The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
The so-called coronavirus cabinet approves barring entry to Israel for all foreign citizens arriving from the UK, Denmark and South Africa in an attempt to prevent the spread of new mutations of the virus that have been recorded in those countries.
Health officials are specifically concerned about the new coronavirus strain found in England, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said data suggests is up to 70 percent more transmissible.
Separately, a severe variant of the coronavirus has been detected in South Africa that could explain the rapid spread of a second wave that affects younger people, the South African health minister said Friday. Known as the 501.V2 Variant, it was identified by South African researchers and details have been sent to the World Health Organization.
And last month Denmark appeared to be the source of a mutation of the virus that had jumped from minks to humans.
Until now, foreign travelers have been allowed entry into Israel to attend Health Ministry-approved life-cycle events for first degree relatives, and several other reasons.
The coronavirus cabinet approves a measure ordering all Israelis returning from the UK, where a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus has been identified, to enter isolation in a state-run quarantine hotel.
Ministers also approved the move for Israelis, returning from Denmark and South Africa where other possible mutations have been found.
All returnees from these countries will now be required to undergo a coronavirus test, according to Hebrew media reports.
They will need to remain in the hotels for 14 days unless they receive two negative results, which would enable them to leave after 10.
Another two suspects have been arrested for alleged involvement in the November 2 terrorist attack in Vienna.
The two men — one of whom is a 26-year-old Austrian of Afghan origin — were arrested on Friday, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors’ office says, declining to reveal the nationality of the other suspect.
A request will be made later today for them to be held until trial, the spokeswoman adds.
Last month, an Islamic State supporter who had been convicted and imprisoned for trying to join the IS group in Syria went on a shooting rampage in central Vienna, killing four people, aged between 21 and 44.
The 20-year-old gunman, a dual Austrian-Macedonian national, was shot dead by police.
Eighteen people have since been detained in Austria and Switzerland in connection with the attack and the government also ordered the closure of two mosques in Vienna frequented by the attacker.
Blue and White’s top three lawmakers, party chair Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, release a statement denying internal rifts over whether to accept a Likud demand that could prevent new elections.
An unsourced report by the Haaretz daily early claimed that Gantz had agreed to curb Nissenkorn’s powers in exchange for closing a loophole in the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White that currently allows Netanyahu to remain prime minister if elections are called due to a failure to pass the budget. The report said there was opposition to the move within Blue and White, including from its No. 2 Ashkenazi, and that it was unclear whether the deal could be approved by the party.
“The media discourse is false and does not reflect the way things are run in Blue and White. Internal warring is reserved for other parties. Our party works together to achieve its goals,” the joint statement says.
“We will not compromise on a functioning government, while also protecting democracy and the rule of law, and ensuring a state budget to address the economic pandemic. Any other unsubstantiated reports or spins being published are at the reporter’s discretion and sole responsibility.”
A Palestinian man has been arrested on suspicion of throwing a Molotov cocktail at a soldier at a checkpoint in the northern West Bank yesterday evening.
Video of the incident showed the man targeting the soldier from close range but missing him. The man then ran away as the soldier watched without responding to the attack.
Hard-right lawmakers fumed after the video went public, claiming that the incident is a symptom of soldiers’ hands being tied in responding to attacks as they fear possible indictment for their actions.
Passengers of the two flights from London that are to land at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport in the coming hours will reportedly be sent to quarantine hotels in accordance with the new measures past by the coronavirus cabinet.
Upon landing, the passengers will will be taken to an isolated area in the airport terminal, undergo coronavirus tests and be taken immediately for isolation in state-run hotels hotels, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
Earlier this afternoon, the coronavirus cabinet approved measures barring entry for non Israelis from the UK, Denmark and South Africa, where new strains of the virus have been identified, and forcing Israelis coming from those countries into quarantine hotels for up to 14 days.
In addition, the Health Ministry is working to identify individuals still in the country who have arrived from the UK, Denmark or South Africa in the last two weeks and administer them coronavirus tests, Kan reports.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud are reportedly considering a proposal to delay Tuesday night’s deadline to pass a budget in order to find a compromise and present new elections.
The two sides are both weighing the idea of pushing off the deadline by just a few days, Channel 12 news reports. If the budget is not passed by the midnight deadline, new elections will automatically be called.
The report said they were considering passing a quick law postponing the budget deadline for a second time, giving them breathing space to pass more complex legislation regarding the state budget and changes to the current laws anchoring the power-sharing coalition agreement.
Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy reportedly tells the coronavirus cabinet that the ministry has set a goal to vaccinate the majority of Israelis by early next year.
“The goal is to vaccinate about 60% of the population by the end of the first quarter of 2021,” he tells ministers, according to the Walla news site.
Levy, however, warned that it would be longer before Israeli could return to normalcy.
“Maybe a month after we have achieved a herd vaccination state we will start to get back to routine, but with a mask,” he reportedly says.
The Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv says on Twitter that it has run out of stock of the coronavirus vaccine, after administering 1,000 shots today.
The hospital says another delivery has been ordered from the Health Ministry.
The ministry aims to vaccinate up to 60,000 people a day when widespread vaccinations begin tomorrow.
One hundred and thirty passengers who arrived in Israel on a flight from the United Kingdom have been sent to immediate self-isolation in the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem which is being run as a quarantine facility.
The move comes after new measures were passed by the cabinet regarding countries that have seen a mutation of the virus, while the passengers were in the air.
The World Health Organization is calling on its members in Europe to strengthen measures against coronavirus due to the new variant circulating in the United Kingdom.
Outside Britain, nine cases of the new strain have been reported in Denmark, as well as one case in the Netherlands and another in Australia, according to the WHO.
“Across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches,” a spokeswoman for WHO Europe says.
Thousands of protesters take to the streets of Belarus as they seek to keep the pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko over his contested re-election.
In the capital Minsk, Lukashenko’s critics stage a number of scattered protests across the city, with some groups numbering a few dozen participants and others a few hundred.
Police with dogs are patrolling the streets as authorities deploy troops and water cannon. The Viasna rights group says more than 30 people have so far been detained in Minsk and other cities.
Lukashenko’s opponents claim the polls were rigged and that political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who ran in place of her jailed husband, was the true winner.
Ellen Steel, a British-Israeli citizen who was one of the 130 passengers on a flight from the UK to Israel sent from Ben Gurion Airport to a coronavirus hotel, says she was ordered to board a crowded bus without being told where she was going.
“At Luton [airport], check-in was normal but then they called boarding 1.5 hours early. At the gate they turned everyone away [all non-Israelis] who had a British passport with permission to enter. They then took Israelis aside and explained that the chances were that by the time we were back we’d have to go to a corona hotel but it wasn’t 100% yet. Quite a lot of people didn’t get on the flight and we had to wait for luggage to come off,” Steel tells the Times of Israel from a bus on the way to Jerusalem’s Dan Panorama Hotel.
“When we landed someone from the Health Ministry came on [the plane] and announced we’d all have to go to hotels — if we wanted to have a fight about it we could but only at the hotel and not before. They took our passports off us as we got off the plane and didn’t explain why. But then they just did passport control without us and gave them back maybe 30 mins later,” she says.
“We got bused to Terminal 1 where there was press waiting. They gave us water and our baggage came. Then they told us to get on buses but didn’t say where to. So people packed onto these buses but there was zero distancing etc. So I refused and am now on one with like 10 people on the way to the Dan Panorama Jerusalem. The buses have police cars escorting them, front, back etc.,” Steel says.
— Raoul Wootliff
The Sheba Medical Center nurse who was set to give Israel’s first shot of the coronavirus vaccine to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night says that it was administered in contradiction to hospital protocols.
Shoshi Gomel, who was switched at the last minute by Netanyahu‘s personal physician Tzvi Berkovitz, tells Channel 12 news that she was “excited to be chosen help bring Israel into a new era without the coronavirus,” but had the syringe taken from her hands after she had filled it with the vaccine.
“Even though [Dr. Berkovitz] stood next to me and saw the dose, it is against the protocol of our hospital,” Gomel says, explaining that the person who fills the syringe must administer the vaccine.
“Maybe [Netanyahu] trusted him more…; he has received other vaccines from him in the past,” she muses. She also speculates that the Shin Bet security agency may have required that the prime minister’s own doctor administer the vaccine.
Gomel stresses that she was not insulted to be replaced by Netanyahu’s personal physician. “He took the pressure off me,” she says.
In the event, the vaccination process proved quite protracted, with the vaccine vial requiring lengthy shaking. Berkovitz then moved to vaccinate Netanyahu in his left arm, whereas the prime minister had been sitting for long minutes with his right arm bared. Netanyahu, who is left-handed, redirected his physician and was indeed vaccinated in his right arm.
“One small injection for a man, one giant leap for the health of us all,” Netanyahu proclaimed, referencing US astronaut Neil Armstrong’s resonant words when first setting foot on the moon in 1969.
After two court petitions by the environmental group Home Guardians and the intervention of the Interior Ministry’s regional director, the Carmel Beach Regional Authority in northern Israel announces that it will return a $480,000 donation received from the natural gas company Energean Israel.
Energean Israel, a subsidiary of the Greek Energean, owns the franchise to the Karish and Tanin natural gas fields off the Mediterranean coast and is exploring for additional oil and gas in the area. Karish and Tanin are to set to start commercial production next year.
The coastal authority is responsible for monitoring rogue emissions from offshore natural gas production facilities and was initially unwilling to accept the idea that taking a donation from one of the gas companies could potentially cause it a conflict of interest.
Energean is also fined NIS 878,000 ($270,000) by the Environmental Protection Ministry for violating its permit on waste flushed out to sea by one of its exploratory drilling vessels.
— Sue Surkes
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal doctor, Dr. Tzvi Berkovitz, says that the prime minister is in “excellent” condition after receiving the coronavirus vaccine yesterday night.
“His condition is excellent, with no symptoms or side effects,” Berekovitz says, according to Ynet news.
Dozens of passengers who arrived this afternoon in Israel on flights from the United Kingdom are refusing to be sent to self-isolate at a Jerusalem hotel, after ministers mandated all Israelis arriving from the country must quarantine at state-run facilities due to fears of a coronavirus mutation recorded there.
Some of the passengers who refused to board the buses sought to fly back to London, but the pilot of the EasyJet plane they arrived on refused, saying they hadn’t been denied entry to Israel, the Ynet news site reports.
Several of the passengers bought tickets for a return flight, while 15 passengers on a British Airways plane refused to disembark and will fly back to the UK, the report says.
Following a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet on new restrictions to fight a mutation of the virus that has been identified in several countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu says that the new strain appears to spread faster but is not necessarily more deadly.
Crucially, he said that information Israel has received from the World Health Organization suggests the mutation is not resistant to the vaccines that are currently in production and being rolled out across the world
Upon hearing of the new strain, “I immediately convened a team of ministers last night to discuss this and convened the cabinet today to make important decisions,” Netanyahu says.
“According to the information we have, this mutation spreads much faster than the normal virus but it is no more deadly, and we have no sign that the vaccine we have will not overcome it,” he says, without expanding.
“We are doing everything we can to prevent the mutation from entering Israel. We made a difficult decision today but reality has forced our hand,” he says of the cabinet decision to bar entry to foreign citizens from the UK, Denmark and South Africa, where the mutation has been identified, and to force Israelis returning from there to enter hotel quarantine.
“Especially now, when the vaccine is in our hands and when we see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is important that we continue to follow the rules. We will continue to make the right decisions for your health and for our country,” Netanyahu says.
Turkey has carried out naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, the country’s defense ministry says, against a backdrop of tensions with its neighbors over energy exploration in the region.
The defense ministry said on its Twitter account that “elements of our navy command” conducted the exercises, without specifying the location other than “eastern Mediterranean.”
However it posted photos showing a naval vessel firing a cannon.
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) December 20, 2020
Turkey is at loggerheads with EU members Greece and Cyprus over energy resources in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
The exercises follow an announcement by the European Union on December 10 of plans to impose sanctions on Turkey over its “illegal and aggressive” actions in the zone.
US President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for US surgeon general says it’s more realistic to think it may be mid-summer or early fall before coronavirus vaccines are available to the general population in the United States, rather than late spring.
Speaking on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Vivek Murthy says Biden’s team is working toward having coronavirus vaccines available to lower-risk individuals by late spring but doing so requires “everything to go exactly on schedule.”
“I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid-summer or early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population,” Murthy says. “So, we want to be optimistic, but we want to be cautious as well.”
Murthy, who also served as surgeon general in the Obama administration, says Biden’s promise of 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days in office is realistic and that the Biden team has seen more cooperation from Trump administration officials.
A meeting of the coronavirus cabinet concludes without making any decisions about whether to apply local restrictions aimed at halting rising infection rates — with ministers divided on what limitations should be ordered, how broad they should be, and when to apply them.
On the agenda was limiting commerce, street store operations, markets, reducing public transport by 50 percent, and closing schools in red and orange cities — those falling into the top two categories of a color-coding scheme indicating virus infection rates. The education closure would exclude kindergartens and students up to grade 4.
However, ministers failed to agree on what restrictions should be applied and in what format, or when to apply them, according to leaks of the meeting reported by Hebrew media.
Though failing to reach an agreement on what steps should be taken to clamp down on public life, the cabinet did order that travelers returning to the country from Britain, South Africa, and Denmark be required to quarantine for two weeks, due to a new a mutation of the virus that has been detected in those countries.
The Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, issues a call for the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Everyone should be vaccinated according to the doctors’ instructions without delay, and thus prevent danger from oneself and others,” he says in a statement.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau was vaccinated earlier this afternoon, and Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the leader of the influential Gur Hassidic sect in Israel, is expected to be vaccinated this evening.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri predicts early elections will not be immediately called, as the coalition’s Likud and Blue and White parties continued talks ahead of the upcoming deadline to pass a budget.
“I have a reasonable basis to assume the Knesset won’t dissolve this week,” Deri tells reporters after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, without further elaborating.
He says he hoped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will reach an agreement before Tuesday night, when the Knesset will dissolve if no state budget — or an agreement to delay its passage — is approved by then.
“Elections can’t be held, this is unnecessary, the people don’t want this,” he says.
In separate remarks to Kan public broadcaster, Deri clarifies that he does not believe the Knesset would dissolve this week, “but this doesn’t mean it won’t dissolve next week.”
Deri heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which is part of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.
An Iran-linked hacking group claims to have breached the Israeli Aerospace Industries’ computer systems in the latest in a series of cyber attacks on Israeli firms.
The group, Pay2Key, reveals its alleged hack in a tweet.
“Knock Knock! Tonight is longer than longest night for @ILAerospaceIAI,” the group writes.
— Winter is coming (Pay2Key) (@PKeytwt) December 20, 2020
The hacking group, which has been tied to Iran, also mentions a systems administrator at the defense contractor by name, revealing his password.
Israeli Aerospace Industries says it is looking into the matter.
— Judah Ari Gross
Some 80,000 Israelis have so far signed up with health providers to receive the coronavirus vaccine, Channel 13 news reports.
After vaccines were made available to health care workers today, citizens over the age of 60 can begin getting shots tomorrow.
The Health Ministry is hoping to be able to administer up to 60,000 vaccines a day, when shots are opened to the general public.
Channel 13, however, says that health providers are worried that they will not receive enough vaccines fast enough.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly pushing to introduce a full lockdown “within days” to bring down rising coronavirus cases and prevent the spread of a mutation of the virus in Israel, Hebrew media reports.
According to Channel 13, the prime minister wants to hold a full cabinet meeting as soon as possible to debate a “strict lockdown,” which he hopes will receive cabinet approval after today’s coronavirus cabinet failed to reach agreement on new measures for the Israeli public.
The channel says Netanyahu told the coronavirus cabinet today that he prefers a full lockdown to increased limitations on commerce and it will work “more effectively.”
Poll shows Sa’ar’s new party, anti-Netanyahu bloc gaining ground; Blue and White barely clearing threshold
An opinion poll published by Channel 13 news shows that Likud breakaway MK Gideon Sa’ar’s new party is increasing in its popularity and scoring just nine Knesset seats fewer than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, while Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party continues to lose ground, and is now polling only just above the Knesset threshold.
According to the survey Sa’ar’s New Hope party — including fellow Likud rebel Yifat Shasha-Biton, who said last week she was joining — would get 19 seats in the 120-member parliament. In the last Channel 13 poll, conducted last week by Prof. Camil Fuchs, New Hope gained 17 seats.
The poll predicts 28 seats for Likud, 16 for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem, 14 for Yamina, 11 for the Joint List, 7 each for Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Meretz, 6 for Yisrael Beytenu, and just 5 seats for Blue and White.
That would mean the path to a new government would be harder for the parties loyal or possibly loyal to Netanyahu (Likud, Yamina, Shas and UTJ), who get only 56 seats. To form a coalition, 61 Knesset seats are needed.
Asked who is most fit to be prime minister, Netanyahu’s name is mention by 32 percent of respondents, Sa’ar by 15%, Bennett by 12%, Lapid by 12%, and Gantz by just 8%.
The combined phone and online poll surveyed 760 respondents constituting a representative sample of Israeli adults. The margin of error is 3.7%.
Two men spray painted a swastika onto a Brooklyn yeshiva last weekend in an apparent hate crime, local authorities say, as they release surveillance video of the incident.
The anti-Semitic image, along with the men’s tags, or graffiti signatures, were found on the side of Mesilas Bias Yaakov in the South Slope neighborhood last Sunday.
The New York Daily News reports that the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the crime, but that so far there have been no arrests.
WANTED!! For ANTI-SEMITIC graffiti on Sunday 12/13 at 2:20 PM at 420 19th St, Brooklyn. Call Crimestoppers 800-577-8477. Photos in comments. pic.twitter.com/j0B0A2g2OZ
— NYPD Hate Crimes (@NYPDHateCrimes) December 20, 2020
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident “despicable.”
“To the Mesilas Bais Yaakov community: your city stands with you. We denounce this vile act of anti-Semitism with one voice,” he tweeted yesterday.
At least three rockets targeted the US embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone earlier today, Iraqi security officials say, sparking fears of renewed unrest, as next month’s anniversary of the slaying of an Iranian general draws near.
The embassy’s C-RAM defense system was used to destroy the rockets mid-air, three Iraqi security officials say, with damage caused to property and parked cars. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
The C-RAM system was installed by the US over the summer, as armed groups stepped up rocket attacks targeting the embassy and its premises.
The US withdrew some staff from its embassy in Baghdad earlier this month, temporarily reducing personnel ahead of the first anniversary of the Washington-directed killing of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani outside Baghdad’s airport on January 3. US officials said the decision stemmed from concerns about a possible retaliatory strike.
European Union experts believe existing vaccines against coronavirus are effective against the new fast-spreading strain identified in Britain, Germany’s health minister says.
“According to everything we know so far” the new strain “has no impact on the vaccines,” which remain “just as effective,” Jens Spahn tells public broadcaster ZDF, citing “talks between experts at European authorities.”
US authorities are looking “very carefully” into the virus variant spreading in the United Kingdom, top health officials say, while indicating that a ban on UK travel is not currently in the cards.
Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, tells CNN’s “State of the Union” that US officials “don’t know yet” if the variant is present in the country.
“We are, of course… looking very carefully into this,” including at the National Institutes of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he says.
At the moment, he says, no strain of the virus appears to be resistant to the vaccines available.
“This particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity,” Slaoui says.
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