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Likud lashes out at Sa’ar over decision to leave party

Ruling faction assails the veteran MK after he announces he’s forming his own party, says he’s joining ‘a long list of politicians who abandoned Likud and then completely crashed’

MK Gideon Sa'ar announces he is leaving Likud to form his own party, in a televised statement on December 8, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)
MK Gideon Sa'ar announces he is leaving Likud to form his own party, in a televised statement on December 8, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.

Deputy AG said to warn of legal difficulties in imposing nightly curfew

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri told ministers there may be legal difficulties in imposing a three-week nightly curfew to combat rising coronavirus cases, according to Hebrew media reports.

Nizri says it will be difficult to defend the move before the High Court of Justice without the Health Ministry backing the curfew, the reports say.

Health officials have questioned the efficacy of curfews in stemming COVID-19 infections.

Egyptian army reports killing 40 suspected jihadists in Sinai

CAIRO — The Egyptian army says it has killed 40 suspected jihadist militants since September in air and ground operations in the Sinai region, site of an Islamist insurgency.

In a video statement posted on Facebook, the army says its air force had “managed to eliminate 25 takfiri elements… in the strategic northeastern region.”

Another 15 suspected Islamist militants had been killed “in special operations” since September, it says.

Egyptian security officials use the term “takfiri” to refer to extremist Islamist militants.

The army also says seven of its own personnel had been either wounded or killed, without specifying how many suffered injuries or died.

The operations also “resulted in the arrest of 12 other” suspected extremist fighters, the statement says without providing dates or places.

In addition, the army says it had destroyed 437 weapons caches, defused 159 improvised explosive devices, and confiscated dozens of other types of weapons.

Egyptian forces have for years fought the insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, led mainly by the local branch of the Islamic State jihadist group.

Attacks there have multiplied since the army’s 2013 ouster of president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since February 2018, the authorities have been conducting a nationwide operation against Islamist militants, mainly focused on the northern Sinai and the Western Desert.

About 970 suspected militants and dozens of security personnel have been killed in the Sinai, according to official figures.

No independently sourced death toll is available as the North Sinai is off-limits to journalists.


Tel Aviv hospital seeking special permission to begin vaccinating staff

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, also known as Ichilov Hospital, has asked for special permission to vaccinate its staff on the basis of Britain’s authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, if shots become available before FDA approval comes through.

— Nathan Jeffay

First batch of Pfizer’s COVID vaccines to arrive in Israel on Wednesday — reports

An initial batch of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is expected to arrive in Israel tomorrow afternoon, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Health Ministry refuses to address the reports, saying only that the vaccines are supposed to arrive in the coming days, but it doesn’t know when specifically.

Ichilov sources say hospital given okay by Health Ministry boss to vaccinate staff

Sources at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv tell Channel 13 news that Health Ministry chief Chezy Levy has given permission to the medical center to begin inoculating staff before the FDA grants approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Jerusalem mayor forced to quarantine after reportedly claiming he didn’t need to

The Health Ministry has ordered Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion to quarantine after he claimed he was not required to do, Channel 13 news reports.

Last week Lion was in the presence of the head of Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center, who later was diagnosed with COVID-19. He claimed he was only near her for a limited period of time and therefore didn’t have to quarantine.

But the Health Ministry instructs him to quarantine, after being contacted by the network.

The ministry says Lion’s name was not included on a list of the hospital’s close contacts, but after “further clarification” he was ordered to quarantine.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Another ally of Iran’s Rouhani faces criminal charges

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian prosecutors have pressed criminal charges against a deputy of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, the judiciary says, making him the second Rouhani ally to face prosecution in recent weeks.

Vice President Isa Kalantari, who is Iran’s environment chief, is involved in an ongoing case involving the condition of a lagoon in north of the country as well as “remarks that circulated recently on social media,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili tells reporters.

He doesn’t elaborate.

Kalantari has faced strong criticism from conservative media in recent days over comments he made in a year-old interview that they deemed insulting to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini.

“He has presented his explanations. We must wait and see what the court decides, as he has only been recently summoned,” Esmaili says.

Kalantari told state news agency IRNA on Sunday that his comments had been taken out of context.

“If you listen to the whole interview, you will see no such (insult) has taken place. It’s not logical to draw conclusions from 20-40 seconds of a two-hour interview,” he said.

The 68-year-old served as agriculture minister in the 1990s and was appointed head of the environment department in 2017.

The charges against Kalantari come just days after it was reported that former vice president Shahindokht Molaverdi had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison on charges of handing classified information to foreign parties and “propaganda” against the state.

Molaverdi served as vice president for women’s affairs during Rouhani’s first term as president and was replaced by current Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar in 2017.

She said she intends to appeal.

When asked about her case, Esmaili says he can’t comment as the “verdict issued is not yet final.”


Turkey urges EU to be ‘honest mediator’ in natural gas dispute with Greece

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey calls on the European Union to become an “honest mediator” in its standoff with the bloc’s member Greece over undersea resources, two days before an EU summit.

Turkey, an EU candidate country whose accession has been frozen over issues including its human rights record, is at odds with Greece over territory believed to be rich in gas in the eastern Mediterranean.

Athens is now pressing for punitive sanctions at an EU summit on Thursday.

The European Union “should play a role of an honest mediator” on issues that concern Turkey and Greece, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tells a news conference in Ankara alongside his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto.

“We can resolve the problems only through dialogue and diplomacy,” Cavusoglu says.

Ankara has angered Greece and the rest of the EU by sending a survey ship and navy vessels to the disputed waters in defiance of calls to stop. It ordered the Oruc Reis ship back to port last month.

France supports Greece’s call for sanctions but not all countries are convinced with some fearing an influx of refugees.

“Whether they like it or not, the security of Europe is in the hands of Turkey to a great extent,” Hungary’s Szijjarto says in translated comments.


US regulators give positive review of Pfizer vaccine data

WASHINGTON — Documents released by US regulators today confirm that Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is strongly protective against COVID-19 — offering the world’s first detailed look at the evidence behind the shots.

The Food and Drug Administration posts its analysis online even as across the Atlantic, Britain begins vaccinating its oldest citizens with the Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

But the US judges experimental vaccines in a unique way: On Thursday, the FDA will convene what’s essentially a science court that will debate — in public and live-streamed — just how strong the data backing the shots really is.

A panel of independent scientists will pick apart the FDA’s first-pass review before recommending whether the vaccine appears safe and effective enough for millions of Americans. The FDA, which typically follows the committee’s advice, is expected to issue a decision in the days following the review. If given the green light, the first recipients would be health care workers and nursing home residents according to plans laid out by each state.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech previously reported the shots appear 95% effective at preventing mild to severe COVID-19 disease in a large, ongoing study. That’s based on the first 170 infections detected. Only eight of the infections were among volunteers given the real vaccine while the rest had received a dummy shot.

— AP

Long prison terms sought for Charlie Hebdo, kosher market attack suspects

PARIS — Prosecutors seeks stiff sentences from five years to life in jail for 14 suspected accomplices of the Islamist gunmen who murdered cartoonists and killed hostages at a Jewish supermarket in Paris in 2015.

Sixteen people were killed in the terror attack at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and during a hostage-taking three days later.

One of the three assailants, all of whom were killed by police in shootouts, also shot dead a policewoman.

Those on trial since September are accused of providing varying degrees of logistical support to Charlie Hebdo killers Cherif and Said Kouachi and supermarket hostage-taker Amedy Coulibaly. They deny the charges.

Three of the fourteen suspects, who range in age from 29 to 68 and include Coulibaly’s girlfriend Hayat Boumeddiene, are being tried in absentia.

Boumeddiene fled to Syria shortly after the attacks. Her whereabouts is not known.

Prosecutors seek a life term for Ali Riza Polat, a 35-year-old French-Turkish national, presented during the trial as Coulibaly’s “right-hand man” accused of helping him and the Kouachi brothers secure weapons.

Polat admitted to the court he had taken part in various “scams” but denied any knowledge of what Coulibaly, who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, and his accomplices were planning.

Polat’s co-accused, including two men who spent time in jail alongside Coulibaly, also denied any hand in the attacks and rejected allegations of being radicalised.

The killing of the cartoonists caused deep shock in secular France, which has a tradition of anti-clerical satire.

The attacks marked the start of a long series of terror assaults in France, many of them carried out by young French devotees of Islamic State.


Deputy health chief says doesn’t believe nighttime curfew will curb infections

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells Channel 12 news that he doesn’t believe a three-week nightly curfew set to begin tomorrow will not help curb rising COVID-19 infections.

Kisch says the Health Ministry recommends shuttering everything except schools and businesses that don’t receive in-person customers.

Despite health officials questioning the efficacy of curfews, Kisch said last week there’s a “logic” to such a measure over Hanukkah.

His comments came ahead of a cabinet meeting this evening, during which ministers are expected to approve the curfew after it received initial backing from the coronavirus cabinet last night.

UAE royal who bought stake in Jerusalem soccer team says ‘door open’ to Arab players

The Emirati businessman who has bought a stake in the controversial Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem says “the door is open” to adding Arab players to its roster.

Beitar has gained notoriety for a small number of hardcore fans known for shouting racist epithets. It is the only major Israeli club never to have had an Arab player.

Asked about his plans for the team, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, tells a news conference that “the door is open” to all players, regardless of of their religion or background. He says he wants to set an example that Jews and Muslims can work together.

The team announced yesterday that Al Nahyan had bought a 50% stake in the club and pledged to invest some $90 million in the coming decade.

— AP

Coronavirus case count in Europe passes 20 million

PARIS — Health officials have recorded more than 20 million cases of the coronavirus across Europe, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.

The 52 countries in the region carry the heaviest caseload for the disease, which arrived on the continent at the beginning of the year.

Europe has recorded nearly 40 percent of the new cases detected over the last seven days worldwide, but the rate of infection appears to be stabilizing, with a two percent drop in cases compared with the previous week.


UK launches COVID vaccine drive, kicking off global immunization push

LONDON — A 90-year-old retired British shop clerk has received the first shot in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program, signaling the start of a global immunization effort intended to offer a route out of a pandemic that has killed 1.5 million.

The UK is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program after regulators authorized the use of the shot developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. United States and European Union authorities may approve the vaccine in the coming days.

Britain’s program is likely to provide lessons for other countries as they prepare for the unprecedented task of vaccinating billions of people. Britain has received 800,000 doses of the vaccine. The first shots will go to people over 80 and nursing home staff.

— AP

Foreign Ministry officials said to check out possible sites for embassy in Bahrain

Foreign Ministry officials this week visited potential properties in Manama for Israel’s embassy in Bahrain, the Ynet news site reports.

Jared, Ivanka buy waterfront estate on elite Miami island

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump may be moving to Florida after US President Donald Trump leaves office, if the couple’s real estate acquisitions are any indication.

Kushner and Trump, the president’s son-in-law and daughter, and close advisers, are purchasing a $31 million waterfront estate on Indian Creek Island, a wealthy Miami locale known as the “Billionaire’s Bunker,” according to the New York Posts’ Page Six.

The 1.8-acre estate previously belonged to singer Julio Iglesias. The island is known for its high security, with a 13-member police force for 29 homes.

The home is a little more than an hour’s drive from Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s home and club. Kushner’s brother Joshua and his wife, Karlie Kloss, also recently purchased a home in Miami.

Kushner and Trump currently live in Washington, DC and own an apartment in their old home of New York City. But since Trump’s election loss last month, they’ve made real estate moves elsewhere. In late November, the couple expanded their home on the grounds of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

The couple also recently withdrew their children from the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School in Washington, DC, after parents complained that they were violating COVID-19 protocols. They moved the children to the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Maryland.


Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump walk on the south lawn of the White House in Washington on November 29, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)

To mark 40 years since his murder, Israeli TV airs clip of John Lennon singing in Hebrew

To mark 40 years since John Lennon’s murder, Israel’s Channel 12 news airs audio of the Beatles star singing in Hebrew during a 1969 interview with Akiva Nof, an Israeli journalist, ex-Knesset member, poet and author.

Lennon, who was in Amsterdam at the time holding a “bed-in for peace” with wife Yoko Ono, sings two lines from a song written by Nof, “Oath to Jerusalem,” in the brief audio clip.

Photos, flowers and candles are left at Strawberry Fields in New York’s Central Park to remember John Lennon, December 8, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

“Jerusalem, we have all sworn for eternity, we will not abandon you from here and forever,” Lennon is heard singing.

Nof, recalling the interview, says he was working as an Israel Radio (Voice of Israel) correspondent when he knocked on the door of Lennon’s hotel room and asked for an interview. He said he didn’t think he’d have the courage to do that kind of thing nowadays, but hadn’t at the time quite internalized “the greatness of the moment.”

A member of Lennon’s entourage was shaking his head at the interview request and closing the door in his face when Lennon called out from inside, “Let the Voice of Israel come in,” said Nof.

He and Lennon were then alone in the room — “for 10 minutes, and then another 10 minutes, and we had more than an interview; it was a discussion for half an hour,” he said. “My impression was that Lennon simply wanted to talk.”

Beatle John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, hold a bed-in for peace in room 902, the presidential suite at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam on March 25, 1969. (AP Photo)

At one point, said Nof, “I asked him if he knew any Israeli song, and he replied, ‘Only Hava Nagila, ha-ha-ha.’

“So I asked him if he would let me teach him two lines of a song of mine that at the time was being sung by the Israeli army’s rabbinical choir. He said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.'”

Akiva Nof (Evgalenovich / Wikipedia)

Nof — who had headed the youth leadership of the Herut party, a forerunner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, and who later served three terms as an MK — continued: “I wrote out the words for him in Latin letters, taught him the tune in a flash, and he sang. And what did he sing? ‘Jerusalem, we have all sworn for eternity, we will not abandon you from here and forever.'”

Nof said Lennon also told him he was “looking forward to being an old person.” When he was murdered, said Nof, “I thought to myself that ‘you will never be old, but you will be young in our hearts forever’.”

Court extends remand of suspect in attempted arson at Gethsemane church

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extends the remand of a 49-year-old Jewish man suspected of trying to start a fire at a church next to the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.

Prosecutors are expected to indict the suspect in the coming days and ask that he remain in custody until the end of the legal proceedings.

The suspect’s lawyer says his client suffers from mental problems, according to the Walla news site.

A priest checks the damage after a man poured out flammable liquid inside the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane, in East Jerusalem, on December 4, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

UAE says it supports Saudi efforts to resolve Qatar dispute

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE says it supports Saudi efforts to end a three-year Gulf dispute, Abu Dhabi’s first reaction to recent statements suggesting the rift between four countries and Qatar could soon ease.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told AFP last week that the kingdom and its allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt were “on board” to resolve the diplomatic crisis.

The Saudi-led alliance imposed an economic embargo on Qatar in June 2017 but an agreement to ease it is expected soon.

The UAE “supports Saudi Arabia’s benevolent efforts on behalf of the four countries,” tweets Anwar Gargash, the Emirates’ minister of state for foreign affairs.

“It looks forward to a successful Gulf summit,” he adds, referring to a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council regional bloc expected later this month.

The GCC comprises six member states — the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

Gargash also says his country appreciates efforts by Kuwait and the United States, countries which have both played mediation roles.

Analysts had said any breakthrough would likely only cover ties between Riyadh and Doha, excluding the UAE, the most vocal critic of Qatar since the crisis began.

But today’s statement will raise hopes that the Emirates could be included too.

Cairo also comments today on the Gulf crisis, saying it appreciates Kuwait’s efforts to end the dispute.

“We hope that these commendable efforts will result in a comprehensive solution that addresses all causes of the crisis and guarantees strict and serious commitment to what will be agreed upon,” Egypt’s foreign ministry says in a statement.

Saudi Arabia led its allies to cut ties with Qatar because it viewed Doha as being too close to Iran and accused it of funding radical Islamist movements. Qatar has always staunchly denied those allegations.


Bavaria won’t remove anti-Jewish sculptures from churches

BERLIN — Authorities, churches and Jewish communities in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria have agreed that anti-Semitic statues and carvings dating back to the Middle Ages shouldn’t be removed from churches, an official says.

The Bavarian government’s point man against anti-Semitism, Ludwig Spaenle, says that relics such as the “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculptures that still adorn some churches should be explained “visibly and easily recognizably” where they stand, the news agency dpa reports.

Bavaria’s association of Jewish communities agreed on the approach with representatives of Christian churches and state officials, according to dpa.

There are around a dozen such relics in Bavaria, such as one on the cathedral in Regensburg. Spaenle says those considering the matter had decided unanimously against their removal, and argued that if the statues were removed from their context it would be hard to explain them. They might also lose their function as a warning against anti-Semitism, he says.

In this photo from January 14, 2020, the so-called “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture is displayed on the facade of the Stadtkirche (Town Church) in Wittenberg, Germany. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File )

The Bavarian decision comes as a dispute about a “Jew pig” sculpture elsewhere in Germany makes its way through the court system.

Earlier this year, an appeals court rejected a Jewish man’s bid to force the removal of the 700-year-old relic, which depicts people identifiable as Jews suckling the teats of a sow while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail, from a church in the eastern city of Wittenberg where Martin Luther once preached.

The plaintiff, who argues that the sculpture is “a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people,” has suggested removing the relief from the church and putting it in a nearby museum dedicated to Luther’s life and work. He has taken the case to a federal court.

— AP

Gideon Sa’ar to reportedly leave Likud, form new party

MK Gideon Sa’ar is expected to announce this evening that he’s leaving Likud to set up a new party, according to Hebrew media reports.

Sa’ar unsuccessfully challenged Prime Minister Netanyahu last year for leadership of Likud.

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, February 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Proposed nightly curfew scrapped after encountering legal problems

The Prime Minister’s Office says the government is exploring “alternatives” to a nightly curfew over Hanukkah, after the proposed measure encountered legal difficulties.

A statement from the PMO says a scheduled cabinet meeting this evening will be delayed as a result.

Haredi virus czar says testing rates far lower among ultra-Orthodox

A former general leading official efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic in the Haredi community says ultra-Orthodox Jews are being tested at a far lower rate than the general population.

While an average of 72 out of every 10,000 people among the general public are tested, only 26 out of every 10,000 ultra-Orthodox are, Roni Numa says during a briefing, according to the Walla news site.

Sa’ar aims to join his new party with other political factions

MK Gideon Sa’ar’s new party, which is set to be announced later this evening, aims to join forces with other existing political factions before the next election, sources close to the veteran lawmaker tell The Times of Israel.

“Everything is on the table,” the sources say, stressing that Sa’ar aims to become “a serious political force” and realizes he needs to create a broad right-wing coalition to do so.

— Raoul Wootliff

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton said to be a top candidate to join Gideon Sa’ar’s new party

Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who has been a vocal critic of the government’s COVID-19 response from her perch as chairwoman of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee, is a leading candidate to join the new party MK Gideon Sa’ar is expected to announce, Hebrew media reports say.

Other names being floated in connection to Sa’ar are Derech Eretz MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel.

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has also not ruled out joining forces with Sa’ar, according to Channel 12 news.

Netanyahu loyalist demands Sa’ar resign from Knesset if he bolts Likud

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi says Gideon Sa’ar must resign from the Knesset if he is indeed leaving Likud to form a new party.

“It’s unfortunate that someone who was the flesh and blood of the Likud party decided to turn his back in a time of crisis,” Karhi, an outspoken supporter of Prime Minister Netanyahu, writes on Twitter.

Karhi adds: “The decision to join the ‘just not Bibi’ bloc arouses disgust among the right-wing public and will be reflected at the ballot box.”

US sanctions Iran’s envoy to Yemen, Iranian university

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration escalates steps to rein in Iran’s activities in the Middle East and North Korea’s efforts to evade international sanctions with new penalties against both nations and proxies.

As it winds down its term, the administration announces that it has imposed sanctions on Iran’s envoy to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Hasan Irlu, and Al-Mustafa International University for recruiting fighters for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to foment instability in Yemen and in Syria.

In a separate statement, the Treasury Department says it also is imposing sanctions on six Chinese and Vietnamese companies and four ships for selling and transporting North Korean coal in violation of UN sanctions.

The moves come as the administration seeks to step up pressure on governments it opposes in various parts of the world before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

The penalties freeze any assets the targets may already have in or that enter US jurisdictions, and bar Americans from doing business with them. Several of those identified for the North Korean violations are already subject to US sanctions. The measures may also subject third-country companies and individuals to US sanctions if they are found to be engaging in transactions with them.

— AP

AstraZeneca trial results indicate COVID vaccine is 70% effective

WASHINGTON — New results on a possible COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca suggest it is safe and about 70% effective. Some experts say that shows it is likely to win approval.

Partial results from tests of the vaccine in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa are published today by the medical journal Lancet.

But questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55. That’s a key concern for a vaccine that health officials hope to rely on around the world because of its low cost, availability and ease of use.

Researchers claim the vaccine protected against disease in 62% of those given two full doses and in 90% of those initially given the half dose. However, independent experts have said the second group was too small — 2,741 people — to judge the possible value of that approach and more testing is needed.

— AP

15 officers, soldiers punished over gun theft from IDF armory

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi meted out disciplinary actions against 15 officers and soldiers, including against senior commanders, over the theft of dozens of guns from an armory in northern Israel last month, the military says.

Four officers, including a lieutenant colonel, were dismissed from their positions and a colonel will be barred from promotion for the next four years over the incident, the Israel Defense Forces says.

This is a dramatic move by Kohavi, meant to send a message to the military that such thefts of military weapons and equipment will not be tolerated.

Last month, several dozen weapons were stolen from a base in the IDF Northern Command. Many details of the case, including the precise number of guns, the location and the identities of the suspects, cannot be published due to a court-issued gag order.

Following the theft, Kohavi ordered an internal investigation into the matter — on top of the criminal probe — to determine how the theft took place and what could have prevented it.

“The chief of staff received the findings of the investigatory committee and determined that this was a case of the utmost severity, as seen from the results. Deep lacunae and failures were found,” the military says in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Health Ministry sets December 20 target date for start of COVID vaccine drive

The Health Ministry tells HMOs that December 20 is the target date to begin vaccinating Israelis against COVID-19.

Sa’ar announces he’s leaving Likud: ‘Change in the leadership of the country is essential’

MK Gideon Sa’ar announces he is leaving the Likud party and will challenge Prime Minister Netanyahu for the premiership in the next elections.

“Change in the leadership of the country is essential,” he says in a televised statement.

Sa’ar says he can no longer be part of Likud under Netanyahu and that he is forming a new party.

Senior Shin Bet officials said threatening to quit if Netanyahu aide named next chief

Senior Shin Bet officials are threatening to resign if National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat is appointed the next head of the security agency, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Ben-Shabbat, a confidante of Prime Minister Netanyahu, was formerly a top official in the Shin Bet.

Unnamed officials quoted by Kan say that if Netanyahu taps Ben-Shabbat to take over for current Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman, it would be for personal and not professional reasons and that the national security adviser is not the right man for the job.

Likud lashes out at Sa’ar over decision to leave party

Likud assails MK Gideon Sa’ar over his decision to leave the party and set up his own faction.

The party issues a statement saying Sa’ar decided to leave because of his loss to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Likud leadership race and claiming internal polls show he’d do poorly in primaries.

It also notes his previous vows that he would not leave the party, which this evening he charged has become a “cult of personality” around Netanyahu.

“Sa’ar decided to abandon the right, join [Opposition Leader Yair] Lapid and a long list of politicians who abandoned Likud and then completely crashed,” Likud says.

Lapid hails Sa’ar for leaving Likud to start own party

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid lauds MK Gideon Sa’ar for leaving Likud to form his own party.

“We have different opinions on many issues but Israeli politics needs decent and caring people that don’t submit to rulership or corruption,” Lapid tweets.

Sa’ar’s party to be called New Hope

MK Gideon Sa’ar’s new party will be called Tikva Hadasha, or New Hope.

US hits record-high averages for coronavirus cases, deaths

NEW YORK — Deaths from the coronavirus in the US have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April.

Cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis likely to get worse because of the fallout from gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Nearly every state is reporting surges. A vaccine appears days away from getting approval in the US.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies, says: “The epidemic in the US is punishing. It’s widespread. It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the US — a country with a wonderful, strong health system, amazing technological capacities.”

The coronavirus has caused more than 284,000 confirmed deaths and nearly 15 million confirmed infections in the United States.

— AP

Health officials reportedly refused to sign doc stating curfew would significantly curb infections

The government pulled a proposed nightly curfew after Health Ministry officials refused to sign a medical opinion stating the measure would significantly curb coronavirus infections, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Palestinians in Hebron protest against new virus restrictions

A couple hundred Palestinians are protesting against new coronavirus restrictions in the West Bank city of Hebron.

In response to a stark rise in coronavirus infections, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced on Sunday that four PA governorates — including Hebron — would return to total lockdown on Thursday.

Coalitions of business owners have warned for weeks that they would oppose a return to total lockdown on economic grounds.

Demonstrators may have been emboldened by remarks Hebron mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh made earlier today to a Palestinian radio station opposing the lockdown, saying no one in Hebron had been consulted on the matter.

Abu Sneineh said the lockdown has “enormous and destructive dimensions. It will have social repercussions. It may even open the path to compromising civic peace.”

Demonstrations against government policies are unusual, but not unheard of, in PA-controlled areas.

— Aaron Boxerman

#صور | من الوقفة الإحتجاجية على دوار إبن رشد، وسط مدينة الخليل، التي نظمها التجار ضد قرار الإغلاق.تصوير الصحافي : يسري الجمل#هوانا_سوشال #الاعلام_الجديد #الخليل

Posted by ‎إذاعة وتلفزيون هوانا سوشال – Hawana Social Radio&TV‎ on Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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