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Iran accuses Israel of lying in order to ‘poison’ Vienna nuclear talks

Foreign ministry spokesman tweets that Israel’s ‘existence relies on tension,’ and calls on parties to negotiations to ignore ‘fake news designed to destroy prospects for success’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

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

Two Israelis attacked, car torched after entering downtown Ramallah

Illustrative: Palestinian police check cars in Ramallah as part of enforcing a coronavirus lockdown on January 1, 2021. (WAFA)
Illustrative: Palestinian police check cars in Ramallah as part of enforcing a coronavirus lockdown on January 1, 2021. (WAFA)

Two Israelis are attacked and their car torched after entering downtown Ramallah today.

According to Hebrew and Palestinian media reports, the two Israelis, at least one of whom lives in a West Bank settlement, were set upon by a crowd of locals, and were rescued by Palestinian police, who handed them over to the IDF.

It was not immediately clear why the pair entered Ramallah, and initial reports indicate it may have been in error. According to Army Radio, the two individuals are members of the Breslov Hasidic sect and were lightly wounded.

Air Force chief: Israel is ‘insurance policy’ against Iran getting nuclear bomb

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin speaks at a reception ceremony for the new 'Oron' spy aircraft that was received by the military at the Nevatim air base in southern Israel on April 4, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin speaks at a reception ceremony for the new 'Oron' spy aircraft that was received by the military at the Nevatim air base in southern Israel on April 4, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel Air Force Chief Amikam Norkin says Israel is the ‘insurance policy’ against Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb.

In a rare interview on Channel 13 News, that will be aired in full tomorrow, Norkin is evasive when asked about the Air Force’s capabilities and Iran’s immediate threat.

“We’re the insurance policy; we make mistakes; we’re improving,” says Norkin. Asked if that insurance policy has to be exercised, he adds: “We’ll do whatever is required.”

Norkin does not provide an answer when asked if Israel’s Air Force can fully neutralize the threat of a nuclear Iran.

First US case of COVID-19 Omicron variant identified in California

Travelers enter a security checkpoint at Logan International Airport, in Boston, November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Travelers enter a security checkpoint at Logan International Airport, in Boston, November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A person in California is the first in the US to have an identified case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the White House announces.

The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa where the variant was first identified and had been widespread. Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations.

“This is the first case of COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant detected in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci says at the White House. He says the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious than previous strains, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine. Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, says more will be known about the Omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test lab samples of the virus.

Israel Judo Association revokes job offer from arrested French coach

Alain Schmitt, from France, celebrates his victory over Uuganbaatar Otgonbaatar, from Mongolia, after their men's - 81 kg fight at the World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Schmitt won the bronze. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Alain Schmitt, from France, celebrates his victory over Uuganbaatar Otgonbaatar, from Mongolia, after their men's - 81 kg fight at the World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Schmitt won the bronze. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

The Israel Judo Association has suspended all contact with French judo coach Alain Schmitt after he was arrested on accusations of domestic violence, a spokesman for the Association tells AFP.

“We have suspended all contact with him,” Gil Levanony, a spokesman for the Israel Judo Association tells AFP.

Schmitt was arrested over the weekend on allegations of punching his girlfriend, fellow French judoka Margaux Pinot. He was released earlier today after a court hearing.

His arrest came just hours before he was slated to leave for Israel and take over as head coach of the Israeli national women’s judoka team.

The Israeli Judo Association announced his hire last month, with president Moshe Ponti calling him an “excellent coach who will contribute to the national team.”

Pinot posted an image of her battered face on social media earlier today, railing against the court’s decision to release him and alleging that he punched her, strangled her and smashed her head against the floor, breaking her nose, before she managed to escape.

Lebanon declares a curfew for unvaccinated citizens

Protesters gather in front of the 'October 17 torch' near the devastated port of Beirut, during a rally to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of a nationwide anti-government protest movement, on October 17, 2021. (Anwar Amro/AFP)
Protesters gather in front of the 'October 17 torch' near the devastated port of Beirut, during a rally to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of a nationwide anti-government protest movement, on October 17, 2021. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Lebanon declares a nighttime curfew for its unvaccinated ahead of the holiday season. Its health minister says it is one of the country’s measures to stem a recent rise in coronavirus infections and a precaution against the new variant.

Lebanon has not recorded any infections with Omicron, but the small country enduring a severe financial crisis is concerned its health care system won’t be handle a new peak of infections.

Lebanese Health Minister Firass Abiad says the COVID committee wants to avoid imposing a full lockdown and hopes to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

The new measures make it obligatory for public servants, security, military, health, education and tourism sectors workers to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 10 or get a PCR test at their own expense twice a week. Otherwise, they risk losing their jobs, says Abiad.

Lebanon has witnessed a 34% increase in recorded infections in the past week, with an average of over 1,000 infections daily. A country of nearly 6 million, Lebanon has documented around 670,000 infections and nearly 9,000 deaths since 2020.

Health Ministry clarifies: Only 2 Israelis have tested positive for Omicron variant

A medical worker tests an Israeli woman for COVID-19 in Rome, Italy, on November 11, 2021. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)
A medical worker tests an Israeli woman for COVID-19 in Rome, Italy, on November 11, 2021. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry says that only two Israelis have tested positive for the Omicron COVID variant, contrary to reports that four people — including two doctors — were found to have the strain.

According to the ministry, there are 17 more individuals who have tested positive for COVID and have been exposed to the variant who could potentially be carrying it, but test results have yet to confirm. Just three of them have been vaccinated with all three Pfizer doses, and 10 of them were recently abroad.

The two positive Omicron cases, says the ministry, are a traveler vaccinated by the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine who arrived from Malawi and a traveler who has received three Pfizer doses who was in South Africa.

Fourth student dies from Michigan high school shooting

A police road block restricts access to Oxford High School following a shooting in Oxford, Michigan, November 30, 2021. (Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images/AFP)
A police road block restricts access to Oxford High School following a shooting in Oxford, Michigan, November 30, 2021. (Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images/AFP)

A fourth student, a 17-year-old boy, dies from wounds he suffered when a sophomore opened fire at a Michigan high school a day earlier, say authorities.

The other dead include a 16-year-old boy who died in a deputy’s patrol car on the way to a hospital. Seven people were wounded, some critically, including a 14-year-old girl who was placed on a ventilator after surgery.

Investigators are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting yesterday at Oxford High School, located in a community of about 22,000 people roughly 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Detroit, says Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard.

“The person that’s got the most insight and the motive is not talking,” he said at a news conference late last night.

IDF generals visit US CENTCOM headquarters in Florida

Senior Israel Defense Forces officers (in white) meet with top officials in the US military's Central Command in Tampa, Florida, on December 1, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Senior Israel Defense Forces officers (in white) meet with top officials in the US military's Central Command in Tampa, Florida, on December 1, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Two top Israel Defense Forces generals visit the United States Central Command’s headquarters in Florida to meet their American counterparts in both a signing of deepening ties between the two militaries as well as a tacit threat to Iran.

The head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Oded Basyuk, and the head of the Iran-focused Strategy and Third-Ring Directorate, Maj. Gen. Tal Kelman, both traveled to Tampa, Florida this week, along with Israel’s defense attaché in the US, Maj. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, and the head of the IDF’s international relations divisions, Brig. Gen. Effie Defrin.

The meeting comes amid rising tensions between Iran and the US and Israel, as long-awaited nuclear talks resumed this week in Vienna.

“The commanders discussed operational cooperation in the region, discussed shared challenges facing the two militaries and deepened their operational preparedness and strategic discussions,” the IDF says in a statement.

Basyuk and Kelman are scheduled to hold a number of other meetings in the US in the coming days.

Iranian forces, Taliban reportedly exchange fire across border

lllustrative: A group of Iranian border guards march at the eastern border of Iran shared with Pakistan and Afghanistan near Zabol, Sistan and Baluchestan Province, Iran, on July 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
lllustrative: A group of Iranian border guards march at the eastern border of Iran shared with Pakistan and Afghanistan near Zabol, Sistan and Baluchestan Province, Iran, on July 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

An exchange of fire erupts between Iranian forces and Afghanistan’s Taliban at Iran’s eastern border, according to local media reports.

“A clash erupted in the afternoon between Iranian border guards and the Taliban following a misunderstanding at the border near the [Afghan] province of Nimroz,” says Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

Iran, which shares a 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Afghanistan, does not recognize the Taliban government formed after the insurgents seized the capital Kabul in August.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says a “border dispute between residents” of the area triggered the incident, without referring to the Taliban.

“The situation has been resolved. Shooting stopped after contact between border guards of the two countries,” he says in a statement.

Tasnim reports that “Iranian farmers passed beyond the protective walls erected within Iran, and the Taliban reacted by deeming that their border had been breached.” The Taliban opened fire and Iranian forces responded, it says.

Bennett declares Special Police Unit as national counterterrorism unit

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the Yamam police unit on December 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the Yamam police unit on December 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declares the Israel Police’s Special Police Unit the national counterterrorism unit, an official designation that comes with both additional responsibilities and funding.

“The unit will be allocated NIS 10 million from the Prime Minister’s Office for 2022 to strengthen the unit, expand the network of troops, enlarge its manpower and upgrade its operational fitness, with an emphasis on weaponry and training facilities,” the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement about the decision.

With this designation, the Special Police Unit, often referred by its Hebrew acronym Yamam, will be made officially responsible for the country’s counterterrorism operations, for things like hostage situations and dangerous arrest raids.

“Formalizing the status of the Yamam as the national counterterrorism unit is an important force multiplier that will in many ways design the future of the unit for years to come,” Bennett says.

Iran accuses Israel of working to ‘poison’ nuclear talks in Vienna

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran accuses Israel of “trumpeting lies to poison” ongoing talks in Vienna between Tehran and world powers over its nuclear program.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweets that Israel is fomenting tension during the recently renewed negotiations.

“Israeli regime whose existence relies on tension is at it again, trumpeting lies to poison Vienna talks,” tweets Khatibzadeh. “All parties in the room now face a test of their independence & political will to carry out the job — irrespective of the fake news designed to destroy prospects for success.”

Khatibzadeh did not elaborate which statements he was referring to. In a meeting in Paris yesterday with French President Emanuel Macron, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that Iran is merely buying time at the talks in order to continue making progress in its nuclear program, and to gain relief from crippling economic sanctions.

And Defense Minister Benny Gantz said earlier this week that Israeli defense officials are sharing intelligence with allies “indicating Iran is continuing to rush toward a nuclear” program ahead of the resumption of the nuclear talks. He called on world powers to exact a “price” from Iran for its continued uranium enrichment in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

17 national-religious rabbis call for protests against government

Rabbi Chaim Drukman attends the campaign launch of the right-wing Yamina party, ahead of the Israeli general elections, February 12, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Rabbi Chaim Drukman attends the campaign launch of the right-wing Yamina party, ahead of the Israeli general elections, February 12, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Seventeen prominent rabbis affiliated with the national-religious movement issue a call to protest the current government over its policies on religion and state.

In a letter, the rabbis decry planned reforms in kashrut and conversion and at the Western Wall. “We returned to Eretz Israel because we want a Jewish state and not a state of all its citizens,” reads the statement. “Now the government is promoting a series of laws that will endanger the essence of the state and change its identity.”

The rabbinic figures “call on the public to unite and protest against the attempt to make the state a state of all its citizens.”

Signatories include Rabbi Chaim Druckman — who was once closely affiliated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — as well as rabbis Dov Lior, Eliezer Waldman and Shmuel Eliyahu.

US warns Russia of ‘high-impact’ sanctions if it invades Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with Nigerian Vice President at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 18, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with Nigerian Vice President at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 18, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that Washington has seen “evidence” Russia could be planning an invasion of Ukraine, threatening Moscow with painful economic sanctions if it attacks.

Blinken accuses Moscow of massing “tens of thousands of additional combat forces” near Ukraine’s border as he gears up for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Stockholm over the crisis.

“We’re deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine, plans include efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within as well as large scale military operations,” Blinken says after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Latvia’s capital Riga.

“Now, we don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know that he’s putting in place the capacity to do so on short order, should he so decide,” he says.

Blinken insists that “diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this potential crisis,” but warns that there will be “far-reaching and long-lasting consequences” for Moscow if it pushed ahead with any aggression.

“We made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.”

Man arrested after breaching security at UK Parliament

Police officers detain a man after he entered the grounds of the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/David Cliff)
Police officers detain a man after he entered the grounds of the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/David Cliff)

A man has been arrested after breaching security at Britain’s Parliament.

Photos show a man being held on the ground inside a gated yard at Parliament while officers stand over him with guns pointed. He was later taken away in a police van.

London’s Metropolitan Police force says the man was detained on suspicion of trespassing at a protected site. It says the incident is not being treated as terrorism.

House of Commons authorities say: “We are aware of an incident on the parliamentary estate which is being attended by police and security staff.”

The Houses of Parliament are patrolled by armed police, and security was increased after an officer guarding a gate was stabbed to death by an Islamic State-inspired attacker in March 2017. The attacker was shot dead.

IAEA says it will step up inspections at Iran’s Fordow uranium plant

A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordow nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)
A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordow nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)

The International Atomic Energy Agency says that it will step up the frequency of its inspections of the Fordow plant in Iran as Tehran increases its uranium enrichment there.

“The Agency has decided and Iran has agreed to increase the frequency of verification activities at FFEP and will continue consultations with Iran on practical arrangements to facilitate implementation of these activities,” the IAEA says in a report seen by Reuters.

The IAEA says that Iran has begun enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at Fordow facility, amid recently renewed talks in Vienna between Tehran and world powers over its nuclear program.

In a statement, the oversight agency says that Iran is using 166 IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow to enrich 5% uranium to up to 20%.

Iran readies state budget that assumes sanctions will remain in place

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (bottom) speaks before parliament to defend his cabinet selection, in the capital Tehran, on August 21, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (bottom) speaks before parliament to defend his cabinet selection, in the capital Tehran, on August 21, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran has proposed a draft budget for its next fiscal year with the assumption that sanctions imposed in 2018 will still be in place, says its planning and budget organization.

A 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers granted the Islamic Republic sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program. But the US unilaterally pulled out in 2018 and began reimposing measures, prompting Iran to begin rolling back its nuclear commitments in retaliation.

The draft budget for the Iranian fiscal year starting March 21, 2022, “has been balanced assuming the continuation of sanctions,” says Massud Mirkazemi, head of the budgetary body.

The budget will not be tied to the results of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program which resumed in Vienna this week, he says. The draft budget will be presented to parliament on December 6.

Herzog meets with Reform, Conservative groups to discuss Western Wall

President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements at his office in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (GPO)
President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements at his office in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (GPO)

President Isaac Herzog meets with representatives of Reform and Conservative groups as well as the Women of the Wall to discuss the future of the egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall.

According to the President’s Office, Herzog “heard the opinions and suggestions of the different movements, and reiterated that he strives to calm the tensions in order to prevent senseless hatred” at the holy site.

The president also “condemns all manifestations of physical and verbal violence,” and says that the Western Wall “is a holy site to which the whole Jewish People look to, in Israel and around the world, and that there is a need for responsibility, restraint and efforts to find ways for all parts of our nation, in Israel and the Diaspora, to move forward peacefully.”

Labor MK Gilad Kariv, the former head of Israel’s Reform Movement, says that he is “looking forward to implementing the Western Wall plan, which will allow every Jew in Israel and in the Diaspora to pray at the site.”

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal to create an egalitarian prayer complex at the Western Wall in 2016 after years of negotiations, but halted the plan a year later after pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.

Kariv says that the groups “will not fall captive to Netanyahu” and will move forward with the plan.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has not publicly endorsed the deal, but members of his government have indicated that a compromise is in the works.

Kariv and Blue and White MK Alon Tal both attend the meeting along with other officials.

US plans tougher testing, quarantine requirements for travelers

Travelers enter a security checkpoint at Logan International Airport, in Boston, November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Travelers enter a security checkpoint at Logan International Airport, in Boston, November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The United States will soon require international travelers entering the country to take a COVID test one day prior to departure, regardless of vaccination status, an official says.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the measure will be announced once the rule is finalized. President Joe Biden is set to talk about America’s winter plans for COVID tomorrow and might announce the new requirements then.

Currently, vaccinated travelers to the US require a test three days prior to departure. Unvaccinated Americans or permanent residents need a test within one day, while unvaccinated non-citizens may not enter by air, with few exceptions.

The agency is also evaluating “considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said yesterday.

Citing three federal officials, the Washington Post reports that the government is weighing a proposal to require all travelers get retested within three to five days of arrival, which is currently only a recommendation.

More controversially, they are also debating a proposal to oblige travelers, including US citizens, to self-quarantine for seven days even if their test results are negative.

PM’s wife heading overseas for vacation despite husband’s travel warning

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his wife Gilat and their four children at the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Naftali Bennett/Instagram)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his wife Gilat and their four children at the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Naftali Bennett/Instagram)

Gilat Bennett, the wife of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is heading overseas for a vacation with her children despite her husband’s warning against travel.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the family had intended to visit a different location, but switched plans after that country was marked as a “red country” and barred for travel for Israelis.

However, says the PMO, “after the COVID cabinet decision to leave the skies open for the travel of Israelis,” the family will be heading abroad and “observing all guidelines and rules” related to COVID. The PMO did not say where the family will be traveling.

Most children in Israel are on vacation this week for Hanukkah. The prime minister said several days ago that he does not recommending flying abroad for unnecessary travel, due to fears over the new Omicron COVID variant.

Holocaust denial content still found on Facebook despite ban, says ADL

In this illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on October 28, 2021, a person watches on a smartphone as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveils the META logo. (Chris DELMAS / AFP)
In this illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on October 28, 2021, a person watches on a smartphone as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveils the META logo. (Chris DELMAS / AFP)

The Anti-Defamation League says that, despite a ban, Holocaust denial content can still be found across groups and posts on Facebook.

According to the organization, “cracks in enforcement” mean that such posts are still found on the social media platform a year after the ban was instituted.

“One year since they first implemented their policy, Facebook has taken some positive steps to address the proliferation of Holocaust denial, but that doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away,” says ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “There’s still a lot of Holocaust denial on Facebook. We urge the platform to take additional steps to address these cracks in enforcement as well as to ensure that the ban is more consistently applied across the platform.”

30,000 in UK without power for fifth night after major storm

A walker crosses a bridge in snowy conditions in Brun Valley Forest Park in Burnley, north-west England on November 28, 2021, as the north of England recovers from the after effects of Storm Arwen. (Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)
A walker crosses a bridge in snowy conditions in Brun Valley Forest Park in Burnley, north-west England on November 28, 2021, as the north of England recovers from the after effects of Storm Arwen. (Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)

Some 30,000 people in the north of England and in Scotland are still without electricity close to a week after a storm brought snow, ice and the most severe disruption to infrastructure in years, say British officials.

Storm Arwen delivered wind gusts of almost 100 miles per hour to northern and western parts of the UK on Friday and over the weekend. The weather disrupted transportation and caused residential power outages, especially in rural and hard-to-reach areas. Officials have said three people died in storm-related incidents.

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng tells Parliament that while almost 1 million people, or about 95% of those affected, have had their power restored, some 30,000 remain without electricity.

Kwarteng says the country needs to be prepared for more extreme weather due to climate change. He says officials will look at lessons from the storm and how to be more resilient in the future.

State comptroller criticizes government use of Shin Bet to track COVID patients

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman attends a press conference in Jerusalem announcing an investigation into the Mount Meron tragedy on May 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman attends a press conference in Jerusalem announcing an investigation into the Mount Meron tragedy on May 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman criticizes the government approval of Shin Bet tracking to identify and locate people who could be infected with the Omicron COVID variant.

“It’s very important to me that even in a time of a pandemic, Israel and all countries around the world protect privacy rights and act carefully, appropriately and quickly,” he says at a conference. Englman adds that he published a report a year ago which focused on “the shortcomings regarding the efficacy of such tracking.”

The state comptroller says there were multiple instances where the tracking was incorrect “and many people were sent into quarantine unnecessarily.”

Bennett visits official PM’s residence for first time since taking office

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the official Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the official Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pays a visit to the official prime ministerial residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem for the first time since taking office.

The residence has been undergoing renovations and security upgrades since former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved out in July after living there for 12 years. The work is expected to continue for some time.

Bennett, who has young children in school, has remained at home in his residence in Ra’anana, to the consternation of his neighbors.

World War II-era bomb explodes in Munich, wounding three

Firefighters, police officers and railway employees stand on a railway site in Munich, Germany, December 1, 2021. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP)
Firefighters, police officers and railway employees stand on a railway site in Munich, Germany, December 1, 2021. (Sven Hoppe/dpa via AP)

A World War II bomb explodes at a construction site next to a busy railway line in Munich, injuring three people, one of them seriously, say German police.

A column of smoke can be seen rising from the site near the Donnersbergerbruecke station. The site is located on the approach to Munich’s central station, which is a bit over a kilometer (about a half-mile) to the east. Trains to and from that station, one of Germany’s busiest, have been suspended.

Unexploded bombs are still found frequently in Germany, even 76 years after the end of the war, and often during work on construction sites. They are usually defused or disposed of in controlled explosions, a process that sometimes entails large-scale evacuations as a precaution.

Moroccan national airline delaying launch of flights to Tel Aviv

A Royal Air Maroc airplane approaching for landing at Lisbon airport flies past the Monument to the Heroes of the Peninsular War, in the foreground, on August 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
A Royal Air Maroc airplane approaching for landing at Lisbon airport flies past the Monument to the Heroes of the Peninsular War, in the foreground, on August 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan national airline, says it is delaying the launch of its inaugural direct flights between Casablanca and Tel Aviv.

Last month the airline said it would launch the flights starting December 12, two days after the first anniversary of Morocco’s resumption of relations with Israel. The airline said it would offer three flights per week, later moving to five.

But with the Omicron COVID variant wreaking havoc on travel — and both Morocco and Israeli shutting their borders to foreigners — the airline says it will push off the launch to a future date.

EU to begin vaccinating children 5-11 in a few weeks

Children aged 5-11 receive their first first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Children aged 5-11 receive their first first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The EU’s main COVID vaccine provider, BioNTech-Pfizer, will have shots available for children in the bloc in two weeks’ time, says European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

Leyen says she spoke with the German-US joint venture about the issue yesterday, and it said it was “able to accelerate — in other words children’s vaccines will be available as of December 13.”

Israel begin vaccinating children under age 12 last week, following in the footsteps of the United States.

Blinken to meet Russian, Ukrainian counterparts amid tensions

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the US State Department in Washington, Nov. 22, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the US State Department in Washington, Nov. 22, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet separately with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts tomorrow on the margins of a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, at a time of tension over Russian military deployments on Ukraine’s borders.

A State Department official confirms the meetings, which will happen on the sidelines of a minister-level meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Blinken is to meet first with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and later with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Tensions over the Russian troop build-up along the border of Ukraine, whose government is seeking to align with NATO and the West, have been a focus of Blinken’s weeklong Europe trip.

Saudis detect first case of new Omicron COVID variant

Pilgrims arrive to attend the Hajj season in the holy Saudi city of Meccca, on July 17, 2021. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)
Pilgrims arrive to attend the Hajj season in the holy Saudi city of Meccca, on July 17, 2021. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

Saudi Arabia says it has detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency says the case came from a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country.”

The report says the infected individual and his close contacts have been quarantined.

The case marks the first-known instance of Omicron being detected among Gulf Arab nations. Much remains unknown about the new variant, which has been identified in more than 20 countries, including whether it is more contagious, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said more would be known about the omicron strain in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test lab samples of the virus.

Senior health official says she opposes COVID vaccine mandate

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry, addresses a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on November 28, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry, addresses a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on November 28, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)

Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health services, says she does not favor a vaccine mandate for all Israelis.

“We in the Health Ministry must do all we can to make the vaccines accessible, to explain, to show the statistics,” she tells Ynet. “I don’t think we need to require vaccines, but I imagine that over time we will have to weigh different directions. I don’t think we need to get to that situation.”

Alroy-Preis also says that Israel is not currently in an “emergency situation” over the COVID Omicron variant.

“I don’t think we’re in an emergency situation. We’re in a worrying situation and we’re taking a series of actions as quickly as possible so that we don’t reach an emergency situation.”

Earlier today, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said that Israel should weigh introducing a national vaccine mandate compelling all citizens to get themselves inoculated against the coronavirus, a notion that mirrors legislation under consideration in several European countries.

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