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European powers, US warn Iran against ending international inspections

Top diplomats urge Tehran to comply with 2015 nuclear deal, condemn uranium enrichment and uranium metal production

In this August 20, 2010, photo, an Iranian security guard walks past a gate of the Bushehr nuclear power plant as its reactor building is seen in background, just outside the city of Bushehr 750 miles (1,245 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this August 20, 2010, photo, an Iranian security guard walks past a gate of the Bushehr nuclear power plant as its reactor building is seen in background, just outside the city of Bushehr 750 miles (1,245 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

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

Health minister says Israel won’t force vaccinations

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says Israel won’t force any of its citizens to get vaccinated or sanction those who refuse the shots.

“Those who choose not to get vaccinated — that’s their right. There will be no personal sanctions against someone who doesn’t get vaccinated. We don’t do such things,” says Edelstein.

But he also says that “soon there will be workplaces in which workers who engage with the public must be vaccinated or tested every 48 hours.”

Edelstein’s comments come in a press conference about the new “green pass” program, going into effect on Sunday, which will enable entry for the vaccinated and recovered COVID patients to gyms, theaters and other venues.

He cautions in his remarks that forgeries of the vaccination certificate will be met with prison time.

As of Thursday, 4.1 million Israelis have received the first vaccine dose and 2.7 million are fully inoculated.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein at a press conference in Jerusalem on February 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Ministry to make decision on vaccinating recovered COVID patients

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy says the government will likely approve the vaccination of recovered COVID-19 patients.

“We will make a decision today on dates defining recovery and whether they’ll receive one dose or two,” he tells reporters.

Hospital staff wearing safety gear, as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on January 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In surprise move, Facebook blocks news sharing in Australia

In a surprise retaliatory move, Facebook blocks Australians from sharing news stories, escalating a fight with the government over whether powerful tech companies should have to pay news organizations for content.

Australia’s government condemns the step, which also blocks some government communications, including messages about emergency services, and some commercial pages.

The digital platforms fear that what’s happening in Australia will become an expensive precedent for other countries as governments revamp laws to catch up with the fast-changing digital world.

Facebook acted after the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make it and Google pay for Australian journalism, said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. He said he was given no warning before Facebook acted. The legislation must be passed by the Senate to become law.

A woman inspects a request for medicine on a Lebanese Facebook community group in the capital Beirut, on February 3, 2021. (JOSEPH EID / AFP)

Australian news organizations could not post stories and people who tried to share existing news stories got notifications saying they were blocked from doing so.

“This post can’t be shared,” the website says. “In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted.”

The legislation mentioned by the notice has not yet been enacted.

“Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Frydenberg says.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison lashes out on his own Facebook page.

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Morrison posts.

“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it,” he added. “We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament.”

Facebook says the proposed Australian law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it.”

“This is an assault on a sovereign nation,” Health Minster Greg Hunt tells Parliament. “It is an assault on people’s freedom and, in particular, it’s an utter abuse of big technologies’ market power and control over technology.”

The government contends the proposed News Media Bargaining Code will ensure media businesses will be paid fairly for journalism linked online. Both Google and Facebook had threatened to retaliate.

At ceremony, Netanyahu, Rivlin vow Israel will find remains of missing soldiers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, at an official annual ceremony, honor Israel’s fallen soldiers whose place of burial is not known.

“We never lose hope that we will be able to lift the burden of the mystery,” says Netanyahu at the ceremony.

Netanyahu says Israel is doing everything to locate the remains of Israeli soldiers whose bodies have yet to be retrieved.

Says Rivlin: “The task of finding the missing soldiers, within our borders and beyond, and bringing them to burial in Israel is a sacred duty that has no end. We do not cease from it We have never ceased from it and we never will.”

“The duty of the State of Israel and of those that lead it is to do everything in their power for our soldiers who did not return from battle – the fallen soldiers whose place of burial is not known – until the last one of them comes home. Dead or alive. That is the unwritten contract, signed in blood, between us and our soldiers who go off to battle, and between us and you, the bereaved families. We must not breach it under any circumstances.”

Hermon ski resort to open Sunday after heavy snowfall

The Hermon ski resort will open on Sunday after a major snowstorm in the Golan Heights, the Tourism Ministry says.

Entry to the resort will be limited by health regulations. The ski lift will be operating.

The top of the Hermon ski area, at 6,600-foot elevation, offers expansive views of the valley below. (Uriel Heilman/ JTA)

Shas will only employ election observers who were vaccinated

Aryeh Deri’s Shas party announces that its election day observers and workers must be vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus.

According to Channel 12, the ultra-Orthodox party will hire 8,000 people to observe the vote on behalf of the party on March 23 and fill other roles.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri at the party’s election-night headquarters, March 2, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel to vaccinate 120,000 Palestinian workers — report

Israel will vaccinate the 120,000 Palestinians with working permits in the Jewish state, using shots provided by Moderna, the Walla news site reports.

Israel, which is mostly using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, has been debating how to utilize the Moderna supplies, which are more easily transportable. According to the report, the Health Ministry has refrained from allowing health providers to use the Moderna shots to avoid confusion on the handling of the different vaccines.

A medic administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a fellow medic during a campaign to vaccinate front-line medical workers, at the health ministry, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Feb. 3, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

‘Significant’ progress reported in Israel-Syria prisoner swap talks

Hebrew media reports say Russia-mediated talks between Israel and Syria over the release of an Israeli woman held in the hostile neighboring country have seen “significant” progress and a deal could be clinched tonight.

The agreement has reportedly been held up by the refusal of two Syrian security prisoners in the Jewish state to be deported to Damascus.

US life expectancy drops a year in pandemic, most since WWII

Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, health officials are reporting.

Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a huge decline,” says Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”

Other health experts say it shows the profound impact of COVID-19, not just on deaths directly due to infection but also from heart disease, cancer and other conditions.

Pall bearers carry a casket with the body of Lydia Nunez, who died from COVID-19, after a funeral service at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles, July 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

“What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year… I would expect that these numbers would only get worse,” says Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco.

This is the first time the CDC has reported on life expectancy from early, partial records; more death certificates from that period may yet come in. It’s already known that 2020 was the deadliest year in US history, with deaths topping 3 million for the first time.

Life expectancy is how long a baby born today can expect to live, on average. In the first half of last year, that was 77.8 years for Americans overall, down one year from 78.8 in 2019. For males it was 75.1 years and for females, 80.5 years.

Israel, US launch development of Arrow 4 anti-missile system

Israel and the United States have begun developing the Arrow 4 missile defense system, the Defense Ministry announces.

“Arrow-4 will be an advanced, innovative interceptor missile with enhanced capabilities. It will address a wide range of evolving threats in the region and will replace the Arrow-2 interceptors over the next decades,” it says.

The Arrow system — currently made up of the Arrow, Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 interceptor missiles — represents the longest range of Israel’s air defense network, designed predominantly to shoot down ballistic and cruise missiles, including those that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead or other non-conventional munitions.

“The development of Arrow-4 together with our American partners will result in a technological and operational leap forward, preparing us for the future battle field and evolving threats in the Middle East and beyond,” says Defense Minister Benny Gantz in a statement.

Illustration: Arrow 4 air defense system missile (Ministry of Defense)

UAE sending 20,000 virus vaccine doses to Gaza

A shipment of 20,000 Russian coronavirus vaccine doses donated by the United Arab Emirates are on their way to the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials say.

The shots were reportedly sent at the initiative of Mohammad Dahlan, an exiled Fatah official who lives in Abu Dhabi. Dahlan is a key rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,

Former PA Health Minister Jawad al-Tibi, who directs health affairs in Dahlan’s breakaway Fatah faction, tells The Times of Israel that the vaccines arrived in the UAE seven days ago. They were supposed to be transferred into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, but have yet to cross due to the inclement weather.

Hamas health official Munir al-Bursh confirms the reports to The Times of Israel, but says there is not yet a definite deadline for the vaccines’ arrival.

“We’re in discussions with the Democratic Reform Current at this moment,” al-Bursh say in a phone call, referring to Dahlan’s movement.

Lebanon judge removed from Beirut blast probe

A Lebanese court removes the judge leading a probe into Beirut’s massive blast last August, a judicial source says, in line with a request from two former ministers he had charged.

The August 4 blast that killed more that 200 people and ravaged large parts of the capital was caused by the detonation of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate left for years to linger on the dockside of Beirut port.

Judge Fadi Sawan had suspended the investigation into Lebanon’s worst peacetime disaster in mid-December after the former ministers he charged over the explosion filed a complaint.

A drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (Hussein Malla/AP)

On Thursday, “the Cassation Court decided to transfer the investigation… from Sawan to another judge,” who has not been named yet, the judicial source says.

On December 10, Sawan had issued charges against caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers of “negligence and causing death to hundreds.”

Premier-designate Saad Hariri and the powerful Hezbollah terror movement were among those to oppose the indictment.

Among those charged were former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and ex-public works minister Ghazi Zaiter, who accused Sawan of violating the constitution on the grounds of immunity and moved to have him removed from the case.

This picture shows a view of Beirut’s port in the aftermath of a huge chemical explosion that disfigured the Lebanese capital, on August 14, 2020. (AFP)

Rights activists condemn Thursday’s ruling.

Sawan’s removal “makes a mockery of justice and is an insult to the victims of the blast,” Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub writes on Twitter. “More than six months later, we are back to square one.”

Lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh says he needs to see the full court decision, but fears the worst. “By refusing to be held accountable, the ministers and political class are drawing a red line in the investigation,” he says, adding it was a “common occurrence in Lebanon that prevents any justice from being achieved.”

The investigation had led to the arrest of at least 25 suspects, including the chief of the port and its customs director, but not a single politician.

It had focused mainly on who to blame over negligence for the tragedy, not trying to find out how the ammonium nitrate ended up in Beirut.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Facebook’s Australia news blackout cuts off government agencies, charities

Facebook’s news blackout in Australia has raised fears misinformation could come to dominate the platform in the country, with fake news and conspiracy theories left untouched while credible sources have been cut off.

From Thursday Australians were unable to post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of local and international news outlets, while Aussie news sources disappeared from the site worldwide.

The social media giant was acting in response to tough new regulations that will force it and Google to pay for the news stories shown on their platforms.

But several critical government agencies — tasked with issuing emergency Covid-19, bushfire, flood and cyclone advice — were initially caught up in the news ban before Facebook began restoring them.

The thumbs-up ‘Like’ logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, April 14, 2020. (AP/Jeff Chiu, File)

An assortment of other Australian pages were also rendered blank, including cancer and homelessness charities, major businesses and even popular satire accounts.

But unaffected by the blackout were a series of pages owned by purveyors of fake news and conspiracy theories — despite their frequently posting about current events.

Among them were several pages identified by AFP’s fact-checking team as sharing false claims that circulate to tens of thousands of users.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the professional journalists it represents acted as a check on the spread of misinformation before their work was barred from Facebook feeds.

Protesters object to planned uprooting of 400 trees in southwest Jerusalem

Thursday is the last day for objections to be filed with the Agriculture Ministry’s Forestry Supervisor against plans to fell more than 400 trees near the Handak Spring, in the vicinity of the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in southwest Jerusalem, protesters say.

The plan is being promoted by the Even Sapir moshav in order to expand its agricultural land.

Opponents say it will damage a beautiful area, popular with hikers, and harm flora and fauna, including deer, whose mobility will be restricted by new fencing. Use of fertilizers and other chemicals will also threaten water sources, they charge.

View of Even Sapir and the forest that surrounds it on the outskirts of Jerusalem, October 23, 2013. (Flash90)

Ron Havilio, a leading campaigner against development in the picturesque and historic Ein Kerem area, noted in his objection that the location includes ancient agricultural terraces that should be preserved.

One of the terraces, unique in Israel, was built out of such huge stones that it is thought to date back to Roman times.

Earthworks have already begun on the site and some trees have been cut down.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, the chairman of the Even Sapir moshav’s committee, Hezi Issachar, is declining to comment.

The area around the Handak Spring forms part of the so-called Springs Trail, starting from Moshav Even Sapir — a water-themed hike that is highly popular with residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

Government extends order requiring travelers to self-isolate in state-run hotels

The government extends until March 3 a requirement for travelers entering the country to self-isolate in state-run hotels.

The order requires 14 days of quarantine, or 10 days with two negative tests.

Exemptions are granted by a government panel on a case-by-case basis. Those who are vaccinated or who recovered from COVID-19 do not need to quarantine, but must still take two tests.

People who landed on a flight from England arrive at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem, which is used as a quarantine facility, on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police break up Tel Aviv wedding with over 100 guests

Police disperse a wedding held against health regulations in Tel Aviv.

Over 100 guests were present at the event. Current rules limit indoor gatherings to 10 people.

The hall owners and hosts of the wedding are fined NIS 5,000 and summoned for police questioning.

The hall has been shut down until further notice.

Health Ministry backs reopening schools Sunday in dozens of moderately infected zones

After amending its criteria, Health Ministry adds dozens of areas to its list of where some school grades may reopen on Sunday. The recommendations don’t apply to grades 7-10, which will continue with remote learning.

The list still requires the approval of the cabinet.

The ministry recommends opening schools in parts of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, previously the country’s most infected areas; Beit Shemesh; Ashkelon; Beitar Illit; Hadera; Holon; Tiberias; Yavne; Modiin Illit; Maale Adumim; Acre; Afula; parts of Petah Tikva; Rishon Lezion; Afula; Rehovot; Sderot; and numerous other areas.

Schools will remain shut in dozens of Arab-majority areas where infections remain high and vaccinations are lower than the national average; numerous East Jerusalem neighborhoods; parts of Netanya and Rishon Lezion; Netivot; Ramle; Kiryat Malachi; and more.

Grades 1-4 and daycares in light- to medium-infected locations have already been open for a number of days.

Children return to school in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

IDF frees 2 Syrian shepherds as part of prisoner swap for Israeli woman

The Israel Defense Forces frees two Syrian shepherds who entered Israeli territory several weeks ago, the army says.

The Syrians were handed over to the Red Cross at the Quneitra crossing into Syria, the IDF says.

The army statement says the move was backed by Israel’s government. The move is part of a prisoner swap in exchange for an Israeli woman held by the Assad regime after crossing into Syria, according to Hebrew media reports.

Deputy attorney general: Can’t ban employers from demanding workers get vaccine

Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri opines that under certain circumstances, employers can legally demand their workers get vaccinated, according to Hebrew media reports. But he says the demand must be “justified.”

Nizri opposes any sort of blanket ban on employers conditioning their workers’ continued employment on their immunization from the coronavirus.


Vatican staff who refuse vaccination could be fired

Vatican staff who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19 could be sacked under a decree made public by the city state, which employs around 5,000 people.

An employee must have a documented medical reason for refusing a jab or face “consequences of various degrees which may go as far as the termination of employment,” according to the text.

The document, which cites a 2011 Vatican law, also concerns job applicants, saying the Holy See may not hire them if they refuse to be vaccinated.

“Refusing vaccination could also be a risk for others (and) seriously increase risks to public health,” it says.

The same document also details fines of between 25 and 50 euros ($30-60) for failing to wear a mask or to observe social distancing, and up to 1,500 euros for breaking quarantine rules.

The Vatican began vaccinating its employees for free last month. Pope Francis, 84, and his 93-year-old predecessor pope Benedict XVI have both received the shots.

Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he recites the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, December 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Facebook to fight misinformation on climate change

Facebook says it will expand its climate information hub and direct its users to experts to debunk myths and hoaxes in the field in a ramped up effort to fight misinformation.

The social media giant says it has added a section to its climate hub that features “facts that debunk common climate myths” and will rely on climate communication experts from the George Mason University, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, and the University of Cambridge.

The information hub is already available in France, Germany, Britain and the United States, and is being expanded to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa and Taiwan.

“Along with expanding the center, we’re improving it. We added a section that features facts that debunk common climate myths,” Facebook says.

“We already direct people to the Climate Science Information Center when they search for climate-related terms, and will keep doing that where the center is available. In countries where it isn’t, we will soon direct people to the UN Environment Programme, a leading global environmental authority.”

Over 200 US Capitol rioters have right-wing extremist links — ADL

The Anti-Defamation League says over 200 people who took part in the US Capitol riot have links to right-wing extremist movements.

In a report, the ADL says it has identified 212 out of 800 estimated people believed to have stormed the Capitol on January 6. Of those, 52 had direct ties to extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Groypers.

The ADL describes other individuals it identified as part of the new “pro-Trump extremist movement,” a loose-knit faction of former US president Donald Trump’s fervent supporters.

Most of the extremists weren’t spurred to violence by the leader of a specific group, according to the ADL.

“They are the product of weeks and months and years of incitement, lies and repeated conspiracy theories, many of which were propagated and/or openly embraced by President Trump,” the watchdog group says.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Mezuzah smashed, swastika carved at Jewish student’s home in the Netherlands

A swastika is carved into the doorframe of a Jewish student’s house in the Dutch city of Maastricht and the mezuzah is torn off.

The Maastricht University student discovers the damage to his mezuzah, an object containing scripture on parchment that Jews affix to their doorframes, and makes a police complaint, the Netherlands chapter of the StandWithUs pro-Israel group writes in a statement.

The student, whom StandWithUs did not name, suspects one of his neighbors perpetrated the vandalism, according to the statement, but no one has been apprehended. The student and Elad Zigler, the director of StandWithUs Netherlands, say they consider the incident an anti-Semitic attack.

Dutch Jewry’s watchdog for anti-Semitism last year recorded the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents ever observed in a calendar year.

The group, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, has been monitoring anti-Semitism in the Netherlands for about 30 years. It listed 182 incidents in 2019, an increase of 35% from 2018.

Dead whale washes up on southern beach; death blamed on tar contamination

A dead whale, measuring some 10 meters (nearly 33 feet), washes up on a beach in the Nitzanim reserve in southern Israel.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority reports the incident, attributing it to tar contamination in the water. It urges the Environmental Protection Ministry to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the pollution.

The young whale was not yet fully grown, the parks service says.

It describes the incident as rare, with the last such sighting reported in Israel in 2016.

A whale carcass washes up on the southern Israel shore on February 18, 2021 (Courtesy of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

Germany: Iran ‘playing with fire,’ appears to be seeking escalation

Foreign ministers from European powers and the United States are holding talks exploring ways to revive the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear drive, days ahead of a deadline set by Tehran that could pose a new obstacle.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hosts his German and British counterparts in Paris, with America’s new Secretary of State Antony Blinken joining via videoconference.

Analysts say only a small window of opportunity remains to save the deal, which received a near-fatal blow when former US president Donald Trump walked out of the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran retaliated by stepping up nuclear work in violation of the accord.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas puts on his face mask at the end of a press conference in Berlin, Germany, December 21, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

The three European ministers are scheduled to meet from 1500 GMT, with Blinken joining by video conference from Washington at 1630 GMT.

“The recent steps of Iran are not helpful at all, they endanger the return of the Americans” to the deal, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tells reporters in Paris.

“Apparently Iran is not interested in easing the tensions, but in escalation. They are playing with fire,” he says.

Israeli woman entered Syria 2 weeks ago, under cover of bad weather — report

The Israeli woman held in Syria crossed the border two weeks ago, under the cover of stormy weather, the Walla news site reports.

It says the woman, who has been described by media reports as formerly ultra-Orthodox and in her twenties, slipped into the enemy state unnoticed by the Israel Defense Forces.

The military still hasn’t pinpointed the location where she crossed, the report says.

Israel business jet heads to Moscow amid Russia-brokered talks on prisoners

An Israeli business jet heads to Moscow, according to flight-tracking websites, amid talk of a Russian-coordinated prisoner swap between Israel and Syria.

Top Israeli officials, including the country’s national security adviser, visited Moscow on Wednesday as part of the negotiations.

Channel 13 reports that the Israeli woman held in Syria is expected to return to Israel tonight, via Moscow, under the deal.

Reports: Israeli official heads to Moscow to bring home woman detained by Syria

Israel’s hostage coordinator Yaron Bloom heads to Moscow to bring home an Israeli woman who was arrested by Syrian regime forces after crossing into the enemy country, according to Hebrew media reports.

The woman, who has yet to be identified, has been in Russian custody since Wednesday and met with Bloom and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat during their visit to Russia yesterday, reports say.

She was examined by an Israeli doctor and found to be in good health.

Bloom is expected to bring her back to Israel tonight under the Russia-coordinated deal between Jerusalem and Damascus. Earlier, Israel released two Syrian shepherds that had been held in Israeli custody as part of the agreement.


Proud Boys suspect’s lawyers blame Trump for Capitol attack

Attorneys for the purported leader of the Kansas City cell of the Proud Boys blame former US president Donald Trump for the January 6 assault on the US Capitol, telling a federal magistrate judge that the five weeks since then “have broken the fever dream.”

William Chrestman, an Army veteran and union sheet metal worker from Olathe, Kansas, remains in custody as the judge weighs whether to release him before his trial. He is charged with conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, threatening to assault a federal law enforcement officer and other charges stemming from the melee.

Prosecutors are seeking to keep him in custody, arguing that he is a danger to the community and a flight risk. Defense attorneys contend Chrestman won’t flee and argue that he poses no danger since he and the world around him has changed much since that day. They contend his arrest has chastened, rather than emboldened him.

Rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

US Magistrate Judge James O’Hara says at a detention hearing that he would rule within a few days on whether to release Chrestman pending trial, the Kansas City Star reports.

“It is an astounding thing to imagine storming the United States Capitol with sticks and flags and bear spray, arrayed against armed and highly trained law enforcement. Only someone who thought they had an official endorsement would even attempt such a thing. And a Proud Boy who had been paying attention would very much believe he did,” defense attorneys argue.

His attorneys contend in a court filing that the Proud Boys watched as their “pro-America, pro-capitalism and pro-Trump” rhetorical strategy allowed them into the Republican mainstream. They watched as law enforcement attacked Black Lives Matter and anti-fascism protestors, but escorted Proud Boys and their allies to safety. They watched as their leader, Enrique Tarrio, was named Florida state director of Latinos for Trump, they wrote.

The defense also argues that the Trump campaign was well aware of the organized participation of Proud Boys rallies merging into Trump events. When then-President Trump was given an opportunity to disavow them during a presidential debate, Trump instead told them to “stand back and stand by” — something they understood as “a call to arms and preparedness.”

“The five weeks since January 6 have broken the fever dream. The Proud Boys are ‘radioactive now.’ Any air of respectability is gone,” the defense lawyers write. “The Proud Boys are in ‘disarray, as state chapters disavow the group’s chairman and leaders bicker in public and in private about what direction to take the Proud Boys in.”

Number of seriously ill COVID patients drops to 903

The number of seriously ill coronavirus patients in Israel has dropped to 903, with 297 on ventilators, according to Health Ministry figures.

The number of serious cases has been declining after remaining over 1,000 for weeks.

According to the ministry, another 1,876 cases have been diagnosed since midnight.

The death toll stands at 5,501.

According to the ministry, over 4.1 million Israelis have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and over 2.8 million have received both doses.

NATO to increase Iraq personnel from 500 to 4,000

NATO is planning to scale up its mission training Iraq’s security forces with thousands of new personnel as the military alliance seeks to help keep the Islamic State group at bay, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

“The size of our mission will increase from 500 personnel to around 4,000. And training activities will now include more Iraqi security institutions, and areas beyond Baghdad,” Stoltenberg tells reporters after chairing a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

NATO’s training mission was launched in 2018 to help the conflict-ravaged country develop new academies and military schools for its armed forces. It was initially confined to the capital, Baghdad, and neighboring Jordan.

The mission was temporarily suspended last year after a US drone strike killed Iran’s top general at Baghdad airport, angering the Iraqi government.

Stoltenberg says he has spoken with Iraqi leaders and that “everything will be done in full consultation with the Iraqi authorities.” He also underlines that increases in troop numbers would be gradual.

“We will increase the geographical presence of the NATO training mission, beyond the greater Baghdad area, but again, step by step,” Stoltenberg says. The mission was led by Canada for two years, but Denmark is now taking control.

Unlike the US-led coalition in Iraq, NATO’s training effort does not involve combat operations.

European powers, US warn Iran against ending UN nuclear inspections

In a joint statement, European powers and the United States warn Iran against limiting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, calling the proposed move “grave action.”

A bill adopted by the Iranian parliament in December following the killing of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Tehran blamed on Israel, says Iran will restrict some UN nuclear agency inspections by February 21 if the US does not lift the sanctions imposed since 2018.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hosted his German and British counterparts in Paris, with America’s new Secretary of State Antony Blinken joining via videoconference for a meeting Thursday.

After the meeting, in a lengthy statement, they say: “The E3 and the United States are united in underlining the dangerous nature of a decision to limit IAEA access, and urge Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to staff at the US State Department during the first visit of US President Joe Biden (L) in Washington, DC, February 4, 2021. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

The statement urges Iran to return to “full compliance” with the 2015 nuclear accord and not to take further steps away from the pact.

“Secretary Blinken reiterated that, as President Biden has said, if Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA, the United States will do the same and is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran toward that end,” the statement says.

“The E3 welcomed the prospect of a US and Iranian return to compliance with the JCPOA. The E3 and the United States affirmed their determination to then strengthen the JCPOA and, together with regional parties and the wider international community, address broader security concerns related to Iran’s missile programs and regional activities. We are committed to working together toward these goals,” they say.

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

The European states and the US also condemn Iran’s recent uranium enrichment and production of uranium metal.

“These activities have no credible civil justification. Uranium metal production is a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” they say.

Israeli woman who crossed into Syria made several attempts before — reports

Hebrew media reports say the Israeli woman who crossed into Syria entered the neighboring country near the Hermon mountain, in an area that is not surrounded by a security fence.

The woman — who was later arrested by Syria and is now set to return to Israel as part of a Russia-mediated prisoner swap — arrived at the spot via a valley that leads from Majdal Shams, the reports say.

She likely made several attempts to cross into Syria, according to the Ynet news site. Channel 13 says she also tried unsuccessfully to enter the Gaza Strip.

The woman is believed to be mentally ill.

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