren estimates that Democrats will push ahead with an effort to remove President Donald Trump from office and predicts more chaos in the coming weeks.

“You can’t have a president who betrayed American democracy remaining in office, even for an hour,” the US-born Oren tells the Kan broadcaster.

“In the coming period, there will be instability and much agitation in the US,” he foretells.

A Vanity Fair report claims that Trump loyalists are turning away from him and some Republicans may even support an invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove him from power, though the move would need to be backed by Vice President Mike Pence for them to move ahead.

“Even Stephen Miller told one person close to the White House that it was a terrible day,” the report says.

The report also claims that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has told administration officials to stay away from Trump to avoid the possibility of being prosecuted for treason in the aftermath.

Both Trump and his chief of staff Mark Meadows were unreachable during the rioting, according to the report.

Germany to look into upping security at Reichstag after Capitol rampage

Germany will examine boosting security for its parliament, the speaker of the house says after the storming of the US Congress by violent protesters.

Demonstrators against restrictions imposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to halt coronavirus transmission had attempted in the summer to enter the Reichstag parliament building, but were repelled by police forces.

Lawmakers of the far-right AfD party, some of whom had marched in increasingly aggressive virus-skeptic demonstrations, have also been accused of inviting into the parliament building protesters who went on to harass other MPs.

Following chaotic scenes overnight in the Capitol, German parliament speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble said he would examine “what conclusions should be drawn from this for the protection of the Bundestag,” his office says in a statement.

The Bundestag refers to the lower house of parliament with its 709 lawmakers, while the Reichstag is the building where they do their work.

The German embassy in Washington has been requested to provide a report on how the “violent excesses could have happened in the Capitol.”

Top ultra-Orthodox rabbi orders schools closed for ‘several days’

As Israel prepares to go back under lockdown, a powerful leader of the Haredi community has apparently ordered ultra-Orthodox schools to shut, following the intervention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The grandson of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky says Netanyahu phoned him over the issue. He conveyed to the prime minister that the rabbi has ordered ultra-Orthodox schools closed “for several days” amid a huge spike in infections.

Kanievsky’s instructions, rather than the government order, is the final word for many in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky attends a campaign event for the ultra-Orthodox Degel HaTorah party in the northern city of Safed on February 26, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The lockdown set to begin at midnight is due to remain in place for at least two weeks.

Poll: 1 in 5 Americans supports storming of US Capitol

A YouGov poll finds that 1 in 5 Americans support the storming of the US Capitol, including nearly half of Republicans.

The survey of 1,397 Americans who were aware of the event indicates that 21 percent overall back the riot, including 45% of Republicans. Another 43% of Republicans oppose it.

Some 62% of respondents saw the incident as a threat to democracy — among Democrats, the number rose to 93%, while among Republicans, just 27% agreed. Most Republicans (68%) say it does not represent a threat to American democracy.

Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump, sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Among those who stormed the Capitol: Holocaust-denying neo-Nazis

Photos on social media indicate that avowed white supremacists and Holocaust deniers were among those who mobbed the US Capitol.

Another is seen sporting a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt.

Russia mocks ‘archaic’ US electoral system

Russia says that an “archaic” US electoral system that does not meet democratic standards and the politicization of the media were to blame for American divisions and unrest in Washington.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says the storming of the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump was “an internal US affair” but that blame rested with the US system.

“The electoral system in the United States is archaic, it does not meed modern democratic standards, creating opportunities for numerous violations, and the American media have become an instrument of political struggle,” Zakharova tells Russian news agencies.

“This is largely the reason for the split in society now observed in the United States.”

AFP

Health official: South African strain not believed to be in Israel

Health Ministry Deputy Director-General Itamar Grotto says the South African strain is not believed to have arrived in Israel.

“Based on our assessments, the South African mutation did not come to Israel,” he tells Army Radio.

Grotto’s comments come a day after another top health official, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, expressed concern the existing vaccines may not protect recipients as effectively from the South African strain.

Lebanon begins new lockdown amid surge in coronavirus cases

Lebanon begins a 25-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus as infections hit a record in the tiny Mediterranean nation and patients overwhelm the health care sector.

The lockdown in Lebanon is the third since the first case was reported in late February. It closes most businesses and limits traffic by imposing an odd and even license plate rule on alternating days. It also reduces the number of flights at the country’s only international airport.

As of Thursday, a daily 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew takes effect that will last until February 1.

On Wednesday, Lebanon broke its single-day record of new coronavirus infections on the eve of the lockdown with 4,166 cases reported in 24 hours.

Rivlin urges Israelis not to fall prey to American-style divisions

President Reuven Rivlin calls on Israelis to not fall victim to the types of divisions that led to the attack on the US Capitol Building yesterday.

“We must ensure that even if the gaps are deep, our democracy will protect us as a people, as society and a state,” he says.

“The pictures of the disturbances from Capitol Hill are shocking. They remind us all that democracy, even when it is strong and deeply rooted, is not to be taken for granted,” says Rivlin, who congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on the certification of his victory by the US Congress.

The president’s comments come just before Israel is due to enter a national lockdown in light of a growing coronavirus outbreak.

“I call on all public leaders — in all towns, from all sectors of society, political leaders and spiritual leaders, mayors, heads of civil society organizations — please, do your duty and stop the threat of anarchy. The lockdown, with all its restrictions as decided by the government, applies to us all,” he says.

US lawmakers vow to investigate police response to Capitol breach

US lawmakers are vowing an investigation into how law enforcement handled Wednesday’s violent breach at the Capitol, questioning whether a lack of preparedness allowed a mob to occupy and vandalize the building.

US Capitol Police, who are charged with protecting Congress, turned to other law enforcement for help with the mob that overwhelmed the complex and sent lawmakers into hiding. Both law enforcement and Trump supporters deployed chemical irritants during the hourslong occupation of the complex before it was cleared Wednesday evening.

Four people died, one of them a woman who was shot and killed by police inside the Capitol. Three other people died after suffering “medical emergencies” related to the breach, says Robert Contee, chief of the city’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Police say 52 people were arrested as of Wednesday night, including 26 on the Capitol grounds. Fourteen police officers were injured, Contee says.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the US Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat of California, chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, says the breach “raises grave security concerns,″ adding that her committee will work with House and Senate leaders to review the police response — and its preparedness.

Lawmakers crouched under desks and donned gas masks while police futilely tried to barricade the building when people marched to the Capitol from a rally near the White House in support of US President Donald Trump. Washington’s mayor instituted an evening curfew in an attempt to contain the violence.

Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat of Florida, a former police chief, says it was “painfully obvious” that Capitol police “were not prepared for today. I certainly thought that we would have had a stronger show of force, that there would have been steps taken in the very beginning to make sure that there was a designated area for the protesters in a safe distance from the Capitol.”

WHO says ‘alarming’ virus variants need bolder response

The World Health Organization’s European branch says more needs to be done to deal with the alarming situation brought on by recently discovered variants of the novel coronavirus.

The WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, calls the current situation “a tipping-point in the course of the pandemic.”

While the new year “brings with it new opportunities and tools,” such as vaccines, Europe is also challenged by surging cases and new strains of the virus causing COVID-19.

“This is an alarming situation, which means that for a short period of time we need to do more than we have done and to intensify the public health and social measures to be certain we can flatten the steep vertical line in some countries,” Kluge says, referring primarily to the new variant first discovered in the UK.

While it is natural for viruses to change over time and the variant is not believed to cause more severe symptoms, its “increased transmissibility” means it still raises concern, according to WHO Europe.

A paramedic wearing full PPE unloads a patient from an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital in east London on January 6, 2021 (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

“Without increased control to slow its spread, there will be an increased impact on already stressed and pressurized health facilities,” Kluge says.

The British strain and another that emerged in South Africa are both believed to be more infectious versions of the virus.

The measures proposed by Kluge were those “with which we are all familiar,” listing the adherence to generalized mask-wearing, limiting social gatherings, maintaining physical distance and hand washing as prudent but in need of being intensified.

These measures coupled with adequate testing, quarantine and isolation, and vaccination, “will work if we all get involved,” Kluge says.

Early indications also suggest that vaccines against COVID-19 are effective against the British variant, according to WHO.

The WHO’s European Region comprises 53 countries and includes Russia and several countries in Central Asia, and 22 countries in the region have recorded cases of the new variants.

According to the organization’s estimates, the new strains could replace others across the region.

Biden confirms Merrick Garland as pick for attorney general

US President-elect Joe Biden confirms he will nominate Merrick Garland — a centrist judge that Republicans denied a seat on the Supreme Court five years ago — to be US attorney general.

Garland, a judge on the Washington federal appeals court, has a record as a moderate liberal and is not aligned with either political party.

Merrick Garland pays his respects for the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court in Washington, July 22, 2019, (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

First shipment of Moderna vaccines lands in Israel

The first shipment of vaccines from US biotech company Moderna arrives in Israel.

The delivery includes some 120,000 doses, according to Hebrew media reports. Additional shipments are expected next week.

Trump cabinet members holding preliminary talks on ousting president

Members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet discuss the possibility of removing Trump from office after his supporters stormed the Capitol, three US news channels report.

The discussions focused on the 25th amendment to the US Constitution, which allows for a president’s removal by the vice president and cabinet if he is judged “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Invoking it would require Vice President Michael Pence to lead the cabinet in a vote on removing him.

CNN quotes unnamed Republican leaders saying the 25th amendment had been discussed, saying they had described Trump as “out of control.”

US President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Washington, January 6, 2021. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

CBS reporter Margaret Brennan says that “nothing formal” had been presented to Pence, and ABC reporter Katherine Faulders says “multiple” sources had told her that discussions took place on the unprecedented move.

Trump’s encouragement of the protesters, his unfounded claims that he lost the November 3 presidential election due to massive fraud, and other bizarre behavior have raised questions about his ability to lead.

South Africa to purchase 1.5 million vaccine doses

South Africa says it will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers.

It’s the nation’s first announcement of the purchase of a COVID-19 vaccine. It comes as record highs of 21,832 new confirmed cases and 844 deaths were registered Wednesday.

The health minister says the first 1 million doses will be delivered later this month from the Serum Institute of India, followed by 500,000 doses in February.

South Africa, with 60 million people, has reported more than 1.1 million confirmed infections. That represents more than 30% of all cases on the 54-nation continent of 1.3 billion.

Some of South Africa’s hospitals are reporting they are at capacity. The rapid spread of the disease in recent weeks has been driven by a new, possibly more infectious variant of the virus, according to medical experts.

There have been 31,368 confirmed deaths in South Africa.

Just 5% of Arab Israelis have been vaccinated, far lower than general population

Around 5 percent of Arab Israelis had been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus by Wednesday morning, compared to 15% in the general population, according to a report by the Arab Emergency Committee.

While Arab Israelis tend to be younger, thus making fewer of them eligible for the coronavirus vaccine — which is still being given mostly to those 60 and over — the gap persists even among those over 60. The committee finds that 30% of Arab Israelis over 60 had been vaccinated, compared to around 59% of over 60s in the general population.

In a conversation earlier this week, Ahmad al-Sheikh, who compiles the figures, chalked the low rate of vaccination up to problems with accessibility — relatively few vaccination centers have been placed in Arab cities and towns. Some health officials, however, have argued that Arab Israelis are avoiding the coronavirus vaccine due to conspiracy theories about its origin and effects.

A Bedouin woman receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a medical center in the Bedouin local council of Segev Shalom near the city of Beersheba, southern Israel, Dec. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Trump administration official Mulvaney quits after Capitol riot

US President Donald Trump’s former acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, resigns his post as special envoy to Northern Ireland, saying “I can’t do it. I can’t stay.”

Mulvaney joins a growing list of Trump administration officials who are leaving following the violent riot at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Mulvaney says he called US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday night to tell him that he was resigning. He served as acting White House chief of staff from January 2019 until March 2020. Before that, he was director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” Mulvaney tells CNBC, which was first to report the resignation. “Those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in.”

In this October 17, 2019 file photo, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney speaks in the White House briefing room in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Netanyahu said to demand total control over Iran policy, angering Gantz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are reportedly fighting over Israel’s policy on the Iran nuclear program, with the premier seeking exclusive authority on the issue.

According to the Walla news site, over the past several days, Gantz has pushed back at Netanyahu’s demand, accusing the prime minister of attempting to bypass the defense establishment.

In a letter to Gantz on December 29, National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat informed him the Iran policy would be set exclusively by the prime minister, in coordination with the National Security Council. Copies of the letter were also sent to the IDF chief, head of the Mossad, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Gantz responded angrily a few days later: “The issue of security and specifically on Iran is not the personal business of one man,” he wrote, according to Walla.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a graduation ceremony for new Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base near Beersheba, June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/ Pool/AFP)

Rivlin congratulates Biden after Congress certifies his win

President Reuven Rivlin congratulates US President-elect Joe Biden after Congress certifies his win.

Writes Rivlin: “I am sure that the President-elect will continue to strengthen the relations between us and America, our closest friend and the greatest democracy in the world.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t explicitly mention it, though he’s congratulated Biden in the past.

Courts set to remain open during lockdown, with some exceptions

Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz says courts will remain open during the upcoming lockdown, except for non-urgent cases whose hearings require many people to attend.

It’s not immediately clear if that applies to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which resumes next week.

Gantz also says judges will take the lockdown into consideration, delaying proceedings where necessary.

The announcement comes after Gantz meets with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and other top legal officials.

Police set up checkpoints as Israel slated to enter tightened lockdown

In a few hours, at midnight, Israel will enter a tightened lockdown that will see schools and all nonessential businesses closed for at least two weeks.

The full lockdown rules can be read here.

Police are gearing up to enforce the lockdown and have said they’ll set up checkpoints on highways around the country. Thousands of police officers have been tasked with enforcing the rules.

Orthodox Union condemns ‘outrageous incitement’ that fueled US Capitol violence

The Orthodox Union condemns the violence at the US Capitol.

“We are deeply saddened and shaken by yesterday’s violent events at the US Capitol that have badly upset our sense of peace and security. There is no place for the kind of outrageous incitement that fed that assault on the pillars of our democracy. It must stop,” the US Jewish umbrella group says in a statement. “We call upon President Trump to do all that is in his power – and it is indeed in his power – to restore that peace.”

It adds: “For centuries, we have gathered in our synagogues to pray for the peace and security of our country and its government. Those prayers have been uniquely fulfilled in the blessed United States of America, with its strong democracy and respect for its duly elected government and the rule of law. We pray to the Almighty that He grant strength and wisdom to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris as they lead this great country forward in unity, peace, and security.”

Republican Jewish Coalition congratulates Biden, condemns ‘abhorrent mob’

The Republican Jewish Coalition “congratulates Joe Biden on his election as President of the United States.”

“After the abhorrent mob attack yesterday on our Capitol, our elected officials went back to work, fulfilled their duty under our Constitution, and certified the results of the 2020 election. Now is the time for the same peaceful transition of power that the US has carried out for over 220 years. It is also time for healing and unity in our country, because we face many serious and significant challenges,” say national chairman Senator Norm Coleman and executive director Matt Brooks in a statement.

They add: “We are blessed to live in the most free, safe, and prosperous country in the world. America’s Founding Fathers created a constitutional government that has weathered many challenges, including outright civil war. In these troubled times, we must come together so that this remarkable country will continue to thrive, in peace and security.”

The group says it looks forward to working with Biden’s administration on Iran and US-Israel ties.

“Peace and stability in the Middle East can be achieved when America takes a leadership role, supports Israel, opens doors for cooperation between Israel and her neighbors, and – very importantly – acts prudently to restrain the hegemonic ambitions of the theocratic dictators in Iran.”

Pentagon activates 6,200 members of National Guard

The Defense Department has formally activated roughly 6,200 members of the National Guard from six northeastern states to help support the Capitol Police and other law enforcement in Washington in the wake of the deadly riot Wednesday that rocked the US Capitol.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller sign orders activating the National Guard from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland for up to 30 days. A defense official says the goal is to have Guard members help secure the US Capitol and the surrounding area through the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Guard members are arriving over the next several days. A total of 6,200 have been activated, but the exact number of troops that will actually get to the city may be less than that, depending on who is available in each state. The Guard won’t be armed, but will have riot gear and protective clothing, says the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide troop details.

Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican of South Carolina, stops to look at damage in the early morning hours of Thursday, January 7, 2021, after protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

The orders come a day after angry and armed protesters broke into the US Capitol, forcing Congress members to halt the ongoing vote to certify Biden’s election and then flee from the House and Senate chambers.

Four people died in the melee, including a protester who was shot by police. The vote was later completed after the building was cleared.

2 more Trump administration officials resign — US reports

US media reports say two more Trump administration officials have announced their resignation in the wake of the storming of the US Capitol.

CNN says John Costello, the Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and security, has quit.

Bloomberg says Ryan Tully, senior director for European and Russian Affairs at the National Security Council, also announced he’ll step down.

Gantz says teachers now prioritized for vaccines

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says teachers are now eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccines.

Gantz says the change of policy was approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel has been vaccinating medical staff and those over 60 years old.

An Israeli teacher receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Shamir Medical Center in Be’er Ya’akov, on December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

Late night US television hosts react with shock, anger to Capitol attack

Late night TV talk show hosts express anger and frustration at the violence at the US Capitol, offering somber monologues that plead for unity even as some aim pointed barbs at those they held responsible for the mobs’ actions.

“It was a terrible day in the history of this country,” says Jimmy Kimmel on his ABC show Wednesday. Over on CBS, Stephen Colbert calls it “a horrifying day that will go down in US history, however much longer that is.”

“If my grandfather were alive today and saw what was happening in the country that he fought for, he’d be disgusted,” says Jimmy Fallon on NBC. “People walking around with the flag upside down thinking they’re patriotic. Today was not patriotism. Today was terrorism.”

James Corden, who grew up in England, uses the perspective of an outsider to view the events, saying he always looked to the United States as a beacon of light and possibility.

“Today, people across the world would have looked at these pictures from Washington and they would have wondered what on earth has happened to this great country,” Corden says on CBS. But he adds “the America that they admire still exists.”

Kimmel ridicules some members of the mob, including one dressed as a Viking. “It was like a psychotic ‘Price is Right’ audience forcibly taking control of the Plinko wheel,” Kimmel says. He condemns those who “lit these fires.”

Colbert’s 14-minute monologue is the most scathing, calling out Trump’s most outspoken GOP supporters in Congress and the Senate for what he alleged were years of sowing the seeds for violence.

“After five years of coddling this president’s fascist rhetoric, guess whose followers want to burn down the Reichstag?” he says. “Who could have seen this coming? Everyone. This is the most shocking, most tragic, least surprising thing I’ve ever seen.”

Several hosts wryly note the relatively restrained reaction from authorities and compare that to the way Black protesters have been treated.

“I wouldn’t even want to imagine his treatment or response to those people if they had been wearing Black Lives Matter hats instead of red MAGA ones,” Corden says.

FBI asks public for help identifying US Capitol rioters

The FBI is seeking to identify the rioters at the US Capitol, putting out a request for tips and media on the suspects.

Report: Another batch of Pfizer vaccines heading to Israel

Channel 12 reports that delivery services were told to prepare to receive another delivery of Pfizer vaccines early next week.

The vaccines would make up for a shortfall of shots in Israel.

The information is not immediately confirmed by the Health Ministry or Prime Minister’s Office, which have been working to move up shipments from February.

Health Ministry investigating suspected 1st cases of South African variant

The Health Ministry is investigating whether several COVID-19 cases in Israel are of the South African variant, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

If confirmed, it would mark the first time the South African strain has been identified in the country.

Former Umm al-Fahm mayor shot, critically injured

In the latest violent shooting in Arab society, former Umm al-Fahm mayor Suleiman Aghbariah, a well-known figure in Arab society, was shot and is in critical condition, according to Arabic-language media reports.

“No one is immune anymore to the murderous violence and the weapons flooding Arab society. This is an emergency. We’re living in a civil war,” tweets Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen, an Umm al-Fahm resident who lives close to the site of the shooting.

Three Arab Israelis have already been killed in homicides since the beginning of the year; another three homicides took place in East Jerusalem. 2020 saw 96 homicides in Arab society, the highest in recent memory.

Barr says Trump’s conduct a ‘betrayal’ of the presidency

Former Attorney General William Barr says President Donald Trump’s conduct as a violent mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol was a “betrayal of his office and supporters.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Barr says that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”

Barr was one of Trump’s most loyal and ardent defenders in the Cabinet.

Barr resigned last month amid lingering tension over the president’s baseless claims of election fraud and the investigation into Biden’s son.

US Attorney General William Barr speaks during a roundtable discussion on Operation Legend, a federal program to help cities combat violent crime, in St. Louis, October 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

Committee okays building of 5,000 units on Jerusalem’s pastoral White Ridge

An appeals committee approves plans to build some 5,000 residential units at Reches Lavan, a popular site of agricultural terraces and springs just west of Jerusalem.

Reches Lavan (White Ridge) — named for its light, chalky rock — is located near the Jerusalem Zoo and the southwest neighborhoods of Kiryat Hayovel, Givat Masua and Ein Kerem, and Moshav Ora just outside the city.

Home to Mediterranean vegetation and large mammals such as mountain gazelle and hyena, the whole area, with its natural springs and spring-fed pools, serves as a green backyard for Jerusalemites.

Activists are now pledging to take their case to the courts. They fear that the planners will start with construction on Reches Lavan before moving on to build on other hills — Mount Harat, Mitzpe Naftoah in Ramot, the slopes of Moshav Ora and a spur near Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, one ridge at a time.

Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster reiterates that he will not approve the uprooting of 11,000 trees necessary to build the new neighborhood. It remains unclear whether he will be able to stop the entire project from going ahead.

Reches Lavan, or White Ridge, east of Jerusalem. (Dov Greenblat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

While allowing the plans to go forward, the appeals subcommittee of the National Planning Council orders that towers designed for a commercial area just outside Moshav Ora be reduced to a maximum of 15 stories.

The subcommittee rejected claims that the project will damage area springs.

Plans call for construction of 5,250 residential units, in buildings of five to 12 stories, along with 300 hotel rooms and commercial space, on the ridge. Planners are also already at work on a four-lane highway that will cut through the area, forming part of a western ring road.

Fifteen thousand Israelis have signed a petition opposing construction on Reches Lavan.

Reches Lavan, or White Ridge, west of Jerusalem. (Dov Greenblat, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

Facebook to keep banning Trump, at least until Biden’s inauguration

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says the social media network will continue to ban US President Donald Trump until the January 20 inauguration of Joe Biden.

“We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great. Therefore, we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete,” he writes on Facebook.

The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, January 7, 2021

 

Republican congressman calls for removing Trump from office

Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois calls for Donald Trump’s removal from the presidency under the 25th amendment, following the violence by his followers at the US Capitol.

Over 50 cops injured in Capitol riot; officer who killed woman placed on leave

The chief of the US Capitol Police says the violent mob that stormed the building wielded metal pipes, chemical irritants and other weapons against law enforcement.

Steven Sund issued a statement Thursday saying the rioting protesters “actively attacked” police officers and “were determined to enter into the Capitol Building by causing great damage.”

A Capitol Police officer shot and killed one person, who Sund identified as Ashli Babbitt. Sund did not identify the officer but said they would be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

Sund defended his agency’s response from criticism that officers did not stop the incursion. He says his agency “had a robust plan” for what he anticipated would be peaceful protests, but what occurred Wednesday was “criminal riotous behavior.”

He said more than 50 Capitol and Washington police officers were injured and several Capitol Police officers were hospitalized with serious injuries.

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol today, a tactical team with ATF gathers in the Rotunda to provide security for the continuation of the joint session of the House and Senate to count the Electoral College votes cast in November’s election, at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Medics: All residents of Israel’s elderly care facilities have been vaccinated

The Magen David Adom emergency service says it has completed its vaccination drive in nursing homes, giving the first dose of the shot to 150,000 residents and workers.

The milestone makes “Israel the first country in the world to vaccinate all elderly care facilities in the first phase,” MDA says in a statement.

South Korean delegation in Iran after oil tanker seized

A South Korean delegation arrives in Iran amid tensions following the seizure of a South Korean oil tanker and its crew by Iranian forces in sensitive Gulf waters this week.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Monday it had seized the South Korean-flagged Hankuk Chemi for infringing maritime environmental laws.

The Guards said the vessel was carrying 7,200 tonnes of “oil chemical products” and that the detained crew were from South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

The South Korean delegation, led by the director-general of the foreign ministry’s Middle Eastern affairs department, board a plane early Thursday and was set to arrive in Tehran via Doha.

“I plan to meet my counterpart at the Iranian foreign ministry and will meet others through various routes if it will help efforts to resolve the issue of the ship’s seizure,” says Koh Kyung-sok, the chief delegate, before boarding the plane.

But the government spokesman in Tehran gives a different version of the reason for the visit.

In a statement late Thursday Said Khatibzadeh says it was an advance delegation ahead of a visit Sunday by South Korean deputy foreign minister Choi Jong-Kun.

The visit by the South Korean delegation “had been agreed before the seizure” of the Hankuk Chemi oil tanker, “and its main goal is to discuss ways of accessing Iranian funds in Korea,” Khatibzadeh says.

Schumer urges Trump’s cabinet to remove president from office

US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is calling on President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to remove him from office following Wednesday’s violent assault on the Capitol by the president’s supporters.

In a statement, Schumer says the attack on the Capitol “was an insurrection against the United States, incited by the president.” He added, “This president should not hold office one day longer.”

Schumer says Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and immediately remove Trump from office. He adds, “If the vice president and the Cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president.”

US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. Donald Trump’s supporters stormed a joint session of the US Congress to certify Joe Biden’s election win, triggering unprecedented chaos and violence at the heart of US democracy and accusations the president was attempting a coup. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Democrats circulate draft articles to impeach Trump over US Capitol attack

Democratic congressmen begin circulating drafts of impeaching, seeking to remove Donald Trump from office — days before Joe Biden’s inauguration — over the attack by his supporters on the US Capitol.

Tel Aviv city hall lights up in solidarity with US

Tel Aviv’s city hall lights up with an American flag in solidarity with the US, following the storming of the Capitol.

Netanyahu, Edelstein to make statement amid reports of vaccine breakthrough

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein call a press conference for 8:30 p.m., amid reports of a breakthrough in talks with Pfizer to move up vaccine shipments to Israel.

Another 4,548 virus cases diagnosed since midnight

The Health Ministry records another 4,548 virus cases since midnight, bringing the number of active cases in the country to 63,965.

It says 872 are in serious condition, including 219 on ventilators.

The death toll stands at 3,549.

The ministry says 7,855 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday and 6.2 percent of cases returned positive.

Medical workers in the coronavirus ward at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, on January 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

7-foot non-scalable fence to be placed around US Capitol

US Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy says a 7-foot non-scalable fence will be erected around the Capitol grounds in the wake of the storming of the Capitol by supporters of US President Donald Trump.

McCarthy says the fencing will be up for a minimum of 30 days.

That period encompasses the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

MCarthy speaks at a news conference with DC officials.

‘Millions’ of Pfizer shots said heading to Israel next week, averting slowdown– report

Channel 13 says “millions” of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines are heading to Israel, with the first shipment due early next week.

Such a shipment would avert the slowdown of Israel’s vaccine drive. Health providers have all but stopped administering the first shot amid a shortfall, but are pressing ahead with giving the second doses from next week.

Other Hebrew media reports say a sizable number of vaccines are set to arrive, without elaborating.

Acting US homeland security secretary urges Trump to ‘strongly condemn’ riots

Acting US Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is asking US President Donald Trump and all elected officials to “strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday” at the Capitol.

Wolf says he has condemned violence on both sides of the political aisle, specifically directed at law enforcement. He tweets “we now see some supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends.” He calls that unacceptable.

Wolf also assures that he plans to stay on as acting secretary until the end of the Trump administration to ensure the Department of Homeland Security remains focused on “the serious threats facing our country and an orderly transition to President-elect Biden’s DHS team.”

Wolf’s statement also comes out on the morning that the White House sent out a notice officially withdrawing his nomination as DHS secretary.

But White House spokesman Judd Deere says the withdrawal occurred on Wednesday and was not related at all to that day’s events at the Capitol or the acting secretary’s comments Thursday morning.

Deere says Wolf remains the acting secretary and continues to perform the duties of his office.

British PM blames Trump for encouraging US Capitol violence

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounces erstwhile ally Donald Trump after the president’s supporters stormed Congress in response to his incendiary rejection of the US election result.

“All my life America has stood for some very important things: An idea of freedom and an idea of democracy,” the New York-born Johnson tells a news conference devoted to Britain’s coronavirus crisis.

“In so far as he encouraged people to storm the Capitol and in so far as the president consistently has cast doubt on the outcome of a free and fair election, I believe that was completely wrong,” he says.

“And I unreservedly condemn encouraging people to behave in the disgraceful way that they did in the Capitol,” the prime minister adds.

“And all I can say is I’m very pleased that the president-elect (Joe Biden) has now been properly confirmed and duly confirmed in office, and that democracy has prevailed.”

US President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US sees nearly 3,900 virus deaths in a day, breaking record

The US registers more COVID-19 deaths in a single day than ever before — nearly 3,900 — on the very day the mob attack on the Capitol laid bare some of the same, deep political divisions that have hampered the battle against the pandemic.

The virus is surging in virtually every state, with California particularly hard-hit. Skyrocketing deaths and infections there are threatening to force hospitals to ration care and essentially decide who lives and who dies.

“Folks are gasping for breath. Folks look like they’re drowning when they are in bed right in front of us,” said Dr. Jeffrey Chien, an emergency room physician at Santa Clara Valley Regional Medical Center, urging people to do their part to help slow the spread. “I’m begging everyone to help us out because we aren’t the front line. We’re the last line.”

About 1.9 million people around the world have died of the coronavirus, more than 360,000 in the US alone. December was by far the nation’s deadliest month yet, and health experts are warning that January could be more terrible still because of family gatherings and travel over the holidays.

A new, more contagious variant of the virus is taking hold around the globe and in the US. Also, it remains to be seen what effect the thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump who converged this week in Washington, many of them maskless, will have on the spread of the scourge.

A woman gets a self coronavirus test at a free walk-up COVID-19 testing site inside Penn Station in New York City, December 5, 2020. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

Even as his party members desert him, Gantz insists he’s running in March

Benny Gantz insists he’s running in the March election as the leader of Blue and White, while denying he’s in talks with either Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai or Yamina leader Naftali Bennett on merging with their parties.

“Bubbe-Meises,” he says, using the Yiddish word for an untrue story.

In an interview with Channel 12, he also apologizes if his erstwhile partner Yair Lapid was offended by his claim that Lapid “hates people,” but doesn’t retract the comment.

Even as most of his Blue and White party members desert him, Gantz claims his centrist party will determine who is the next prime minister.

“I believe I am doing what’s right for Israel. Therefore, I’ll continue ahead” to remove Netanyahu from office, he says.

Recent opinion polls show Blue and White hovering near the electoral threshold.

Screen capture from video of Defense Minister Benny Gantz during an interview with the Ynet news website, January 4, 2021. (Ynet)

Knesset panel approves tighter lockdown; rules go into effect at midnight

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approves the government regulations tightening the nationwide lockdown to drive down COVID-19 infections.

The sweeping rules come into effect at midnight.

Netanyahu announces ‘breakthrough’: All Israelis 16+ to be vaccinated by March; we’ll be the first to beat COVID-19

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a “tremendous breakthrough” in obtaining additional Pfizer vaccines. The new deal with the company will enable Israel to vaccinate all of its citizens over 16 by the end of March, says Netanyahu, “and perhaps before.”

The agreement will seemingly avert a slowdown of Israel’s vaccine drive.

“We will become the first country to get out of the coronavirus,” Netanyahu declares.

“The first plane will come on Sunday and there will be more, consecutively,” he says.

Netanyahu says he and Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla agreed in a long series of phone calls that Israel will serve as a “model country” for Pfizer, and for all of humanity, offering statistical data on the vaccine’s effectiveness, to help toward a “global strategy” to beat the pandemic.

Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 26, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

This was possible, he says, because of the world-leading success of Israel’s vaccination drive to date, enabled by the country’s superb healthcare service. Truly, he says, Israel will serve as “a light unto the nations” in the global battle.

“On the next Passover Eve, if there are no surprises,” Israelis can celebrate with their families, he says.

Israel is returning to normal life, says Netanyahu, as its third national lockdown is set to see restrictions tighten at midnight tonight. He urges all Israelis to observe the lockdown rules. “Victory [over COVID-19] is within our grasp,” he says.

Biden: Call US Capitol rioters ‘insurrectionists, domestic terrorists’

President-elect Joe Biden is calling the violent group that descended on the US Capitol “domestic terrorists” and laying the blame for the violence squarely at President Donald Trump’s feet.

During remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden says people should not call the hundreds of Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol protesters. Rather, he says, they are “a riotous mob — insurrectionists, domestic terrorists.” Biden says Trump is guilty of “trying to use a mob to silence the voices of nearly 160 million Americans” who voted in November.

Biden says the president has “made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law clear in everything he has done” and unleashed an “all-out attack” on the country’s democratic institutions that ultimately led to the violence Wednesday.

Trump’s transportation secretary resigns over US Capitol violence

US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is resigning effective Monday, becoming the highest-ranking member of US President Donald Trump’s administration to resign in protest after the pro-Trump insurrection at the Capitol.

In a statement Thursday, Chao, who is married to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said the violent attack on the Capitol “has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”

She says her department will continue to cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden’s designated nominee to head the department, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Then-Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File)

Biden says anti-racism protesters treated ‘very differently’ by police

President-elect Joe Biden accuses US authorities of treating pro-Trump protesters more leniently than anti-racism demonstrators who were forcibly dispersed by police in Washington last year.

“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday… they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Biden says.

“We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable.”

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks at the Queen Theater on January 6, 2021, in Wilmington, Delaware, urging President Donald Trump to “step up” and stop the assault on the Capitol. (JIM WATSON / AFP)

Pelosi: Invoke 25th amendment to remove Trump from office

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says President Donald Trump should immediately be removed from office or Congress may proceed to impeach him.

Pelosi joins those calling on the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to force Trump from office. It came a day after a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, forcing the building into lockdown. Trump called them “very special” people and said he loved them.

She says at the Capitol: “The president of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America.”

Pelosi says he could do further harm to the country: “Any day can be a horror show for America.”

Democrats and some Republicans want Trump removed before his term ends on Jan. 20 with Democrat Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The 25th Amendment allows for the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to declare the president unfit for office. The vice president then becomes acting president.

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives as a joint session of the House and Senate convenes to count the Electoral College votes cast in November’s election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Biden picks Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as labor secretary

US President-elect Joe Biden will select Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his labor secretary, according to a person familiar with the decision, choosing a former union worker who shares his Irish-American background and working-class roots.

Walsh, 53, has served as the Democratic mayor of Boston since 2014. When he took the oath of office for his second term as Boston’s chief executive in 2018, Biden presided over the inauguration. His selection was confirmed by a person familiar with the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid preempting Biden’s official announcement.

Before that, Walsh served as a state representative for more than a decade.

Walsh, a former union worker, has a long history with labor. He served as president of Laborers Local 223 and, before becoming mayor, headed up the Boston Building Trades — a union umbrella organization.

At Walsh’s second mayoral inauguration, Biden praised him for his character and efforts to create a thriving middle class, calling him a “man of extraordinary character in a moment when we need more character and incredible courage.”

“We’re at a moment when mayors and governors matter more than they ever did,” Biden said at the event. “We need leaders who will stand up against the ugly divisiveness spewing out of Washington every day.”

Gantz to back appointment of new police commissioner

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he’ll back Border Police commander Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai’s appointment as Israel’s first full-time police commissioner in over two years.

Gantz says he informed Prime minister Netanyahu of his decision, after bickering among politicians held up the nomination.

The Israel Police has been without a permanent commissioner since December 2018, when Roni Alsheich’s term ended. Around the same time, new elections were called, leading to an extended period of instability that saw three elections over the course of a year. Israel is set to hold its fourth election in two years in March, following the Netanyahu-Gantz government’s collapse after seven months passed since its formation.

Kobi Shabtai, incoming Israel Police chief, in a file photo from September 28, 2017 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
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