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Likud, Blue and White deny TV report of breakthrough to avert elections

Channel 13 claims deal ensures Gantz will become PM, Nissenkorn will remain justice minister; Netanyahu’s party has opposed both demands

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a graduation ceremony for new Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base near Beersheba, June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/ Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a graduation ceremony for new Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base near Beersheba, June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/ Pool/AFP)

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

Israel may hand Palestinians COVID-19 vaccines if it has surplus

Israel will consider handing the Palestinian Authority coronavirus vaccines if ends up having a surplus of doses, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tells the Kan public broadcaster.

“Israel is ensuring it has more than 100% of the vaccines for Israel,” Kisch says. “If we see Israel’s needs have been fulfilled and we have more capabilities, we will definitely also consider helping the Palestinian Authority.”

However, he adds, “Israeli citizens will come first.”

The West Bank is going through a severe outbreak, as is the Gaza Strip. The PA is expected to receive some 4 million doses of Russia’s vaccine, but that may not be enough and there are still doubts about that vaccine.

Gaza facing ‘health disaster’ as 41% of COVID-19 tests come back positive

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reports 1,015 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours in the coastal enclave. Forty-one percent of tests come back positive.

Gaza, already under a curfew from 6 p.m. every day, will head into full lockdown on Friday and Saturday before returning to the nighttime restrictions during the workweek. Local reports indicate that the nightly curfew is well-enforced by Hamas police, but there is little social distancing during the day in the densely packed Strip.

“The next two weeks will be a period of severe danger,” says Hamas deputy health minister Yusuf Abu Rish.

A Hamas health official who spoke to The Times of Israel yesterday described the situation in Gaza as “a health disaster.”

— Aaron Boxerman

Jewish groups decry EU ritual slaughter ruling

Jewish groups decry today’s ruling by the European Court of Justice that authorities can order animals be stunned before slaughter, charging that it attacks religious freedom.

The court backed a regulation imposed in the Flemish region of Belgium banning the slaughter of livestock that have not been stunned on animal rights grounds. The measure is seen as effectively outlawing the Muslim halal and Jewish kosher traditions, which require livestock to be conscious when their throats are slit.

An umbrella organization for Jewish groups in Belgium slams the decision as a “denial of democracy” that does not respect the rights of minority groups.

“The fight continues, and we will not admit defeat until we have exhausted all our legal remedies, which is not yet the case,” says Yohan Benizri, head of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, says the ruling represents a “sad day for European Jewry.”

“What a terrible message to send to European Jewry, that you and your practices are not welcome here. This is a basic denial of our rights as European citizens,” he says in a statement.

— with AFP

Billionaires suspected of tax evasion named as brothers Amir and Itzik Dayan

The two Israeli billionaires arrested last month on suspicion of tax evasion totaling hundreds of millions of shekels are named in Hebrew-language media reports as brothers and commercial real estate businessmen Amir and Itzik Dayan.

Tax authorities at the time searched their premises and seized documents related to their businesses, and they were released after two days after leaving a guarantee of hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash.

Now, a gag order on their identities has expired.

Pence plans to visit Israel, Bahrain in tour starting January 6 — report

US Vice President Mike Pence will depart January 6 for a week-long tour to Israel, Bahrain and Poland — a week earlier than previously reported — the Politico website reports.

The report cites three US officials familiar with the planning as well as a US government document. It says the planning is tentative and that more stops could be added. It doesn’t detail the order in which Pence will visit the countries.

US Vice President Mike Pence delivers a speech at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020, to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

Pence will depart immediately after overseeing a Congress session in which President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November 3 elections will be reaffirmed, the report says.

Army Radio reported Sunday that Pence is planning to come to Israel on January 13, adding that more Arab or Muslim countries could announce they are normalizing their ties with the Jewish state during the visit.

Pence was last in Israel in January 2020 for the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem, where visiting dignitaries gathered to commemorate the Nazi genocide of Jews during World War II and mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

France detains Epstein ex-associate Brunel on sex crime accusations

Prominent French modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, a former close associate of disgraced American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, has been detained in France on accusations of sex crimes, prosecutors say.

Brunel was detained yesterday on accusations of rape, sexual assault of minors, human trafficking and being part of a criminal conspiracy, Paris prosecutors tell AFP.

He was detained at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport as he was about to take a plane to Senegal, a source close to the case adds.

— AFP

Likud faction manager catches COVID; many MKs could be quarantined

Aliza Barashi, Likud’s coalition director in the Knesset, March 16, 2009. (Kobi Gideon /Flash90)

In a development that could send many coalition members into quarantine, the ruling Likud party’s faction manager, Aliza Barashi, has tested positive for the coronavirus, Hebrew-language media reports.

Barashi is in charge of coordinating the coalition’s votes in the Knesset plenum.

She meets regularly with many lawmakers and spends long periods of time in the Knesset plenum.

MKs have reportedly been told that Barashi was last at the Knesset on Monday and that those who need to isolate will be notified.

Vaccination of at-risk groups brought forward to Monday – report

Israel’s health maintenance organizations (HMOs) will start vaccinating at-risk populations and elderly people against the coronavirus on Monday, two days earlier than previously planned, Channel 13 reports.

Breach in UAE website said to reveal Israeli travelers’ personal info

A security breach at a travel website in the United Arab Emirates has led to the possible leaking of personal details of many Israelis, Channel 12 reports.

The report says the website, Sharaf Travels, had a security breach enabling easy access to visas issued for many Israelis who have recently traveled to the UAE following the normalization of ties between the countries.

For example, customers who used the website to obtain an electronic visa received an email with a link to a PDF file containing the document. The link URL included four digits. Replacing them with other random digits allowed access to visas of other Israelis.

The report says the leak has now been fixed after cyber experts informed the National Cyber Security Authority, which contacted Abu Dhabi and notified it of the breach.

IAEA chief: Iran nuke deal unsalvageable, new deal would be needed under Biden

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says a new nuclear deal would be needed with Iran under the US presidency of Joe Biden, since the existing deal has now been breached too many times.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi in Vienna on November 30, 2020. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Biden has expressed hope that the 2015 deal — which US President Donald Trump left in 2018 — could be revived if Tehran “resumes strict compliance” with its terms, which it has since breached.

“I cannot imagine that they are going simply to say, ‘We are back to square one’ because square one is no longer there,” Rafael Grossi tells Reuters. “It is clear that there will have to be a protocol or an agreement or an understanding or some ancillary document which will stipulate clearly what we do.

“There is more [nuclear] material… there is more activity, there are more centrifuges, and more are being announced. So what happens with all this? This is the question for them at the political level to decide,” he says.

WATCH: Heavy rains form artificial ‘lake’ near Ashkelon

Heavy rains have caused a temporary “lake” to form near the city of Ashkelon, as much of the country experiences floodings.

Drone footage captures scenes of barely visible treetops and flying birds at the enormous body of water that has accumulated in a field very close to the coastal city’s buildings.

Russia banned from using its name, flag at next 2 Olympics

Russia has been banned from using its name, flag and anthem at the next two Olympics or at any world championships for the next two years over doping allegations.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s ruling also blocks Russia from bidding to host major sporting events for two years.

Russian athletes and teams will still be allowed to compete at next year’s Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, as well as world championships including the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar, if they are not implicated in doping or covering up positive tests — but not they cannot represent Russia. They’ll compete under international symbols.

The punishments are less than the four-year ban the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had proposed.

The case centers on accusations that Russian state authorities tampered with a database from the Moscow testing laboratory before handing it over to WADA investigators last year.

— AP

Coronavirus aid shipment from UAE arrives in Gaza

A United Arab Emirates coronavirus aid shipment to the Gaza Strip arrived today through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, Hamas media announces.

In a press conference, Gaza-based Fatah legislator Ashraf Juma’a thanks the United Arab Emirates for sending coronavirus aid to the coastal enclave. Relations between Abu Dhabi and Palestinian factions have been strained in recent months due to the UAE’s embrace of normalization with Israel.

“The medical supplies which arrived from the Emirates are important for Gaza. We thank the Emirates for its support and answering [our call for help] and we hope for further aid shipments, due to their importance,” Juma’a says.

According to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the shipment contains 14.4 metric tons of medical supplies and testing kits.

— Aaron Boxerman

Israelis going to UAE will have to present valid visa to enter Ben Gurion Airport

Transportation Minister Miri Regev announces that Israeli travelers to Dubai won’t be able to enter Ben Gurion Airport without presenting a valid visa, meaning they will have to verify they can travel before they go to the airport.

The move apparently comes in an attempt to prevent the continued overcrowding at airport in violation of coronavirus restrictions, and in light of frequent reports of Israelis being denied access to the United Arab Emirates due to the lack of a valid visa.

Regev earlier paid an unannounced visit to the airport to see the situation there up close.

The new instruction will come into force on Sunday.

PA says Indonesia vowed no normalization with Israel until Palestinians get state

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has assured Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Jakarta will not join the tide of Arab and Muslim countries normalizing their ties with Israel until after a Palestinian state has been established.

“Despite the rapid changes in the Middle East, Indonesia will not take any steps to normalize with Israel until a permanent and comprehensive peace is achieved between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Widodo tells Abbas in a phone call, according to a readout published by the PA’s official Wafa news agency.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo addresses participants during the opening session of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN, September 12, 2018 in Hanoi, Vietnam (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Widodo went on to express his devotion to the Palestinian cause, his rejection of the recent normalization agreements reached by the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan with Israel, and his commitment to a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Wafa reports.

Abbas thanks the Indonesian president for his support and updates Widodo on the latest developments relating to Ramallah’s efforts at achieving statehood, according to the report.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has never had formal diplomatic ties with Israel and has long been a longtime supporter of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Israeli officials have in the past spoken of clandestine links and called for the establishment of formal ties, but have been rebuffed by the Indonesian government.

According to an unsourced Friday Channel 13 report, Indonesia is on a shortlist of Muslim countries in Asia that are eager to normalize with Israel.

EU prolongs sanctions against Russia over Ukraine conflict

The European Union formally prolongs for six months economic sanctions against Russia over the country’s failure to live up to commitments to the peace agreement in Ukraine.

The measures target Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors, as well as goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes. They are part of a raft of sanctions the EU slapped on Russia in 2014 after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and are tied to respect of the 2015 Minsk peace deal.

“Given that the Minsk agreements are not fully implemented by Russia, EU leaders unanimously took the political decision to roll-over the economic sanctions against Russia” at a summit last week, the EU Council says in a statement formalizing the decision. The sanctions have been extended until July 31.

The move limits Russian bank and company access to EU capital markets, and outlaws financial assistance or brokering for Russian financial institutions. It halts all imports, exports or transfers of defense equipment, and limits Russia’s access to some “sensitive” technology used in oil production.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Special forces servicemen patrol a college in the city of Kerch in the Crimea on October 17, 2018. (KERCH.FM/AFP)

— AP

Clinics notify Israelis over 60 that they can get COVID vaccine from Monday

Elderly Israelis and at-risk populations can now reserve doctor appointments to receive a vaccine against the coronavirus, ten months after the pandemic first reached the country.

Health maintenance organizations (HMOs) have started notifying Israelis aged over 60 that they can get vaccinated starting Monday, Hebrew-language media reports. Every patient will have two appointments scheduled, 21 days apart, and will be considered vaccinated only after receiving the second dose.

Medical staff will start receiving Pfizer’s vaccine on Sunday.

Pfizer’s vaccine is yet to be formally approved for use in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will be the first in Israel to get inoculated. Reports today said the event will be broadcast live from Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv.

Palestinian Authority announces two-week closure throughout West Bank

The Palestinian Authority announces a two-week closure in the entire West Bank, as three weeks of tightening restrictions have failed to curb the coronavirus outbreak there.

The closure will not be as intense as some of the previous lockdowns, in which all stores were closed except for pharmacies and grocery stores. But all schools, universities, restaurants, barbershops, gyms and leisure venues in the West Bank will be closed starting today, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh says in a speech.

Any stores and government offices not closed by the official decree will have to work with no more than 30% of their normal staff, Shtayyeh says.

A nightly curfew already in place in the West Bank will be extended for another two weeks, beginning tonight, and Palestinians who work in Israel will not be allowed to reenter Palestinian-controlled areas, Shtayyeh says. He asks them to remain at their places of work throughout the two-week closure.

Shtayyeh promises that $13 million has been set aside to compensate workers for their losses in the coming lockdown.

— Aaron Boxerman

TV reports ‘dramatic’ breakthrough, averting elections; Likud: ‘Fake news’

Channel 13 reports “dramatic” progress in talks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White aimed at averting early elections.

Reports over the past week have said negotiations have fallen apart, and a fourth national vote in under two years has been viewed as a virtual certainty.

But the report cites a Blue and White source saying they have reached a deal that will ensure Gantz becomes prime minister in accordance with the coalition deal, and also keep Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) in his position. Both demands have reportedly been non-starters for Likud.

Likud issues a two-word comment on the report: “Fake news.”

Netanyahu’s office says PM, health minister will get COVID vaccine Saturday

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) confirms widespread reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will become the first in Israel to get a coronavirus vaccine.

In a statement, the PMO says both men will be inoculated Saturday evening at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, in an event that will be broadcast live.

It says the event is aimed at encouraging the Israeli public to get the vaccine. It adds that Netanyahu will thus become one of the first world leaders to get the vaccine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visit the Teva Pharmaceuticals logistics center in Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines are set to be stored and distributed, November 26, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Major annual kid’s festival goes online, but website crashes ahead of show

A major annual Israeli song and dance show for children faces a significant setback, after it went online this year but its website crashes just as the performance is about to begin.

The Festigal has been taking place during the Hanukkah festival since 1981. Many children eagerly await it for months.

Parents around the country report their kids have been distraught by the error, which was reportedly caused by the website being overloaded with users.

Organizers later say the problem has been solved, an hour and 20 minutes after the scheduled start.

French court jails IS operative for life over foiled 2015 train attack

A French court jails for life a Moroccan Islamic State operative who planned a terror attack on a Paris-bound international train in 2015, only to be thwarted by passengers including off-duty US soldiers.

The Paris court convicts Ayoub El Khazzani, now 31, over the August 2015 plot on the Amsterdam-Paris high-speed Thalys train and also issues sentences of between seven and 27 years to three accomplices.

— AFP

Israel says EU kosher slaughter ruling signals Jews ‘aren’t wanted in Europe’

Israel’s Foreign Ministry lambastes today’s ruling by the European Court of Justice that authorities in the European Union can ban kosher and halal slaughter, saying it “signals to the Jewish communities that they aren’t wanted in Europe.”

The ministry says the decision “harms freedom of worship and freedom of religion in Europe, which is a core value of the EU.”

“It is important that a way is found to change the decision and enable Jewish EU citizens to hold Jewish practices,” the Foreign Ministry says.

EU medicine watchdog brings Moderna vaccine decision forward to Jan. 6

The EU’s medicines watchdog says it has moved forward the date for a decision on authorizing Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine to January 6 from January 12.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency says US-based Moderna has sent extra data ahead of schedule, so the regulator has “scheduled an extraordinary meeting on 6 January 2021 to conclude its assessment, if possible.”

— AFP

Daily virus cases expected to reach up to 6,000 before restrictions have effect

The Health Ministry estimates that daily new coronavirus cases will reach 5,000 or 6,000 by the time restrictions that are expected to be reimposed next week start having an effect, Channel 12 reports.

The ministry expects at least 800 COVID-19 patients in serious condition at the same time by the end of January, which would put strain on Israel’s health system.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry’s director of public health, Sharon Alroy-Preis, says we’re at a “critical point” in the outbreak.

She says that in the ultra-Orthodox community the rate of positive test results has tripled in two weeks.

Report: Israel will get vaccines to inoculate 12.5 million people by end of 2021

The Kan public broadcaster reports that by the end of next year, Israel is expected to receive enough coronavirus vaccines to inoculate 12.5 million people — assuming that besides the already-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, those developed by AstraZeneca and Russia will also get the okay.

Israel’s entire population is about 9.25 million people.

The report says doses to vaccinate two million people will arrive by the end of 2020. Another 1.2 million vaccines will arrive in the first quarter of 2021, 4.2 million in the second quarter, 4.6 million in the third quarter and 500,000 in the fourth quarter.

The report notes that those details are according to the currently signed agreements Israel has with the various companies, which could change significantly.

The Defense Ministry is also overseeing the development of an Israeli-made vaccine, whose developers say will end Phase III trials in mid-2021.

Gantz said to tell party MKs: No agreements reached, we’re going to elections

Casting further doubt on a report by Channel 13 of “dramatic” progress in talks for a deal that would avert early elections from being called next week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz reportedly tells members of his Blue and White party that no agreements have been reached.

Party sources are quoted by Ynet as saying that at a Hanukkah candle-lighting event at the home of Science Minister Izhar Shay, Gantz said no understandings have been reached and that the country is going to elections.

US states hit Google with new antitrust lawsuit

Dozens of US states file a new lawsuit against Google, accusing the tech giant of abusing its internet search dominance to eliminate competition.

The suit by antitrust enforcers from 38 US states and territories is in line with, but goes beyond, a case filed by the US Justice Department against Google earlier this year.

“Google’s anticompetitive actions have protected its general search monopolies and excluded rivals, depriving consumers of the benefits of competitive choices, forestalling innovation, and undermining new entry or expansion,” says Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser.

The suit comes a day after a group of states led by Texas filed a separate antitrust suit, and asks to be consolidated with the federal case against Google.

— AFP

Yamina says it rejected Likud offer to join government, prevent elections

The Yamina party claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered it several senior portfolios, aiming to have them join the coalition and extend the life of the beleaguered government. Yamina says it has rejected the proposal.

Reports say Netanyahu’s Likud offered Naftali Bennett’s party the defense portfolio and two more senior ministerial jobs, including transportation minister. Likud promised the coalition would serve its full four-year term and wouldn’t include Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party. Likud has claimed some members of that party are ready to jump ship and join its parliamentary bloc.

There has been no proposal for a power-sharing agreement similar to Netanyahu’s current deal with Gantz, the reports say.

Yamina — which is predicted to significantly boost its representation in the Knesset if elections are held — comments that it rejected the proposal outright. “We need snap elections, we will bring new leadership to Israel,” it says.

Top cop nominee accused of okaying use of banned ammunition against settlers

Yaakov Shabtai, picked to be the next police commissioner, ordered his subordinates to use banned ammunition against settlers during the evacuation of an illegal West Bank outpost in 2011, Channel 13 reports.

The use of plastic bullets — less lethal than regular bullets but more lethal than the more widely accepted rubber-coated bullets — caused a scandal at the time when several teenagers suffered injuries.

While the public security minister at the time, Yitzhak Aharonovich, said the use of plastic bullet was proportional and careful, he later discovered that he had received inaccurate information and that officers fired shots at close range and without them being in any danger, as required.

The Israel Police commented that the report was “empty words by interested parties acting for personal reasons in an attempt to smear Maj. Gen. Shabtai and thwart his appointment. Beyond that, the allegations are unworthy of comment.”

Kobi Shabtai, commander of the Border Police, on September 28, 2017 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

UK’s Johnson orders new restrictions to slow more infectious virus strain

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces a “stay at home” order for London and southeast England to slow a new coronavirus strain that is significantly more infectious.

The new strain of the virus “does appear to be passed on significantly more easily,” Johnson says at a televised briefing. He orders new restrictions for London and south-eastern England from tomorrow, saying that under the new “tier four” rules, “residents in those areas must stay at home” at least until December 30.

— AFP

Health Ministry confirms new quarantine mandate for all travelers

The Health Ministry says that it will now define all foreign countries as “red” states with high infection rates, requiring any traveler coming to Israel to quarantine upon arrival.

A statement from the ministry says mandatory quarantine for Israelis coming from “green” states won’t begin until December 26.

Under the order, travelers will have to quarantine for 14 days, or for 10 days if they pass two coronavirus tests within nine days of their return without a positive result.

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