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Panel backs booster for over-40s, as evidence grows it gives strong protection

Expert says those given 3rd shot 6-8 times less likely to have severe illness; officials assess without booster some 100 vaccinated individuals aged 40-49 will have serious cases

Medical staff receive their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on August 17, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Medical staff receive their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on August 17, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

Man who claimed to have bomb in truck near Capitol surrenders to law enforcement

A man who claimed to have a bomb in his truck near the Library of Congress has surrendered to law enforcement, ending an hours-long standoff.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv released from hospital after serious COVID case

Labor MK Gilad Kariv has been released from hospital after suffering a serious case of COVID-19.

Kariv’s condition has improved, but he will still require oxygen while at home.

“I thank all who wished me well and call on you all, go get vaccinated for yourselves, for those around you and for the strength of our health system,” he says.

Expert panel calls to give booster shot to all Israelis over 40

An illustrative photo of a medical worker preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a temporary Clalit Healthcare Services facility in Tel Aviv, on August 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of a medical worker preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a temporary Clalit Healthcare Services facility in Tel Aviv, on August 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A government advisory panel of health experts has voted to recommend opening up the third dose of vaccinations to all Israelis over age 40, further widening the national campaign intended to combat the Delta variant of the coronavirus and bring Israel out of the current wave of infections.

The panel also considered expanding the coverage of boosters to everyone who has had two shots — provided five months have passed since their last shot. However, this proposal has not been approved for now.

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash must now decide whether to accept the panel’s recommendation.

Some reports say that the drive to vaccinate people over the age of 40 could start tomorrow, while others expect it to happen on Sunday.

Shin Bet said helping police probe massive Jerusalem-area blaze

The Shin Bet security agency is assisting police in an investigation into this week’s massive blaze in the Jerusalem Hills, Ynet reports.

The report says that Shin Bet is aiding police on a certain matter, and that the probe is still being run by police.

There has been speculation that the destructive fire was caused by arson, though there have been no official findings.

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire near moshav Givat Ye’arim, near Jerusalem, on August 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

53 Dem lawmakers say US must ensure Israel, Egypt let aid into ‘occupied Gaza’

Fifty-three Democratic lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have penned a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to ensure that Israel and Egypt allow humanitarian aid into the “occupied Gaza Strip.”

“The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza is untenable. Ensuring that Palestinians residing in Gaza receive humanitarian aid is vital to securing the well-being of Gaza’s 2.1 million residents,” the letter spearheaded by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), reads.

“Securing these changes is vital to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has been exacerbated by the recent hostilities between Hamas and Israel that left an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance.”

The lawmakers urge a “full reopening” of the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings, controlled by Israel, along with the Rafah crossing, controlled by Egypt.

Both countries maintain a blockade over the Gaza Strip, which they say is aimed at preventing the smuggling of weapons and materials that can be used to arm the Hamas terror group that rules the coastal enclave.

Critics say the blockade is excessive and has helped bring the Gazan economy to its knees.

The dovish Middle East lobby J Street, which helped organize the letter, commends the effort, noting that “people in Gaza currently have severely limited access to clean water, food, medicine and electricity. Humanitarian assistance is urgently needed, and the administration must do all that it can to ensure that it is delivered as soon as possible.”

Officials weigh booster for over-40s, as evidence grows of strong protection

As the health panel advising the government convenes to discuss opening up booster vaccinations to people over the age of 40, Channel 12 reports that officials assess that, without a third shot, some 100 vaccinated individuals aged 40-49 will experience severe illness due to the current wave of the coronavirus.

A top expert advising the government, Prof. Gabi Barbash, says that it is becoming clear that those vaccinated with a booster shot are 6-8 times less likely to have a severe case of disease, and are four times less likely to become infected than those who have received two shots.

It is also increasingly evident that Delta is not particularly capable of bypassing the Pfizer vaccine used in Israel, he says — rather, it is simply the waning effect of previous shots that is causing vaccinated people to fall ill.

The booster’s ability to once again protect much of the population from Delta once administered is evidence of this, he says.

10 cases of Delta offshoot AY3 found in Israel today

Ten cases of the new Delta offshoot variant AY3 were found in Israel today.

The variant is a further mutated version of Delta that is being closely watched around the world. It is not yet known whether the strain is more contagious or deadly than the original Delta.

Police say man in pickup near Capitol claims he has a bomb

A man sitting in a black pickup truck outside the Library of Congress told police that he has a bomb, prompting a massive law enforcement response to determine whether it was an operable device, law enforcement authorities say.

Police evacuated multiple buildings around the Capitol after officers observed the man holding what appeared to be a detonator, US Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger says. The man’s name was not immediately disclosed.

Police negotiators are communicating with him as he writes notes and shows them to authorities from inside the truck, according to three people, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“My negotiators are hard at work trying to have a peaceful resolution to this incident,” Manger says. “We’re trying to get as much information as we can to find a way to peacefully resolve this.”

A pickup truck is parked on the sidewalk in front of the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building, as seen from a window of the US Capitol, on Thursday, August 19, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Qatar, UN reach agreement to return some Qatari subsidies to Gaza

Qatar and the United Nations have reached an agreement to return some Qatari subsidies to the Gaza Strip, marking significant progress in the ongoing talks to strengthen the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Qatar and the UN will channel monthly $100 salaries for 100,000 impoverished Gazan families through a UN-backed mechanism, Qatari envoy to Gaza Mohammad al-Emadi says in a statement.

According to al-Emadi, the money will be distributed beginning in September.

Qatar’s point man for the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, attends a press conference at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, on February 19, 2018. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

The Qatari subisidies have emerged as one of the major stumbling blocks in the talks to strengthen the fragile ceasefire.

Since 2018, Qatar has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to Gaza. Some went to fuel subsidies, others went to cash payments for Hamas employees. Israel allowed the money into the tightly blockaded enclave in an attempt to soothe tensions on its southern border.

But following the May battle between Israel and Hamas, Israeli officials have vowed not to return to the status quo ante, which they view as too favorable to Hamas.

The Palestinian Authority had hoped to sign a separate agreement between Ramallah and Doha to transfer the funds. But the deal, backed by PA minister Ahmad Majdalani, fell through after Palestinian banks registered opposition.

Taliban ‘intensifying’ search for Afghans who helped US — UN document

The Taliban is intensifying a search for people who worked with US and NATO forces, a confidential United Nations document says, despite the militants vowing no revenge against opponents.

The report — provided by the UN’s threat-assessment consultants and seen by AFP — says the group has “priority lists” of individuals it wants to arrest.

Most at risk are people who had central roles in the Afghan military, police and intelligence units, according to the document.

Taliban fighters stand along a road in Kabul, on August 18, 2021, after the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP)

The Taliban have been conducting “targeted door-to-door visits” of individuals they want to apprehend and their family members, the report says.

It adds that militants are also screening individuals on the way to airport and have set up checkpoints in major cities, including the capital and Jalalabad.

Pentagon says 7,000 civilians taken out of Kabul

The Pentagon says the US military is ramping up evacuations out of Afghanistan, and that 7,000 civilians have been taken out of the country since August 14.

Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor tells reporters that 12 C-17 aircraft departed with 2,000 evacuees over the past 24 hours. Speaking at a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Taylor said that the military now has enough aircraft to get 5,000-9,000 people out a day, depending on how many have been processed and other factors, such as weather.

There are now about 5,200 US troops at the airport, a number that has been steadily increasing in recent days.

“We are ready to increase throughout,” said Taylor.

His comments came amid ongoing chaos at the Kabul airport, as Afghans and other civilians desperately try to get on flights out of the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover on Sunday.

A civilian charter flight arrives at a British midlands airport (exact location withheld) from Kabul on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. (SAC Samantha Holden RAF via AP)

Health expert: Serious cases slowing down amid booster campaign

A top health expert tells Channel 12 that recent days have shown encouraging trends in the pandemic.

Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, says that there has been a slowdown in the rise of serious COVID-19 cases, for which he credits the new drive to give booster shots to all Israelis over the age of 50.

“In all honesty we don’t know what will win out, the campaign or the infection rate, but the last four days bring optimism… I believe around the first or second week of September we’ll halt [rising morbidity].”

Segal said that he supports broadening the booster shots to all those over 40.

That is set to be decided by a health panel this evening.

A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a community vaccination event in Los Angeles, California, on August 11, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP)

Afghan teen soccer star killed by plane landing gear while trying to escape

A member of Afghanistan’s national youth soccer team was killed aboard a US Air Force C-17 that took off from Kabul earlier this week, according to multiple reports.

Zaki Anwari, 19, was not one of the people seen falling from the plane as it took off. Rather, he attempted to hide in the aircraft’s wheel well and was crushed when the landing gear retracted after takeoff.

His remains were discovered by American crewmen after the plane landed.

Police investigating ‘active bomb threat’ near US Capitol

US Capitol Police say a suspicious vehicle near the Capitol building and the Library of Congress is being investigated for possible explosives, and that people were told to leave the area.

“The USCP is responding to a suspicious vehicle near the Library of Congress,” the US Capitol Police says on its Twitter feed. “This is an active bomb threat investigation.”

Both the Senate and House of Representatives are currently on recess, but staffers are working in the Capitol complex.

High Court to review release of Roman Zadorov to house arrest

Tomorrow morning the High Court of Justice will review prosecutors’ appeal against a decision to release convicted murderer Roman Zadorov to house arrest ahead of his retrial for the killing of a 13-year-old schoolgirl 15 years ago.

Officials will assert that Zadorov remains dangerous and is a flight risk.

Zadorov is set to be sent home with an electronic monitoring bracelet that will ensure he remains at home at all times.

Roman Zadorov arrives for a hearing at the Nazareth District Court on August 18, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Europeans express ‘grave concern’ over IAEA report on Iran

The foreign ministries of Germany, France and Britain express “grave concern” over the latest report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog that said Iran continues to produce uranium metal, which can be used in the production of a nuclear bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna confirmed earlier this week that Iran has produced uranium metal enriched up to 20% for the first time, and has significantly increased its production capacity of uranium enriched up to 60%.

Germany, France and Britain — the western European members of the Iran nuclear deal — call the moves by Iran “serious violations” of its commitment under the JCPOA. They say that “both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon and Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure.”

Iran insists it is not interested in developing a bomb, and that the uranium metal is for its civilian nuclear program.

Mothers reported to throw babies over Kabul airport barbed wire in desperation

With thousands of Afghans converging on Kabul’s airport in recent days, desperate to escape the country now taken over by the Taliban, harrowing reports have emerged of mothers throwing their babies over airport fences and begging soldiers to get them to safety.

“It was terrible, women were throwing their babies over the razor wire, asking the soldiers to take them. Some got caught in the wire,” a senior officer told Sky News.

The Independent quotes a Parachute Regiment officer giving a similar description.

“The mothers were desperate, they were getting beaten by the Taliban. They shouted, ‘save my baby’ and threw the babies at us, some of the babies fell on the barbed wire. It was awful what happened. By the end of the night there wasn’t one man among us who was not crying,” he said.

It was not immediately clear what happened to the babies.

Thousands of people are packed between Taliban checkpoints and a US-imposed ring of steel around Kabul’s main airport, desperate to get aboard any flight out. Even more are mobbing foreign embassy compounds in the capital, as rumors spread that visas are up for grabs or safe passage is on offer at least as far as the airport.

Unconfirmed reports on social media say several people have been killed as US forces and the Taliban struggle to contain the desperate throngs on their respective sides of an unofficial no-man’s land.

Taliban face ‘existential’ choice on international recognition: Biden

The Taliban face an “existential” choice about how they are seen by the rest of the world after their sweeping military victory in Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden says.

“I think they’re going through sort of an existential crisis about do they want to be recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government,” Biden says in an ABC News interview.

The insurgency, which outlasted a combined US-led international force and the now-defunct Western-backed Afghan government in 20 years of war, will now face different problems, he predicted.

While the Taliban is motivated by a powerful Islamist agenda, “they also care about whether they have food to eat, whether they have an income that they can provide… and run an economy,” Biden says. “They care about whether or not they can hold together the society.”

The US president who defended the chaotic exit of the final US troops, foreigners and Afghan allies after the Taliban victory, says he is “not counting” on the Taliban to shift their priorities.

Anti-Taliban forces massing in Panjshir Valley, says Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that a resistance  to the Taliban is forming in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley led by vice president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a famed anti-Taliban fighter.

“The Taliban doesn’t control the whole territory of Afghanistan,” Lavrov tells reporters at a press conference in Moscow following a meeting with his Libyan counterpart.

“There are reports of the situation in the Panjshir Valley where the resistance of Afghanistan’s vice president Mr Saleh and Ahmad Massoud is concentrated,” he said.

In this March 9, 2020, file photo, Afghan first Vice President Amrullah Saleh, center, listens to President Ashraf Ghani, addressing at an inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

Lavrov also reiterated his call for an inclusive dialogue involving all political players in Afghanistan for the formation of a “representative government.”

CIA chief expressed concern to Israeli PM over Chinese influence — report

During his meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week, CIA director William Burns expressed Washington’s concern over increasing Chinese investment and involvement in Israel, particularly its tech sector, Axios reports.

“In recent months, we started a dialogue with the Biden administration on China. The US asked about specific projects like the Chinese involvement in the Tel Aviv metro,” the website quotes as senior Israeli official as saying.

“We told the Americans we welcome US infrastructure companies to work on big projects in Israel, but they haven’t been applying for the tenders.”

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

Briton handed jail term in Singapore for not wearing mask

A British man was sentenced to six weeks’ jail in Singapore for not wearing a mask and harassing police, officials confirm.

The city-state, which has had comparatively mild COVID-19 outbreaks, has taken a tough line against people breaking virus rules, and there have been several cases of foreigners being punished.

Benjamin Glynn was arrested after footage of him not wearing a mask on a train in May went viral.

The 40-year-old subsequently harassed police sent to arrest him, and refused to wear a face-covering during a court appearance last month.

According to reports, Glynn delivered a rant in court — in which he described the proceedings as “preposterous” and “disgusting” — and said masks were not effective in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Fires in Jerusalem area have rekindled in several locations

Fires in the Jerusalem area have rekindled in several locations.

Multiple firefighting teams are working to douse the flames, two days after announcing they had brought the major blaze under control.

Serbian pro-government media says Twitter acting like Hitler

Pro-government media in Serbia reacts with outrage to a decision by Twitter to label most outlets “state-affiliated,” with one newspaper comparing the social media platform to Adolf Hitler.

Twitter accounts of most influential newspapers and all national TV broadcasters, including public service Radio-television of Serbia (RTS), were marked as linked to the Serbian government earlier this week.

Twitter defines state-affiliated media as outlets where the state “exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.”

Serbia’s ruling party led by populist President Aleksandar Vucic faces growing accusations from rights groups that it is snuffing out critical journalism and consolidating media ownership into friendly hands.

Vucic says the decision to label the media state-affiliated is a “compliment” for those outlets, adding that it is normal for media outlets to collaborate with the government.

“Now you see who the real censors are. I can’t wait for them to suspend my account, so I can become another Trump in the world,” Vucic tells local media.

Pro-government tabloid Informer publishes a front-page headline dominated by a photo of Adolf Hitler, calling Twitter a “propaganda war machine.”

Lapid, Egypt’s intelligence chief discuss potential deepening of ties

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate chair Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem.

According to Lapid’s office, the two discussed deepening relations between the countries, which enjoy a close security relationship but only minimal civil society ties. Lapid and Kamel brought up possibilities of future collaboration in trade, medicine, agriculture, energy, and technology.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meets with Abbas Kamel, director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, in Jerusalem on August 19, 2021. (Foreign Ministry)

Lapid also stressed that Israel will not tolerate continued rocket fire on its citizens from Gaza.

Kamel’s trip comes two days after two rockets were fired from Gaza toward the town of Sderot in a brief flare-up of violence amid a shaky calm in place since the May war.

Yesterday, Kamel met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Through Kamel, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi invited Bennett to make an official visit to Egypt within the next few weeks.

Nasrallah: We are looking forward to day Zionist invaders leave Palestine

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gives an address on official party al-Manar TV on September 29, 2020. (Screenshot: Al-Manar)
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gives an address on official party al-Manar TV on September 29, 2020. (Screenshot: Al-Manar)

In a speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says his terror group’s “top priority is to confront the usurping Zionist entity.”

He calls on listeners to “stand by the Palestinian people in the West Bank, the besieged Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the diaspora, and to stand by the Palestinian people’s right to restore their land from the river to the sea.”

He adds: “We are looking forward to the day when the Zionist invaders leave the land of Palestine, because it is the end of all occupation and invaders.”

Firefighters battling rekindled fire in wooded area outside Jerusalem

A small fire near Kiryat Yearim, outside Jerusalem, August 19, 2021 (Courtesy)
A small fire near Kiryat Yearim, outside Jerusalem, August 19, 2021 (Courtesy)

A small fire has restarted in a wooded area near Kiryat Yearim, outside Jerusalem, in the wake of the massive blaze that tore through the area earlier this week.

Firefighting teams, including two planes, are working to put it out.

Protesting Israeli airline workers block departures at Ben Gurion Airport

Protesting Israeli airline workers blocked runways at Ben Gurion Airport for some two hours this morning, preventing flights from taking off.

They did not block arrivals from landing. Some 11 departures were delayed.

Several hundred workers participated in the action, protesting their work conditions under the coronavirus pandemic.

PM calls Labor MK suffering from serious COVID case

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett calls hospitalized MK Gilad Kariv of Labor to wish him well.

Kariv is being treated for a severe case of COVID-19 at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan.

Afghans protest Taliban in emerging challenge to their rule

An Afghan waves the national flag in Kabul on August 19, 2021. (WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP)
An Afghan waves the national flag in Kabul on August 19, 2021. (WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP)

Afghan protesters defy the Taliban for a second day, waving their national flag in scattered demonstrations that have been met with renewed violence by the militants who are facing growing challenges to their rule.

A UN official warns of dire food shortages in this nation of 38 million people reliant on imports, and experts say the country is severely short on cash, highlighting that the Taliban face the same problems as the civilian government they dethroned without the level of international aid it enjoyed.

In light of these challenges, the militants have moved quickly to suppress any dissent, despite their promises that they have become more moderate since they last imposed draconian rule on Afghanistan. Many fear the Taliban will succeed in erasing two decades of efforts to expand women’s and human rights and remake the country.

Today, a procession of cars and people near Kabul’s airport carried long black, red and green banners in honor of the Afghan flag — a banner that is becoming a symbol of defiance since the militants have their own flag. At another protest in Nangarhar province, video posted online showed one demonstrator with a gunshot wound bleeding, as onlookers tried to carry him away.

In Khost province, Taliban authorities instituted a 24-hour curfew Thursday after violently breaking up another protest, according to information obtained by journalists monitoring from abroad. The militants did not immediately acknowledge the demonstration or the curfew.

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