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Bennett meeting with health officials said to end with no decision on restrictions

Debate reportedly dealt with proposals to impose significant new regulations on large gatherings and to expand the Green Pass system to the entire commerce sector

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (left) hold a press conference at Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on November 26, 2021. (Moti Milrod/Pool via Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (left) hold a press conference at Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, on November 26, 2021. (Moti Milrod/Pool via Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.

Bennett meeting with health officials said to end with no decision on new restrictions

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and senior Health Ministry officials has reportedly ended without a decision on new restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The meeting was expected to deal with proposals to impose significant restrictions on large crowds and to expand the Green Pass system to the entire commerce sector.

Horovitz was expected to demand that any new restrictions be conditioned on the provision of compensation to businesses, Channel 12 news reports.

UK’s Queen Elizabeth cancels traditional Christmas celebration due to virus outbreak

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, during her visit to Wolferton Pumping Station in Norfolk, England, on February 5, 2020. (Adrian Dennis/ Pool/ AFP/ File)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, during her visit to Wolferton Pumping Station in Norfolk, England, on February 5, 2020. (Adrian Dennis/ Pool/ AFP/ File)

The UK’s Queen Elizabeth II has decided to break with tradition and celebrate Christmas at Windsor Castle, rather than at her Sandringham estate, British media reports.

The decision comes as Britain is gripped by rising numbers of cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, and the possible introduction of new restrictions.

Britain’s domestic Press Association news agency quotes an unnamed royal source as saying the decision “was a personal one taken after careful consideration.”

The 95-year-old monarch will see family at the historic castle west of London over Christmas and “sensible precautions and all appropriate guidelines will be followed,” it adds.

The queen has been forced to limit her official duties, after an overnight hospital stay in October that prompted medics to advise her to rest.

Last week, she canceled her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch for the second year in succession because of the risks of the spread of the virus.

Libyan education minister arrested over lack of school textbooks

Libya’s education minister was arrested earlier today as part of an inquiry into a lack of schoolbooks, the country’s prosecution service says.

Moussa al-Megarief “was placed in preventative detention pending an investigation into (possible) negligence,” it says in a statement.

“The Public Prosecution has launched an inquiry to determine the circumstances around contractual procedures for the printing of textbooks and the reasons for a shortfall,” it says.

A number of other officials are wanted for questioning, including the minister for planning, the statement adds.

Since the times of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan authorities have had a budget earmarked to provide free textbooks to each student at the start of the school year in September.

However many of this year’s books have yet to be delivered, forcing students to make full photocopies from just a handful of books per class. Many students had still not been supplied with their books by mid-December.

Before Megarief was arrested, the education ministry had blamed the delay on the complex process of reunifying Libya’s curriculum, after a key east-west schism in 2014 produced different versions.

Morocco bans New Year’s parties over virus fears

Morocco announces a ban on New Year’s Eve celebrations as part of stepped-up measures against rising coronavirus cases.

The government orders a ban on all forms of celebration on the evening of New Year’s Eve, including parties in hotels and tourist sites. It orders restaurants and cafes to close at 11:30 p.m., and says a curfew will be in place from midnight until 6:00 a.m. on January 1.

Morocco on December 15 detected its first case of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

After a partial reopening of borders, it is to close them again from Thursday to rein in the spread of the highly infectious variant.

Authorities will, however, organize special repatriation flights for expatriates stranded in the country.

Pentagon issues rules aimed at thwarting rise of extremism among service members

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, September 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/ Patrick Semansky, Pool)
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, September 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/ Patrick Semansky, Pool)

Warning that extremism in the ranks is increasing, Pentagon officials are issuing detailed new rules prohibiting service members from actively engaging in extremist activities.

The new guidelines come nearly a year after some current and former service members participated in the riot at the US Capitol, triggering a broad department review.

Officials say the new policy does not largely change what is prohibited, but is more of an effort to make sure troops are clear on what they can and cannot do, while still protecting their First Amendment free speech rights. And, for the first time, it is far more specific about social media.

The new policy lays out in detail the banned activities, which range from advocating terrorism or supporting the overthrow of the government to fundraising or rallying on behalf of an extremist group or “liking” or reposting extremist views on social media.

The rules also specify that commanders must determine two things in order for someone to be held accountable: that the action was an extremist activity, as defined in the rules, and that the service member “actively participated” in that prohibited activity.

Woman killed after losing control of car in heavy rain

The ‘Carmel’ storm continues to wreak havoc across the country.

A 30-year-old woman driving between Migdal Haemek and Yafia in northern Israel loses control of her vehicle in the pouring rain, slamming into a traffic pole.

She was flung from her car, and paramedics were forced to declare her death shortly upon arrival at the scene.

In the nearby Bustan al-Marj Regional Council, a 58-year-old woman was found disoriented on the street after having suffered from hypothermia. She was evacuated to a nearby hospital for treatment.

14-year-old Palestinian girl indicted for Sheikh Jarrah stabbing attack

A still image of surveillance footage showing a suspect in the stabbing of an Israeli woman in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on December 8, 2021. (Israel Police)
A still image of surveillance footage showing a suspect in the stabbing of an Israeli woman in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on December 8, 2021. (Israel Police)

Prosecutors charge a 14-year-old Palestinian girl for stabbing a Jewish woman in Jerusalem earlier this month.

According to the charge sheet, the girl planned the morning of the attack to carry out the stabbing, and followed her target — 26-year-old Moriah Cohen — for several minutes before stabbing her in the back in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where they both live.

Cohen — who was with her children at the time of the attack — was treated at the hospital and released the same day.

The stabber fled the scene and hid out in her school, where she swapped clothes with a friend, the indictment says. Police say some of the clothes were found in several locations around the school, including in the principal’s office.

The friend is also expected to be indicted, police said last week.

Shas chair Deri to resign from Knesset in plea deal that lets him stay in politics — report

Shas leader Aryeh Deri during a party faction meeting in the Knesset on May 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas leader Aryeh Deri during a party faction meeting in the Knesset on May 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri is expected to sign a plea deal in the coming days, in which he will admit to tax offenses and resign from the Knesset by the end of its current term, Channel 12 news reports.

As part of the reported deal, Deri will not be charged with a crime that would entail moral turpitude, meaning he would be eligible to run for future office, even in the next elections.

Deri’s office does not deny the report, saying only that it would not comment “until a decision is made.”

Channel 12 says that Shas officials expect Deri to continue to “control and lead” the party from outside the Knesset.

Walla reports that Deri has already given his consent to the details of the deal and that it is now only awaiting the signature of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Mandelblit announced in January that he intended to file criminal charges against Deri, pending a hearing.

Deri, who was convicted and jailed for bribery decades ago, had initially been suspected of the same charge when the current investigation began five years ago, but Mandelblit has ended up accusing him of the lesser offenses of failing to report income to tax authorities on two occasions, and additional tax offenses committed while selling Jerusalem apartments to his brother, Shlomo.

He had also been suspected of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust over the alleged diversion of hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, but those charges were dropped.

Bennett said to propose keeping unvaccinated kids from schools

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is proposing that unvaccinated children be kept out of schools, while those who have been inoculated continue to learn in educational institutions, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the report, the prime minister wants children from the age of 5 who are eligible for the vaccination but have not been vaccinated to be barred from entering school premises and forced to study via distance learning.

The channel quoted health officials as calling the proposal “particularly extreme” and voicing opposition to it, and noted that it was unclear if such a proposal would have the support of a majority in the cabinet.

Remand extended for Palestinian arrested over suspected stabbing attempt

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extends the remand by seven days of a Palestinian suspected of attempting to carry out a stabbing attack in Jerusalem near the Old City’s Damascus Gate yesterday.

The suspect, a man in his 20s from Anata, just outside East Jerusalem, tried to stab a passerby before fleeing, according to police.

No one was injured in the incident.

A police statement said officers located and arrested the suspect after searching the area, and that they also recovered a knife.

10 individuals, 3 companies to be indicted for selling missiles to China

The Financial Department of the State Prosecutor’s Office informs 10 individuals and three companies that they will be indicted on serious security offenses linked to selling missiles to China without approval.

According to the State Prosecutor’s Office, the deal in question was brokered by Ephraim Menashe, an Israeli drone entrepreneur and founder of the Solar Sky company, who then hired Tzvika and Ziv Naveh, owners of the Innocon drone company, and other unnamed suspects.

“The suspects were investigated as part of a large-scale security case, in which it was suspected that they manufactured, brokered, and exported cruise missiles for military use, without a permit,” say prosecutors.

The suspects will be summoned to a pre-indictment hearing before facing a range of charges, including security offenses, weapons offenses, money laundering, violating the Defense Export Control Law and more.

The Defense Ministry’s Defense Export Controls Agency, established in 2006, manages the export and licensing of all Israeli-made defense equipment and technologies, and relevant companies are required to apply for a permit before brokering any overseas deals.

Bennett meeting with senior health officials to debate new virus restrictions

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett begins a meeting with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and senior Health Ministry officials to discuss new restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The meeting is expected to deal with proposals to impose significant restrictions on large crowds and to expand the Green Pass system to the entire commerce sector.

Horovitz is expected to demand that any new restrictions be conditioned on the provision of compensation to businesses, Channel 12 news reports.

Hamas prisoner who stabbed guard named as Gaza resident

Yousef al-Mabhouh. (The Palestinian Prisoners' Media Office)
Yousef al-Mabhouh. (The Palestinian Prisoners' Media Office)

Palestinian media identifies the Hamas security prisoner who allegedly stabbed a guard in Nafkha prison as Yousef al-Mabhouh, a resident of Gaza.

His victim was lightly wounded and is receiving medical care, according to Israel’s prison services.

Russia expels two German diplomats in tit-for-tat move

Russia expels two German diplomats in response to a spat with Berlin over a German court’s ruling that Moscow had ordered the 2019 assassination of an ex-Chechen commander in a Berlin park.

“The German ambassador was informed that two diplomatic employees of the German embassy in Russia were declared ‘personae non gratae’ as a symmetrical response,” Russia’s foreign ministry says in a statement without saying when the German diplomats needed to leave Russia.

The ministry adds that it had registered a “strong protest” with the German envoy over Berlin’s expulsion of two Russian diplomats last week.

Last week, judges in Berlin sentenced Russian national Vadim Krasikov, alias Vadim Sokolov, to life in jail after convicting him of gunning down Georgian national Tornike Kavtarashvili, 40, in a Berlin park in 2019.

The murder was meant “as retaliation” for being a Kremlin opponent, a judge said.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Monday that Moscow “categorically denies the unfounded and divorced from reality accusations” that it was involved.

Belarus says diplomat hurt in London embassy attack

Belarus says one of its diplomats has been injured following an attack on its embassy in London, amid international backlash over a migrant crisis the West blames on the ex-Soviet country.

The Belarusian foreign ministry says in a statement that its embassy in London had been attacked by suspects it suggested belonged to a “radical immigrant group.”

They damaged the facade of the building and “physically attacked” diplomats who arrived at the scene, says the statement.

One of the diplomats was taken to hospital with a broken nose, a mild concussion and a missing tooth, the ministry says.

The Metropolitan Police confirm that a Belarusian embassy staffer reported having been “assaulted and was left with a facial injury.”

It says one man had been arrested nearby and detained, and that their investigation is continuing.

In closing argument, prosecutors allege Ghislaine Maxwell was a dangerous predator

In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, left, sits at the defense table with defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca, while listening to testimony in her sex abuse trial, December 16, 2021, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, left, sits at the defense table with defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca, while listening to testimony in her sex abuse trial, December 16, 2021, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

In closing arguments in Ghislaine Maxwell’s high-profile sex-trafficking case, prosecutors tell jurors that she is a dangerous and sophisticated predator who caused “deep and lasting harm” to young girls by recruiting and grooming them to be sexually abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Assistant US Attorney Alison Moe tells the jury that Epstein could not have preyed on teenage girls for more than a decade without the help of the British socialite, whom she described as the “lady of the house” as Epstein abused girls at a New York mansion, a Florida estate and a ranch in New Mexico.

“Ghislaine Maxwell was dangerous. Maxwell and Epstein committed horrifying crimes,” Moe says

“She manipulated her victims and groomed them. She caused deep and lasting harm to young girls. It is time to hold her accountable,” the prosecutor says in her summation, which comes at the start of the fourth week of the trial.

It will be followed by defense arguments, when Maxwell’s team will once again go back to the idea that she was made a scapegoat after Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail cell in August 2019 as he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

Prison officer stabbed by Hamas security prisoner in Negev jail

A makeshift weapon used by a Palestinian security prisoner to stab a prison guard at the Nafkha Prison, December 20, 2021. (Israel Prison Service)
A makeshift weapon used by a Palestinian security prisoner to stab a prison guard at the Nafkha Prison, December 20, 2021. (Israel Prison Service)

A Palestinian security prisoner stabbed and lightly injured a prison guard this afternoon in the Hamas wing of the Negev desert Nafkah Prison, the Israel Prisons Service says.

The IPS says that the officer is being treated at the prison’s clinic, noting that “the wing is under control.”

A photo of the weapon shared by the Israel Prison Service appeared to show a small vegetable peeler.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Media Office, a group that represents Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, says in a statement that “the hero who committed the stabbing was a prisoner from Gaza,” claiming it came in response to an attack from officers.

“Israel bears full responsibility for any deterioration in the situation,” the group says.

 

 

2 lightly injured as storm downs Jerusalem electricity pylon

An electricity pylon in Jerusalem was knocked downed by stormy weather, hitting a truck and injuring two, December 20, 2021. (Magen David Adom)
An electricity pylon in Jerusalem was knocked downed by stormy weather, hitting a truck and injuring two, December 20, 2021. (Magen David Adom)

Two people are being treated by the Magen David Adom ambulance service for light injuries after an electricity pylon in Jerusalem was knocked down by the storm beginning to lash Israel and hit the truck they were traveling in.

The storm, dubbed “Carmel,” is expected to bring major rainfall and strong winds, causing serious disruptions throughout the country.

Lapid to remain Yesh Atid chair after no candidates run against him

The director-general of Yesh Atid announces that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will continue to serve as the party’s chairman after no other candidates put their names forward for its first leadership primary next month.

Some 1,000 party members will therefore convene to reelect Lapid as chairman at the party’s first conference on January 4, 2022. The conference will be made up mainly of field activists, regional directors and factional representatives in local councils.

Lapid has led Yesh Atid since he founded the party. He is set to become premier in 2023 as part of a rotation deal with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett: ‘Not inconceivable’ that much of Israel will catch Omicron

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hints at future COVID restrictions and stresses the dangers of the Omicron variant during a hearing about the vaccination of children.

“This is a wave that we cannot stop, but we can delay and slow and diminish its strength,” Bennett says alongside Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton.

The prime minister warns that the Omicron variant “is unusually contagious. If during Delta we saw a doubling [of cases] every 10 days, now the average is [a doubling] every day or two or three days.”

“We know that those who are fully vaccinated, by and large, can be infected and infect others,” Bennett continues, “but those who are fully protected will get through it without any problem.

“It is not inconceivable that many of us will unfortunately be infected, but this is not a big deal, because we are vaccinated,” he says.

In first, female officer appointed president’s military secretary

Brig. Gen. 'N.,' the first female Military Secretary to the President. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Brig. Gen. 'N.,' the first female Military Secretary to the President. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

President Isaac Herzog appoints Col. “N.” as the next military secretary to the president’s office, promoting her to the rank of brigadier general in the first time a female officer has been named to the position.

The decision was made in coordination with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the president’s office says.

Forty-year-old “N.,” who cannot be named for security reasons, will succeed Brig. Gen. Alaa Abu Rukun, who has served in the role for the past three years. “N” has served in the IDF for 22 years, serving as IDF Central Command’s chief intelligence officer for the past year and a half.

“I congratulate Col. ‘N.’ on her appointment and I trust and am confident that she will be a welcome addition to my team of advisers, and that her professional and personal talents will bring tremendous value to the institution of the presidency, the IDF, and the whole State of Israel,” Herzog says in a statement.

“The glass ceiling is being smashed every day in Israel and I am proud that during my presidency, another glass ceiling is being smashed, by a worthy and promising officer,” the president adds.

Iran says it hasn’t held any direct talks with US in Vienna

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tells reporters that the Iranian negotiation team has not had any direct talks with the US during the recent talks in Vienna, the state-run Fars News Agency reports.

“Some messages have been received through [EU Deputy Foreign Policy Chief] Enrique Mora in written and unwritten forms since the beginning of talks in Vienna on the issues of negotiation [and nothing more] and the answers have been given immediately,” Khatibzadeh is quoted as saying.

“Despite its claims, the US has not yet made any tangible proposals or text to the G4+1,” he says, adding that progress is only possible if world powers agree to remove sanctions on Iran.

“We hope that we will reach a result if the other side removes the sanctions effectively and verifiably,” Khatibzadeh stresses.

Gantz calls on Netanyahu, Edelstein to join vaccination push

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, speaking at the opening of his Blue and White party’s faction meeting at the Knesset, calls on Likud lawmakers, including former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to give their public backing to the current national vaccination campaign.

“I appreciate Netanyahu and [former health minister Yuli] Edelstein for their contribution to the vaccination campaign that began a year ago. I therefore ask them to take part in the vaccination effort now and to call on the public to get vaccinated,” Gantz says.

The call comes amid a renewed government effort to promote vaccination as the Omicron variant begins to push coronavirus cases up.

Intersection on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to be named in honor of Shimon Peres

Former president Shimon Peres during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, November 2, 2015. (AP Photo/ Dan Balilty, File)
Former president Shimon Peres during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem, November 2, 2015. (AP Photo/ Dan Balilty, File)

Shimon Peres may have never lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but soon the late Israeli leader will have a New York City street corner named in his honor.

The intersection of West 95th Street and Riverside Drive will be renamed “Shimon Peres Place” after the New York City Council approved nearly 200 new street names last week to honor various people.

The news was reported by Patch, which notes that while Peres never lived in the city permanently, he did study at both New York University and the New School and frequently visited New York.

Peres, who died in 2016, served three times as Israel’s prime minister in addition to serving as president of the country from 2007 to 2014.

Egypt jails key revolution figure for 5 years

Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a blogger who rose to prominence in Egypt's 2011 revolution. (CC BY-SA 2.5, Alaa Abd el-Fatah/Wikimedia)
Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a blogger who rose to prominence in Egypt's 2011 revolution. (CC BY-SA 2.5, Alaa Abd el-Fatah/Wikimedia)

Egypt sentences Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading figure in the 2011 revolution, to five years in jail with two others receiving four years.

Abdel Fattah, his lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim were charged with “broadcasting false news” in their trial in Cairo.

“Alaa was sentenced to five years, Baqer four years and Mohamed Oxygen four years,” Abdel Fattah’s sister Mona Seif says. “The judge was too cowardly to even inform us.”

Aquarium at Jerusalem zoo evacuated amid fears of chemical leak

Young boys look at fish at the aquarium at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. July 25, 2012 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Young boys look at fish at the aquarium at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. July 25, 2012 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The aquarium at Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo is evacuated over fears of a hazardous material leak.

Despite initial reports of casualties, no one appeared to be hurt in the incident.

According to the Walla news site, there was a strong smell of chlorine during a routine disinfection of the aquarium at the zoo.

Channel 13 news reports that the incident had apparently been caused by the incorrect mixing of chemicals during the cleaning process.

Moderna: Initial booster data shows good results on Omicron

In this file photo from August 15, 2021, vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the Assad Iben El Fourat school in Oued Ellil, outside Tunisa. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, file)
In this file photo from August 15, 2021, vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the Assad Iben El Fourat school in Oued Ellil, outside Tunisa. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, file)

Moderna says that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine should offer protection against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

The drug company says lab tests show the half-dose booster shot increases by 37 times the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies able to fight Omicron. And a full-dose booster was even stronger, triggering an 83-fold jump in antibody levels, although with an increase in the usual side effects, the company says. (While half-dose shots are being used for most Moderna boosters, a full-dose third shot has been recommended for people with weakened immune systems.)

Pfizer’s testing likewise found its COVID-19 vaccine triggered a similarly big jump in omicron-fighting antibodies. The vaccines made by Pfizer and by Moderna, both made with mRNA technology, are used by many countries around the world to fight the coronavirus.

Man badly injured by falling tree fighting for life in intensive care — hospital

The Beilinson Medical Center reports bad news about a man who sustained a serious head injury earlier today when stormy weather blew over a tree that landed on him in the coastal city of Netanya.

The man, 49, is currently “fighting for his life” in intensive care while on a ventilator and in an induced coma, the hospital says.

The man was apparently walking past the tree, on Raziel Street, when it snapped off at the roots and toppled onto the sidewalk, striking him.

Wind speeds in the area had reached 60 km/h (37 mph), Hebrew media reported.

Bennett discusses Iran with visiting delegation of ambassadors to the UN

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) meets with a delegation of ambassadors to the UN visiting Israel, December 21, 2021.
(Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) meets with a delegation of ambassadors to the UN visiting Israel, December 21, 2021. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets at his Jerusalem office with a delegation of ambassadors to the UN visiting Israel on a trip led by Israel’s Ambassador Gilad Erdan.

Bennett thanked the members of the delegation for their friendship and for visiting Israel, and discussed regional challenges, including the Iranian threat, with them, the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement.

Bennett “emphasized the potential for cooperation between the countries and noted that he expects that the friendship between the countries will find expression in the ambassadors’ activity at the UN.”

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

World Economic Forum to ‘defer’ Davos meeting over Omicron fears

The World Economic Forum (WEF) announces it “will defer its annual meeting in Davos… in the light of continued uncertainty over the Omicron” variant of coronavirus.

The high-powered meeting, which usually draws leading figures from business, politics and diplomacy, will instead be held in “early summer,” the organizers says.

Last year’s event was canceled because of the pandemic.

Initial reports of hazardous leak at Jerusalem Zoo

There are initial reports of a hazardous material leak at Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo.

There are said to be several casualties, but their condition is not immediately known.

Fire and rescue services are on the scene to secure the area and determine the source of the leak.

PA: 4 West Bank Palestinians diagnosed with Omicron

The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health crews conduct random checks through blood in the town of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on January 14, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health crews conduct random checks through blood in the town of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on January 14, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Four West Bank Palestinians have been determined so far to have the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry says.

PA Health Ministry spokesperson Kamal al-Shakhra says that all those infected with the fast-spreading mutation are in stable condition and are isolating at their homes.

The Palestinian Authority has yet to announce any new restrictions on gatherings in the light of the new variant. But Israel’s travel ban on incoming tourists also applies to the West Bank, as Israeli authorities control all the border crossings that lead to PA areas.

At a cabinet meeting in Ramallah, PA premier Mohammad Shtayyeh calls on Palestinians to get vaccinated, including with a third booster shot for those who have already received two.

Half-naked 5-year-old, apparently beaten, found walking Jerusalem streets

A 5-year-old boy with signs of violence on his body was found this afternoon walking the streets of Jerusalem alone and half-naked, police say.

The child was found near the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood by a social worker who called the police, the force says in a statement.

During the handling of the incident, an ultra-Orthodox crowd, which included the child’s father, surrounded the officers and attempted to prevent them from taking him away, the statement says. The father and two others were arrested.

Police say they purchased warm clothes for the child and contacted welfare authorities in the Jerusalem municipality.

Gantz: Iran is no world power, it’s run out of bargaining chips

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, on October 19, 2021. (Noam Mushkovitz/Knesset Spokesperson)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, on October 19, 2021. (Noam Mushkovitz/Knesset Spokesperson)

Appearing before the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, Defense Minister Benny Gantz says that Iran is in a weak position vis-à-vis the ongoing nuclear talks in Geneva and could be pushed into making concessions.

“Iran’s domestic situation presents an opportunity for the international community. Iran is not a leading power — its citizens are suffering as a result of the poor economic situation, investments and development have been slashed by 50 percent in the last decade, and the country faces a variety of internal and external challenges,” Gantz tells lawmakers.

“The Iranian regime is well aware of this situation and as such, Iran is coming into negotiations without real bargaining chips. It is possible and necessary to put an end to Iran’s ‘stalling’ strategy. We are deepening international cooperation, and I am certain that soon both overt and covert actions will be expanded, by a variety of means,” he says.

The defense minister adds, “At the same time, for the past year and a half, we have been engaged in force buildup, procuring new means that will ensure Israel’s defense superiority in the region in the face of all threats.”

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