The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
An Italian-Moroccan student has been freed by Moroccan authorities after she was detained on blasphemy charges after arriving in June to visit relatives, Italian officials say.
Italy’s Foreign Ministry says Ikram Nazih, 23, had been convicted of “offenses against religion” for having shared a satirical cartoon on Facebook in 2019.
The Italian newspaper Domani, which had championed her cause, said the cartoon had transformed a verse of the Quran into a verse about whisky.
A top World Health Organization official says the agency only has “a few days left of supplies” for Afghanistan and wants help to ferry in 10 or 12 planeloads of equipment and medicine for its beleaguered people.
Dr. Rick Brennan heads WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region that includes Afghanistan. He says from Cairo that the UN health agency is negotiating with the US and other countries to help efforts to replenish strained stockpiles.
“We estimate we’ve only got a few days left of supplies,” Brennan says, alluding to a distribution center in Dubai that has what’s needed. “We have 500 metric tons ready to go, but we haven’t got any way of getting them into the country right now.”
Brennan says US and other authorities have encouraged WHO and partners to look to other Afghan airports than Kabul’s, which is facing a crush of thousands of people trying to get out of Afghanistan after a Taliban takeover.
He says those authorities “have suggested that it’ll be too difficult a logistics exercise and security exercise to bring supplies into Kabul,” where teams would be required to unload planes and allow in trucks to carry out the supplies — which could complicate the evacuations.
Needed supplies include emergency kits and essential medicines for treatment of chronic diseases, like diabetes, the WHO says.
Approval for people over 30 to receive the COVID-19 booster shot is expected in the coming days, and even as early as tomorrow, according to multiple television reports.
Channel 12 and 13 say the Health Ministry is likely to approve the move within days. Kan news says it might even happen tomorrow.
Initial data after two days of serological testing for children shows that 13 percent of tested children under the age of 12 are positive for COVID-19 antibodies, indicating that they were infected with the coronavirus without knowing it, Channel 12 reports.
Mass testing for antibodies is taking place throughout the country ahead of the start of the school year.
Israeli security officials believe Israel and Hamas are again on a collision course in Gaza, as the terror group encourages further violent protests along the border, Channel 12 news reports.
Officials say conflict may be inevitable. But Israel is cautious ahead of planned meetings between Prime Minister Bennett and US President Joe Biden.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is calling on the Spanish government to block a planned seminar at the University of Santiago de Compostela that will be held under the title: “Auschwitz/Gaza: A testing ground for comparative literature.”
In a letter to the country’s minister of universities, the Center says, “This very title and expected content is not an issue of ‘freedom of expression,’ but a banalization of the Holocaust, which can incite to hatred and violence against Jews of today.”
It is also “an insult to Spanish republicans deported to the Nazi death camps,” it says.
Likud lashes out at Prime Minister Bennett after an unnamed top source said that the previous government had left the current one with “a very difficult inheritance” on Iran.
“Bennett lies as much as he breathes,” the party says. “He himself lauded [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s major actions on Iran.”
It says Netanyahu “led the global fight against the dangerous nuclear deal, while all world powers ran toward it.
“Unlike Netanyahu, Bennett has failed on coronavirus and is failing in the fight against Iran.”
Anti-vaccine protesters earlier barged into the offices of Channel 4 and ITV News in London, as they shouted out conspiracy theories against the government and accused the media of backing them.
Several dozen protesters occupied the ITN headquarters. Employees were advised to stay away from the entrance as police dealt with the situation.
Demonstrators from an ‘anti-health passport rally’ have breached security and are now in the reception of ITN in central London pic.twitter.com/PeLpz1eKPY
— Julian Druker (@Julian5News) August 23, 2021
Around 16,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, through the Kabul airport, the Pentagon says, as the US speeds toward completing its airlift by an August 31 deadline.
General Hank Taylor tells reporters that 61 military, commercial, and charter flights involving a number of countries flew out from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the 24 hours to 3:00 a.m. Monday (0700 GMT) carrying people escaping the country after the Taliban seized power.
Of the total evacuated that day, 11,000 were taken out by the US military airlift operations, Taylor says.
Taylor says the number of people relocated from Afghanistan since July on US flights hit 42,000, with 37,000 of those since the intense airlift operations started on August 14 as the Taliban moved to take Kabul.
Three more Jewish men have been arrested in connection with the mob attack on an Arab in Bat Yam in May, during the war with Gaza and the internal Jewish-Arab violence it brought on.
The three, all residents of the city, are suspected of beating Saeed Mousa, as he tried to flee from a huge violent crowd by the beach.
Several people have already been indicted in the incident that shocked the country.
During his upcoming trip to Washington, DC, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will present to US President Joe Biden a strategy for confronting both Iran’s nuclear program and its regional activities without returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement, according to diplomatic sources.
He will argue that Iran’s nuclear program has advanced too far for the JCPOA to have any relevance in 2021. Though it might plug some holes on the enrichment side, it gives the Islamic Republic way too much in return, he will say.
The sources say the pace of Iranian uranium enrichment is “dizzying and worrisome.” And they criticize the previous government’s handling of the Iranian issue, saying they had received “a very difficult inheritance.”
The prime minister has been involved in a deep policy review process on the Iran issue since entering office, and believes that a return to the deal is no longer a given, according to diplomatic sources.
Bennett sees the Iranian nuclear issue as a challenge for Israel and its allies, and an opportunity to develop a new broad regional strategy for confronting Tehran.
There are no major concessions expected to be announced to the Palestinians during the trip.
Bennett takes off for his first official visit to the US on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
An Egyptian official says the country closed its main border crossing point with the Gaza Strip today amid tensions with the territory’s Hamas rulers.
He says the move is meant to pressure Hamas because of the “differences” between Cairo and the terror group over lack of progress in both the Egyptian-led, indirect talks with Israel, and also efforts to reconcile Palestinian factions.
It was the first time the Rafah crossing was shuttered during a workday since early this year. Egyptian authorities kept it open during the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in May.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz has presented a plan he’s titled “Vaccines to your home,” which will focus on bringing mobile vaccination units to communities with particularly low vaccination rates.
“We are raising the number of service points and aim to reach maximal inoculation rates for boosters — and for first doses,”he says.
“Israel has 1,080,000 [eligible] people who have not vaccinated at all. I want to create a significant change in this number. It can be a deciding factor in this campaign.”
The Pentagon says it will require service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making good on his vow earlier this month to require the shots once the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine.
Kirby says guidance is being developed and a timeline will be provided in the coming days.
He says the move is an effort to ensure the safety of service members. Concerns about the virus are especially acute in the military, where service members live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, increasing the risks of rapid spreading. Any large virus outbreak in the military could affect America’s ability to defend itself in any security crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launches the construction of new nuclear submarines and other warships, part of a sweeping military modernization effort amid tensions with the West.
Speaking in a video call, Putin gives orders for two nuclear submarines armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles along with two diesel-powered submarines and two corvettes at shipyards in Severodvinsk, St. Petersburg and Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
“We will continue to boost the potential of the Russian navy, develop its bases and infrastructure, arm it with state-of-the-art weapons,” Putin says. “A strong and sovereign Russia needs a powerful and well-balanced navy.”
The Kremlin has made military modernization a top priority as relations with the West have plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Moscow has sought to reestablish a regular naval presence in parts of the world that the Soviet Union had during the Cold War.
Bahrain’s national airline Gulf Air has joined international efforts to resettle Afghan refugees amid the Taliban’s takeover of the country, Manama announces.
Gulf Air has become the first commercial company in the world to fly Afghan refugees to the US on a flight that departed from the country’s Isa Air Base to Dulles International Airport.
The move “represents an affirmation of the Kingdom of Bahrain’s efforts to protect lives” and “comes as part of the kingdom’s well-established endeavors to support humanitarian efforts,” the government’s press office says in a statement.
Gaza-based Palestinian factions announce plans for a major rally in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Israel Wednesday, as tensions continue to escalate between Israel, Hamas and Egypt.
According to schedules published by Hamas-aligned media, buses will transport demonstrators from across southern Gaza to participate in the rally. The event has been dubbed by its organizers “the Sword of Jerusalem shall not be sheathed,” a reference to Hamas’s name for the May battle between Gaza and Israel.
A similar protest in Malika camp east of Gaza City on Saturday left two Gazans and one Israeli soldier in critical condition. The Israeli soldier, Border Police officer Barel Shmueli, was shot by a pistol-wielding Palestinian man at point-blank range near at the Gaza border barrier.
Pfizer is spending more than $2 billion in cash to buy a drugmaker focused on cancer treatments.
Pfizer will pay $18.50 for each share of Trillium Therapeutics Inc., or more than double the stock’s 60-day weighted average price.
Trillium has no products on the market. Its potential treatments include biologics that aim to prime a patient’s immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells.
Its two lead candidates are in early-stage testing and focus on hematology. That includes blood, bone marrow and lymph node cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.
The deal will need approval from Trillium shareholders.
The US gives full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, a milestone that may help lift public confidence in the shots as the nation battles the most contagious coronavirus mutant yet.
The vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech now carries the strongest endorsement from the Food and Drug Administration, which has never before had so much evidence to judge a shot’s safety. More than 200 million Pfizer doses already have been administered in the US — and hundreds of millions more worldwide — since emergency use began in December.
“The public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the US.”
The US becomes the first country to fully approve the shot, according to Pfizer, and CEO Albert Bourla says in a statement he hopes the decision “will help increase confidence in our vaccine, as vaccination remains the best tool we have to help protect lives.”
American troops conducted their first test of the Iron Dome missile defense system in the United States earlier this summer, the Defense Ministry says.
This was a live fire trial, in which US soldiers shot down targets, including drones, with the Iron Dome, according to the ministry. Originally designed to intercept rockets, the Iron Dome has since been upgraded and improved to allow it to also shoot down mortar shells, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles.
Under a 2019 agreement, Israel has sold two Iron Dome batteries to the United States, the first being delivered in late 2020 and the second in January 2021.
Since then, the US Army has been working to integrate the system into its air defense array.
The trials were conducted in June at the US military’s White Sands test range. The Israeli manufacturers of the Iron Dome — the Rafael, IAI Elta and mPrest defense contractors — assisted in the test, the ministry says.
Terrorists in the Gaza Strip sparked at least nine fires in southern Israel throughout the day and likely a tenth with balloon-borne incendiary devices, Fire and Rescue Services investigators say.
These arson attacks come as tensions have been heating up between Israel and terror groups in Gaza.
Firefighters from Fire and Rescue Services, the Israel Defense Forces, the Jewish National Fund and local communities have been battling brushfires throughout the day in the Eshkol and Sdot Negev regions of southern Israel.
Investigators have determined that at least nine fires in Eshkol were sparked by these balloon-based attacks and that another in Sdot Negev was also likely the result of arson, but this was still being checked, Fire and Rescue Services says.
Britain says it will urge the United States to extend an end-of-the-month deadline for evacuations from Afghanistan.
US President Joe Biden has set an August 31 deadline for the chaotic airlift organized by thousands of temporarily deployed US troops, but has left the door open to an extension if needed.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will “try to raise the prospect of seeing if the United States will extend” the deadline at an online leaders meeting of the G7 group of wealthy nations tomorrow.
Firefighters are battling blazes at Be’eri and Kissufim forests, near the Gaza Strip.
The cause of the fires is not immediately clear. Previous fires in the area have been sparked by incendiary balloons flown over the Gaza border.
The head of the World Health Organization calls for a two-month moratorium on administering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines as a means of reducing global vaccine inequality and preventing the emergence of new coronavirus variants.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells reporters in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, that he is “really disappointed” with the scope of vaccine donations worldwide as many countries struggle to provide first and second doses to more than small fractions of their populations while wealthier nations maintain growing vaccine stockpiles.
Tedros calls on countries offering third vaccine doses “to share what can be used for boosters with other countries so [they] can increase their first and second vaccination coverage.”
Several countries including the United States, Israel, and Hungary, as well as others in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, are already offering or planning to offer their populations COVID-19 booster shots.
The Taliban will not agree to an extension of the August 31 deadline for the United States to withdraw troops and a delay will bring consequences, a spokesman tells Sky News.
“You can say it’s a red line,” spokesman Suhail Shaheen says in an interview. “If the US or UK were to seek additional time to continue evacuations — the answer is no. Or there would be consequences.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett apologizes for making a mistake in the name of a critically wounded soldier when he called to check on the family.
The parents of 21-year-old Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who remains hospitalized in serious condition after he was shot in the head during violence along the Gaza border on Saturday, have heavily criticized the government’s behavior.
And the PM has been embarrassed by widespread reports, backed up by a recording, that he accidentally called the wounded officer by the name Yossi when speaking to his father, whose name is Yossi.
“The mix-up between Barel’s name and his father’s name was a mistake, and I apologize for it from the bottom of my heart,” he says.
On the second day of a national serological testing campaign for children ahead of the start of the school year, Ynet reports that problems and delays continue to plague the process.
The website indicates the chaos of the first day has subsided to a degree, but that there are still manpower and equipment issues holding up the effort.
Iran’s foreign ministry calls on “all parties” in Afghanistan to refrain from using violence and says Tehran supports the establishment of an “inclusive” government in Kabul.
“All groups and political parties [in Afghanistan] must refrain from using force and proceed using negotiation and talks,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tells reporters at a televised press conference in Tehran.
Iran “is in constant communication with all political sides in Afghanistan” and “supports the peaceful transition of power to an inclusive government,” he adds, stressing that “the crisis has no military solution.”
Dutch authorities say that a temporary accommodation center for Afghan evacuees at an army barracks in the northern Netherlands is full and a second location is being opened.
The government agency that houses asylum seekers says that the camp in the remote village of Zoutcamp reached its capacity yesterday night, with the arrival of 178 Afghan evacuees.
A new accommodation center is being opened to house more Afghans at another military barracks in the central town of Zeist.
The Dutch defense ministry says it has completed nine flights out of Kabul to airports in the region since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. Six flights carrying evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived in the Netherlands carrying a total of more than 800 people. That number includes Dutch nationals, Afghans and citizens of other countries.
Reports indicate that health maintenance organizations are on some occasions allowing people below the minimum age of 40 to get vaccinated with a booster shot.
At least two people in their 30s tell us they have managed to schedule and receive a third shot at their HMOs without a problem, despite not being eligible under current Health Ministry guidelines.
Channel 12 also reports similar cases, including individuals who were invited by their healthcare providers to schedule a shot.
Though some individuals under 40 are allowed to get a booster due to specific health conditions or their occupation, the people we and Channel 12 spoke to do not meet these requirements.
Asked by Channel 12, Maccabi and Leumit say they act only according to ministry instructions, and say the reported cases are not indicative of policy.
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