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Bennett: Omicron coming; vaccinate your kids, work at home where possible

PM says Israel’s 5th wave has begun, urges parents to inoculate their children before strain becomes widespread; ‘in 3-4 weeks there will be no room for doubt’

Prime Minister Naftali Benntt during a press briefing about the COVID-19 pandemic, December 19, 2021 (video screenshot)
Prime Minister Naftali Benntt during a press briefing about the COVID-19 pandemic, December 19, 2021 (video screenshot)

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

Environmental group says 100 million cubic meters of rainwater wasted every year

Around 100 million cubic meters of rainwater, equivalent to a tenth of Israeli households’ water use in a year, goes to waste each winter because there is no government policy to manage it, the environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din warns, as storm warnings hit the headlines.

This amount is also equal to the quantity of drinking water produced by a desalination facility in a year, in a process that emits around 75,000 tons of global warming gases into the atmosphere, the organization says.

“Mainly, 100 million cubic meters of water is an amount of water that we need very much, for drinking, agriculture, rehabilitating the groundwater and streams, and all the natural water sources that have been drying up in recent decades.”

The organization says it is working with local and national governments to try to obtain agreements for a long-term, properly budgeted national storm preparation plan, as part of broader preparation for the effects of climate change.

Rain in the northern coastal city of Netanya, February 19 2021. (Flash90)

Omicron may sideline two leading drugs against COVID-19

The two standard drugs doctors in the US have used to fight COVID-19 infections may not work against the new Omicron strain.

For more than a year, antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly have been the go-to treatments for early COVID-19, thanks to their ability to head off severe disease and keep patients out of the hospital.

But both drugmakers recently warned that laboratory testing suggests their therapies will be much less potent against Omicron, which contains dozens of mutations that make it harder for antibodies to attack the virus. And while the companies say they can quickly develop new Omicron-targeting antibodies, those are not expected to launch for at least several months.

A third antibody from British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline appears to be the best positioned to fight Omicron.

A Regeneron monoclonal antibody infusion bag is seen at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, August 19, 2021. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

TV: Ex-Mossad chief had affair, told woman and her husband state secrets

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen revealed state secrets to a flight attendant with whom he was having an affair, as well as to her husband, Channel 13 reports.

The network’s HaMakor investigative program reports that the affair began in late 2018, and that Cohen would brag to the couple about various secret details from the spy agency’s operations around the world, as well as providing them information on his travels around the world.

“He told lots of stories, including about Mossad,” Guy Shiker, a well-known figure in Israeli capital markets, tells the program. “He’s a blabbermouth. He starts telling me that Mossad is ‘sitting’ on a doctor of a well-known Arab leader.”

Shiker says Cohen also shared details about his management style.

“He tells me, ‘When I was appointed to be Mossad chief, listen carefully, within 10 days, I fired six [top officials]… because they weren’t loyal to the system. They weren’t good. They thought I was their best friend when we were equals. The moment I was appointed [I fired them], without mercy.”

Cohen in response says he never shared any security secrets or any information he was not supposed to.

The full program will air on Tuesday.

Bennett: Omicron coming; vaccinate your kids, work at home where possible

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says Israel’s fifth coronavirus wave “has begun.” He says the government is doing everything to buy the country time before the Omicron variant becomes widespread in the country.

“I believe within three to four weeks, perhaps sooner, we will see a jump in morbidity that will leave no room for doubt,” he says.

During this time, he says, it is crucial to vaccinate as many people as possible, and particularly children.

“Vaccines for children are safe, and they are the responsibility of parents,” he says. “Don’t leave your children vulnerable to Omicron.

“Every hour you wait is a wasted hour. After a first shot it will take children four to five weeks to be protected. If you wait for the wave to hit, it will be too late.”

He also urges business owners who can have employees work from home to do so.

Smotrich accuses military of ‘bold-faced lies’ to slander settlers

Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich accuses the military of “bold-faced lies” after the army said soldiers were assaulted by settlers earlier today, with one soldier lightly hurt after being hit by a car.

He claims such false statements were made “with instructions from on high to slander settlers.”

Smotrich cites a tweet from a reporter from Makor Rishon who says police sources told him that they were not aware of any claim that settlers ran over a soldier.

Palestinians say 3 wounded by stone-throwing settlers near Homesh

Three Palestinians have been wounded in a stone-throwing attack by Israeli settlers near the Homesh outpost in the northern West Bank, a Palestinian official says.

Palestinian Authority official Ghassan Daghlas, who tracks settlement activity, says in a phone call that no Palestinians were seriously injured by the stone-throwing. According to Daghlas, the Palestinians were driving their car near the entrance to Burqa, a local Palestinian town, when they were attacked.

The Israel Defense Forces says it is looking into reports of the incident. Some media reports initially indicated that one Palestinian was seriously wounded.

Tensions in the northern West Bank have risen substantially over the past few days. An attack by Palestinian gunmen near the illegal outpost of Homesh last Thursday left an Israeli man dead and two others wounded. Palestinians have since reported revenge attacks by Israeli extremists in nearby villages, including one attack that hospitalized a Palestinian man with severe head injuries.

Police arrest East Jerusalem man suspected of attempted stabbing

Police say they have arrested a man suspected of attempting to carry out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, near the Old City’s Damascus Gate.

The man, a resident of East Jerusalem in his 20s, allegedly attempted to stab a young man, failed, and then fled the scene. Cops searching the area found a discarded knife and later arrested the suspect.

People walk by the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 19, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Bennett to hold press conference at 8 p.m. on latest COVID developments

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will hold a press conference at 8 p.m. as health officials and ministers warn that Omicron cases are set to explode over the coming weeks.

The premier is likely to warn the public of the coming influx of infections and again urge those who have not been vaccinated to do so, in order to curb the spread of the variant.

Israel bracing for arrival of major winter storm ‘Carmel’

Israel is preparing for the arrival of a major winter storm that has been dubbed “Carmel,” and that is expected to bring major rainfall and strong winds and cause serious disruptions throughout the country starting tomorrow.

Emergency services are readying themselves for various rescue tasks, while local authorities have been preparing backup generators and clipping vegetation near powerlines to prevent cuts.

Police and fire services are warning the public to avoid unnecessary travel during the storm, which is expected to last until Wednesday, as well as underground parking and other areas that could experience flooding, amid expectations of up to 150mm of rain in some locations.

UN chief on ‘solidarity’ visit to crisis-hit Lebanon

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrives in Beirut on a “solidarity” trip to Lebanon as the country remains in the throes of a crippling financial crisis.

“If there is a word to characterize my visit, that word is solidarity,” Guterres says in a statement upon arrival.

He previously called on Lebanese officials to unite to find solutions to the country’s dire economic crisis, dubbed by the World Bank as among the planet’s worst since the 1850s.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses media representatives at a European Union summit in Brussels, on June 24, 2021. (John Thys/Pool/AFP)

“The divisions among political leaders in Lebanon have paralyzed the institutions,” Guterres told reporters Thursday at the UN headquarters in New York.

This makes it impossible “to reach agreement with IMF… to launch effective economic programs, and to create the conditions for the country to initiate the recovery,” he added.

Around 80 percent of Lebanon’s population is estimated to be living under the poverty line.

Fauci says Omicron variant is `just raging around the world’

The COVID-19 Omicron variant is “just raging around the world,” the White House’s top medical adviser says, and US President Joe Biden is planning to give “a stark warning of what the winter will look” for unvaccinated Americans.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the county’s leading infectious disease expert, tells  NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “the real problem” for the US hospital system is that “we have so many people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet been vaccinated.”

The prospect of a winter chilled by a wave of coronavirus infections is a severe reversal from the optimism projected by Biden some 10 months ago, when he suggested at a CNN town hall that the country would be back to normal by this Christmas. Biden has been careful not to overpromise, yet confidence in the country has been battered by an unrelenting wave of COVID-19 mutations and variations that have left many Americans emotionally exhausted, dispirited and worried about infections.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, December 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Piers Corbyn arrested for inviting violence against MPs who back COVID restrictions

The brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been arrested by police in the UK and questioned on suspicion of calling for the offices of members of parliament to be burned down, the Guardian reports.

Piers Corbyn, a key activist against anti-COVID measures, was seen in a video also encouraging a crowd to “hammer to death those scum who have decided to go ahead with introducing new fascism.”

Smotrich heads to Homesh to ‘break blockade’ on illegal outpost

Religious Zionism party chief Bezalel Smotrich says members of his far-right party will go to the illegal outpost of Homesh tonight “to break the blockade” — a reference to security forces preventing settlers from going there amid a push to erect new buildings.

Smotrich demands that the outpost get legal authorization following the terror attack there on Thursday night in which Yehuda Dimentman, 25, was killed. Dimentman was studying at a yeshiva at the illegal settlement.

Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the government in Tel Aviv, November 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel’s Gorbenko wins astounding 2nd gold at World Swimming Championships

Israeli swimmer Anastasia Gorbenko continues to amaze at the World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi, winning a second gold medal two days after she secured Israel’s first ever first-place win at the contest.

Gorbenko, just 18, takes the gold in the 100-meter individual medley.

The swimmer will take part in the 100-meter breaststroke semifinals later today.

Friday saw Gorbenko win the 50-meter breaststroke, a first-ever gold for Israel at the championships. She also made history earlier this year when she became the first female Israeli swimmer to advance to an Olympic final.

Military says soldiers were assaulted, one injured by settlers at illegal outpost Homesh

The military says it encountered violence at Homesh today from settlers who assaulted troops and broke through barriers to try and build new structures at the illegal West Bank outpost.

“IDF, Border Police and police forces tried to block the arrival of the settlers and these employed physical and verbal violence, vandalized military property and blocked security forces,” the army says.

It says one soldier was lightly injured after being hit by a car driven by settlers.

The military says it condemns such violence against forces carrying out their duties.

Iran says it’s inspecting new IAEA cameras for nuclear site

Iran says the technical inspection of new surveillance cameras for the Karaj nuclear facility has begun after Tehran said previous cameras were damaged in an attack it blamed on Israel. The new cameras, provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are to replace those Iran says were damaged on June 23 during an Israeli “sabotage” operation.

Tehran and the Vienna-based IAEA announced Wednesday that they had reached agreement on replacing the cameras at the TESA nuclear complex in Karaj, west of Tehran, a facility which makes centrifuges.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, listed the three conditions set by Tehran for the reinstallation. Iran demands “legal and security investigations into the sabotage,” the IAEA’s condemnation of the matter, and a “technical and security investigation of the cameras” before their installation, he said, speaking on state television. “The authorization given by Iran did not come in the form of a new agreement, but after the three prerequisites were met,” Kamalvandi added.

Minister vows to inspect police conduct after violence toward protesters

Protesters say cops whipped demonstrators at a rally against COVID-19 and vaccination policies outside Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s home in Ra’anana yesterday.

There are reports of several protesters being assaulted by policemen on horseback with the horses’ leather reins.

“A policeman whipped me when my hands were on my face [for protection],” Roy Peleg tells Haaretz. “He could have hit me directly in the face.”

A video showed one such use of reins by a mounted cop.

Police also used water jets to spray protesters in Jerusalem.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev vows to investigate police behavior at protests.

Mass anti-coup protests in Sudan mark uprising anniversary

Sudanese take to the streets in the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere across the country for mass protests against an October military takeover and a subsequent deal that reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok but sidelined the movement.

The demonstrations mark the third anniversary of the uprising that eventually forced the military removal of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist government in April 2019.

Sudan then followed a fragile path toward democracy and was ruled by a joint military-civilian government. The October 25 coup has rattled the transition and led to relentless street protests.

Video footage circulates online purported to show protesters marching in the streets of Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman. Protesters are seen waving the Sudanese flag and white ones with printed images of those killed in the uprising and ensuing protests.

40 more Omicron cases take total in Israel to 175

The Health Ministry says 40 more people have been diagnosed with the Omicron variant of coronavirus, taking the total number confirmed in the country to 175.

Of those, 113 had recently returned from abroad, 31 had been in contact with people who’d come from abroad, and the rest were infected in the community.

Of the 175, 122 were considered fully immunized against the virus.

There are 380 more cases that are highly suspected to be Omicron.

Police arrest 3 suspected of setting Palestinian car on fire in Nablus area

Police say they’ve arrested three people suspected of setting a Palestinian car on fire in the Nablus area yesterday.

The three have been questioned and will be brought before a judge.

Minister says next Lag B’Omer at Meron will be ‘entirely different’ from past

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana says he has been tasked with overseeing Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron next year, following last year’s deadly crush that claimed the lives of 45 people, in Israel’s worst-ever peacetime disaster.

“The coming Meron event will be entirely different from events at the site up till now,” he tweets. “The security of those celebrating at the revelry will this time be above all else.”

The next Meron celebration is set to take place in May.

Israeli rescue forces and police stand on the stairs where a mass of people were crushed to death and injured during the celebrations of the Lag B’Omer holiday on Mount Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Shaked warns of ‘tens of thousands’ of COVID cases within weeks

At the cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked warns that “within four weeks, we’ll be at tens of thousands of confirmed [COVID] cases and thousands of shuttered school classes,” Channel 12 reports.

The network says Science Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen concurs that Israel will experience a significant infection wave in the coming weeks.

The latter suggests encouraging vaccination by enforcing the Green Pass at all non-essential stores and decreeing that coronavirus tests for anyone over age five who is not vaccinated must be paid for out of pocket.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks a press conference, at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Cabinet approves Dalit Stauber as Education Ministry’s new director general

The cabinet approves the appointment of Dalit Stauber as the Education Ministry’s new director general after minister Yifat Shasha-Biton fired predecessor Yigal Slovik.

Stauber is an educator who previously served in the post in 2011-2013.

Rumors had swirled that Slovik’s dismissal was tied to him not accepting Shasha-Biton’s positions on a number of issues and policies, particularly issues relating to the coronavirus at schools.

Shasha-Biton has repeatedly clashed with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz over coronavirus restrictions in schools and has been the subject of multiple anonymous attacks in the press.

Transportation minister says won’t back new restrictions until airlines given aid

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli tells the cabinet she will not back any further restrictions on travel “until the issue of support for airline companies is resolved.”

She says the government is “abandoning thousands of workers for whom this is their livelihood. There is currently no unpaid leave agreement or anything else that supports them. These people perform critical work and the State of Israel must protect the service offered by the airlines.

“We have already heard that British Airways has canceled its flights to Israel as of tomorrow. If not the Israeli airlines, who will fly Israelis who are currently overseas back home? I demand that support for the airlines is agreed on this week.”

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli leads a Labor party faction meeting at the Knesset on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel demolishes structures erected at illegal outpost Homesh after terror attack

Israeli forces are razing structures set up on the illegal Homesh outpost in the aftermath of a deadly terror attack nearby, Israeli officials say.

The Homesh settlement was officially abandoned in 2005 under then-premier Ariel Sharon’s so-called disengagement plan. Shortly after, however, settlers established an illegal yeshiva on the site in the northern West Bank.

On Thursday night, Palestinian terrorists opened fire at a car full of students near the Homesh yeshiva, killing one of them, Yehuda Dimentman, and wounding two more.

Following the attack, settlers went up to the outpost and constructed a number of other structures as a form of protest.

This morning, the IDF declared the site a closed military site and representatives from the Defense Ministry’s Civil Authority, guarded by Israel Police officers, went up to the site and demolished the newly constructed plywood buildings, a spokesperson for Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians confirms.

Video footage from Homesh shows bulldozers demolishing some of the structures.

It is not immediately clear if the current yeshiva building, which was built illegally years ago, was also demolished.

Condition of unvaccinated woman ill with COVID, hospitalized with newborn, deteriorates

The condition of a 37-year-old unvaccinated woman who was hospitalized last week with COVID-19 during her 37th week of pregnancy has deteriorated, and she has been connected to an ECMO, Beilinson Medical Center reports.

The woman’s child was delivered through C-section and is being treated in the hospital’s premature delivery ward.

German defense minister backs stronger sanctions on Russia

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht calls for harsher sanctions against Russia over its troop deployment on the Ukrainian border, as she is set to visit Lithuania to inspect NATO troops.

Those responsible for any aggression have to face “personal consequences,” Lambrecht tells German weekly Bild am Sonntag, adding that Germany and its allies should put Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage “in our sights.”

“We have to exhaust all the diplomatic and economic sanction possibilities. And all further steps should be agreed with our allies,” the Social Democrat says.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (c) attends a welcome ceremony to the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) Battalion Battle Group in Rukla, Lithuania, on December 19, 2021 (PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP)

Health Ministry recommends adding US, Canada, Germany and others to no-fly list

The Health Ministry has recommended adding 10 new nations to the list of “red” countries under no-fly rules due to high COVID-19 infections rates.

The countries are the United States, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Canada, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey.

Ministers are expected to authorize the decision later today, and the countries will be designated as red starting on Wednesday, December 22.

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