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Bennett said to tell ministers to prepare for possible lockdown next month

TV report says PM has said nationwide closure could be imposed during High Holidays if current steps fail to contain COVID outbreak

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid (L) attend a cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021.  (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL via Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid (L) attend a cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL via Flash90)

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

Netanyahu blames staff for press release before Shabbat end, says it won’t repeat

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu claims his congratulatory message to Olympic gold medalist Linoy Ashram, which was published before Shabbat ended and enraged his religious allies, was a mistake made by his team.

In a wedding event for the daughter of United Torah Judaism MK Ya’akov Asher, Netanyahu says he will make sure such an incident isn’t repeated.

“I don’t tend to make releases before Shabbat ends, but my team was very diligent and didn’t understand that what was true when I was prime minister is also true now. These things have been fixed and won’t be repeated,” he says.

Police arrest 3 brothers suspected of murdering their mother, hiding her body

Three brothers from northern Israel have been arrested on suspicion of murdering their mother and then hiding her body.

The brothers, aged 28, 23 and 20, are from the Arab town of Zarzir. They are suspected of murdering their 46-year-old mother near the Jordan River, where her body was found a day after the trio rammed a police roadblock in the area.

The men’s remand has been extended until Thursday.

Israeli envoy slams UN chief for turning a ‘blind eye to Hezbollah’s war crimes’

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan speaks to a group of American Jewish community leaders in New York on June 27, 2021. (Shahar Azran)
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan speaks to a group of American Jewish community leaders in New York on June 27, 2021. (Shahar Azran)

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN and to the US Gilad Erdan has slammed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over his response to flaring tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border, accusing him of turning a “blind eye to Hezbollah’s war crimes and acts of terror.”

On Friday, Hezbollah fired 19 missiles toward open areas in the north of Israel, its heaviest barrage since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Israel responded with several rounds of artillery strikes. Hezbollah also released a video of its rocket assault, showing a mobile rocket launcher maneuvering into position and firing a salvo of rockets at Israel.

In his statement earlier today, Guterres expressed his “deep concern about the recent escalation between Lebanon and Israel across the Blue Line, including rocket fire into Israel and return airstrikes and artillery fire into Lebanon.

“The Secretary-General calls on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and to actively engage with UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination mechanisms. It is paramount that all actors involved avoid actions that can further heighten tensions and lead to miscalculation.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following the talks in Moscow, Russia, May 12, 2021. (Maxim Shemetov, Pool via AP)

In his own statement, Erdan says it is “unfortunate that the UN Secretary-General repeatedly chooses to draw a moral equivalency between attacks perpetuated by designated terrorist organizations and the law-abiding, democratic State of Israel, which is a member of the UN.

“It is inconceivable that the rocket fire for which Hezbollah itself explicitly took responsibility has not been attributed by the Secretary-General to that terrorist organization,” he adds.

“The UN continues to willfully turn a blind eye to Hezbollah’s war crimes and acts of terror and its effective control of Lebanese territory. These actions by Hezbollah will ultimately lead to the destruction of Lebanon,” Erdan argues. “We expect more from the UN, which should serve as a voice of moral clarity before it’s too late for the people of Lebanon and the region as a whole.”

Bennett said to tell ministers lockdown could be imposed next month

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has presented the cabinet with a document saying that if the current steps to contain the coronavirus outbreak won’t help, Israel could be heading to a nationwide lockdown during next months High Holidays, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

According to the documents “more severe restrictions, including a lockdown” could be imposed, adding that the timing would be the festivals of Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot (September 6-28).

The report comes as several ministers have voiced objection to any lockdown plan.

School year set to open normally even if lockdown imposed — report

The school year will likely open as usual on September 1 even if the government ends up imposing a nationwide lockdown, Channel 13 news reports, without citing a source.

The report says it is expected that students will study at schools and not remotely, as happened during previous lockdowns.

Iran’s Raisi names US-sanctioned Mokhber as first vice-president

Chairman of Iran's Setad foundation, or the Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order, Mohammad Mokhber speaks during a press conference to announce the launch of the second and third phases of human trials of a locally made COVID vaccine, in Tehran, on March 15, 2021. (ATTA KENARE/AFP)
Chairman of Iran's Setad foundation, or the Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order, Mohammad Mokhber speaks during a press conference to announce the launch of the second and third phases of human trials of a locally made COVID vaccine, in Tehran, on March 15, 2021. (ATTA KENARE/AFP)

Iran’s new ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi has named the chairman of a powerful state-owned foundation sanctioned by the United States as his first vice-president, the president’s official website says.

Mohammad Mokhber, long rumored by local media to be the top pick for the position, has for years headed the foundation known as Setad, or the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s order, in reference to the Islamic Republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini.

Mokhber was appointed to the position by the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2007, following a string of official positions at the southwestern province of Khuzestan.

Bennett okays school plan: 1.6 million kids to undergo antibody tests

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has approved a plan developed by the education, health and defense ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office for the opening of the school year in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the plan, all 1.6 million kids in kindergartens and in grades 1-6 will be required to undergo a serology test to check if they have COVID-19 antibodies.

The Education Ministry estimates that 20-30% of them will be found to have recovered from the disease, and they will get a Green Pass that exempts them from quarantine in case of exposure to confirmed carriers.

Additionally, the families of 1.9 million children in kindergartens and in grades 1-9 will have the option of getting a home test kit a day before the school year starts.

Israel’s total COVID case count nears 900,000

According to updated data from the Health Ministry, there have been 2,101 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed so far today, bringing the country’s total since the start of the pandemic to 899,920.

There are 30,111 active cases, including 363 in serious condition and 50 on ventilators.

The death toll has grown by six since this morning and reached 6,541.

According to the ministry, 464,810 Israelis have received their third vaccine booster dose.

Man shot dead in Lod, 67th murder in Arab community in 2021

A 23-year-old man has been shot dead in a drive-by shooting in the central city of Lod.

The murder is suspected to be related to ongoing disputes between criminal gangs, and is the 67th murder in the Arab community since the start of 2021, according to the Abraham Initiative nonprofit.

Police say officers are searching for suspects and scanning the scene for evidence.

Man, 25, drowns in Tel Aviv beach

A 25-year-old man has drowned while swimming at a Tel Aviv beach.

Magen David Adom paramedics pronounce him dead after pulling the body out of the water at Charles Clore Beach.

Bennett urges Arab Israelis to get vaccinated: ‘Rates are too low’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett calls on Arab Israelis to get vaccinated, citing relatively lower inoculation rates in the community.

“Immunization rates in Arab society are too low. I hereby call on anyone over the age of 60 to go and get vaccinated with the third vaccine, the booster shot. It saves lives,” Bennett says.

Arab Israelis have lagged behind their Jewish counterparts in receiving a coronavirus shot. According to the Galilee Society, an Arab Israeli health nonprofit, around 83% of Arab Israelis over the age of 50 had been vaccinated as of late last week, compared with 92% in Israel as a whole.

Some 51% of Arab Israelis have been vaccinated in total, compared with 66% of all Israeli citizens, according to the nonprofit, which bases its analysis on publically available Health Ministry data.

“I call on young people who have not been vaccinated at all, and there are many: Go out today to get vaccinated. That way you will not be infected and will not infect. It will save the lives of your loved ones,” says Bennett.

Despite the relatively lower vaccination rates among Arab Israelis, little evidence suggests they are behind the wave of infections sweeping Israel.

Around 11% of COVID-19 cases were in Arab cities and towns last week, even though they constitute over 20% of the population. As of today, some 26 cities have been designated high-infection “red” areas; just one of them is Arab.

Report: 14 Israelis have caught COVID-19 despite receiving booster shot

Internal Health Ministry data shows that 14 Israelis have been infected with COVID-19 a week after receiving a booster shot, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says 11 of those infected are over the age of 60 — two of whom have now been hospitalized — while the other three got their third dose because they are immunocompromised.

If confirmed in larger samples, the figures could cast doubt on the effectiveness of the booster shot, which Israel has started administering before major health bodies around the world have approved it.

Not only Ashram: Russian gymnast Averina also won gold after dropping ribbon

Russia's Dina Averina reacts at the end of the individual all-around final of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event during Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics center in Tokyo, on August 7, 2021. (Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)
Russia's Dina Averina reacts at the end of the individual all-around final of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event during Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics center in Tokyo, on August 7, 2021. (Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

As Russian authorities claim the judging in yesterday’s rhythmic gymnastics final was biased since it should have been impossible for Israel’s Linoy Ashram to win gold after dropping the ribbon during her routine, it turns out that Russia’s Dina Averina — who narrowly lost to Ashram yesterday — did the very same in the 2018 World Championship.

Back then, Averina dropped the very same apparatus during her routine, but still went on to earn the top spot. The silver medal was won by Ashram.

Israel sets up rapid COVID test stations nationwide

Israel has set up rapid coronavirus testing stations across the country, the Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency service says, as the government tries to stave off another pandemic lockdown.

“Following a request from the Ministry of Health, Magen David Adom on Sunday opened 120 rapid detection stations,” an MDA statement says.

The testing centers are aimed at the non-vaccinate who need a health pass to enter certain venues. Results are received in 15 minutes.

Since this morning, unvaccinated people must present a negative COVID-19 test less than 24 hours old, and this rule will be extended to children under 12 from August 20.

Sex offender rabbi Eliezer Berland hospitalized with COVID, on ventilator

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Eliezer Berland, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who has been convicted of sexual offenses and of defrauding his own followers, has caught the coronavirus and is hospitalized, Hebrew media reports.

The 83-year-old Berland is on a ventilator at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, the reports say.

He is set to return to prison in October after being convicted of fraud in a plea deal last month and being sentenced to 18 months, from which his time in custody thus far will be deducted.

Visiting Israel, Bahraini minister slams Iran nuclear deal: ‘It fueled violence’

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold (L) signs a memorandum of understanding with Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations, Dr. Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa (R) at King David Hotel in Jerusalem, August 8, 2021. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold (L) signs a memorandum of understanding with Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations, Dr. Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa (R) at King David Hotel in Jerusalem, August 8, 2021. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa says during a visit to Israel that Bahrain hoped that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal would change Tehran’s behavior in the region, but instead it has brought about “more crises and violence.”

“Was there any good result that we have come out with? For us, we haven’t seen it. On the contrary. The JCPOA has fueled crises across the Middle East,” Khalifa says during the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the countries in Jerusalem, referring to the nuclear deal by the acronym of its official name.

He adds that the deal “has caused more instigation and extremism in many different regions across the Middle East.”

He also indicates that Bahrain blames Iran for recent attacks on civilian shipping in the Gulf of Oman, saying: “There’s a certain trend in Iranian behavior.”

Khalifa also says there will be direct flights between Manama and Tel Aviv within a year.

He says that Israel can expect a “surprise” on September 15, the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords.

Israel’s national security adviser said to discuss Gaza in snap visit to Egypt

Eyal Hulata in an undated photograph. (courtesy)
Eyal Hulata in an undated photograph. (courtesy)

The new national security adviser, Eyal Hulata, visited Cairo today along with his predecessor Meir Ben-Shabbat and met Egypt’s head of intelligence, Abbas Kamel, Hebrew media reports.

According to the reports, the main topic discussed was the situation in the Gaza Strip and negotiations aimed at stabilizing a ceasefire following May’s 11-day round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian terror groups.

The brief visit comes some six weeks after Kamel visited Israel to negotiate the initial ceasefire.

European Union: Evidence ‘clearly points to Iran’ in deadly attack on tanker

In this image provided by Maxar Technologies, the oil tanker Mercer Street is seen off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, on August 4, 2021. (Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies via AP)
In this image provided by Maxar Technologies, the oil tanker Mercer Street is seen off the coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, on August 4, 2021. (Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies via AP)

The European Union issues a statement condemning last month’s fatal attack on an Israel-linked commercial vessel in the Arabian Sea, saying that “all available evidence clearly points to Iran.”

The EU’s High Representative for foreign policy, Josep Borrell, condemns “in strongest terms the unlawful attack committed on the merchant vessel Mercer Street, off Masirah Island in Oman.”

“Such reckless and unilateral actions, against international law and threatening to international peace, are unacceptable and need to stop,” he adds. “Freedom of navigation must be guaranteed in accordance with international law.

“The EU will continue the intense diplomatic efforts to advance appropriate and effective dialogue and solutions.”

Tehran has strongly denied having any link to the July 29 attack on the MT Mercer Street, an oil products tanker managed by a firm owned by an Israeli billionaire, but has faced an increasing wave of accusations in recent days from Israel, the United States and Britain, as well as other countries.

A British security guard and a Romanian crew member were killed in the attack.

Tokyo Olympics declared closed by IOC president

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are declared closed by International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach, who calls the pandemic-delayed Games the “most challenging Olympic journey.”

“Now I have to mark the end of this most challenging Olympic journey to Tokyo: I declare the Games of the 32nd Olympiad closed,” he says.

Israel, Bahrain sign MoU aimed at boosting cooperation against Iran

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold (L) signs a memorandum of understanding with Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations, Dr. Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa (R) at King David Hotel in Jerusalem, August 8, 2021. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold (L) signs a memorandum of understanding with Bahrain’s Undersecretary for International Relations, Dr. Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa (R) at King David Hotel in Jerusalem, August 8, 2021. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold signs a memorandum of understanding with Bahrain’s undersecretary for international relations, Dr. Abdullah bin Ahmad al Khalifa.

During a ceremony at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Gold stresses that the research cooperation will help Israel and Bahrain counter Iran in a “war of ideas.”

“Our cooperation can become a central factor in winning that war,” he says.

It is al Khalifa’s third visit to Israel.

Olympic flag passed to Paris mayor for 2024 Games

President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach (L) hands-over the Olympic flag to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on August 8, 2021. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)
President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach (L) hands-over the Olympic flag to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on August 8, 2021. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

At the Tokyo closing ceremony, the Olympic flag is passed to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo for the 2024 Games.

Hidalgo waves the flag, decorated with the five Olympic rings, after she receives it from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

Father dies by suicide on grave of son who died from Gaza rocket fire in 2014

Moshe Etzion speaks before an image of his son, Ze'ev Etzion, who died from Gaza rocket fire in 2014. (Eshkol Regional Council)
Moshe Etzion speaks before an image of his son, Ze'ev Etzion, who died from Gaza rocket fire in 2014. (Eshkol Regional Council)

Moshe Etzion, 88, the father of Ze’ev Etzion who was killed by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip during the 2014 war, has taken his own life at the gravesite of his son on the Hebrew anniversary of his death.

The Etzions lived in Kibbutz Nirim in the south, near the border with the Gaza Strip.

After leaving his home early this morning and not returning after several hours, authorities launched a search. Moshe Etzion was found dead next to the burial site of his son in the town, the Eshkol regional council says.

He is to be buried tomorrow.

Ze’ev Etzion was a local security officer for the kibbutz during the 2014 war, as well as an emergency medic and ambulance driver. He was killed when a Hamas-launched mortar shell landed in the town and shrapnel hit him.

Some ministers oppose lockdown plan: ‘It isn’t a solution’

The plan to possibly impose a nationwide lockdown during the upcoming High Holiday period due to surging coronavirus cases is causing disagreement within the cabinet, according to leaks published by Hebrew media.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who has courted controversy by calling plans to vaccinate students in schools a “crime,” said during a cabinet meeting that the option of a lockdown must be “taken off the agenda,” according to reports.

“There are [reservation] cancellations and people are anxious for… their livelihood,” she reportedly says. “We have seen the charts — it doesn’t matter whether countries imposed lockdown or not, the morbidity charts look the same.”

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern concurs: “We need to eliminate the word ‘lockdown’ from our lexicon. We are causing people to live under threat.”

Hamad Amar, a minister in the Finance Ministry, notes that Australia is currently in its eighth lockdown yet cases are still on the rise, claiming that “lockdown isn’t a solution.”

Other ministers emphasize the need for a lockdown and the importance of talking publicly about a lockdown before imposing one.

Bennett: Israel is seeing high demand for third vaccine shots

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says people are rushing to get a third vaccine shot as protection from the surging Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Bennett points to government statistics showing that more than 420,000 Israelis older than 60 have received a booster shot, over a third of the total targeted population. Bennett says the number is expected to grow to half a million people by the end of the day.

The prime minister speaks after a weekly cabinet meeting. Israel is seeing a rising number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, almost all of them infected with the highly contagious Delta variant. The government has reinstituted its mask mandate for indoor settings and is weighing more restrictions.

Israel became a world leader in vaccination against the virus during its initial public campaign, About 5.4 million of the country’s 9.3 million people have received two vaccine doses.

As gold medalist can’t marry in Israel, poll shows 65% back civil marriage

Artem Dolgopyat, Israeli artistic gymnastics men's gold medalist, stands with his fiancée Maria Sakovich, on his arrival at Ben Gurion Airportl, August 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Artem Dolgopyat, Israeli artistic gymnastics men's gold medalist, stands with his fiancée Maria Sakovich, on his arrival at Ben Gurion Airportl, August 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

A survey by a nonprofit that campaigns for religious freedom shows 65% of Israeli adults support introducing civil marriage in the Jewish state, following a controversy over the fact that gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Artem Dolgopyat can’t marry in his home country.

The poll was conducted by Hiddush – For Religious Freedom and Equality and by the Rafi Smith Institute.

It shows support for civil marriage varies greatly according to political leaning, with 100% of ultra-Orthodox party voters objecting and 98-100% of backers of the secularist Meretz and Yesh Atid parties supporting.

The parties whose voters are the most equally divided are Likud (58% support civil marriage, 42% oppose) and Yamina (62% support, 38% oppose).

Dolgopyat cannot legally get married in Israel since he is not Jewish by the standards of the Chief Rabbinate (his father’s family is Jewish, but his mother is not). He would need to travel abroad to have a civil marriage, which would be recognized by the state.

West Bank fire near Alfei Menashe settlement forces evacuation of some residents

A brush fire breaks out near the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe, forcing the evacuation of some residents.

Fire and rescue forces, including four firefighting planes, are working to put out the blaze.

“The fire is moving quickly due to strong winds in the area and due to problematic topographic conditions,” says fire and rescue team chief Ofir Levy. “Firefighter teams are prepared to defend the community and are simultaneously attempting to extinguish the blaze.”

IDF nabs suspect who entered Israel from Jordan

The military says this morning troops arrested a suspect who crossed the southern Jordanian border into Israeli territory.

The man apparently crossed the border during the night, the Israel Defense Forces says.

The IDF adds that there is no suspicion that the incident posed a security risk.

Iran records over 500 daily COVID deaths in new high

Iran reports over 500 daily COVID-19 deaths for the first time, according to its health ministry, as new infections also hit a record high.

In the past 24 hours, Iran has registered a record of 39,619 positive cases and 542 deaths, bringing the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to 4,158,729 and fatalities to 94,015, the ministry says.

Ending best-ever Olympics for Israel, closing ceremony kicks off in Tokyo

The Olympic flame burns prior to the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics, August 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
The Olympic flame burns prior to the closing ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics, August 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

The curtain is about to close on the Pandemic Olympics — the most successful ever for Israeli athletes, who won four medals, including two gold.

The 2020 Tokyo Games — held in 2021 — are coming to an end with the closing ceremony. Just like most of the competitions, it is being held without fans in the stands.

Rhythmic gymnastics gold medalist Linoy Ashram is carrying Israel’s flag at the ceremony.

Olympic Stadium is empty except for a few hundred members of the media, Olympics officials and volunteers as the cauldron burns at one end. The athletes have lined up on folding chairs outside the stadium, not far from a small group of protesters who are surrounded by police.

The rain from a passing tropical storm has stopped in the evening, replaced by heavy humidity that has draped over these Games.

Thirty-three sports have been contested across 16 days in largely empty stadiums, with fans barred over coronavirus risks and athletes living in strict biosecure conditions.

The Olympic flag will now pass to 2024 host Paris.

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