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

Key suspect in Eilat gang rape claims he tried to help victim

A key suspect in the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat earlier this month denies any wrongdoing.

Ahead of a court session in the case, the man tells reporters at the courthouse he attempted to help the victim and never assaulted her.

“The truth will come to light,” he says. “You’ll be hearing a lot from me. We’ll respond in an orderly fashion.”

The suspect is one of 14 arrested thus far in the case that has roiled the country.

Russia announces preliminary probe into opposition leader Navalny’s illness

Russian police announce a preliminary probe into the circumstances of the sudden illness of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who fell into a coma last week following a suspected poisoning and amid growing pressure from Western officials to investigate.

According to a statement by a Siberian branch of Russia’s Interior Ministry, investigators in Siberia have been working on “establishing all the circumstances of the incident,” conducting forensic studies and collecting items “that may have probative value.”

Navalny, an opposition politician and corruption investigator who is one of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia last Thursday and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing.

In this photo taken on February 29, 2020, Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Over the weekend, he was transferred to the Charité hospital in Berlin, where doctors found indications of “cholinesterase inhibitors” in his system. But the hospital in the German capital hasn’t yet identified a specific substance.

His allies insist he was deliberately poisoned and say the Kremlin was behind it, accusations that officials denounced as “empty noise.”

— AP

Syrian talks to resume at UN despite discovery of virus cases among delegates

UN-backed talks on a new constitution for Syria are to resume in Geneva today after Swiss health authorities gave the green light despite four delegates testing positive for COVID-19.

The discussions, aimed at rewriting the war-torn country’s constitution, were put on hold almost as soon as they started on Monday when the test results came through.

UN envoy Geir Pedersen, who is moderating the the tentative talks between representatives of President Bashar Assad’s government, the opposition and civil society, has voiced hope they could help pave the way toward a broader political process.


Gaza issues latest virus numbers amid concern over community spread

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry sends out the latest coronavirus numbers in the Strip.

So far there have been 138 confirmed infections in the territory, of which 63 are active cases. Three people have died. Meanwhile 2,269 people are under quarantine.

For over seven months, authorities in Gaza managed to largely ward off the spread of the virus, subjecting thousands of arrivals in the Strip to severe quarantine measures — at least 21 days in health facilities specifically designated by the Hamas health ministry for the purpose.

Palestinians line up in front of a bakery to buy bread during a 48 hour lockdown imposed following the discovery of the first coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, on August 25, 2020. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

But in recent days authorities detected the first cases within the community, leading Hamas to declare a lockdown on Monday which is still in effect.

A wider outbreak could overwhelm the ailing health care system in the densely populated Strip, which is home to some 2 million Palestinians.

Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting canceled, officials cite Kushner’s arrival

The weekly cabinet meeting next week has once again been canceled, for a second week in a row. Officials say Sunday’s meeting was nixed due to the upcoming visit of senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.

This week’s meeting was canceled amid a coalition crisis over the state budget, which has since been temporarily resolved through the delay of the budget deadline. Another meeting three weeks ago was also canceled over coalition tensions.

US President Donald Trump’s White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at a press briefing in the White House in Washington, August 13, 2020 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

El Al prepares for first official flight to Abu Dhabi next week

Israel’s national carrier El Al is preparing to make the first official flight to Abu Dhabi by an Israeli airline, Hebrew media reports say.

The report is not yet officially confirmed. According to Reuters, the government has issued a tender for the flight, but it is not clear that El Al has been selected.

It would be the company’s first commercial flight in months, after it shut down most of its operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The flight will carry Israeli and American delegations, including White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, for talks with Emirati officials.

Grounded El Al planes at Ben Gurion Airport on April 6, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (Moshe Shai/ Flash90)

Trump wants Biden to take ‘drug test’ before first debate

US President Donald Trump says he will call for a “drug test” for himself and Joe Biden before the first presidential debate, but does not offer any evidence for his suspicions about his Democratic opponent.

Trump says in an interview with the Washington Examiner that he was intrigued by Biden’s performance during the Democratic primary campaign.

The president has no concrete evidence to support his claims, but, he says, “all I can tell you is that I’m pretty good at this stuff.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a media briefing in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, in Washington.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“I watched him in the debates with all of the different people,” Trump says, referring to the other Democratic presidential hopefuls. Biden was “close to incompetent, if not incompetent, and against Bernie, he was normal,” Trump continues. “I say, ‘How does that happen?'”


Germany calls for end to military drills in eastern Med amid Greek-Turkish crisis

Germany’s foreign minister calls for an end to military drills taking place in the eastern Mediterranean to defuse tensions and create conditions for NATO allies Greece and Turkey to resolve a dispute over offshore energy exploration rights.

Heiko Maas’s comments come as European Union foreign ministers are set to meet in Berlin to try to persuade EU-member Greece and its neighbor Turkey to pull back from the brink of a conflict.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Maas stresses the need to “create the conditions for Turkey and Greece to resolve their problems directly with each other.

“The precondition for these talks is that the maneuvers that are going on in the eastern Mediterranean be ended,” he says. “Each side can make its contribution to that and so create the space for diplomatic talks, because for sure the parties won’t sit down at the table if warships are facing off in the eastern Mediterranean.”

— AP


German automotive company confronts its Nazi-era horrors

German car-parts maker Continental reveals that it played a key role in the Nazi war effort and used thousands of slave laborers during World War II.

Continental was the world’s biggest producer of rubber materials at the time, supplying the Nazi war machine as the horrors of the Holocaust unfolded.

Historian Paul Erker, tasked by the company with researching its relationship with the Nazis, says it ended up as a “pillar of the National Socialist armaments and war economy.”

The company used about 10,000 forced laborers in its factories during the war, Erker’s 800-page report says, including concentration camp prisoners, in what he called “inhumane” conditions.

The study shows that “Continental was an important part of Hitler’s war machine,” the company’s chief executive Elmar Degenhart says.


Report: Woman tells police well-known rabbi sexually assaulted her

A female doctor has filed a complaint against a well-known rabbi, accusing him of sexually assaulting her, Channel 12 reports.

The woman told police she came to the rabbi to receive a blessing. During their meeting he asked her to remove her shirt and bra as he needed to examine her. She hesitated but did so, at which point he touched her while breathing heavily and complimenting her on her breasts.

The woman said she felt sick and humiliated by the encounter.

Acting police chief says no permanent appointment any time soon — report

Earlier today interim police chief Motti Cohen told top police brass that he is to remain acting police chief for now, according to reports in Walla and Maariv.

“Due to the political situation… it appears that no permanent commissioner will be appointed to the police in the near future,” he told district commanders. “I will continue to lead police as acting chief until a different decision is made.”

The matter of appointments of senior law enforcement officials is one of the issues at the heart of the coalition conflict between the Likud and Blue and White parties, with the latter widely reported to be blocking the former’s attempts to assert greater control over appointments.

Acting Chief of Police Motti Cohen speaks at the annual Justice conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Amid repeated election campaigns and ongoing government infighting, Israel has been without a permanent police commissioner since December 2018 and without a permanent state attorney since December 2019.

Arson balloons spark at least 15 fires in southern Israel

Balloons carrying incendiary devices from the Gaza Strip sparked at least 15 fires in southern Israel throughout the day, the fire department says.

According to Fire and Rescue Services, the blazes have been relatively small, were quickly brought under control by firefighters and did not present threats to nearby communities. The fires all occurred in areas immediately surrounding the Gaza border, in the Hof Ashkelon, Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions.

Fire inspectors determined that the blazes were all caused by balloon-borne incendiary devices, the fire department says.

Palestinian men prepare to release balloon-borne explosive and incendiary devices toward Israel near Rafah, along the Israel-Gaza border, on August 21, 2020 (Fadi Fahd/Flash90)

— Judah Ari Gross

Russia blames US for military vehicles’ collision in Syria

The Russian military blames US troops for a collision of Russian and US military vehicles in Syria’s northeast.

US officials said yesterday that a Russian vehicle sideswiped a light-armored US military vehicle, injuring four Americans, while two Russian helicopters flew overhead, one as close as 20 meters (70 feet) from the US vehicle.

US National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot blamed the Russian military for “unsafe and unprofessional actions” that breached deconfliction protocols between the two countries.

In today’s statement, the Russian Defense Ministry says the Russian military had notified the US-led coalition about the route of a Russian military police convoy.

“Despite that, in violation of the existing agreements, the US troops attempted to block the Russian patrol,” the ministry said in a statement. “In response to that, the Russian military police took the necessary measures to prevent an incident and to continue the fulfillment of their task.”

— AP

Sister of slain rabbi says lackluster response to terrorism to blame

The sister of the Rabbi Shai Ohayon, killed yesterday in an apparent terror stabbing in Petah Tikva, has blamed a lackluster response to terrorism for her brother’s death.

“These things happen because there is no [sufficient] punishment,” Hagit Yudkovich tells reporters. “Our country, instead of concerning itself with the security of its citizens, is concerned with other matters.”

Rabbi Shai Ohayon, who was stabbed to death in an apparent terror attack at Segula Junction on August 26, 2020. (Courtesy)

She adds that her brother Shai “was the purest thing, who met through no fault of his own the most evil thing.”

Meanwhile the remand of the suspect in the killing, Khalil Abd al-Khaliq Dweikat, 46, was extended by five days earlier. Dweikat, a Palestinian father of six from the Nablus area, had no history of terrorist activities, the Shin Bet has said.

UN envoy pays respects to slain rabbi’s family: ‘Violence can never be answer’

The UN’s Mideast envoy Nickolai Mladenov expresses condolences to the family of the rabbi killed in a suspected terror attack yesterday.

“My deepest condolences to the family of Rabbi #ShaiOhayon, who was killed yesterday in a stabbing attack near Petach Tikva in #Israel,” he tweets.

“Violence can never be the answer and should be condemned by all.”

The United Nations Middle East special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 25, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Border Police evacuate new illegal outpost in memory of stabbing victim

Border Police are evacuating a new illegal outpost established in memory of an Israeli man stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant yesterday.

A group of three families and a handful of teenagers established the outpost overnight on an isolated hilltop in the West Bank, between the Palestinian villages of Sinjil and Abwein, north of Ramallah. They named the site “Maale Shai” for Rabbi Shai Ohayon, 39, who was stabbed to death in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva.

The settlers, some of whom have allegedly responded violently to the eviction, are holed up inside and on top of the buildings.

“There is still opposition from the settlers against leaving the location. Border Police troops are physically removing the objectors,” the border guards say.

According to police, one of the settlers who was staying in the outpost returned several times after being evicted and was “arrested after he went berserk and used physical violence against the troops.”

Video of the evacuation shows teenagers climbing onto the roof of a prefabricated shed in an attempt to avoid being dispersed.

Settlers claim a policeman punched a teen in the face during the incident.

— with Judah Ari Gross

Government survey: 1 in 5 businesses warn they won’t survive in current market

A poll conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics shows one in five businesses (19 percent) say they will not survive another three months in current market conditions.

Meanwhile 79% of businesses reported a drop of at least 25% in August revenue.

The survey finds that 11.5% of workers have lost their jobs since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, while another 6.4% are currently on unpaid leave.

Hundreds of businesspeople take part in video conference on trade with UAE

The Foreign Ministry says some 800 businesspeople took part in a video conference for those interested in building trade relations with the United Arab Emirates.

At the conference they heard about various pertinent issues including permits, shipment, investments, distribution avenues and more.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz says the new normalization deal with the UAE carries “huge potential for trade, finance, investments and innovation for both countries and the entire region.”

Kayakers race in front of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, off the coast of Dubai, United Arab Emirates on June 19, 2020. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

Police say they’ve cracked Eilat rape case, found total of 17 suspects

Police say they have cracked the case of the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat, and have identified all 17 suspects in the case — though so far only 14 have been arrested.

Eleven suspects are under arrest while three were released under restrictive conditions. Four suspects are adults, while the rest are minors.

“The victim’s testimony has been found to be reliable and supported by evidence,” police say.

Officials say they have been able to reconstruct the timeline and investigators believe they have reached all suspects in the case. They hope to conclude the investigation in the coming days.

Israelis take part in a demonstration in support of the 16-year-old victim of a suspected gang rape in Eilat, in Tel Aviv. August 20, 2020. The sign at center reads, “life sentence,” a call for stiffer penalties for sexual assault. (Tomer Neuberg/flash90)

Earlier in the day one of the suspects admitted to have filmed the incident, though he claimed he did not take part in the act itself.

Hamas: Ceasefire talks have failed, Israel to receive ‘messages’ in coming hours

The Hamas terror group says efforts to reach a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip have failed, according to Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated TV al-Mayadeen.

A source in the group says Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi has left the territory. He says the failure to reach a deal was due to Israel’s insistence on ‘calm in return for calm’ rather than ‘calm in return for an end to the blockade’ on the Strip.

He adds that “the coming hours will see messages to the Israeli occupation from the youth groups in the field. He says “the occupation should read these messages before things roll and slide into something broader than that.”

Palestinian members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas terrorist movement, during a patrol in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 27, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar: Sometimes I think of handing over job to someone else

In an interview with Army Radio earlier today, coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu expressed frustration with the government as he faces intense criticism for efforts to prevent a mass pilgrimage to Ukraine’s Uman for the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

“Sometimes I do think of handing over the job to someone else,” Gamzu said.

“After everything that’s happened, they’re trying to arrange plans for Uman?” Gamzu wondered in bewilderment. He lamented the “obsessive attention” to the matter and quoted a report saying “The [Knesset] coalition chairman is making the utmost effort” to allow the trips to go forward. “I want him to make efforts to bring down illness rates,” Gamzu said. “I’d like to see those in [top] roles and decision-makers push all parts of society [to bring down morbidity] instead of dealing with flights.

“I want the government to understand it needs to mobilize. Those in [leadership] roles need to make difficult decisions… the coronavirus thrives in countries where the decision-making is too political, and my job is to prevent that.”

Coronavirus czar Professor Ronni Gamzu, during a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the Jerusalem city hall on August 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Police complete evacuation of illegal outpost, demolish buildings

Police say they have completed the evacuation of the illegal “Maale Shai” outpost in the West Bank.

They say Border Police officers forcibly evacuated settlers who refused to leave and barricaded themselves at the site. They say one person was arrested after returning to the site several times and attacking officers.

An officer was lightly injured in a violent clash with several rioters, officials say. Following the evacuation, seven illegal buildings at the site were demolished.

Bratsalv sect says will never again back Netanyahu over Uman drama

Outraged by the Israeli government’s efforts to prevent the annual pilgrimage to Uman, the Bratslav Hasidic sect says it will never again support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s Bratslav secretariat says the government “has shown that religious citizens are second-rate citizens and can be fought through every means.” While “protesting, flying everywhere and congregating in hotels and restaurants is alright,” in the case of those who wish to travel for religious purposes, “they’ll do everything to thwart and denigrate, instead of working together on a plan that will allow Hasidim to travel.”

Hasidic pilgrims praying near the burial site of Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine, September 14, 2015. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via JTA)

It says: “We’ll never support Benjamin Netanyahu or any party that backs him. Anyone who respects Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav should do everything to ensure the loss of those who fought believers’ rights.

High Court orders razing of outpost built on private Palestinian land

The High Court of Justice rules that the government must halt construction in the West Bank outpost of Mitzpe Kramim and evacuate all illegally built homes within three years, overturning previous court and government decisions on the matter.

The court says the time period provided is intended to allow the government to provide all residents proper alternative housing.

In a 2 to 1 ruling, judges said “Much of the responsibility for the difficult and painful result for residents of Mitzpe Kramim rests with the government and the conduct of relevant officials.”

A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Kramim in the West Bank, on August 29, 2018. (AFP / THOMAS COEX)

Right-wing leaders are aghast, with Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked calling the decision “damned” and vowing to fight it, and Likud’s coalition chairman Miki Zohar saying: “When it comes to demolishing Jewish homes, the High Court does not waste time.”

Courts have ruled that Mitzpe Kramim’s homes were built on private Palestinian land. But in 2018 the Jerusalem District Court green-lighted the homes citing a policy known as “market regulation,” that relies on the notion that they were built in good faith as those responsible them were not aware that the lands were privately owned.

Putin vows military support for Belarus’s Lukashenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin vows military support for embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, while urging a peaceful resolution to unrest and demonstrations that erupted after a disputed election.

EU ambassadors in the capital Minsk denounce a crackdown on the opposition in the wake of the presidential poll, in which 65-year-old Lukashenko claimed was a landslide reelection, with some 80 percent of the vote.

The Belarusian strongman’s relationship with Putin had soured ahead of the August 9 ballot because Minsk refused closer integration with Russia — and even claimed Moscow had sent mercenaries across the border to organize riots.

Yet Putin now promises military backing for Belarus and says Russia has set up a reserve group of law enforcement officers to deploy if the post-vote situation deteriorates.

A demonstrator holding up a placard reading ‘Drive away evil’ attends a rally of opposition supporters to protest against disputed presidential election results in Minsk, on August 25, 2020. (Sergei GAPON / AFP)

“It won’t be used unless the situation starts to get out of control,” Putin says, unless “extremist elements … begin setting fire to cars, houses and banks, begin seizing administrative buildings.”


Pompeo’s Jerusalem speech violated Hatch Act, complaint says

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo committed an “egregious violation” of the Hatch Act by delivering a video-taped speech from Israel to the Republican National Convention, according to a complaint filed by two law professors with the State Department’s inspector general.

Past secretaries of state have gone to lengths to avoid the appearance of partisan political activity, particularly during nominating conventions for the administrations they served. Pompeo’s speech violated the 1939 law, which limits the commingling of political activity and government business, says the complaint, filed late Wednesday.

During the speech, which was filmed during a diplomatic mission using Old Jerusalem as a backdrop, Pompeo praised President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. He also celebrated the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an issue of particular importance to white evangelicals who are a crucial voting block for Trump.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks from Jerusalem during the second night of the Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP)

“This video is an egregious violation of the Hatch Act,” wrote Claire O. Finkelstein and Richard W. Painter, the two law school professors. “Secretary Pompeo at the same time as he was on a diplomatic mission to Israel gave a partisan political speech for an RNC campaign video in which he referred to the US embassy in Israel, said that a candidate in a partisan election — Donald Trump — should get credit for the relocation of that embassy.”

— AP

Former Jewish Home MK says High Court judges have become ‘enemies of the people’

Former Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev says High Court judges “have placed themselves on the side of the enemies of the people and the state” by ruling that the homes in an illegal outpost must be demolished, while the home of a Palestinian who allegedly killed an Israeli soldier must not be.

“We will rein in and balance out the anti-national positions of High Court justices. Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria and in all of the Land of Israel will grow stronger, God willing,” Yogev says.

Then-Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev speaks to reporters at the Knesset on January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yamina MK Matan Kahana says “the High Court has become the defender of terrorists’ homes and the destroyer of Jewish homes. The High Court is disconnected, it has lost touch with reality.”

TV: Netanyahu tells rabbis he’s working to find solution for Uman pilgrimage

After Bratslav Hasidim threaten to withdraw support from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the premier tells leading rabbis he is working to find a solution to allow them to enter Ukraine and visit the pilgrimage site of Uman, Channel 12 reports.

Earlier, many arrivals to Ukraine were held at the airport in Kyiv, despite arriving prior to a Thursday midnight deadline to enter the country before it closes its borders to foreigners.

The prime minister tells the rabbis he is working to allow all those who’ve already arrived in Ukraine to enter the country, while also seeking solutions for more Hasidim to arrive.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli health officials have strongly opposed the celebrations in Uman, concerned it will serve as a transmission hub for the coronavirus.

Hundreds protest against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Haifa

Hundreds of people are protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and in Haifa.

In Tel Aviv, demonstrators plan to march from Rabin Square to Begin Road. Police have said they will block the march as it was not coordinated ahead of time.

So far, the protests have been peaceful.

IDF Galilee commander: Hezbollah has failed in several attempts to attack Israel

The head of the IDF’s Galilee Division says Hezbollah has made several attempts to attack Israel and failed, Ynet reports.

“The day before yesterday it failed once again in harming our troops in the Manara region,” Brig. Gen. Shlomi Binder says at a ceremony marking the appointment of a new brigade commander in his division.

“Our message to Hezbollah is sharp and clear: We will continue to thwart its attempts [to acquire] any achievement[s].”

Armored vehicles and 155 mm self-propelled howitzers are deployed in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon, on July 27, 2020. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Israel embassy said to intervene to help detained Hasidim enter Ukraine

Ynet reports that several dozen Bratslav Hasidim who were being detained at airports in Ukraine were allowed to enter the country after the Israeli embassy intervened and requested they be allowed in.

Ukraine is now halting further flights from Israel, ahead of plans to halt foreign arrivals after midnight.

6 new deaths take national coronavirus toll to 883

The Health Ministry reports six more coronavirus deaths, taking the total to 883.

Since midnight 1,387 new cases have been diagnosed, bringing the total number of cases to 110,186, of which 21,589 are active cases.

Of those sick, 410 are in serious condition, 115 of them on ventilators, and 170 are in moderate condition. The rest have mild or no symptoms.

A Magen David Adom ambulance crew wearing protective clothing after delivering a man suspected of infection with the coronavirus to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center, in Jerusalem, on July 20, 2020.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Saudi Arabia said to approve El Al flight over its territory to UAE

Israel’s first commercial flight to the United Arab Emirates will pass over Saudi Arabia, Channel 12 reports, after Riyadh approved the flight path.

Citing senior aviation authorities, the network says the basis for the Saudi approval is the presence of senior US officials on the flight.

It has been reported that El Al will carry out the flight, after several companies were considered.

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