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Netanyahu: Israel doesn’t need elections, Gantz must ‘slam on the brakes’

Prime minister says it’s not too late to avert early vote; says government must focus on pandemic, not politics

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the press on December 2, 2020. (screen capture: Channel 12)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the press on December 2, 2020. (screen capture: Channel 12)

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

Gantz shelves proposed ‘Equality Law’ as MKs oppose it

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz won’t raise a quasi-constitutional bill on equality this afternoon, after a majority of lawmakers announce they won’t support it.

“The Basic Law: Equality” is “aimed to enshrine the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination,” according to Gantz.

It’s part of a batch of bills opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud that Blue and White is raising as the short-lived coalition appears poised to collapse.

The others are: “The surrogacy law” which would “evenly expand the circle of those entitled to surrogacy, expand the circle of women who can serve as surrogates and regulate the possibility of surrogacy outside Israel”; and “The Basic Law: The Declaration of Independence,” which would require judges to “interpret all Israeli legislation, including other Basic Laws, in light of the Declaration of Independence as a constitutional document.”

The coalition’s Likud, Derech Eretz, United Torah Judaism, Shas and the opposition’s Yamina say they’ll oppose the Equality Bill.

In response, Gantz temporarily shelves it but says it will be brought to a vote next week.

Bringing the proposals to the Knesset without specific agreement from Likud violates a clause in the coalition agreement between the parties.

Later this afternoon, the Knesset will hold a preliminary vote to dissolve itself and call new elections. The bill would require three additional votes to become law.

Netanyahu meets Bahrain minister, hails ‘real peace’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Bahrain’s Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Zayed bin Rashid Al-Zayani, who is the second cabinet member from the Gulf kingdom to visit Israel in two weeks.

“These are wondrous days. This is the day when we realize peace, because of the courageous decision made by King Hamad, because of the extraordinary energy and initiative of Bahrainis and Israelis who are eager to embrace one another, to get to know one another, to do business with one another in all there is: in tourism and commerce and industry. You have quite a few portfolios, I have to say, and evidently you do very, very well with that,” says Netanyahu ahead of the meeting.

“We’ve signed some agreements. We have more to go, and more importantly, I think we understand this is a real peace—a peace between our peoples, a peace that will open economic benefits that were unimaginable just a few months ago, but now are coming to be. And I think this will broaden the circle of peace not only for our own two peoples, but for all countries in the Middle East and perhaps beyond,” he adds.

“So I want to welcome you in the spirit of peace and prosperity and cooperation and friendship. Welcome.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Bahraini Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism Zayed bin Rashid Al-Zayani in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Knesset kicks off debate on dissolution

The Knesset has begun its debate on dissolving the government, with a preliminary vote on the bill set for later this afternoon.

The bill will require another three votes for elections — the fourth in two years — to be called.

Some Arab MKs may abstain on Knesset dissolution, in major rift with allies

The Ra’am party — part of the predominantly Arab Joint List — is expected to abstain during Wednesday’s vote to dissolve the Knesset, setting up a major fight with the Joint List, according to Channel 12, which speculates that the move could spell the end of the Arab alliance.

Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am party holds a press conference after a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 16, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Lapid rips into government’s handling of pandemic: ‘You don’t have a clue’

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, presenting the bill to dissolve the Knesset, rails against the government’s handling of the pandemic and accuses the political leaders of destroying Israel’s social fabric.

“You don’t have a clue what you’re doing. You took the incredible abilities and resources of the Israeli public and made everything political. It is all political interests and the prime minister’s legal strategies, and tax benefits for Netanyahu and jobs for your friends. You care only about yourselves and in the meantime Israel isn’t being taken care of.

“You’re putting our lives in danger. You’re putting our economy in peril, abandoning our parents, setting fire to our children’s future,” he says.

Lapid further says: “You tore apart the social fabric of Israel. For what? What did you gain? A few more jobs for your friends? A few more empty government ministries you invented?”

He says the government “destroyed truth and principle just to embarrass and crush and incite and scatter hate in every direction. Hate is far more exponential than coronavirus. There is no vaccination.”

Lapid urges lawmakers to support the bill.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid addresses the Knesset plenum on October 19, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset Spokesperson)

Lebanon’s president says differences with Israel on maritime border resolvable

Lebanon’s president says he wants maritime border talks with Israel to succeed and that disagreements during the last round of negotiations can be resolved based on international law.

President Michel Aoun speaks during a meeting with John Desrocher, the US mediator for the negotiations, who was in Beirut for discussions with Lebanese leaders.

The fourth round of talks, which was scheduled to take place Wednesday, was postponed until further notice, officials in the two countries said.

The negotiations are the first non-security talks to be held between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war following decades of conflict. Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun speaks during an address to the nation at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

A statement released by Aoun’s office quotes him as telling Desrocher that Lebanon wants the talks to succeed because “this will strengthen stability in the south and allow us to invest in natural resources of oil and gas.”

He says difficulties that surfaced during the last round can be solved through discussions based on the Law of the Sea. Aoun said if the talks stall then “other alternatives can be put forward,” without elaborating.

AP

UK insists no corners cut in approving vaccine

British regulators insist that “no corners have been cut” during the assessment of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which was cleared for emergency use on Wednesday.

In a briefing after the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency became the first regulator worldwide to approve the vaccine, its chair, Dr. June Raine, says the public can be “absolutely confident” that its standards are equivalent to those anywhere around the world.

Regulators also reveal the order by which the vaccine will be rolled out across the country over the coming weeks and months, beginning next week. The UK has ordered around 40 million doses of the vaccine, which can potentially immunize 20 million people as two doses are required.

Residents in nursing homes and their carers will be offered the vaccine first followed by those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers. From there, the priority plan largely follows age groups.

According to Munir Pirmohamed, chair of a medicines panel, people will be immune seven days after the second dose.

AP

5th-12th grades will only learn in class in low infection areas — reports

The high-level coronavirus cabinet has decided that 5th-12th grades will only attend in-person classes in low infection areas, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Only cities and towns designated as “green” and “yellow” under the government’s so-called traffic light plan will hold classes for these grades, it says, with the designation reevaluated every two weeks.

But first-fourth grades will remain open nationwide, regardless of local infection rates, it says.

Most grades have gradually been reopened in recent weeks, though older students only go to class several times a week while attending remote classes the rest of the time.

The plan is not immediately confirmed.

Children wearing face masks study in a classroom of the Kramim school in Jerusalem on their first day back to classes after a national lockdown, November 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud minister calls Gantz spineless; Lapid a ‘little demagogue’

Likud Minister David Amsalem rails against opposition leader Yair Lapid, calling him an “expert in spreading poison” and “little demagogue.”

“You are person who lives off of hatred,” he charges.

He says his party opposes elections.

He also attacks Benny Gantz: “He doesn’t have a spine.”

Gantz “doesn’t care about the budget,” only the premiership rotation agreement with Netanyahu, he says.

Amsalem calls Gantz’s speech last night “pathetic.”

Meretz MK: Benny Gantz, ‘you had one job’

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg lambastes Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for joining Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

She disputes Gantz’s statement last night that Netanyahu did not lie to him personally, but rather to the Israeli people.

Netanyahu lied to you, and you fell for it, she charges.

“As the memes say: You had one job!” she says in the Knesset.

“But even this you didn’t manage,” adds Zandberg.

The left-wing lawmaker calls for political cooperation between Jews and Arabs in the next election.

Kushner in Qatar in bid to end Gulf rift

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is expected to tackle the Gulf crisis and push for progress toward ending the spat during a visit to Qatar Wednesday.

The official Qatar News Agency reports that Kushner meets with the country’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, saying they discussed “developments in the region.”

Few details have been made public about Kushner’s trip, which could be his last chance to press diplomatic issues in a region that has been a focal point for the outgoing Trump administration.

Analysts expect Kushner will focus on efforts to resolve the three-year-long Gulf crisis, which has pitted a Saudi-led alliance against Qatar, suggesting it could result in limited confidence-building measures.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner gives thumbs up as he walks back to the West Wing after a television interview at the White House, Oct. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Riyadh, along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, cut all ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations that Doha was too close to Iran and backed radical Islamists. Qatar denies the charges.

The boycotting countries have closed their airspace, land borders and sea channels to Qataris and vehicles registered there.

That has forced Qatar Airways aircraft to fly over Iran, Riyadh’s arch-rival and long-time adversary of Washington, paying significant overflight fees to Tehran in the process.

AFP

Bennett: Netanyahu and Lapid spread hatred ‘night and day’

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett condemns the Netanyahu-led government’s handling of the pandemic.

He says the government “turned the startup nation into the nation of fights.”

“Israel is number one — in elections,” he says mockingly.

Bennett, who is seeking the premiership, also takes aim at opposition leader Lapid.

“There is a common denominator between Netanyahu and Lapid: Both of them deal with politics, night and day. Both of them spread hate — hate of Haredim, hate of Arabs, hate of settlers.”

“Left wingers love Israel, too, even if we are divided,” he says.

“Lapid and Netanyahu — both of you have failed, big time. Today, either the government falls apart, or Israel will.”

Preliminary vote on disbanding Knesset begins

The Knesset begins its preliminary vote on six separate proposals to disband the parliament and go to early elections.

Knesset approves preliminary vote to disband, call early elections

The Knesset approves a preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the parliament and call early elections, the fourth in two years.

The parliament debates six proposals all calling for the Knesset to be disbanded.

The first passes 61-54.

Arab lawmakers from the Ra’am faction skip the vote.

The government won’t automatically fall right now. After the preliminary reading, the bill will probably go to the Knesset’s House Committee — controlled by Blue and White — where it is reportedly likely to be held at least until Monday to provide a chance for last-ditch talks with Likud, which reports say are unlikely to yield an agreement.

After a committee approval, the bill would have to be supported by lawmakers in three more readings. If that happens, the Knesset will dissolve and MKs will have to agree on a date for elections, which will happen between March and June 2021.

2020 one of three hottest years on record — UN

This year is on course to be one of the three warmest ever recorded and could even top the record set in 2016, the United Nations says.

“2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate,” says Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, as it unveiled its provisional 2020 State of the Global Climate report.

AFP

In this file photo dated July 25, 2019, a bird sits on a straw bale on a field in Frankfurt, Germany, as the sun rises during a heatwave in Europe. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Lapid touts ‘first step toward a different government’

Commenting on the Knesset’s initial vote to dissolve itself, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tweets: “The dissolution of the Knesset is not a victory, it’s the first step toward a different government, which will deal with the coronavirus and the economy and won’t cause Israelis to hate each other.”

 

EU stops short of advising against holiday travel over virus

As millions of European citizens gear up for the festive season, the European Union’s executive commission urges member countries to keep strong anti-coronavirus restrictions in place to avoid a post-holiday surge of cases and deaths but stops short of advising against travel.

The European Commission says in non-binding recommendations that easing pandemic-containment measures this month would jeopardize the efforts that have helped slow infections across the EU in recent weeks.

According to predictions made by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, lifting all anti-coronavirus restrictions on December 21 would result in “a subsequent increase in COVID-19 hospital admissions… as early as the first week of January 2021.”

New confirmed cases are falling steadily across Europe, where more than 300,000 people with COVID-19 have died. Until vaccines against the virus are rolled out, the EU commission is recommending prudence.

A pedestrian wearing a protective face covering to combat the spread of the coronavirus walks past the Christmas-themed window displays of shops in central London on November 27, 2020, as a second lockdown continues in England. (Tolga Akmen / AFP)

“Every 17 seconds a person loses their life due to COVID-19 in Europe,” EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides says. “The situation may be stabilizing, but it remains delicate. Like everything else this year, end of the year festivities will be different. This year, saving lives must come before celebrations.”

EU health ministers discuss the European Commission’s strategy Wednesday as European countries famous for their skiing resorts struggled to find a common approach.

The commission, however, did not discourage tourism and cross-border traveling.

“Whilst travel itself is a risk factor, the generalized widespread transmission of COVID-19 across member states means that at present, intra-EU cross-border travel does not present a significant added risk,” it says.

Still, the commission “strongly discouraged” people with coronavirus symptoms from traveling and recommended vaccination against the seasonal flu for travelers.

AP

Trump adviser hopes US regulator will okay vaccines by next week

A leader of the Trump administration’s effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine says he expects the Food and Drug Administration to soon authorize the use of a vaccine.

Operation Warp Speed chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui says he hopes by Dec. 10 or 11, a Pfizer vaccine is approved in the US.

Slaoui tells ABC’s “Good Morning America” he “would expect the FDA to reach a similar conclusion” as British authorities did by approving emergency use of a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

Slaoui is urging people to listen to the experts about taking the vaccine, look at the data and keep their minds open. He says “great science” allowed researchers to do discovery work “in weeks rather than in years.”

Slaoui calls the vaccine “an insurance against this virus” and says it’s “what will get us out of this pandemic.”

AP

Likud faction meeting, called for tonight, canceled

The Likud party cancels its faction meeting, which was scheduled for 8 p.m., according to the Ynet news site.

It’s not immediately clear if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will still make a public statement, after his office said earlier he would speak at that time.

The cancellation comes after the Knesset gives initial approval to a bill to dissolve the parliament.

Putin orders ‘large-scale’ virus vaccinations to start next week

Russian President Vladimir Putin tells health officials to start widespread vaccinations next week, adding that Russia has produced close to 2 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine.

“I would ask you to organize the work so that by the end of next week we will have started this large-scale vaccination,” Putin says. The president notes that teachers and medics will be the first to receive the jab.

AFP

A Russian medical worker administers a shot of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia, September 15, 2020. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP)

Study suggests virus was spreading in US in December 2019

A study this week suggests the coronavirus was spreading in the United States in December 2019, weeks earlier than previously believed.

The research is based on antibodies discovered in blood donations drawn in late December and early January. According to the study, coronavirus antibodies were detected in 39 samples from California, Oregon, and Washington on December 13-16. The antibodies were also found in 67 people in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island, in early January 2020.

The United States’ first confirmed cases were in January.

The study is published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal.

UN, Ethiopia sign deal for aid access to embattled Tigray

In a breakthrough a month after deadly conflict cut off Ethiopia’s Tigray region from the world, the United Nations says it and the Ethiopian government have signed a deal to allow “unimpeded” humanitarian access, at least for areas under federal government control after the prime minister’s declaration of victory over the weekend.

This will allow the first food, medicines and other aid into the region of 6 million people that has seen rising hunger during the fighting between the federal and Tigray regional governments. Each regards the other as illegal in a power struggle that has been months in the making.

For weeks, the UN and others have pleaded for access amid reports of supplies running desperately low for millions of people. A UN humanitarian spokesman, Saviano Abreu, says the first mission to carry out a needs assessment would begin Wednesday.

“We are of course working to make sure assistance will be provided in the whole region and for every single person who needs it,” he says. The UN and partners are committed to engaging with “all parties to the conflict” to ensure that aid to Tigray and the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions is “strictly based on needs.”

Ethiopia’s government does not immediately comment.

AP

Joint List may boot MK from panel for skipping Knesset vote

The Joint List is weighing punitive measures against some of its lawmakers who broke ranks and skipped the vote earlier today on the dissolution of the Knesset, Army Radio reports.

As a result of the move in support of the coalition, MK Mansour Abbas could be removed as head of a parliamentary panel on combating crime in Arab towns, the report says.

While Joint List leaders were seething over the Ra’am party members’ move, MK Ahmad Tibi denied in an interview with Channel 12 that the alliance of Arab parties would break up as a result.

 

Iranian panel okays bill hardening nuclear stance, sends it to president

A key Iranian panel has signed off on a bill to suspend UN inspections and boost uranium enrichment, sending it to Iran’s president, who opposes the measure.

Iranian state TV says the constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council, approved the bill and formally sent it to Hassan Rouhani who now has five working days to officially sign off on a bill to make it executable.

Rouhani earlier on Wednesday expressed his opposition to the bill approved by parliament the previous day, saying it would be “harmful” to diplomatic efforts aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal and easing US sanctions.

The bill would suspend UN inspections and require the government to resume enriching uranium to 20% if European nations fail to provide relief from crippling US sanctions on the country’s oil and banking sectors. That level falls short of the threshold needed for nuclear weapons but is higher than that required for civilian purposes.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, November 8, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Rouhani said his administration “does not agree with that and considers it harmful for the trend of diplomatic activities.” He implied the lawmakers were positioning themselves ahead of elections planned for June.

Even if Rouhani were to change his mind and approve the bill, it is unlikely to have an impact as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policies, including those related to the nuclear program. His opinion on the issue is not known.

Under the law, if the president refuses to sign the bill, it will be automatically signed by the parliament speaker to go into effect.

Tuesday’s approval by lawmakers appeared to be a show of defiance after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program, was killed in an attack Iranian officials have blamed on Israel.

with AP

Israel receives first of its new missile boats

Israel receives the first of its new missile boat, with a top naval officer telling AFP the fleet upgrade “dramatically” improves the country’s ability to counter regional rivals, including Iran.

The procurement of four naval vessels and three submarines from German industrial giant Thyssenkrupp has been the subject of long-running corruption probes involving top allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But graft allegations aside, the ships themselves form a key part of a major naval upgrade in the Jewish state, Israel’s head of naval operations, Rear Admiral Eyal Harel, said in an interview last week.

Harel said the new fleet would bolster the navy’s capacity to defend increasingly lucrative offshore natural gas assets from rivals like Lebanon’s Shiite group Hezbollah, which receives backing from Iran.

Israeli sailors on board the Sa’ar-6-class corvette INS Magen salute as the vessel is handed over to the Israeli Navy in a ceremony in Germany on November 11, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to Harel, Israel’s offshore rigs “are the main objective on the Hezbollah target list for the next war.”

The vessels — Saar 6-class corvettes — are equipped with “the (most) sophisticated radar on board any vessel in the world,” he said.

The first Saar 6, the INS Magen, arrives at Haifa’s port on Wednesday.

AFP

Amid virus surge in Gaza, 88% of hospital beds in Strip are full

Hamas health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra tells Gaza-based Shehab News that 88% of the hospital beds for critical coronavirus cases have been filled.

“We are working to increase the capacity of the health system to contain the rising number of cases,” al-Qidra says.

The Gaza Strip hit 10,000 active coronavirus cases today, the vast majority of which were identified over the past two weeks. Around 27% of coronavirus tests came back positive in the last 24 hours.

Aaron Boxerman

Knesset committee to convene Monday for revisions on bill to disband government

The Knesset House Committee will convene on Monday to discuss the bill to disband the Knesset, which passed its preliminary reading earlier today.

The committee must approve the proposal before sending it back to the parliament for three additional votes.

Rashida Tlaib removes retweet calling for Palestine ‘from river to the sea’

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., removed from her Twitter feed a retweet that said “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a phrase that has been associated with calls to wipe out Israel.

On Nov. 29, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Tlaib retweeted a tweet from an account that featured the phrase accompanied by an image of a poster marking the day.

Tlaib, a Palestinian American who does not believe Israel should exist as a Jewish state, came under fire for the retweet from pro-Israel groups.

“Rashida Tlaib is not just opposed to Israeli control of the West Bank — this slogan means she sees the entire State of Israel as illegitimate and wants it eliminated,” Democratic Majority for Israel says in a tweet. “That’s an immoral and reprehensible position.”

In this file photo taken on July 15, 2019, US Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) looks on during an interview at the US Capitol in Washington, DC (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

The phrase was originated by Palestinian nationalists in the 1960s, when the entire Palestinian movement sought Israel’s elimination. Mainstream Palestinian groups dropped the phrase after Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized one another subsequent to the 1993 Oslo Accords, but it was then adopted by Islamists, including the Hamas terrorist group.

More recently, figures who call for Israel’s replacement through peaceful means have also adopted the phrase.

Tlaib removed the retweet from her timeline and replaced it with her own tweet of the poster crediting the artist and saying she marked the day by thinking of her family in the West Bank.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition British Mandate Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The Zionist movement accepted the partition, and the date is marked in Israel in street names and educational curricula. Palestinians, who rejected the partition, mourn the date.

JTA

Air Force still in the dark on cause of training flight’s fatal crash

The Israeli Air Force’s investigation into last week’s deadly plane crash has so far failed to determine what caused the aircraft to go down, the military says.

In light of the uncertainty, Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin has decided to keep the fleet of planes — Grob G 120 “Snunit” trainers — grounded until further notice. All other training aircraft have already returned to service.

Last Tuesday, a “Snunit” carrying a pilot’s course cadet, Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa, 19, and his trainer, Maj. (res.) Itay Zayden, 42, crashed near Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev in southern Israel, killing both of them.

Norkin immediately ordered a full investigation of the apparent accident. On Tuesday, the team presented an interim report to Norkin, which contained few definitive answers.

“At this time it is not yet possible to determine the cause of the crash,” the Israel Defense Forces says.

The victims of the IAF plane crash on November 24, 2020 — Maj. Itai Zayden (R) and Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa (L). (Facebook)

There were no clear indications of mechanical problems, nor were there signs that Ben-Bassa or Zayden had tried to bail out of the plane. The plane’s internal communications system, which would show what Ben-Bassa and Zayden had been saying to each other before the crash, was badly damaged by the impact.

The probe had ruled out the possibility that a bird had struck the aircraft and caused the crash, according to the IDF.

Judah Ari Gross

Boris Johnson won’t skip line to get COVID vaccination, aide says

Boris Johnson is ready to get a COVID-19 vaccination jab, his aide says, but the British prime minister will give priority to those with “high risk of serious complications.”

Johnson earlier hailed as “fantastic” the news that Britain is now the first Western country to approve the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as England emerged from lockdown.

Johnson “wouldn’t want to take a jab that should be for somebody who is extremely vulnerable, clinically vulnerable,” the prime minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton tells reporters.

The 56-year-old Conservative leader was one of the first senior British officials to get infected with the virus in April, after his government was slow to adopt strict lockdown measures.

He initially brushed off his illness but ended up spending around a week in hospital, including a period in intensive care and later admitted his life had hung in the balance.

AFP

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during his visit to the Tollgate Medical Centre in Becton, east London on July 24, 2020. (Jeremy Selwyn/POOL/AFP)

Health Ministry held exercise class for staff against virus rules — TV

Health Ministry workers hired an exercise instructor for a Zumba class, in violation of the health regulations, Channel 12 reports.

It says the class was held on Health Ministry premises. Twelve people attended the class, which was held indoors and the participants did not wear masks.

The Health Ministry, in a statement to the network, says the class was held in accordance with the rules and was evaluated by health officials beforehand.

US shortens virus quarantine to 7-10 days

US health officials recommend a shortened quarantine period for people exposed to COVID-19, from 14 to 10 days if they haven’t taken a test and have not developed symptoms.

This can be further reduced to just seven days if the exposed person receives a negative test, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist Henry Walke says.

“Reducing the length of quarantine may make it easier for people to take this critical public health action, reducing the economic hardship associated with a longer period, especially if they cannot work during that time,” he says.

“We believe that if we can reduce the burden a little bit, accepting that it comes at a small cost, we may get a greater compliance overall.”

The US is seeing more than 150,000 new cases a day and is bracing for a coronavirus super-surge following extensive travel over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The new guidance, which will be posted on the CDC’s website and passed on to state and other local jurisdictions, was based on the latest research regarding infectiousness and how the disease progresses.

AFP

Ministers declare Shfaram a restricted zone amid rising virus cases

Ministers approve a four-day closure of the northern Arab city of Shfaram, amid soaring infections there.

Shfaram has 235 active coronavirus cases, 161 of them diagnosed in the past week.

Ministers also extend a local lockdown of Umm al-Fahm and Yafa an-Naseriyye by another three days.

Czech Republic to open diplomatic office in Jerusalem

The Czech Republic will open a diplomatic office in Jerusalem, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi announces.

https://twitter.com/Gabi_Ashkenazi/status/1334190961824567297

In 2018, the country inaugurated the so-called Czech House, an office space in Jerusalem’s Cinematheque, where Czech diplomats conduct meetings but which has no official diplomatic status.

At the time, the Czech House was lauded as the first step in Prague’s relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Academic facing execution in Iran over alleged Israel spying gets reprieve

Iran has granted a reprieve to an Iranian-Swedish academic who was facing execution for allegedly spying for Israel, The Guardian reports.

It is not immediately clear if the reprieve is temporary, the report says.

Ahmadreza Djalali was expected to be executed in Iran as soon as Wednesday, rights groups and his wife have said.

Djalali, formerly based in Stockholm where he worked at the Karolinska Institute, a medical university, was arrested during a visit to Iran in April 2016 and sentenced to death in October 2017.

Ahmadreza Djalali, left, and his family. (Screen capture via YouTube/Amnesty International)

He was found guilty of passing information about two Iranian nuclear scientists to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency that had led to their assassinations. Djalali has claimed he is being punished for refusing to spy for Iran while working in Europe.

with agencies

How would an election look during a pandemic?

Channel 12 offers a glimpse of how an Israeli election would look during the coronavirus pandemic.

It says each city and town will have a special ballot box for those with the virus or quarantined, though it remains unclear how they’ll get there.

Some 2,000 voting stations will be added, to avoid overcrowding.

But there will be no early voting.

The network says talks between Blue and White and Likud are ongoing in a last-ditch attempt to resolve the budget crisis and avert elections, which would be the fourth in two years.

Netanyahu: First vaccines will come to Israel soon

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a public statement after the Knesset gives an initial nod to dissolving the parliament and heading to elections.

“These are dramatic days for our country,” he says, referring to the pandemic.

Netanyahu says, “the first vaccines will come to Israel soon.”

“But it will take many more months until we have vaccines for all Israeli citizens,  and therefore we all must keep up the task” of observing the health rules, he adds.

In ‘dramatic’ days like these, we don’t need to go to elections, prime minister says

Netanyahu continues to speak about the virus, saying the death rate in Israel from the virus is lower than other countries.

He says that without Israel’s “difficult” and “not populist” decisions, thousands more would be dead.

“These are dramatic days, also because we are facing serious security challenges,” he continues.

Israel’s enemies “are constantly trying to hurt us. And I repeat: Those who try to hurt us, we will hurt them.”

He also discusses the normalization deals with Arab states and says he hopes other countries will join.

“In dramatic days like these, we don’t need to go to elections,” he stresses.

Netanyahu says Israel doesn’t need elections, Gantz must ‘slam on the brakes’

Netanyahu pleads with his coalition partner Benny Gantz against calling early elections, hours after Blue and White supports a preliminary vote in the Knesset to dissolve and head to the ballot box.

“The people of Israel want unity, not elections. They want vaccines, not election broadcasts,” he says.

“We need to put politics aside, there’s enough time for politics [later],” adds Netanyahu.

“Benny Gantz needs to slam on the brakes” and not drag the country to elections, says Netanyahu.

“He needs to behave differently. It’s not too late. We cannot drag the country to… elections, when we need to focus on the fight against the coronavirus.”

Netanyahu accuses Gantz of following Lapid, Bennett

Netanyahu says that if Blue and White stop the bid to call elections, “there can be unity.”

“But there cannot be unity if Blue and White has a government within a government, has an opposition within a coalition. A coal-sition,” he says, wryly describing it as a new Israeli startup.

He says Israel expects to have a unified government, “and the Israeli public is right.”

Gantz “is being pulled by [Yair] Lapid and [Naftali] Bennett,” Netanyahu charges.

Prime minister doesn’t mention budget in remarks

In his prepared remarks, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not refer to the budget — the issue at the heart of the coalition dispute.

Pressed by Channel 12 reporter Dafna Liel on the budget, Netanyahu dodges the issue and again condemns Gantz for having a “government inside the government” and undermining the coalition.

Ashkenazi: Netanyahu didn’t mention budget once in his remarks

Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi responds to Netanyahu’s comments, noting that he failed to address the budget crisis.

“A 15-minute speech and the most important word was missing from his talking points: ‘Budget,'” tweets Ashkenazi, who is foreign minister.

“A million Israelis are demanding economic security,” he says, referring to the unemployed.

“Everyone knows that if there was no trial, there would be a state budget. This is the time to… approve the budget for 2021.”

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz also posts a video in which he demands Netanyahu advance the budget.

“The campaign of concealment and lies is over — the time for action has arrived,” he says.

Gantz responds to Netanyahu: ‘You’ve lost it’

In a video posted online after Netanyahu’s remarks, Gantz appears to reject his call to avoid early elections.

“The economic terror attack you’re perpetrating against Israeli citizens while an economic, medical and social crisis is raging shows you’ve lost it,” says Gantz.

He accuses Netanyahu of holding up the budget as leverage, amid a corruption trial against him.

“If there was no trial, there would be a budget. If there was no trial, there would be unity,” says Gantz.

Poll gives 65 seats to right-wing, ultra-Orthodox parties

A Channel 13 poll projects that right-wing parties could muster a Knesset majority if elections are held.

It predicts: Likud 29; Yamina 22; Yesh Atid 19; Joint List 11; Blue and White 10; Yisrael Beytenu 8; Shas 7; United Torah Judaism 7; Meretz 7.

That would give right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, without Yisrael Beytenu.

The poll also tests a hypothetical left-wing party including former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

Such a slate would win 15 seats, bringing Likud down to 27 and Yesh Atid down to 14, it predicts.

948 new virus cases diagnosed since midnight

The Health Ministry says another 948 virus cases have been diagnosed since midnight, and 1,187 on Tuesday.

The number of active cases surpasses the 11,000 mark.

It says 284 people are in serious condition, 81 of them on ventilators. Another 96 are in moderate condition, with the rest are displaying mild or no symptoms.

The death toll stands at 2,883, up by six fatalities since this morning.

According to the ministry, 2.3% of tests return positive today.

Health care workers take test samples of Israelis in a drive-through complex to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus in a mobile testing station, in Lod, on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Months after recovery, man dies from COVID in possible case of reinfection

Israel’s health authorities are investigating whether a man who died of the coronavirus, months after recovering from the disease, was infected with a new strain or is the country’s first death from COVID reinfection, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The man, who died this week, was a 74-year-old resident of a nursing home. He first contracted the virus in August and was hospitalized in serious condition. After making a recovery, he took three coronavirus tests that turned up negative.

The man was recently brought to the Sheba Medical Center and was confirmed to be infected with COVID-19. He died this week from the virus.

Lapid skewers Netanyahu over ‘record-breaking cynicism’

Opposition leader Yair Lapid condemns Netanyahu’s remarks calling for elections to be averted, saying the prime minister “broke the records of even his own cynicism.”

“The man who spends his days dabbling in incitement and hatred, goes on TV tonight and speaks out against incitement and hatred. All day, he deals in the worst and pettiest of politics, and then at night goes on TV and says stop with the politics.

“He failed totally in dealing with the coronavirus and economy, and then went and lied that he’s a terrific success, when we all know the figures show otherwise. Because of this, he must go home. Israel needs a new path, a narrow and honest government that will earn public trust, deal with the coronavirus and the economy,” he tweets.

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