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Liberman comes out against lockdown, warning of economic harm

Treasury chief says talk of possible lockdown ‘hurts certainty’ in the economy; Health Ministry director: We’ll soon assess if more restrictions needed

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.

Herzog: We’re at a critical point in terms of threats against Israel

President Isaac Herzog meets with members of the IDF General Staff at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on August 9, 2021. (Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog meets with members of the IDF General Staff at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on August 9, 2021. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog meets with military chief Aviv Kohavi and other members of the general staff during a ceremony at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv to mark his recent swearing-in.

“We are at a critical point in terms of the threats against the State of Israel. I learned that these threats are growing in most measures, but mainly in quality and accuracy. The weighty responsibility of guaranteeing the security and strategic supremacy of the State of Israel rests primarily with the IDF. I really respect and admire you,” Herzog says.

Police planning to up enforcement of indoor masking, will reportedly use undercover cops

Israelis wear face masks as they walk inside Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis wear face masks as they walk inside Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A police source tells Channel 13 news that enforcement of the indoor mask mandate will be a top priority as of tomorrow.

The unnamed source says officers will begin issuing more fines and that enforcement of coronavirus rules will be ramped up, though at the expense of other missions.

According to the Walla news site, undercover cops will begin entering event halls, performances, and parties to enforce the mask mandate.

Jewish funeral planned for prominent COVID skeptic who died of virus

Dick Farrel. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Dick Farrel. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The Florida shock radio host and former Newsmax anchor who died of COVID-19, after spending months telling his followers not to get the vaccine, was a Jewish man from Queens.

The August 4 death of Dick Farrel, who was 65, has made global headlines because his friends say he urged them to get the vaccine after he fell ill. The private messaging was in stark contrast to his extensive public statements on the virus and vaccines.

On a Facebook page that has since been set to private, Farrel railed against coronavirus protocols, the Daily Beast reports, including US government urgings to get the vaccine. He referred to the virus as a “scam-demic” and masks as “face diapers.” He also promoted misinformation about the vaccines, saying that he knew people who got vaccinated and were hospitalized as a result.

Farrel’s death comes amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States fueled by the more transmissible Delta variant. Florida, which has few restrictions and a relatively low vaccination rate, has been especially hard hit.

Farrel’s real name was Farrel Austin Levitt. Born in 1956 to Max and Norma Levitt in Queens, New York, he graduated from Queens College before beginning his radio career in New York. A service will be held Friday at Beth Israel Boynton Beach Chapel, which first announced Farrel’s death, according to its website.

A host on multiple talk radio stations in Florida, Farrel was also a fill-in host for Newsmax, the conservative cable outlet that is a favorite of former US president Donald Trump, although it is not clear whether Farrel was employed at the time of his death. He is survived by his partner, Kitty Farley.

Jeffrey Epstein fund to close after agreeing to give $125 million to over 135 people

NEW YORK — A fund set up to provide money to victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein announces that it has largely completed its work, after agreeing to deliver nearly $125 million to more than 135 individuals.

The announcement comes from Jordana Feldman, the administrator of the Epstein Victims Compensation Program, which, since late June of last year, has operated independently of Epstein’s estate.

Epstein, 66, killed himself in August 2019, in a Manhattan lockup, a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges. Dozens of women have alleged that Epstein for decades had sexually abused teenage girls and women, often by turning mansion massages into sexual assaults.

Feldman says 92 percent of 150 eligible applicants accepted what was offered by the fund, which received 225 claims, far more than the roughly 100 or so claims that were expected, based on the number of women who had sued and spoken to lawyers.

Payouts were generally processed and paid within two to three months after claimants shared their experiences in confidential meetings, according to a release from the fund.

Feldman, who declines to provide demographics on claimants, says she met individually with over 200 fund applicants and tried to put them at ease at the outset by saying nothing would be recorded, leading them to “kind of relax their shoulders a little bit.”

“I do think that there was a sense of comfort knowing that this was a safe space to share their stories. And I think that the process was exhausting but empowering for many of these victims. Empowerment in having come forward and reclaiming a sense of control and ownership in their own narrative,” she says.

Feldman says she also did not record the meetings because she did not want to create an extra record of the meetings, which occurred as criminal probes continue into Epstein and those who might have aided his sex crimes since the 1990s. His ex-girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges and awaits a November trial in Manhattan federal court.

Health Ministry said pushing for capacity limits at gatherings, businesses

The Health Ministry is pushing for further coronavirus restrictions, including capacity limits on large gatherings and events, according to Channel 12 news.

The network says the ministry is recommending limiting attendance at indoor events to 50 people and outdoor ones to 100, as well as requiring businesses to adhere to social distancing rules limiting capacity.

Health Ministry: 50 of 600,000 Israelis who got COVID booster had mild side effects

The Health Ministry says that, of the some 600,000 older Israelis who received a third coronavirus shot, around 50 reported side effects after getting the booster.

The ministry says the side effects were mild symptoms that passed quickly and that it is continuing to keep tabs on the matter.

Judges panel okays Neal Hendel as deputy Supreme Court chief

Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel on July 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel on July 25, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Judicial Appointments Committee convenes for the first time since two Knesset members were chosen last week to be representatives on the committee.

The committee approves Judge Neal Hendel as deputy Supreme Court chief.

Time’s Up leader resigns after fallout over Cuomo ties

Roberta Kaplan poses for a photo in Atherton, California, November 2019. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron, File)
Roberta Kaplan poses for a photo in Atherton, California, November 2019. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron, File)

NEW YORK — Time’s Up leader Roberta Kaplan resigns over fallout from her work advising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, when the first allegations of sexual harassment were made against him last year.

Kaplan cites her work counseling the administration last winter and her more recent legal work representing Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Cuomo who resigned yesterday, nearly a week after a report by the state attorney general concluded that the governor had sexually harassed 11 women.

“I therefore have reluctantly come to the conclusion that an active law practice is no longer compatible with serving on the Board at Time’s Up at this time and I hereby resign,” Kaplan writes in her resignation letter, according to The New York Times.

Messages were sent to Kaplan requesting comment on her resignation.

Kaplan was the chair of the Board of Directors of Time’s Up and cofounder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which aids women who have experienced sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign says it is launching an internal investigation over the inclusion of the advocacy organization’s leader, Alphonso David, in the attorney general’s report.

“Over the past several days, HRC’s employees, supporters, board members and partners have raised questions about the appropriateness of Alphonso David’s actions and whether they align with HRC’s decades’ long mission of fighting for equality and justice for all.”

Both Kaplan and David, a former legal counsel for the governor, were consulted by the Cuomo administration when he was first accused of harassment by a former economic development adviser, Lindsey Boylan.

CIA chief set to arrive Tuesday in Israel for talks focused on Iran

CIA Director William Burns speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 15, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
CIA Director William Burns speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 15, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

CIA chief William Burns will arrive in Israel tomorrow for talks expected to focus on Iran, according to Hebrew media reports.

Unnamed Israeli officials tell the Walla news site that Burns is set to meet with Mossad chief David Barnea, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and other security and intelligence officials.

The officials say the talks will concentrate on Iran’s nuclear program and regional activities, with Israel wanting to know the Biden administration’s stance toward new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

The news site says Burns is also expected to visit Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is based.

Health Ministry reports 3,609 new infections since midnight; 373 serious COVID cases

A healthcare worker takes a swab sample at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Rehovot on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A healthcare worker takes a swab sample at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Rehovot on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

New Health Ministry figures show 3,609 new coronavirus have been recorded since midnight.

Of the 904,874 coronavirus cases confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began, 32,736 are active. The latter figure includes 373 serious cases, with 61 people on ventilators.

The death toll stands at 6,555.

The positive test rate so far today is 4.75 percent.

The Health Ministry reports that 5,814,159 have received one vaccine dose, 5,398,963 have gotten two and 549,085 were administered a booster shot.

Virus czar: No new side effects among elderly who received COVID booster

An Israeli woman over 60 receives a third coronavirus vaccine shot at a Clalit health clinic in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An Israeli woman over 60 receives a third coronavirus vaccine shot at a Clalit health clinic in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

National coronavirus czar Salman Zarka tells Channel 13 news that no new side effects have been observed among those over 60 who have received a third coronavirus vaccine dose.

He urges all those who have not been vaccinated to do so and notes that the expanded Green Pass rules that just took effect.

“Every unvaccinated person will need to decide whether he wants to do an antigen test everyday to enter events or if he’ll ultimately be convinced the vaccine is effective,” Zarka says.

Knesset says can’t determine who cursed in committee meeting as health official spoke

The Knesset Guard says it is unable to determine who among the 77 virtual participants in a Knesset committee meeting said “whore” as Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis spoke.

A statement from the Knesset says an inquiry was also unable to determine “if the remarks were said as part of the deliberation at all.”

IDF to hold military drill near Gaza border

Starting tonight until Wednesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces will hold a drill near the border with the Gaza Strip, the Eshkol regional council says.

During the exercise, flares will be launched and military vehicles will be moving through the southern part of the council area, the council adds.

Finance Ministry director: ‘No economic logic’ in awarding grants to encourage vaccination

The director-general of the Finance Ministry says there is “no economic logic” of using financial grants to encourage vaccination among those who are still not immunized against COVID-19.

“This sends a bad message to those who got vaccinated,” Ram Belinkov is quoted as saying during a briefing by Army Radio.

He also predicts there will be low adherence to lockdown rules if they are imposed and says that even if morbidity gets worse, unemployment benefits won’t be granted on a long-term basis.

“There’s a risk that employers will take advantage of putting workers on furlough during the holiday period, when output is low, at the expense of the state.” Belinkov says.

Liberman comes out against lockdown, warning of economic harm

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, July 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, July 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman expresses opposition to the prospect of a lockdown to stem rising coronavirus cases.

“An effort needs to be made to do everything prevent a lockdown. A lockdown is not the right thing. It’s not clear there’s a correlation between a lockdown and a decline in confirmed [cases] and serious patients. What is clear is there is a correlation between a lockdown and economic damage,” he says during a press briefing.

He adds: “We must prepare to live alongside the coronavirus. Just as we know to live alongside the flu, the same with coronavirus.”

The Treasury chief also says economies need certainty and that talk of a lockdown “hurts certainty.”

Health official’s husband slams Labor MK for not halting committee meeting after someone called out ‘whore’

The husband of Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, a senior Health Ministry officials, condemns the “cowardly loser” who called out “whore” as she spoke today during a Knesset committee meeting.

“A cowardly loser cursed my wife and late mother-in-law. I really hope the Israel Police get their hands on this same loser immediately,” Meir Preis tweets.

The curse that the speaker called out literally translates as “daughter of a prostitute.”

He also slams Labor MK Gilad Kariv, the committee chairman, for not immediately halting the session.

“A mark of shame and disgrace to the Knesset, to the constitution committee and the Labor party,” Preis adds.

Knesset committee chief wants inquiry into who said ‘whore’ as senior health official spoke

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 14, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 14, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Labor MK Gilad Kariv asks the Knesset Guard to look into who called out “whore” multiple times while a top Health Ministry official was speaking today during a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The remark was made by someone taking part in the meeting via Zoom and came as Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the ministry and a leading official in the government’s COVID-19 response, was speaking. It was not clear if the remark was directed at her.

“We won’t allow any harm to the honor of public servants in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee,” Kariv, who heads the committee, says in a statement.

The statement notes Kariv called for all those participating on Zoom to be muted after the speaker uttered the insult, and that it was not clear who made the remark or who it was directed at.

Blinken vows no ‘impunity’ for Iran over attack on Israeli-linked ship

In this file photo taken on August 2, 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP)
In this file photo taken on August 2, 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken renewed vows to punish Iran for allegedly attacking a tanker, saying the world cannot allow “impunity.”

Speaking today to a virtual Security Council session on maritime security, Blinken says the explosions in late July on the Israeli-linked MT Mercer Street were “part of a pattern of attacks and other provocative behavior.”

“It is on all of our nations to hold accountable those responsible. Failing to do so will only fuel their sense of impunity and embolden others inclined to disregard the maritime order,” he says.

Two crew members, from Britain and Romania, died in the blasts which the US military said were caused by drones built by Iran.

Iran has denied responsibility for the blast but analysts have described the operation as part of a shadow war between Iran and Israel which includes strikes on Tehran-linked sites in Syria.

BioNTech chief: No need yet to adapt Pfizer vaccine for COVID variants

A vial of Pfizer-Biontech COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a Clalit health clinic in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A vial of Pfizer-Biontech COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a Clalit health clinic in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

BERLIN — The first generation vaccine developed by BioNTech-Pfizer works against coronavirus variants such as the Delta strain and does not need to be modified for the moment, the chief executive of German company BioNTech says.

“It is quite possible that in the next six to 12 months, further variants will emerge and that would require adaptation of the vaccine but it is at the moment not yet the case,” Ugur Sahin tells journalists.

Health Ministry chief: We’ll soon assess if more COVID restrictions needed

Israelis present their COVID-19 vaccination certificates at the entrance to a concert  venue n Tel Aviv on August 7, 2021 in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis present their COVID-19 vaccination certificates at the entrance to a concert venue n Tel Aviv on August 7, 2021 in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash says he doesn’t back penalizing those who don’t get vaccinated, as the government seeks to boost immunization rates to help beat back a COVID-19 surge.

“We’re against direct sanctions against those who don’t get vaccinated,” he says during a press briefing.

He adds that health officials will assess in the coming days whether to recommend further restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

France’s Macron calls on Iran to halt nuclear violations ‘without delay’

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron urges Iran to halt all violations of the 2015 deal on its nuclear drive and immediately return to negotiations on reviving the accord, in his first talks with new President Ebrahim Raisi.

“The president called on Iran to quickly resume negotiations in Vienna to reach a conclusion and to put an end, without delay, to all nuclear activities that violate the (2015) agreement,” the French presidency says.

Raisi tells Macron Iran serious on ‘maintaining deterrence’ in Gulf waters

Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says Tehran is serious about “maintaining deterrence” in Gulf waters, after accusations it was behind a deadly tanker attack off Oman last week, charges it denied.

“The Islamic Republic is very serious about providing security and maintaining deterrence in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman region and will confront elements that deprive the region of its security,” Raisi says in an hour-long phone call with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, according to the Iranian presidency’s website.

Catholic priest in France murdered by suspected cathedral arsonist

Firefighters work to put out a fire at the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral in Nantes, western France, on July 18, 2020 (Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)
Firefighters work to put out a fire at the Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul cathedral in Nantes, western France, on July 18, 2020 (Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

PARIS — A Rwandan refugee suspected of causing a major fire that ravaged the cathedral in the French city of Nantes last year murdered a Catholic priest in western France today, the interior minister and a source close to the investigation say.

“All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in the Vendee region,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin writes on Twitter, saying he was heading to the scene.

A source close to the investigation, who asks not to be named, says a man had earlier gone to police in the town of Mortagne-sur-Sevre and declared he had killed a priest. The man was already under judicial control over the fire at Nantes cathedral in July 2020, the source adds.

The source adds that the priest, aged 60, had been welcoming the man into his church for several months.

The man, named as Emmanuel A. has confessed to being behind the fire at the Gothic Nantes cathedral that horrified France on July 18, 2020.

He had initially been placed under arrest before being freed under judicial control.

Raisi speaks with Macron, says nuclear talks must ensure Iran’s ‘rights’

Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during his swearing in ceremony at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during his swearing in ceremony at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — New Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi tells his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that negotiations with world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal must guarantee Tehran’s “rights.”

“In any negotiation, the rights of the Iranian people must be upheld and the interests of our nation ensured,” Raisi says in an hour-long phone call, according to the Iranian presidency’s website.

Health Ministry official: Most people will end up being infected with COVID

Israelis wearing face masks walk inside Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis wearing face masks walk inside Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Health Ministry infectious diseases official Dr. Tal Brosh predicts most people will end up being exposed to and infected by the coronavirus.

“The question is if the infected person is vaccinated or not. It’s unavoidable that the pandemic will infect the majority of the population. It won’t disappear in another half year,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster.

Brosh, who heads the infectious disease department at Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod, also says he doesn’t see a reason to shutter Ben Gurion Airport, arguing it would distract “from the central problem — morbidity within in the country.”

Prosecutors to reportedly probe ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen

Yossi Cohen receiving an honorary doctorate at Bar-Ilan University on May 30, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Bar-Ilan University)
Yossi Cohen receiving an honorary doctorate at Bar-Ilan University on May 30, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Bar-Ilan University)

The State Prosecutor’s Office will look into claims that the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, accepted an illicit gift worth $20,000, among other allegations, according to a television report.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit instructed State Prosecutor Amit Aisman to conduct a thorough probe of the apparently serious allegations against Cohen, the Kan public broadcaster reports today.

One of the suspicions against Cohen involves $20,000 he received from billionaire Australian businessman James Packer for his daughter’s wedding — first reported by the Haaretz daily.

In a TV interview in June, shortly after retiring as the head of the spy agency, Cohen spoke for the first time about the incident. He claimed to have accepted the funds after consulting the Mossad’s legal adviser, and said he is committed to returning the gift.

The other allegations against Cohen could not be detailed due to privacy laws, Kan says. Once the initial examination is concluded, Mandelblit will decide if a full criminal investigation is warranted, according to the report.

Iran’s daily COVID caseload tops 40,000 in new high

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s daily COVID caseload crossed the 40,000 mark today, its health ministry says, marking a new record in infections and deaths for the second day running.

In the past 24 hours, 40,808 people tested positive for the coronavirus and 588 died, it says.

The latest figures bring the total number of infections to 4,199,537 since the pandemic started and the number of deaths to 94,603.

Iranian health officials have acknowledged that the Islamic Republic’s COVID figures underestimate the real toll.

Iran remains the Middle East country worst hit by the pandemic.

COVID infections have been surging since June, in what officials have warned is a “fifth wave” caused by the highly infectious Delta variant.

Tehran, with a population of over eight million, is facing the highest numbers of deaths, infections and hospitalization, according to Nader Tavakoli, deputy head of the capital’s virus task force.

Iran has pinned its hopes on vaccinations to help with the health crisis, but the inoculation campaign launched in February has progressed slower than authorities had planned.

Choked by US sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran says it is struggling to import vaccines for its 83-million-strong population.

More than 13 million people have been given a first vaccine dose, but only 3.7 million have received the necessary two jabs, the health ministry says.

More than half of Iran’s 448 counties including Tehran are currently listed as “red” — the highest risk level on the country’s color-coded scale, according to the ministry.

In red zones, all commercial activity must shut down except for those considered essential, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

But malls and small retail shops in northern and central Tehran are still operating, according to AFP journalists.

Watchdog calls on Likud MK David Bitan to resign over graft indictment

MK David Bitan at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK David Bitan at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel calls on Likud MK David Bitan to resign after he’s formally indicted on corruption charges.

“Do not bring shame upon the Knesset of Israel,” the watchdog group says.

Gantz talks strengthening PA, Iranian threat with US Embassy officials

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with senior officials at the US Embassy in Jerusalem to discuss strengthening the Palestinian Authority, as well as Iran’s nuclear program and regional activities.

Gantz tweets that he met with Michael Charge d’Affaires Michael Ratney and Lt. Gen. Mark Schwartz, the security coordinator between Israel and the PA.

Cabinet expected to discuss ultra-Orthodox conscription bill at upcoming meeting

Illustrative: Soldiers of the IDF's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion sit in a field at the Peles Military Base, in the Northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Soldiers of the IDF's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion sit in a field at the Peles Military Base, in the Northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Government ministers will convene tomorrow at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv for a cabinet meeting, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.

Ministers are expected to discuss a bill formalizing exemptions from compulsory military service for many members of the ultra-Orthodox community, according to the Walla news site.

Unnamed senior coalition officials are quoted in the report saying that if the age up to which deferments are commonly granted isn’t lowered from 24 to 21 in the version of the bill that ends up winning government approval, they will seek to include that clause during the legislative process in the Knesset.

Ministers are also expected to discuss military pensions during tomorrow’s meeting, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Russia resumes flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, 6 years after IS plane bombing

Russian tourists gather at the Egyptair check-in desk at the Domodedovo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia, August 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr)
Russian tourists gather at the Egyptair check-in desk at the Domodedovo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia, August 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr)

CAIRO — Russia resumes flights to Egyptian Red Sea resorts, ending a ban that had lasted almost six years following the bombing of a Russian airliner that killed all 224 people onboard.

The local branch of the Islamic State jihadist group said it downed the plane over Sinai in October 2015, shortly after the aircraft took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. At the time, Russian officials insisted that security procedures at Egyptian airports were insufficient.

Early this morning, EgyptAir flight MS724 took off from Moscow with 300 tourists. Hours later, the Airbus A300-330 landed in Hurghada, a popular Red Sea destination, Egypt’s national carrier says in a statement.

The Russian plane was welcomed by a ceremonial “water salute” on touchdown and Russian tourists, most of them wearing facemasks, were greeted with flowers and balloons upon disembarking.

The statement says EgyptAir will operate seven flights from the Russian capital to Hurghada and Sham el-Sheikh, on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The first EgyptAir flight from Moscow to Sharm el-Sheikh is scheduled for tomorrow, it says.

Egypt’s envoy to Russia, Ihab Nasr, told a local TV station yesterday that there would be 20 direct flights between Moscow and the two Red Sea resorts every week, and that Egyptian and Russian officials were discussing additional flights.

The Russian state aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya, has cleared eight Russian airlines to operate flights to Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh from 43 cities across Russia. However, the list does not include St. Petersburg, the destination of the doomed Russian airliner downed over Sinai.

Likud MK David Bitan formally indicted on corruption charges

Likud MK David Bitan at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on August 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on August 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

State prosecutors file an indictment formally charging Likud MK David Bitan after he opted against requesting parliamentary immunity against corruption charges.

Bitan is indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as money laundering and tax offenses, over allegations he received some NIS 715,000 ($220,000) in bribes while in public office.

Bitan, a former coalition whip and confidant of ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denies wrongdoing.

9 MEPs protest attendance of EU diplomat at inauguration of Iran’s Raisi

European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora (L) attends the swearing-in ceremony of Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora (L) attends the swearing-in ceremony of Iran's new President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Nine members of the European Parliament send a letter to the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, blasting the decision to send a senior EU diplomat to Tehran for the inauguration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

“Sending such senior representation to the inauguration of a president with such a dark record, at this sensitive time, contradicts European commitments to uphold and stand up for human rights,” write the MEPs.

The parliamentarians call Raisi’s electoral victory in June “a sham election” and decry his “appalling record of personal responsibility for the most heinous of human rights abuses.”

Borrell sent the EU point man on the Vienna nuclear talks, Enrique Mora, to last Thursday’s ceremony in Iran.

“It is hardly fitting to honor President Raisi’s inauguration with the presence of one of the EU’s most senior diplomats,” they write. “It seems even more incongruous given Mr. Mora’s senior role in coordinating the nuclear talks in Vienna. His presence risks giving the impression that the EU’s overwhelming concern is the nuclear agreement, to the point of ignoring severe Iranian human rights abuses. While mass protests against the regime are taking place across Iran, the EU comes across as ignoring the voice of the Iranian people.”

European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora (R) and the leader of the Palestinian terror group, Ismail Haniyeh (L), at the inauguration of Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Belarus leader denies involvement in activist’s death in Ukraine

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko looks on during a press conference in Minsk on August 9, 2021. (Pavel Orlovsky/Belta/AFP)
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko looks on during a press conference in Minsk on August 9, 2021. (Pavel Orlovsky/Belta/AFP)

MOSCOW — Belarus’s strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko denies his country’s security services were involved in the death of a Belarusian activist in Ukraine.

“He was a nobody for us,” he says at a press conference in Minsk, adding that the death of exile Vitaly Shishov in Kyiv last week had strained relations with Ukraine.

Kiev opened a murder probe and Lukashenko’s critics accused his regime of killing the 26-year-old activist who helped his compatriots flee repression.

“What kind of madman would go and hang him?” Lukashenko says, adding that he had “enough people to deal with without Shishov.”

He accuses Kyiv security services of backing Shishov and demands Ukraine “put the facts on the table.”

“Tell us what happened to the citizen of Belarus,” he says.

Shishov headed the Belarusian House in Ukraine, a non-governmental organization involved in everything from helping fellow compatriots settle in Ukraine to staging anti-regime protests.

Lukashenko also denies that Minsk tried to forcibly bring home athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya from the Tokyo Olympics, accusing her of being “controlled” by Poland, where she has since sought refuge.

“She would not have done this if she wasn’t controlled by her mates in Poland,” he says.

He adds that there had not been “not a single” KGB agent at the Tokyo Olympics.

Ex-Treasury chief blames own party leader Netanyahu, Gantz for lack of budget

Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a conference in Ramat Negev, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)
Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a conference in Ramat Negev, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

Likud MK Israel Katz, the previous finance minister, blames ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz for the failure of their short-lived power-sharing government to pass a budget.

“Because of Bibi and Gantz there is no budget, because their agreement included an insane clause that said if the budget does not pass there is no rotation [of the premiership],” Katz tells Radio 103FM, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

A failure to pass a budget was the sole scenario under the coalition deal between Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White under which Netanyahu would not have to step aside as premier if new elections were called.

Katz says Gantz’s insistence that a two-year budget be passed — as agreed in the coalition deal — “ensnared” the budget.

“The political paralysis prevented the passage of the budget,” he says.

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