The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Channel 12 news reports that the massive blaze in the Jerusalem Hills has been fully brought under control, without citing a source.
The network says that the blaze poses no further danger to homes and that there is no longer fear for the lives of several potentially missing individuals.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will arrive at the police’s command center at 10:30 p.m. to receive updates on the attempts to extinguish the massive fire in the Jerusalem Hills, the Prime Minister’s Office says.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid responds to today’s criticism of Israel by Poland’s prime minister and its foreign ministry, lambasting the comments as “antisemitic threats.”
Earlier, the Polish officials said Jerusalem’s outrage over Warsaw’s passage of a law that effectively bars Jewish heirs to Nazi-looted property from reclaiming it was “unfounded” and harms bilateral relations.
“The negative impact on our relations began the moment Poland chose in 2018 to start passing laws aimed at harming the memory of the Holocaust and the Jewish people,” Lapid tweets.
“The times when Poles hurt Jews without a reaction have passed and will not return,” Lapid says. “Jews today have a proud and strong country of their own. We don’t feat antisemitic threats, and we have no intention of blinking in the face of the shameful behavior of the anti-democratic Polish government.”
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has landed in San Francisco with his wife Sara and son Yair for a two-week private vacation in the US.
The trip is contrary to the recommendation of health authorities, who have advised Israeli citizens against unnecessary international travel, due to rising COVID-19 infections worldwide.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 15, 2021
כאחד האדם: נתניהו, רעייתו והבן יאיר בדרכם לחופשה בארה״ב. pic.twitter.com/qpZ9V4EDAO
— ישי כהן (@ishaycoen) August 15, 2021
The Kan public broadcaster says officials believe the massive blaze near Jerusalem will not be brought under control tonight.
The report also says getting help from other countries in the battle against the fire is not currently being weighed as an option by fire and rescue services.
The Taliban say that their jihadists have entered multiple districts in the Afghan capital Kabul, while sources say that they have also taken over the presidential palace, hours after leader Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“Military units of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have entered Kabul city to ensure security,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweets, adding that “their advance is continuing normally.”
Three senior Taliban sources also tell AFP that the insurgents have taken control of the presidential palace.
“Taliban (fighters) have entered the presidential palace,” one senior Taliban commander tells AFP.
“The mujahideen have entered the presidential palace and have taken control of it,” a second commander says, adding that a meeting on security in the capital is taking place there.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) August 15, 2021
The Health Ministry says that starting this coming Wednesday, Israel will reimpose caps on gatherings that will restrict private and public events, as well as rules requiring social distancing in businesses that serve customers in-person, including stores and shopping malls.
All these new instructions must still be approved by the government and the Knesset.
All the following events will start operating in accordance with Green Pass rules, meaning access will depend on a certificate showing one is vaccinated, recovered, or took a negative PCR test in the previous 72 hours: sports and culture events, conferences, exhibitions, hotels, gyms, pools, event halls and venues, festivals, restaurants, bars, cafes, dining rooms, museums, libraries, tourist attractions, and universities and higher education colleges.
Green Pass rules will be in effect for anyone aged 3 and up. The state will fund COVID tests for those aged 3-11, while the rest of the tests will be self-funded.
Private gatherings will be capped at 100 people outdoors and 50 people indoors, while in event venues, the cap will be 500 outdoors and 400 indoors. Additionally, no event can surpass 75 percent of the venue’s full capacity.
Mass events where there are no marked seating spots will be capped at 1,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors.
Masks will be mandatory in all closed spaces, apart from one’s place of residence, as well as in outdoor gatherings of at least 100 people.
After ending a situation assessment regarding the massive forest fire near Jerusalem, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that if any community is deemed to be in possible danger, all its residents should be evacuated.
“If doubt arises regarding the need for evacuation, we should take the cautious approach and evacuate everyone,” he says.
Bennett’s office says the premier will receive continuous updates and hold more discussions if necessary.
The US embassy in Kabul has suspended all operations and told Americans to shelter in place, saying it has received reports of gunfire at the international airport.
The US is racing to airlift diplomats and citizens out of Afghanistan, after the Taliban overran most of the country and entered the capital today.
“The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly and the situation at the airport is deteriorating rapidly,” the embassy says in a statement.
“There are reports of the airport taking fire and we are instructing US citizens to shelter in place. The US embassy in Afghanistan has suspended consular operations effective immediately. Do not come to the embassy or airport at this time.”
A Taliban official says the group will soon declare the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul.
That was the name of the country under the Taliban government ousted by US-led forces after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The official speaks on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief media.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance is working to keep Kabul airport running, as foreign powers rush to evacuate staff after the Taliban closed in on power.
“Spoke with UK PM Boris Johnson and the foreign ministers of our allies Canada, Denmark and Netherlands on the situation in Afghanistan. NATO is helping keep Kabul airport open to facilitate and coordinate evacuations,” Stoltenberg writes on Twitter.
There have been multiple reports of attacks on the airport and of chaos, as thousands scramble to board overcrowded planes.
Footage emerges of the damage already done by the huge forest fire near Jerusalem, which is still raging.
The clip was taken at the Har Hatayasim nature reserve.
שמורת הר טייסים, נשבר הלב.
צילום: בוריס קריפק רשות הטבע והגנים pic.twitter.com/ePmhJW9Bf6
— نير حسون Nir Hasson ניר חסון (@nirhasson) August 15, 2021
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev says three people who were at the Eitanim psychiatric hospital near Jerusalem are feared missing following the hospital’s evacuation due to the massive forest fire.
“I hope it is a miscount,” Barlev tells reporters at a command center in Shoresh.
He says the battle against the blaze, which has forced the evacuation of thousands of people, will continue “all night and possibly tomorrow as well.”
The Health Ministry adds 36 COVID-19 deaths to the toll published this morning, with the total toll of the pandemic reaching 6,668.
Meanwhile, active cases are down to 47,675 and serious cases remain almost unchanged at 525.
There have been 2,970 cases diagnosed so far today.
Channel 12 news says the basic reproduction number (representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects) has started slightly decreasing — especially among the vaccinated and especially among those aged 60 and up — in a somewhat encouraging sign that the outbreak is starting to slow down.
Channel 13 news quotes an unnamed fire-and-rescue official saying the massive blaze near Jerusalem was likely human-caused.
The official says, however, that it is not yet clear whether it was arson or negligence.
The director of the National Institutes of Health says the US could decide in the next couple of weeks whether to offer coronavirus booster shots to Americans this fall.
Dr. Francis Collins tells “Fox News Sunday” that federal health officials are looking at the US numbers “almost daily,” but no decision has been made because cases so far still indicate that vaccinated people remain highly protected from COVID-19, including the Delta variant.
He acknowledges, though, that there is concern that the effectiveness of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen may wane “over months.” If so, Collins says that may necessitate a booster “maybe beginning first with health care providers, as well as people in nursing homes, and then gradually moving forward” with others, such as the elderly.
Collins says because the Delta variant only started hitting hard in July, the “next couple of weeks” of case data will help the US make a decision.
The European Union says the Taliban’s advance to Kabul has “increased the urgency to provide protection” for its Afghan staff against possible reprisals, and Brussels is trying to ensure their safety.
“The matter is extremely urgent, we take it very seriously and continue to work hard, together with EU Member States, on implementing rapid solutions for them and ensure their safety. We are in intense contact and work closely on this with the Member States to maximize the possibilities for our local staff and their dependents to relocate to a safe location,” an EU spokesman says.
Afghan leaders have created a coordination council to meet with the Taliban and manage the transfer of the power, after the religious militia’s lightning offensive sweeps to the capital, Kabul.
In a statement posted on social media by former president Hamid Karzai, he says the body will be led by the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, as well as the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, and himself.
The statement says the move is “to prevent chaos and reduce the suffering of the people,” and to manage peace and a “peaceful transfer.”
A senior official says today’s massive fire near Jerusalem may be the biggest in recent years in the area.
Fire and Rescue Services Jerusalem District Commander Nissim Twito also says in a briefing that 60-70 firefighting teams and 12 planes and helicopters are battling the blaze.
Twito says the forces have narrowly managed to prevent the flames from reaching the community of Beit Meir, and have completed the evacuation of residents in other threatened communities and at the Eitanim psychiatric hospital.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces snap elections for September 20 to seek a new mandate to steer the nation’s pandemic exit, much to the dismay of his rival parties.
“Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better -– from getting the job done on vaccines, to having people’s backs all the way through to the end of this crisis,” Trudeau says.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz orders the military to assist firefighters in battling a massive blaze outside the capital, his office says.
According to the military, firefighters and search-and-rescue troops from the Home Front Command, along with elite helicopter-borne Unit 669 rescue units, have been deployed to the area around Shoresh, west of Jerusalem.
“A number of aircraft have been dispatched for reconnaissance operations in the area,” the Israel Defense Forces says.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says its medics have treated three people who were lightly hurt from smoke inhalation in the massive forest fire near Jerusalem.
None of them were taken to the hospital, MDA says.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett halts a security cabinet meeting to discuss the massive fire near Jerusalem that is ungulfing homes in the community of Ramat Raziel and has forced the evacuation of a nearby hospital and five other communities.
There will then be a situation assessment with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, Fire and Rescue Service chief Dedi Simchi, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and others.
The United Nations refugee agency says more than 550,000 people in Afghanistan have fled their homes due to the conflict since the start of this year.
A situational update by Geneva-based UNHCR shows about 126,000 people have been displaced in the month leading up to August 9, the most recent date for which figures are available.
A spokeswoman for UNHCR says that while the situation inside Afghanistan is fluid, “for now the displacement is largely internal.”
“There is a need to support the humanitarian response in the country,” Shabia Mantoo tells The Associated Press. “If we do see cross-border movement then additional support outside the country will be necessary too.”
The agency continues to have international and Afghan staff on the ground, she says.
An Israeli drone crashed inside Syria yesterday due to a “technical malfunction,” the military says, adding that there is no risk of intelligence being taken from it.
The small Skylark-model drone was performing “routine activities” at the time, the Israel Defense Forces says. Many of these comparatively inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicles, which are used primarily for reconnaissance missions, have crashed in enemy territory over the years.
The IDF says it is investigating the incident.
At least 724 people have been killed in the powerful earthquake that rocked Haiti, authorities say, updating the toll on the disaster-hit nation.
An additional 2,800 people have been injured in the 7.2-magnitude tremor that struck early Saturday, the country’s civil protection agency says.
The big forest fire west of Jerusalem has reportedly reached the community of Ramat Raziel, as authorities start evacuating the patients and staff of the nearby Eitanim psychiatric hospital by helicopters.
IDF Home Front Command troops have been called in to aid the evacuation of the hospital.
Meanwhile, firefighters are battling the blaze, which is starting to burn through Ramat Raziel. All residents have been told to leave or to shut all their windows and await further instructions if they are unable to leave.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hits back at Israel’s furious response to a law that effectively prevents Jewish heirs of property seized by the Nazis during World War II from reclaiming it.
“Israel’s decision to lower the rank of the diplomatic representation in Warsaw is groundless and irresponsible, and the words of [Foreign Minister] Yair Lapid… raise the outrage of every honest person,” Morawiecki says in a Facebook post.
“No one who knows the truth about the Holocaust and the suffering of Poland during World War II can agree to such a way of conducting politics,” he argues. “Using this tragedy for the needs of partisan interests is shameful and irresponsible. If the Israeli government continues to attack Poland in this way, it will have a very negative impact on our relations – both bilateral and those in the international arena,” he warns.
Morawiecki also denounces Jerusalem’s “attack on the Polish ambassador, Marek Magierowski, who for three years has been working on the spot to build good relations between our nations. The consequence of the recent aggressive actions of the Israeli government is an increase in hatred of Poland and Poles in this country. Among other things, for these reasons, I have decided to safely transport our ambassador’s children to Poland. Poland never leaves its diplomats in need.”
The Israel Police are weighing the evacuation of a hospital as the massive fire west of Jerusalem moves toward it, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
The report says the medical center in question is the Eitanim psychiatric hospital near Ramat Raziel.
Two Afghan officials say President Ashraf Ghani has left the country.
The officials, one from former President Hamid Karzai’s office and another an aide on the Afghan security council, tells The Associated Press that Ghani has left. The officials speak on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to brief journalists.
Ghani left along with his National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib and a second close associate. It isn’t immediately clear where they went.
Meanwhile, the Taliban says it will further enter Kabul tonight after spending hours on the city’s outskirts.
The wildfire near Jerusalem has also caused the evacuation of some residents of the communities of Ramat Raziel, Kiryat Ye’arim and Sho’eva.
The massive blaze has caused a cloud of thick smoke that has blocked the sun for much of the capital.
— emmanuel gerstel.עמנואל גרסטל♥️ (@emmanuelgerstel) August 15, 2021
Fire at Shoresh. Smoke over Jerusalem. View from my house pic.twitter.com/aoxi7hpp7J
— Ruth Marks Eglash (@reglash) August 15, 2021
— HappyLight???? (@MeirSimchah) August 15, 2021
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejects comparisons between Washington’s Kabul pullout and the chaotic American departure from Saigon, Vietnam, in 1975.
“This is not Saigon,” he tells ABC. “The fact of the matter is this: We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission in mind. That was to deal with the people that attacked us on 9/11. That mission has been successful.”
A big forest fire is raging west of Jerusalem, causing a huge black cloud that has blocked out the sun for many of Jerusalem’s residents.
The blaze has caused the evacuation of some residents of Beit Meir in the Jerusalem Hills region.
Firefighters are trying to contain the blaze but say it is advancing quickly amid strong winds.
השריפה מתחנה מרכזית ירושלים pic.twitter.com/tXU4nVOAH5
— יהונתן גוטליב Yonatan Gottlieb (@yonatanGottlieb) August 15, 2021
לידיעת תושבי ירושלים, החורף לא הגיע וזה לא ליקוי חמה, זה רק עוד ניסיון לשרוף יהודים (הפעם בבית מאיר). pic.twitter.com/CCAKM1xQAt
— ????????????????????Ariel Iluz???? (@Ariel_iluz) August 15, 2021
US embassy staff in Kabul are being moved to the airport as Taliban forces advance on the Afghan capital, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says.
“It’s why we had forces on hand to make sure we could do this in a safe and orderly fashion. The compound itself, folks are leaving there and going to the airport,” Blinken tells ABC.
As the Delta variant wreaks havoc in Israel and around the world, here’s one eye-catching statistic: Active cases are almost at 50,000 now, while they were at around 200 exactly two months ago.
Despite Israel’s world-leading vaccination drive earlier this year, the new, relatively vaccine-resistant strain has taken the country from just 221 active cases on June 15 to 49,608 today, according to Health Ministry figures.
The rise has been milder in fatalities, but still, while there were 14 COVID-19 deaths in the first two weeks of July, that has leaped to 158 in the first two weeks of August.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warns that Israel will face “record” COVID-19 infections over the next few weeks, as the Health Ministry director tells hospitals to prepare for more patients than in previous waves.
“The Delta wave is currently engulfing the entire world, including the State of Israel. The State of Israel will face record morbidity in the coming weeks,” Bennett says during a visit to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital.
Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster reports that Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash has written a letter to hospital managers telling them to open their COVID-19 wards and to prepare to open another one if the existing ward reaches 80% occupancy.
Ash says each hospital should also weigh reducing elective procedures depending on its ability to withstand the impending wave of coronavirus patients.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Amman, in the second face-to-face meeting between the two leaders in as many months, according to PA media.
The two leaders met privately to discuss “bilateral relations, joint issues, recent political developments,” the official WAFA news agency reports.
Abbas is accompanied by some of his closest advisers, including PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj and Ramallah’s liaison to Israel, Civil Affairs Commissioner Hussein al-Sheikh.
The Jordanian government has yet to officially comment on Abbas’s visit.
NATO says finding a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is more pressing “than ever” as the Taliban stands poised to take power on the outskirts of Kabul.
“We support Afghan efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, which is now more urgent than ever,” an official at the 30-nation alliance tells AFP.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz offers to send Israeli search-and-rescue troops to Turkey following massive flooding in the country, his office says.
“Defense Minister Benny Gantz, through IDF channels, contacted Turkey’s defense attache in Israel and the Turkish Defense Ministry with an offer to send a Home Front Command delegation to Turkey, including search-and-rescue and medical assistance. This is in light of the powerful floods in the country that have already claimed dozens of lives,” his office says.
The Polish Foreign Ministry dismisses as “unfounded” Israel’s anger over a law passed by Warsaw that effectively prevents Jewish heirs to property seized by the Nazis during World War II from reclaiming it.
The ministry says Poland will respond to Jerusalem’s retaliatory steps, which have including pulling its ambassador to Poland and advising Warsaw’s envoy not to return to the Tel Aviv embassy.
“The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes a negative view of actions taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel and the unfounded decision to lower the rank of its diplomatic representation in Warsaw,” the ministry tweets.
“Steps taken by Israel very severely harm our relations. The Polish government will take appropriate political and diplomatic measures, taking into account the principle of symmetry applicable in bilateral relations,” it adds.
The Taliban want to take control of Afghanistan “in the next few days,” a spokesman for the group tells the BBC, as their fighters encircle the capital.
“In next few days, we want a peaceful transfer,” Suhail Shaheen, based in Qatar as part of the group’s negotiating team, tells the BBC.
A US official says American diplomats in Afghanistan are being moved from the embassy in Kabul to the airport as the Taliban enter the capital.
The official says military helicopters are shuttling between the embassy compound and the airport, where a core presence will remain for as long as possible given security conditions.
The official is not authorized to discuss diplomatic movements and speaks on condition of anonymity.
Relocating a core group of embassy staff to the airport had been a contingency plan as the Taliban made dramatic territorial gains over the past several weeks before the final withdrawal of US troops by August 31.
And so it goes. The end. pic.twitter.com/PaoTLei8S9
— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) August 15, 2021
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital and says that tomorrow, the number of Israelis who have received their COVID-19 booster shots will pass 1 million.
“Israeli citizens are the only ones in the world who can get vaccinated for the third time,” Bennett tells reporters, calling on all citizens aged 50 and up to get the dose since failing to do so poses “mortal danger.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz will hold meetings remotely from his office after his military secretary tested positive for the coronavirus, his office says.
Gantz, who has received three vaccinations, will determine how to proceed once he receives the results of a coronavirus test.
Gantz’s military secretary, Brig. Gen. Yaki Dolf, will enter quarantine and will work from home for the time being “with as normal a schedule as possible,” the defense minister’s office says.
“All staff officers, soldiers and employees of the minister’s office who were in contact with [Dolf] are vaccinated and have been tested for the coronavirus,” Gantz’s office says.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urges government forces to maintain security in Kabul, after the Taliban paused their sweeping advance on the outskirts of the capital, causing widespread panic.
“It is our responsibility and we will do it in the best possible manner. Anyone who thinks about chaos, plunder or looting will be tackled with force,” he says in a video released to the media.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will seek to recall parliament next week from its summer break over the developing crisis in Afghanistan, domestic media reports.
MPs are currently on a recess but are likely to be called back for an urgent debate on what Britain, which lost 457 troops in the two-decade-long war, should do next, Downing Street sources tell Sky News and the Press Association.
Pope Francis expresses his concern over the situation in Afghanistan and calls for dialogue to resolve the conflict.
“I add my voice to the unanimous concern over the situation in Afghanistan,” the pontiff says during the weekly Angelus at the Vatican and calls for prayers “to end the noise of weapons and for solutions to be found at the table of dialogue.”
Germany is sending military transport planes to Kabul to begin the evacuation of its embassy staff tomorrow.
The German news agency dpa reports that the mission will include the evacuation of local Afghan staff working for the German embassy. A German official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to be quoted, tells The Associated Press that paratroopers will secure the operation.
The military planes are expected to ferry evacuees from Kabul to a base in Central Asia, from where charter planes will bring them to Germany.
Meanwhile, Italian media reports that most personnel at the Italian Embassy in Kabul are being transferred to the Afghan capital’s airport in preparation for evacuation.
The report by Corriere della Sera says the move affects some 50 Italian staffers and 30 Afghan employees and their families, along with Carabinieri paramilitary police protecting the embassy.
The Foreign Ministry confirms that staff are being transferred to the airport, as other nations are in the process of doing, but cannot give numbers or timing.
Italy’s defense minister has said that 228 Afghans and their families have already been transferred to Italy, calling it a “moral duty” to protect those who had worked with Italy and who would face reprisals by the Taliban.
The Italian agency LaPresse reports a flight carrying Italian embassy staff will depart Kabul this evening.
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