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Top health official: Lockdown ‘an option,’ but can be averted with vaccinations

As country rolls out boosters, health providers report shortfall; huge shipment expected Saturday night

An Israel woman receives a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the central city of Ramat Hasharon, July 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
An Israel woman receives a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the central city of Ramat Hasharon, July 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

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

Iran warns Israel against military action: Don’t test us

Iran’s foreign ministry warns Israel not to take military action against the Islamic Republic after the Jewish state threatened Tehran over a deadly tanker attack.

“In another brazen violation of Int’l law, Israeli regime now blatantly threatens Iran with military action,” ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says on Twitter.

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was attacked off Oman last week. A British security guard and a Romanian crew member were killed in what the United States, Britain and the vessel’s operator Zodiac Maritime said appeared to be a drone strike.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that his government was “working on enlisting the world” in response to the attack but warned “we also know how to act alone.”

“The Iranians need to understand that it is impossible to sit peacefully in Tehran and, from there, ignite the entire Middle East. That is over,” he said.

Both the US and Israel have said their intelligence assessments of the July 29 incident concluded that an Iranian drone attacked the ship, charges that Iran denies.

“We state this clearly: ANY foolish act against Iran will be met with a DECISIVE response,” Khatizbadeh says.

“Don’t test us,” he warns.

Government: More destinations requiring isolation to be added Sunday

The coronavirus cabinet says a new list of countries from which returning travelers — including the vaccinated and recovered — must self-isolate will be drafted on Sunday, with the rules then going into effect a week later, on August 15.

Hebrew media reports say this means that travelers from 18 countries that were added to the list earlier this week by a Knesset panel, including the US and Greece, won’t have to enter quarantine unless they return after August 15, rather than August 8, as announced earlier.

But it is unclear whether the ministry’s policies are referring to those latest additions or other countries that are set to be added to the list.

US urges Iran’s Raisi to resume nuclear talks

The United States urges Iran to quickly return to talks over reviving a nuclear deal after the new ultraconservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, said he would seek a diplomatic way to end sanctions.

“We urge Iran to return to the negotiations soon,” State Department spokesman Ned Price says. “For us, this is an urgent priority.”

“If President Raisi is genuine in his determination to see the sanctions lifted, well, that is precisely what’s on the table in Vienna,” he says, referring to indirect talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear accord.

Nearly 300,000 Israelis over 60 have received COVID booster shot

According to Health Ministry data, 295,585 Israelis over the age of 60 have received a COVID booster vaccine since the program was introduced earlier this week. This accounts for nearly a fifth of the adults in that age group.

The Health Ministry says 1,970 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 25,467. There are 262 people in serious condition, up from 250 this morning.

Government will wait to see if boosters effective before imposing lockdown – report

An official in the high-level coronavirus cabinet, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells the Kan public broadcaster that the government will wait and see what the effects of the third vaccine booster shot are before declaring a nationwide lockdown.

“The chances of a lockdown in August are slim,” the official says. “The assessment is that they’ll wait two weeks to see if the third shot helps bring down serious cases among the over 60s and if we see a wave of vaccinations among teenagers. If that doesn’t happen, the question is not if there will be a lockdown, but when.”

Top health official: Lockdown ‘an option,’ but could still be averted

The head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Alreis, confirms additional shipments of COVID vaccines are en route to Israel.

In an interview with Channel 12, the senior health official says a nationwide lockdown in September, over the Jewish holidays, is not inevitable.

“It’s obviously an option, but it’s in our hands,” she says.

The current health rules, says Alroy-Preis, won’t drive down infection rates considerably but are meant to “buy time” for children and teenagers to get vaccinated and to inoculate those over 60 years old with a booster shot.

“Lockdown is not a strategy, it’s a tactic, a step that you try to avoid unless you really, really have to. Right now, we don’t have to. We need to run and get vaccinated,” she said.



Hundreds of thousands of additional vaccines heading to Israel – report

A shipment of hundreds of thousands of Pfizer vaccines is expected to arrive in Israel in the coming days, as the country rolls out boosters for Israelis 60 and older, according to Channel 12.

The television report says the shipment will arrive on Saturday night, amid reports of a possible shortfall in shots.

PM’s neighbors seek to force him to relocate to official Jerusalem residence

Neighbors of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett petition the High Court of Justice to force him to relocate to the official residence in Jerusalem, following protests outside his private home in the central city of Ra’anana.

The neighbors also urge law enforcement to crack down on the demonstrations in the city.

Germany looking to prosecute over a dozen more Nazi war criminals

As Germany prepares to put a 100-year-old man on trial for Nazi war crimes, public prosecutors in several German states have announced that they are investigating more than a dozen other suspects.

Most of the cases involve concentration camp guards who may be charged as accessories to murder following the precedent-setting conviction of Ivan Demjanjuk in Munich in 2011. Demjanjuk was found guilty as an accessory in the murders of nearly 30,000 Jews in the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

According to German news reports, trials are already set to begin this fall in two cases: A 96-year-old woman will appear before the Itzehoe Regional Court in Schleswig-Holstein, and the 100-year-old man is due to stand trial at the Neuruppin Regional Court in the former East German state of Brandenburg.

Meanwhile, nine investigations are ongoing and there are six more preliminary probes, Thomas Will, head of the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes based in Ludwigsburg, tells Der Spiegel magazine. There is no statute of limitations for murder and accessory to murder.

Thomas Walther, an attorney who represented co-plaintiffs in the Demjanjuk trial and reportedly will do the same in this trial, said in a recent interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper that his clients, Holocaust survivors, are just as old as the accused and have never given up hope for justice.

Hadera to ban unvaccinated non-residents from city

The mayor of Hadera announces a plan to ban unvaccinated non-residents from entering the coastal city, unless they have a negative COVID test.

He orders the enforcement of the rule at tourist sites in the city, including its beaches.

Likud motion prevents defectors from returning to party for 8 years

The Likud Secretariat approves a motion banning lawmakers who defected from the party from returning and running in its party primaries for eight years.

The motion will also apply to ministers and MKs who served in past governments led by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the Ynet news site.

The motion would apply to much of the New Hope party, which is composed of numerous former Likud ministers. It also aims to prevent future defections from Likud.

Chanan Weissman is the next White House liaison to US Jewish community

US President Joe Biden has decided to appoint Chanan Weissman as the next White House liaison to the American Jewish community, The Forward reports.

Weissman is currently serving as a staffer on the National Security Council, but previously held the Jewish liaison position during the Obama administration.

Meron commission of inquiry summons first witnesses to testify

The state commission of inquiry into the deadly crush at the Meron pilgrimage site summons its first witnesses to testify on Israel’s worst-ever civilian disaster in April, in which 45 people were killed.

The witnesses are three senior police officers in the north who oversaw the Lag B’Omer event, including Northern District Commander Shimon Lavi; head of the National Center for Development of Holy Places Yosef Schwinger; Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Abramowitz; and the manager of the nearby tombsite of Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel in Amuka.

A date for the testimony has not yet been set, but the witnesses were notified.

Fire approaching West Bank settlement of Beit El, army base

A large wildfire is spreading near the West Bank settlement of Beit El and an adjacent IDF base.

Firefighters are working to extinguish the blaze.

Raisi: Pressure, sanctions won’t make Iran back down from its ‘rights’

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi says that foreign pressure and sanctions will not stop the Islamic Republic from pursuing its “legal rights,” as he was sworn in during a televised ceremony.

“The policy of pressure and sanctions will not cause the nation of Iran to back down from following up on its legal rights,” the ultraconservative says.

Hamas leader, Iranian commanders meet at Raisi swearing-in

Photos show Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Iranian military commanders in conversation following the swearing-in of Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, in Tehran.

The leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement, Ismail Haniyeh (2nd R), shakes hands with Iranian Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri (L) and the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard force, General Hossein Salami (C), during the swearing in ceremony for Iran’s new president at the parliament in the Islamic republic’s capital Tehran on August 5, 2021. (Atta KENARE / AFP)

Iran’s new president says he backs diplomacy to lift sanctions

Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi says he will support “any diplomatic plans” to lift US sanctions on the Islamic Republic, in remarks during a televised swearing-in ceremony.

“Sanctions against the nation of Iran must be lifted. We will support any diplomatic plans that will realize this goal,” he says before Iran’s parliament.

Jerusalem fires brought under control

The two Jerusalem fires, near Kiryat Yovel and Lifta, are brought under control by firefighting teams.

COVID cases worldwide top 200 million

More than 200 million cases of Covid-19 cases have now been registered worldwide since the novel coronavirus emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

At least 200,065,905 cases have been officially recorded, but the actual number is believed to be even higher, since a large number of the less severe or asymptomatic cases remain undetected, despite intensified testing in many countries.

The number of infections is currently rising sharply, driven primarily by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, but the number of deaths is increasing at a slower rate, the data shows.

The global average daily number of new infections over the past seven days stands at more than 600,000, an increase of 68 percent over the seven-day average in mid-June.

At the same time, the average number of daily deaths stands at 9,350, an increase of 20 percent compared with the beginning of July.

The gap between the number of infections and the number of deaths is most noticeable in the countries currently hardest hit by the pandemic.

In the United States, for example, the number of new cases has exploded by more than 820 percent, now standing at an average of 94,000 per day compared to 11,000 at the end of June.

But the rise in the daily number of deaths in the US is much slower, climbing 105 percent to 430 over the same period.

In Britain, where as many as 47,000 new cases have been recorded every day for the past few weeks — a 30-fold increase compared with May — the number of deaths has increased more than ten-fold from six to over 80.

Nevertheless, that is far below record levels seen in January, when Britain’s daily number of deaths shot to 1,250.

Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi sworn in as president

Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi is sworn in as the Islamic Republic’s eighth president, in a parliamentary ceremony broadcast live on state television.

“I will dedicate myself to the service of the people, the honor of the country, the propagation of religion and morality, and the support of truth and justice,” Raisi says.

2 brush fires break out in Jerusalem; some residents told to vacate homes

Firefighters are working to contain two brush fires in Jerusalem.

One of the fires is approaching the neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel and some residents are told to vacate their homes, according to Army Radio. The second is in the Lifta area, near the entrance to the city.

There are no reports of injuries or damage.

Motorcyclist killed in Jerusalem hit and run

A motorcycle driver is killed in Jerusalem, after a truck rams into his vehicle and flees the scene.

The accident takes place in the Beit Hanina neighborhood. Police are searching for the truck driver.

Lebanon’s central bank chief grilled over alleged graft

A Lebanese judge questions central bank chief Riad Salameh over graft allegations as part of a probe into financial misconduct, a judicial source says.

Salameh, one of world’s longest-serving central bank governors, is facing a spate of allegations, including in Switzerland and France, over suspicions of money laundering and embezzlement.

Lebanon opened a probe into his wealth in April, after Switzerland requested assistance for an investigation into more than $300 million which Salameh allegedly embezzled out of the central bank with the help of his brother.

Salameh has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Bennett downplays Lapid and Liberman absence from key meetings

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett downplays the absence of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman from the coronavirus cabinet meetings.

“We are fully coordinated,” he says, after it emerges that the senior ministers had not been attending the meetings in which Israel’s virus policy is formulated and approved.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad leaders arrive in Tehran for Iran president’s inauguration

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Ziad Nakhaleh arrive in Tehran for the inauguration of incoming Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Both terror groups are closely linked to Iran and see the Islamic Republic as a key source of support.

Bennett: Restrictions over holidays will depend on vaccination rates

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says the coronavirus restrictions over the Jewish holidays in September will hinge on how many Israelis are vaccinated by then.

He makes the comment in a Facebook Live Q&A.

“The future of the holidays depends on the number of vaccinated,” says the prime minister.

He also reassures Israelis the third booster shot, now offered to over 60s, is safe.

“In 10 days, we’ll see the scientific effectiveness of the third shot compared to those who did not receive an additional dose,” he says. “At the same time, every day that passes gives us further confidence about the safety of the booster. Right now we can say: The third shot is safe. We have no evidence of extensive side effects.”

He says that boosters will also be offered to younger Israelis once its effectiveness is proven.

Former Health Ministry chief criticizes ‘inexperienced’ government response to COVID

Former Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy criticizes the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and says the new ministers are “inexperienced.”

Levy says that he would impose serious restrictions on international travel to curb the outbreak, had he still been running the Health Ministry.

“Now is the time for more painful decisions to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed,” he says. “If we don’t stop it, we will reach a number of serious cases who will overburden the hospitals before the winter. Perhaps now is the time for more restrictions and perhaps to think about a lockdown.”

Levy served as Health Ministry chief from June 2020 until last month, when he was replaced by Nachman Ash, who had previously served as coronavirus czar.

Israel’s new (unfortunately named) amusement park to open this summer

Israel’s new largest-ever amusement park is expected to open this summer in Mishor Adumim, a settlement industrial zone outside of Jerusalem.

The NIS 500 million indoor theme park, founded by Hanoch Kass, is called “Magic Kass” after its investor.

The Magic Kass amusement park (Courtesy)

The exact opening date has yet to be announced.

Australia expands lockdowns as virus fight falters

Almost two-thirds of Australia’s 25 million people are under lockdown, as the country’s faltering bid to bring a virulent Delta outbreak to heel prompted a new wave of restrictions.

The country’s two largest cities received a double blow in their efforts to retain “Covid Zero” status, with authorities reporting a record number of new coronavirus infections in Sydney and imposing a sixth lockdown for virus-weary Melbourne.

In total, about 60 percent of the population — in cities from Brisbane to Ballarat — are now being told to stay at home.

Until now, Australia has dodged the worst ravages of the pandemic through a strategy of closing borders, lockdowns, mandatory travel quarantine, and aggressive testing and tracing.

But those tools appear blunted in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant that is now threatening one of the world’s last havens from Covid.

Bennett meets internet influencers to push vaccination

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with Israeli internet celebrities in an effort to persuade them to sway their young followers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“My request is twofold: One, persuade as many young people as possible aged 12 and over to get vaccinated. Two, tell everyone to go around with masks on because this is what prevents infection,” he tells them.

Tanker attack victim was ex-British soldier

A British security guard who was killed in a suspected Iranian drone strike on an Israel-linked tanker was a former soldier in the British army, his employers say.

Maritime security firm Ambrey said Adrian Underwood was on board the MT Mercer Street when it came under attack in the Indian Ocean off Oman last Thursday.

A Romanian national was also killed.

“Adrian was a former soldier in the British Army with a distinguished record of service,” Ambrey’s managing director John Thompson says.

“He came to work for Ambrey in 2020 and his qualities were quickly recognized as he was rapidly promoted from maritime security officer to team leader.”

France will offer COVID boosters from September

France will offer Covid booster shots to the elderly and vulnerable from September, joining a growing list of countries offering third vaccine shots to fight new virus variants, President Emmanuel Macron says.

“Yes, we will probably need a third dose, not for everyone straight away but at any rate for the elderly and the most vulnerable,” Macron says in the latest in his series of explanatory videos on the government’s vaccination strategy.

He confirms that the booster shots would be available from September.

Last month he had already revealed plans for a booster campaign, saying it would target those who had been the first to get a shot earlier this year — mostly people over 80 or with serious health conditions.

Currently, third vaccine shots are only available to people with weakened immune systems.

HMOs said worried about supply of COVID boosters

Israel’s health providers are concerned there are not enough vaccines for its booster vaccination campaign for the 60-plus population, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Walla news site cites officials who fret that the Health Ministry is not giving them enough shots for the campaign. As a result, numerous appointments were pushed back to the end of the month.

Mike Herzog, president’s brother, is frontrunner for next envoy to US

The leading candidate to serve as Israel’s next ambassador to the US is Brigadier General (Ret.) Mike Herzog, President Isaac Herzog’s older brother. Sources in the government confirmed his candidacy to The Times of Israel although no final decision has been made. The Jerusalem Post reported on Herzog’s candidacy earlier today.

Herzog began his military service as an infantry fighter in the Yom Kippur War. He then joined the IDF Intelligence Corps and served there as head of the strategic division in the Planning Division, later becoming military secretary to defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff to former prime minister Ehud Barak.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have decided the  the appointment of the ambassador to Washington would be made by both of them, with the two government leaders aiming to elect one diplomat to serve four consecutive years and not be replaced after two years with the rotation of the premiership. It should be noted that if they do not reach an agreement, each of them will choose an ambassador during their tenure as prime minister under the power-sharing agreement.

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