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France, Spain, UAE added to COVID ‘red’ list of banned countries

Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden also joining list of nations Israelis are forbidden from entering, which already includes the UK and South Africa

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

Arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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

Government extends tourist entry ban for additional week

Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Government ministers vote to extend the ban on foreigners entering Israel for an additional week, through at least December 29.

The ban, which first came into effect at the end of November, was originally put in place for two weeks, but is now being extended for the second time, as fears of the COVID Omicron variant take hold across the world.

First-degree family members of those holding weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs or giving birth can apply for a special exemption to the blanket ban on non-Israelis entering, although not all applications are granted. Immigrants to Israel have been particularly outraged at the exceptions made for other groups and individuals, including those linked to the recent Miss Universe pageant, visiting diplomats and officials — and now Birthright groups.

Israel was largely shut to tourism from March 2020 through November 1, 2021, but the reopening proved to be short-lived.

Lebanon to deport outlawed Bahrain opposition party members

In this Jan. 3, 2015 file photo, a masked Bahraini anti-government protester holds a picture of jailed Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Salman, the head of the opposition al-Wefaq political association, as riot police fire tear gas canisters during clashes in Bilad Al Qadeem, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)
In this Jan. 3, 2015 file photo, a masked Bahraini anti-government protester holds a picture of jailed Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Salman, the head of the opposition al-Wefaq political association, as riot police fire tear gas canisters during clashes in Bilad Al Qadeem, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

Lebanon’s interior minister orders the deportation of members of Bahrain’s outlawed Shi’ite opposition party after they criticized from Beirut their country’s human rights record.

The deportation order is likely another attempt to ease an unprecedented diplomatic rift between Lebanon and several Gulf Arab nations, including Bahrain, a Sunni monarchy with a majority Shi’ite population. Earlier this month, Lebanon’s information minister, who is at the heart of the weeks-long crisis, resigned in a bid to ease the rift.

Bahrain in 2016 suspended Al-Wefaq, the island nation’s largest opposition political party, as part of its crackdown on dissent that erupted following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in the region. The party, many of its members now living in exile, last week held a press conference in Beirut to launch its annual human rights report.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many Al-Wefaq members will be impacted by the decision.

During the conference, organized at a Beirut hotel, Al-Wefaq said it has documented more than 20,000 detainees in Bahrain since 2011, including hundreds of unlawful detentions and enforced disappearances in just 2019 and 2020.

Bahrain in response called on Lebanon to bar such events, saying they “are not harmonious with brotherly relations.”

Turkey appoints envoy to arch-foe Armenia to work on normalizing ties

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a media conference at the G20 summit in Rome,, October 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a media conference at the G20 summit in Rome,, October 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Turkey names a former ambassador as special envoy to work on the normalization of ties with arch-foe Armenia.

Armenia and Turkey have never established formal diplomatic ties and their shared border has been closed since the 1990s. The two countries’ relations are particularly tense over World War I-era mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which Yerevan says amount to genocide.

“With the authorization of the president, our former Washington ambassador Serdar Kilic will be officially appointed as special envoy,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says in televised comments.

Kilic also previously served as Ankara’s envoy to Japan and Lebanon.

Turkish and Armenian companies had applied for permission for charter flights between Istanbul and Yerevan, he adds.

“God willing there will be a continuation of these [steps],” he tells Turkish reporters.

Dutch judge orders politician to remove tweets comparing unvaccinated to Jews

Dutch right-wing leader Thierry Baudet speaks to reporters at the Dutch Senate in the Hague, on February 5, 2020. (Sem Van Der Wal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
Dutch right-wing leader Thierry Baudet speaks to reporters at the Dutch Senate in the Hague, on February 5, 2020. (Sem Van Der Wal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

A judge orders Dutch right-wing populist lawmaker Thierry Baudet to take down four tweets in which he drew comparisons between coronavirus lockdown measures and the treatment of Jews under the Nazi regime, saying they “instrumentalized” the suffering of Jews.

Two Jewish organizations and a group of Holocaust survivors went to court in Amsterdam to demand the tweets be removed, describing them as “seriously insulting and unnecessarily hurtful to the murdered victims of the Holocaust, survivors and relatives.”

Among the tweets was one that called people who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus “the new Jews, the exclusionists who look the other way are the new Nazis and NSBers.” NSB is the acronym for the National Socialist Movement, the Dutch branch of the Nazi party.

“The comparison you made in the contested posts goes beyond what can be justified in the interests of robust public debate,” the judge hearing the case says.

“By equating in the messages, without any nuance, the situation of unvaccinated citizens with the fate of the Jews in the 1930s and ’40s, you make a comparison, as I said earlier, that is factually wrong and you wrongly use, in other words you instrumentalize, the human suffering of Jews in the Holocaust and the memories of them,” the judge adds.

The court orders Baudet to remove the tweets from his Twitter feed within 48 hours. If he does not, he must pay 25,000 euros ($28,000) each day that they remain online.

In a reaction on Twitter, Baudet calls the judgment “Insane, incomprehensible,” adding: “We are angry and combative. And of course we will appeal.”

South Africa reports daily record of 26,976 COVID infections

Medical scientists prepare to sequence COVID-19 omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, December 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
Medical scientists prepare to sequence COVID-19 omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, December 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

South Africa reports its highest tally of new coronavirus cases in 24 hours since the start of the pandemic, just weeks after announcing the discovery of the Omicron strain.

The tally of 26,976 COVID infections was even higher than the previous record of 26,485 infections on July 3, at the height of the country’s third wave caused by the Delta variant.

Earlier today, the UK announced 78,610 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases, the highest daily total since the pandemic hit the country last year.

The arrival of the Omicron variant has sent cases in the UK spiraling, with the daily total overtaking the previous highest figure of 68,053, which came in January as the Alpha variant spread.

French Consulate reportedly refuses to register marriages of settlers

Hananel Even Hen and Shiran Habush celebrate during their wedding at a public park in the settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, March 15, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Hananel Even Hen and Shiran Habush celebrate during their wedding at a public park in the settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, March 15, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Several Israeli couples who were married in the West Bank and sought to register their marriage with the French Consulate were refused, reports Channel 13 news.

According to the report, multiple couples who were recently wed in Jewish settlements in the West Bank were turned away by the French Consulate in Jerusalem.

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana sent a letter recently to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid requesting that he look into and intervene in the matter, calling the incident a “red line” that cannot be crossed.

The French Consulate tells Channel 13 that it has no such “political policy” in place and that it was looking into the report.

Ra’am chief vows coalition will survive argument over electricity bill

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas and Yoav Segalovitz, deputy public security minister, discuss the Electricity Law during a plenum session in the Knesset on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas and Yoav Segalovitz, deputy public security minister, discuss the Electricity Law during a plenum session in the Knesset on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas says that he believes the government will come to an agreement on the controversial Electricity Law.

“There will not be a change in the Electricity Law, we’re trying now to agree to a final wording of the law,” Abbas tells Channel 12 news. “I believe we’ll close the gaps and bring the law to a vote next week.”

The legislation in question would allow homes built illegally in the Arab sector — and in other areas, including ultra-Orthodox towns — to be connected to the electricity grid. An argument broke out earlier today in which Ra’am MKs accused Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of backing out of agreements to also include Bedouin homes in the legislation.

But Abbas says that the deal is moving forward.

“Not every disagreement in the coalition is a coalition crisis,” he says. “The coalition is working, we didn’t just pass a budget, we also pass dozens of other bills every week.”

Muslim organization fires leader for working with anti-Muslim group

People walk into the headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
People walk into the headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

An Ohio chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization fires its leader for ethical and professional breaches that it says include a years-long secret association with an anti-Muslim group.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations-Ohio says executive and legal director Romin Iqbal was informed of his termination yesterday, following the conclusion of an investigation by an independent forensic expert ordered by its national headquarters. Iqbal had been suspended since last week.

The probe found “conclusive evidence that Iqbal had spent years recording CAIR network meetings and passing information regarding CAIR’s national advocacy work to a known anti-Muslim hate group,” a release says.

During a briefing, spokesperson Whitney Siddiqi identifies the group as the Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steve Emerson.

CAIR-Ohio says that “after being confronted with clear evidence of misconduct,” Iqbal admitted to secretly working for the group. Iqbal declines comment through his attorney, Dave Thomas.

Government to grant aid to COVID-battered tourism industry

Tourists and their guide at the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City in July 2019, months before the coronavirus would shutter Israeli tourism. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Tourists and their guide at the Cardo in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City in July 2019, months before the coronavirus would shutter Israeli tourism. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

The government announces a plan to provide financial support to the tourism industry amid its struggles in the face of the COVID Omicron variant.

The prime minister as well as the finance, tourism and economy ministers agree to a full package of support, which includes up to NIS 30,000 toward training and scholarships for each tourism industry employee who opts to switch to another vocation.

The aid will apply to tour guides, travel agents and others who have been negatively impacted by the ban of foreign entry into Israel.

Financial aid will also be granted to hotels whose incomes have dropped by more than 40% due to the new restrictions. The ministers also say they will fund 25,000 free tours for locals around Israel in order to provide NIS 25 million to local tour guides.

India unveils $10.2b plan to attract semiconductor makers

Illustrative. Computer processors. Conventional computers process information, or bits, each of which can be either a zero or a one, in the binary language of computing. Quantum bits, however, used by quantum computers, can be both a zero and one simultaneously. (Rost-9D; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative. Computer processors. Conventional computers process information, or bits, each of which can be either a zero or a one, in the binary language of computing. Quantum bits, however, used by quantum computers, can be both a zero and one simultaneously. (Rost-9D; iStock by Getty Images)

India announces a $10.2 billion plan to try to attract global chipmakers to set up shop in the country and transform it into a production hub of semiconductors.

The plan unveiled by Information Technology and Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw comes amid a severe shortage of semiconductors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to global shortages of products that need them, including new cars.

India wants to lure countries with economic incentives, including manufacturers with operations in China that might be willing to shift to India because of the ongoing trade disputes between the US and China, Indian officials and business leaders have said.

Vaishnaw tells reporters that incentives will attract companies involved in various parts of the semiconductor manufacturing process. India’s government will provide fiscal support of up to 50% of project costs to eligible display and semiconductor fabricators, Vaishnaw adds.

“Today’s historic decision will boost the development of complete semiconductor ecosystem, ranging from design, fabrication, packaging, and testing,” he says.

Israel to add France, Spain, UAE and other countries to banned ‘red’ list

Arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry announces the addition of multiple new countries to its list of banned “red” nations due to the spread of COVID-19.

France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden will all be added to the list, says the ministry. The decision will take effect next Sunday evening.

Israelis are barred from traveling to countries on the “red list,” and foreigners from those nations may not enter Israel. Israelis who do return from those nations are forced to enter hotel quarantine until their first COVID test comes back negative, but they must remain in home quarantine for seven days, even if they are fully vaccinated with a booster.

The “red” list already includes most of Africa as well as the UK and Denmark.

UK records highest ever daily number of COVID cases

People wait in line at a vaccination center in London on Dec. 13, 2021. (Frank Augstein/AP)
People wait in line at a vaccination center in London on Dec. 13, 2021. (Frank Augstein/AP)

Britain records a further 78,610 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases, the highest daily total since the pandemic hit the country last year.

The arrival of the Omicron variant has sent cases spiraling, with the daily total overtaking the previous highest figure of 68,053, which came in January as the Alpha variant spread.

Erdan brings 12 UN ambassadors on tour of Israel

A delegation of UN ambassadors arrives in Israel for a visit on December 15, 2021. (Courtesy)
A delegation of UN ambassadors arrives in Israel for a visit on December 15, 2021. (Courtesy)

A delegation of 12 ambassadors to the United Nations begin a visit to Israel led by Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan.

The delegation includes ambassadors from Albania, Argentina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Ecuador, Hungary, Nauru, Palau, South Korea, Samoa, Uruguay and Zambia.

“The delegation of ambassadors is a very important opportunity,” says Erdan. “I have set a goal for myself to bring to Israel as many ambassadors of different countries to the UN as possible so they can see Israel with their own eyes and learn about our challenges and contributions to the world.”

Officer who murdered George Floyd pleads guilty to federal rights violation charges

People react after the verdict was read in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Scott Olson/Getty Images via AFP)
People react after the verdict was read in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Scott Olson/Getty Images via AFP)

Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering African-American George Floyd, pleads guilty to federal civil rights violations charges in the crime.

It is the first time that Chauvin, who is appealing his murder conviction in state court, admits guilt for holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes until Floyd died, in a case that sparked nationwide protests against police abuse of Black Americans.

Chauvin pleads guilty to one federal charge of use of excessive force against Floyd, violating his constitutional rights, according to local Minnesota media at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis.

He also pleads guilty to a similar charge against a juvenile in 2017.

Chauvin, who was sentenced in June to 22 and a half years in prison by a state judge for the murder of Floyd, faces a sentence of 20 to 25 years in the federal rights case. That would be served concurrently with the sentence in the murder conviction.

Polish anti-vax rally slammed for Holocaust imagery

People take part in a 'March for Freedom' on March 20, 2021 in Warsaw, to protest against COVID-19 restrictions amid a near-record spike of coronavirus cases. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)
People take part in a 'March for Freedom' on March 20, 2021 in Warsaw, to protest against COVID-19 restrictions amid a near-record spike of coronavirus cases. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

A Polish anti-vaccine rally organized by far-right lawmakers draws criticism for using a slogan referencing the infamous Nazi German sign above the gate to the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In a play on words on the “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes You Free”) sign, protesters held up a banner that said in Polish: “Vaccination Makes You Free.”

Members of the far-right Confederation party were photographed with the banner at their demonstration “against sanitary segregation” late last night.

The slogan triggers sharp criticism from Israel’s charge d’affaires in Warsaw, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon.

“Most of my father’s family was murdered in Auschwitz along with more than a million other victims. This sign is disrespectful to their memory,” she tweets. “I find it unbelievable that such Holocaust distortion can happen 300 kilometers from where the original sign stands,” she adds.

Government walks back demand for vaccine bracelets at malls

People shop at the Givatayim shopping mall on February 21, 2021, after it reopened following a few weeks of lockdown. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
People shop at the Givatayim shopping mall on February 21, 2021, after it reopened following a few weeks of lockdown. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Health Ministry says it will cancel an earlier demand that only shoppers vaccinated against COVID will be given bracelets granting them access to all stores at the entrance to malls.

The original plan was to tighten COVID restrictions in commerce by allowing only those who are fully vaccinated with a booster to enter non-essential shops in malls. Everyone entering malls would be checked, and only those with a “Green Pass” would be handed a bracelet that would allow them to enter all shops, while those without a bracelet would only be granted access to essential stores like supermarkets and pharmacies.

But after an outcry over the plan, the ministry says it is walking back that plan, although it was not clear the alternative.

German court rejects last appeals over neo-Nazi murder spree

Then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays down flowers at the memorial place and freshly planted trees for the victims of the neo-Nazi 'Nationalist Socialist Underground' NSU in Zwickau, eastern Germany, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays down flowers at the memorial place and freshly planted trees for the victims of the neo-Nazi 'Nationalist Socialist Underground' NSU in Zwickau, eastern Germany, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

A German federal court rejects appeals in the case of a neo-Nazi convicted of supporting a group that carried out the country’s biggest killing spree targeting migrants since World War II — concluding legal proceedings in a saga that shocked Germany.

The Federal Court of Justice upholds Andre Eminger’s 2018 conviction and 2½-year sentence for supporting a terrorist organization, the self-styled National Socialist Underground group. It throws out appeals both from the defendant and from prosecutors, who had objected to his acquittal on other charges including accessory to attempted murder.

Eminger was one of five people convicted by a Munich court over their involvement with the group. Prosecutors considered him to be one of the closest contacts the NSU’s three core members had during their time on the run. He rented an apartment and mobile homes used by the NSU to travel around Germany, though the court said it couldn’t be proved he knew of the planned crimes.

In August, the federal court rejected appeals by three other defendants — including Beate Zschaepe, the only known surviving member of the NSU, who is serving a life sentence. She was convicted of 10 counts of murder for her role in the killing of nine men — eight of Turkish origin and one of Greek heritage — and a police officer between 2000 and 2007.

The fifth defendant in the case withdrew his appeal, so Wednesday’s ruling brings the legal proceedings to a close.

Birthright groups reportedly given exemption from Israel’s tourist ban

Arriving travelers walk to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Arriving travelers walk to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Some tourist groups including Taglit-Birthright have been granted special permission to enter Israel despite the current blanket ban on foreign entry, reports Haaretz.

According to the report, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked requested that travel groups considered to be “Jewish tourism” be exempted from the ban, which came into effect on November 29, and is currently in effect through at least December 23 over fears of the Omicron variant.

The Health, Foreign and Interior ministries reportedly met and have agreed to the exemption for such groups, which does not apply to Christian groups looking to celebrate Christmas in Israel.

Such groups, reports Haaretz, will still have to enter quarantine for three days until they have two negative test results in hand before allowed to begin touring the country.

Currently, the only exceptions to the ban allow for first-degree family members of those getting married, having a bar or bat mitzvah or giving birth to apply for special entry — which is still sometimes denied.

Diaspora minister: Western Wall shouldn’t be issue that divides Jews

Jewish men praying for forgivness (Selichot), at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on September 5, 2021, prior to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish men praying for forgivness (Selichot), at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on September 5, 2021, prior to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai says that the argument over the Western Wall should not be an issue that divides Israeli and Diaspora Jews.

“We have enough external enemies and internal disagreements — the Western Wall does not need to be one of them,” Shai says during a meeting of the Knesset Lobby to Strengthen Diaspora Jews.

Shai is commenting on news that the government plans to shelve a compromise deal on egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall — a deal that he backs.

The minister, a member of the Labor party, said yesterday that he will continue to fight for the deal and that the government must honor its coalition agreements.

“The government of Israel will continue to strive for the implementation of the Western Wall compromise,” he said. “As long as [the Labor party] sits in government, we will push for equality for all streams of Judaism.”

France warns Russia of ‘massive consequences’ over Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron, center, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, arrive for a working session at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, Dec. 9, 2019. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron, center, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, arrive for a working session at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, Dec. 9, 2019. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

France warns Russia that it will face grave reprisals from the West if Moscow decides to launch a new attack against Ukraine, as a Russian troop build-up stokes tensions around border regions.

“There would be massive strategic consequences if there was a further attack on Ukraine’s territorial integrity. All this would have a very significant cost for Russia,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tells the French parliament.

Aide in recent contact with defense minister reportedly tests positive for Omicron

Defense Minister Benny Gantz sitting behind a glass partition in the Knesset plenary hall, December 15, 2021. (Noam Moshkowitz/Knesset)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz sitting behind a glass partition in the Knesset plenary hall, December 15, 2021. (Noam Moshkowitz/Knesset)

An aide to Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID, reports Channel 12 news.

Gantz, who recently returned from Miami where he attended a conference, said earlier today that he was in self-imposed quarantine after discovering that an aide who flew with him to the United States this week had tested positive for COVID.

According to a statement from Gantz’s office, the staffer tested negative for the virus in PCR tests both before and after the trip, but came up as positive in a test taken two days later.

Now Channel 12 reports that the aide in question tested positive for the new Omicron variant, which is raising alarms around the world over its suspected high levels of contagion.

Several European countries begin giving COVID shots to under-12s

Children aged 5-11 receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clallit vaccination center in Jerusalem on November 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Children aged 5-11 receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clallit vaccination center in Jerusalem on November 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Greece and a handful of other European Union members begin vaccinating children ages 5-11 against COVID-19 as governments brace for the holiday season and the spread of the Omicron variant.

An Athens children’s hospital administers its first shots to younger children hours after authorities announce Greece’s highest daily death toll of the pandemic at 130. The children are given stickers and the day off school.

More than 30,000 vaccination appointments for under-12s have been booked by Greek parents.

Italy, Spain and Hungary also expand their vaccination programs to younger children.

European Union regulators last month approved a reduced-dose vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech for use in the 5-11 age group. Vaccines for children are voluntary in all European Union countries and require parental approval.

Poland, Portugal, Croatia and Slovenia plan to lower their vaccine eligibility age later in the week.

Opposition bill advances after Mansour Abbas accidentally votes in favor

Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas attends a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas attends a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A bill backed by the opposition passes an initial vote by 60-59 after coalition MK Mansour Abbas accidentally votes in favor of the legislation.

The bill, submitted by Likud MK Orly Levy, calls for solar panels on apartment buildings that are undergoing “Pinui Binui” — a process of demolishing and reconstructing shared homes across Israel.

The coalition opposes the legislation, but it passes a first reading due to Abbas’s error.

Energy minister: We will pause natural gas exploration, focus on renewable energy

Energy Minister Karin Elharrar during a meeting of the Arrangements Committee at the Knesset on June 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Energy Minister Karin Elharrar during a meeting of the Arrangements Committee at the Knesset on June 9, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar announces that “gas can wait” and that she will not accept the recommendations of the former ministry director general, Ehud Adiri, to continue exploring for natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking at the ninth Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Conference in Eilat, Elharrar also announces that the Energy Ministry will be setting up a unit for renewable energy for the first time.

2022 will be the “year of renewable energy,” she pledges.

“In the coming year, we will focus on the future, on green energy, on energy saving, and while we’re doing that, we’ll put to one side the issue of expanding the development of natural gas which, as we know, is a transition fuel,” she says.

“In the coming year, the Energy Ministry will not adopt the conclusions of the natural gas policy review report and will not embark on the fourth stage of granting licenses for natural gas exploration.”

EU official suggests Omicron will be dominant COVID variant by mid-January

Doctors prepare to sequence COVID-19 Omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, on December 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Doctors prepare to sequence COVID-19 Omicron samples at the Ndlovu Research Center in Elandsdoorn, South Africa, on December 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The head of the European Union’s executive branch says that Omicron is expected to be the dominant coronavirus variant in the 27-nation bloc by mid-January, amid concerns that a dramatic rise in infections will leave Europe shrouded in gloom during the holiday season.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says the EU is well prepared to fight Omicron, with 66.6% of the bloc’s population fully vaccinated. Von der Leyen expresses disappointment that the pandemic will again disrupt year-end celebrations but says she is confident the EU has the “strength” and “means” to overcome COVID-19.

“Like many of you, I’m sad that once again this Christmas will be overshadowed by the pandemic,” she says.

The head of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr. Jenny Harries, says Omicron is displaying a staggering growth rate compared to previous variants.

“The difficulty is that the growth of this virus, it has a doubling time which is shortening, i.e., it’s doubling faster, growing faster,” Harries tells a parliamentary committee. “In most regions in the UK, it is now under two days. When it started, we were estimating about four or five.”

Harries says the variant poses “probably the most significant threat we’ve had since the start of the pandemic.”

PA Foreign Ministry praises Israeli minister’s condemnation of settler violence

Settlers chase after Palestinians near the West Bank outpost of Homesh on November 15, 2021. (Yesh Din/Screenshot)
Settlers chase after Palestinians near the West Bank outpost of Homesh on November 15, 2021. (Yesh Din/Screenshot)

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry praises Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev for condemning violence by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.

“This recognition is an initial step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” the Foreign Ministry adds.

Barlev sparked a coalition dustup this week after announcing that he had discussed “settler violence” with a visiting American diplomat. The current government’s right wing accused Barlev of generalizing the actions of a few extremists to an entire community.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett implicitly rebuked Barlev’s remarks yesterday, saying that the actions of a “marginal few” should not be taken to reflect the entire settlement movement.

While no official figures have been released, the Shin Bet has reported a 50% rise in extremist Jewish attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank over the past year. Pro-Palestinian rights groups lament that the assailants are rarely prosecuted, reporting that the vast majority of cases are closed without indictments.

MK comes to Knesset days after birth due to opposition’s refusal to offset vote

Yamina MK Shirly Pinto brings her new baby to the Knesset on December 15, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)
Yamina MK Shirly Pinto brings her new baby to the Knesset on December 15, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

Yamina MK Shirly Pinto arrives at the Knesset to vote six days after she gave birth to her second child.

Pinto says that she was forced to come to the Knesset since the opposition refused to agree to offset her absence by asking an opposition MK to refrain from voting, a longtime practice when members are forced to be absent for personal reasons.

Pinto, the first-ever deaf MK, brought her newborn daughter, Kerem, with her to the Knesset.

British supreme court rejects appeal to allow gender-neutral passports

Illustrative: TV presenter Nick Ross poses with his British (L) and German passports at his home in London on November 5, 2018. (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP)
Illustrative: TV presenter Nick Ross poses with his British (L) and German passports at his home in London on November 5, 2018. (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP)

Five judges on Britain’s Supreme Court reject a legal challenge against the government policy not to allow gender-neutral passports.

Christie Elan-Cane, who does not identify as either male or female, argued that Britain’s passport application process was “inherently discriminatory.”

Individuals only have a choice of “male” or “female” on the application, with no option to put “X” for “unspecified” — an alternative introduced in several other countries.

But the Supreme Court unanimously dismisses the appeal, ruling that a person’s identity could be confirmed using the form and checking it against other official documents. That includes birth, adoption or gender recognition certificates, says judge Robert Reed in the ruling.

The judges say that the lack of a gender-neutral option “does not unjustifiably breach articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Countries including Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malta, Nepal and Pakistan all now issue passports with options other than male and female.

Government advances establishment of ‘Trump Heights’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech before the newly-unveiled sign for the new settlement of 'Ramat Trump,' or 'Trump Heights' in English, named after the US President during an official ceremony in the Golan Heights on June 16, 2019. (Jalaa MAREY/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech before the newly-unveiled sign for the new settlement of 'Ramat Trump,' or 'Trump Heights' in English, named after the US President during an official ceremony in the Golan Heights on June 16, 2019. (Jalaa MAREY/AFP)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked signs off on a key step toward establishing the new community of Trump Heights, which is named in honor of the former US president.

Accepting the recommendation of her ministry’s director-general and the Upper Galilee Geographic Committee, Shaked approves the establishment of a committee that will act as as a municipal authority for the new settlement, located in the Golan Heights.

Among other things, the committee will lay down the territorial boundaries of Trump Heights, which is expected to cover an area of 276 acres.

While a sign declaring the new community was unveiled by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu until 2019, no other advancements were made since then to establish the town.

US Navy announces successful test of laser weapon in Middle East

In this handout infrared photo from the US Marine Corps, the USS Portland fires a laser weapon system at a target floating in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)
In this handout infrared photo from the US Marine Corps, the USS Portland fires a laser weapon system at a target floating in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

The US Navy announces that it tested a laser weapon and destroyed a floating target in the Mideast, a system that could be used to counter bomb-laden drone boats deployed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

The test yesterday saw the USS Portland test-fire its Laser Weapon System Demonstrator at the target in the Gulf of Aden, the body of water separating East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

The Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet described the laser as having “successfully engaged” the target in a statement. Previously, the Portland used the laser to bring down a flying drone in May 2020.

The Gulf of Aden sits along the southern coast of war-torn Yemen, which has been at war since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized its capital, Sanaa, in 2014. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in March 2015 but the stalemate conflict has dragged on for years, becoming the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and killing an estimated 110,000 people.

The war also has bled into the surrounding waterways, like the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb, which connects the sea to the Gulf of Aden. These waterways lead to the Suez Canal and onto the Mediterranean Sea, making them crucial for international shipping and global energy supplies.

Iran said to agree to allow new UN cameras at nuclear site

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)
The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

Iran will allow the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog to reinstall cameras damaged at a site where it has centrifuge parts and manufacturing material, according to semiofficial Iranian news agencies.

The decision will see cameras put back at Karaj, which came under what Iran describes as a sabotage attack in June. Iran since had refused the International Atomic Energy Agency access to replace cameras damaged in the incident. Tehran blamed the Karaj assault on Israel.

The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately respond to queries from The Associated Press regarding the reports by the semiofficial ISNA and Tasnim news agencies. The reports say that Iran will keep all recordings from the cameras, however, part of another ongoing dispute between the agency and Tehran.

The reports come after Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian reportedly said earlier today that Iran had “reached a good agreement” with the IAEA.

In an interview yesterday with the AP, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned that limited access to Karaj hurt international efforts to monitor Iran’s program.

Negotiations continue in Vienna over trying to restore the nuclear deal. However, Iran under hardline President Ebrahim Raisi has taken a maximalist position in negotiations.

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