search
Live updates (closed)

Warning of Omicron’s high contagion, PM suggests 4th vaccine dose is on the way

Ministers convene cabinet meeting to discuss new COVID regulations and restrictions after first Omicron death reported in Israel

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

An Israeli health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a student at the al-Manahel School in the village of Majdal Shams on December 12, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
An Israeli health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a student at the al-Manahel School in the village of Majdal Shams on December 12, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

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

Health minister says flight bans cannot remain in effect indefinitely

Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 19, 2021. (Flash90)
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 19, 2021. (Flash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz tells cabinet ministers that bans on travel for Israelis cannot remain in place long term.

“We can’t leave a ban on Israelis traveling abroad long term,” Horowitz says. “People have needs, it’s not just for vacations.”

Horowitz says the exceptions committee for travel is overwhelmed with requests and “there are thousands of applicants. The committee can’t handle it… I am receiving a flood of requests.”

At midnight tonight, a ban will come into effect on a whole raft of new countries, including the US and Canada, adding to a long list of countries that Israelis are already barred from visiting under new Omicron restrictions. Anyone seeking to visit the dozens of blacklisted countries must apply for a special exception.

Intel tells unvaccinated employees they will face unpaid leave next year

An Intel building in Jerusalem, on May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An Intel building in Jerusalem, on May 18, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Intel tells workers that unvaccinated people who don’t get an exemption for religious or medical reasons will be on unpaid leave beginning in April.

The California-based semiconductor company told employees last month they had a January 4 deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or seek an exemption, citing a government mandate for federal contractors.

The constitutionality of broad government mandates is up in the air. A federal court in Georgia blocked the contractor mandate earlier this month, but the government is appealing.

“We are closely monitoring the legal environment and expect it will take time for the case in Georgia, as well as other similar cases, to be fully resolved,” Intel said in a statement.

In a December 7 memo to employees, Chief People Officer Christy Pambianchi told employees the January 4 vaccine deadline remains in place.

Intel is one of the biggest employers in Israel, counting approximately 14,000 employees. It is unclear if the mandate would be extended outside of the US.

Hamas praises West Bank attempted ramming attack

First responders at the scene of an attempted car ramming in the West Bank, on December 21, 2021. (Rescuers Without Borders)
First responders at the scene of an attempted car ramming in the West Bank, on December 21, 2021. (Rescuers Without Borders)

The Hamas terror group praises an apparent attempted ramming attack near the settlement of Einav in the West Bank.

“A new act of resistance by mighty Jenin, whose revolutionary youth are responding to the crimes of the occupation,” says Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasim.

The terror group does not take responsibility for the suspected attack.

Poland denies using NSO’s Pegasus spyware for political ends

A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, on August 24, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
A logo adorns a wall on a branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, on August 24, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Poland rejects accusations that it used Pegasus spying software for political ends after a top lawyer opposed to the current government says he was targeted.

“The suggestion that Polish services used operational methods for political ends is unjustified,” says Stanislaw Zaryn, spokesman for the ministry in charge of the secret services.

Roman Giertych, a lawyer involved in several cases against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, claims that Poland was using the spyware “to fight the democratic opposition.”

“Using this type of program to fight the opposition completely eliminates the sense of democratic elections,” he says, explaining that the spyware was used ahead of the 2019 elections.

Ewa Wrzosek, a prosecutor and opposition figure, also says the spyware had been used against her. She had been alerted by Apple, she adds.

Citizen Lab, a cyber-security watchdog based in Canada, confirms it looked into the use of Pegasus against Giertych and Wrzosek.

“We conducted these investigations and provided confirmation to the two named individuals that they were repeatedly infected with Pegasus spyware,” John Scott Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, tells AFP.

Sa’ar suggests paying parents to vaccinate their children

A child is vaccinated against the coronavirus at an elementary school in Tzur Hadassah, on December 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A child is vaccinated against the coronavirus at an elementary school in Tzur Hadassah, on December 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar suggests paying Israeli citizens to encourage vaccination.

Sa’ar tells a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet that Israel should offer to pay NIS 1,000 (approximately $315) to all parents who take their children to be vaccinated, as well as all adults who receive a booster dose.

Vaccination rates among 5-11 year olds have been fairly low since the shots became available one month ago. Just 12 percent of all 5-11 year olds have received one dose of the vaccine, compared to 61% of 12-15 year olds, who became eligible in June.

Earlier today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $100 gift to any New Yorker who gets vaccinated.

Biden reportedly hasn’t taken Bennett’s calls in several weeks

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks as he meets with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday, August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, speaks as he meets with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on Friday, August 27, 2021, in Washington, DC. (GPO)

US President Joe Biden has not taken calls from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in several weeks, reports Channel 13 news, despite efforts from Bennett to reach him.

Biden and Bennett met in the White House in late August, but are not believed to have spoken since. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Bennett in early December, Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Blinken in DC two weeks ago and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with Blinken in DC in October.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan landed in Israel earlier today and is expected to meet Bennett this week, and President Isaac Herzog later tonight.

No injuries reported in attempted ramming attack in West Bank

Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers in West Bank, on February 10, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers in West Bank, on February 10, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

An attempted ramming attack took place near the Einav settlement in the northern West Bank, according to the military.

The IDF says it received a report of an attempted ramming attack, but there were no injuries to Israeli forces. The driver of the car was “neutralized,” the military says.

Hamas threatens retaliation following crackdown on Palestinian prisoners

Sheikh Raed Salah (center left), leader of the radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, celebrates with supporters following his release from a jail in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, on December 13, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Sheikh Raed Salah (center left), leader of the radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, celebrates with supporters following his release from a jail in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, on December 13, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Hamas terror group threatens retaliation after a Palestinian prisoner stabbed an Israeli guard with a small improvised weapon, sparking what Palestinians said was a crackdown.

Yousef al-Mabhouh, a Palestinian security prisoner from Gaza, stabbed an Israeli prison guard last night, lightly wounding him. In response, Israeli prison authorities shut down the compound and put several prisoners into solitary confinement, according to Palestinian media.

“We will not allow the battle to stay confined to the jails,” says Hamas official Zaher Jabareen in an interview with Palestine Today TV. “We will not leave our prisoners to fend for themselves.”

Hamas says it has passed a message to Israel through Egypt and other mediators between the two sides warning Israel “against continuing to aggress against prisoners inside [Israeli] jails.”

Hamas and Islamic Jihad have occasionally threatened to attack Israel over the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. But those threats have rarely come to pass, with the problem generally getting resolved in one way or another.

Lebanon’s political paralysis jeopardizes international support, says UN chief

Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups chant slogans against Judge Tarek Bitar who is investigating last year's deadly seaport blast, during a protest in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday, October 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups chant slogans against Judge Tarek Bitar who is investigating last year's deadly seaport blast, during a protest in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday, October 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The international community will not show up for Lebanon if political paralysis continues to hamper the implementation of desperately needed reforms, says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“The international community will probably not — independently of support that has already been provided — respond the way it needs to respond if they see the country is paralyzed,” Guterres tells a press conference at the end of a three-day visit to the crisis-hit country.

“We need the support of the international community to be much larger than it is today and the Lebanese people deserve it but there is homework that needs to be done in Lebanon,” he says, referring to reforms.

Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one the planet’s worst in modern times. More than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty, and the local currency has lost more than 90% of its value on the black market.

Bennett: We can’t prevent a fifth COVID wave

People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on October 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on October 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says Israel cannot prevent a fifth COVID wave, as cases in the country tick up.

“We can’t stop the wave, it’s not possible,” he tells ministers. “But we can definitely give the citizens of Israel the tools to protect themselves, in particular against serious symptoms.”

“The public needs to be aware that there will be a dramatic rise in contagion,” Bennett adds. “It’s not an exaggeration, this is the prediction, and I believe it will come very quickly.”

Foreign Minister Lapid discusses Omicron variant with global counterparts

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid takes part in a Zoom meeting with 17 of his counterparts from around the world to discuss the Omicron outbreak.

“We bought time with closing the skies and we’re doing everything we can to use that time to vaccinate more adults and children,” Lapid tells the ministers. He also tells the group that Israel has donated one million vaccine doses to African nations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the forum “discussed regional impacts of the Omicron variant and policy responses going forward,” noting that “the emergence of variants underscores the urgent need to accelerate efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

At cabinet hearing, Liberman voices opposition to restrictions on gatherings

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference, presenting new reform on housing, at the Finance Ministry offices in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference, presenting new reform on housing, at the Finance Ministry offices in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman tells ministers that he does not support new coronavirus restrictions on gatherings.

“I don’t think this is the time to take steps like limiting gatherings,” Liberman says. “It puts us into a world of giving compensation” to owners of event halls, concert venues and other businesses that would be harmed by such measures.

“Just like we live with the flu, we have to live with the Omicron.”

Israel demolishes Palestinian home near Bethlehem

A Palestinian vendor stands in front of his shop near the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank City of Bethlehem, on Monday, November 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
A Palestinian vendor stands in front of his shop near the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank City of Bethlehem, on Monday, November 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Israeli authorities demolished a two-story Palestinian house near Bethlehem today, rendering eight Palestinians homeless, according to the B’Tselem rights group.

The Civil Administration, an Israeli military body responsible for overseeing construction in the West Bank, knocked down the structure amidst the stormy weather across the region.

Israel often demolishes Palestinian homes in West Bank areas under its civilian control that were built illegally without permits. Palestinians say that they have no choice but to build illegally, as Israel rarely issues permits for legal Palestinian construction.

The Civil Administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Warning of Omicron’s high contagion, Bennett suggests 4th vaccine dose is on the way

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)

At the outset of a cabinet hearing dealing with new coronavirus restrictions, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warns of the ultra-contagious new Omicron variant.

“The bad news is that the Omicron in Israel is advancing exactly according to our expectations and predictions,” Bennett says. “We’re doubling the new cases.”

“Within a week and a half we will know the seriousness of this variant,” he adds. “The decision is between easy restrictions now versus difficult steps later.”

Earlier today, the Health Ministry announced 170 new Omicron cases in Israel, bringing the total to 340. While overall case rates are rising, so far serious cases and hospitalizations have remained low.

Bennett says he hopes health officials will soon approve a fourth dose of the vaccine for relevant populations to protect against infection and serious disease.

Health Ministry official Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis responds that the issue is under consideration, but that it’s a serious decision.

Israel records first known Omicron death

Empty beds are seen in a coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Empty beds are seen in a coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The first death of an Israeli with the Omicron coronavirus strain has been recorded in Israel.

The man was in his 60s and suffered from preexisting conditions, and died yesterday at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, the hospital says. He had reportedly received only two vaccine doses.

There are known to be at least 340 Omicron cases in Israel, the Health Ministry said earlier today, which is still a small fraction of the thousands of current cases. Overall case rates have been rising in Israel in recent days, but serious COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates have so far been remaining steady.

NYC offers $100 to any resident who gets a COVID booster shot this month

A sign outside of a hospital advertises the COVID-19 vaccine on November 19, 2021 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images via AFP)
A sign outside of a hospital advertises the COVID-19 vaccine on November 19, 2021 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images via AFP)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces a $100 gift to any resident who gets a COVID vaccine booster dose by the end of the year.

“It’s a limited-time opportunity, but exactly the time we need New Yorkers to go out and get their booster,” says de Blasio, whose term ends in January. “This is the moment. Come out in real big numbers, get those booster shots and help make your family safer and help make this whole city safer.”

Ahead of Christmas, Israel counts 182,000 Christians in Holy Land

Issa Anis Kassissieh, the official Ambassador of the Holy Land Santa, kayaks in the Jordan River in the Golan Heights as part of his Christmas 2021 greeting. (Courtesy: Omri Masika and Roi Peretz)
Issa Anis Kassissieh, the official Ambassador of the Holy Land Santa, kayaks in the Jordan River in the Golan Heights as part of his Christmas 2021 greeting. (Courtesy: Omri Masika and Roi Peretz)

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) reveals that approximately 182,000 Christians live in Israel today.

In stats revealed ahead of Christmas, CBS says that Christians make up about 1.9 percent of Israel’s population, and grew by 1.4% in 2020.

Christians make up 7% of Israel’s Arab population, and 76.7% of Christians in Israel are Arab. The largest Arab Christian population centers in Israel can be found in Nazareth (21,400), Haifa (16,500) and Jerusalem (12,900).

Christian leaders in the Holy Land have warned that their communities are under threat of being driven from the region by extremist Israeli radical groups, and called for dialogue on preserving their presence.

Ex-Netanyahu aide: ‘He shredded everything, even grocery lists’

Nir Hefetz seen as he arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nir Hefetz seen as he arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem, December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A former top aide to Benjamin Netanyahu testifies that the former prime minister used to shred anything and everything, including shopping lists.

“Netanyahu shredded everything, even grocery lists,” says Nir Hefetz, who once served as a senior adviser to Netanyahu before turning state witness against him.

Hefetz, who is currently in his ninth day of testimony in the ongoing corruption trial against Netanyahu, says he regularly instructed figures close to the former prime minister to delete texts and other electronic messages.

US population growth dipped to lowest ever rate during first year of COVID

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and woman wheel strollers with sleeping children in them as they cross a street on the Jewish joldiay of Sukkot, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s ordering schools in certain New York City neighborhoods closed within a day in an attempt to halt a flare-up of the coronavirus. The governor took the action a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the state for permission to reinstate restrictions on businesses and schools in nine ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens where the virus was spreading more quickly. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and woman wheel strollers with sleeping children in them as they cross a street on the Jewish joldiay of Sukkot, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s ordering schools in certain New York City neighborhoods closed within a day in an attempt to halt a flare-up of the coronavirus. The governor took the action a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the state for permission to reinstate restrictions on businesses and schools in nine ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens where the virus was spreading more quickly. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Already declining US population growth dipped to its lowest rate since the nation’s founding during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, reveals new census data.

That’s because the coronavirus curtailed immigration, delayed pregnancies and killed hundreds of thousands of US residents. Figures released today by the US Census Bureau show the US grew by only 0.1% with only an additional 392,665 added to the US population, from July 2020 to July 2021.

The population estimates are derived from calculating the number of births, deaths and migration in the US. For the first time, international migration surpassed natural increases from births outnumbering deaths. There was a net increase of almost 245,000 residents from international migration but only around 148,000 from natural increase.

EU does not hold PA accountable for human rights violations, claims new study

President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)
President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS)

The European Union has not done enough to ensure that its funding to the Palestinian Authority does not support incitement to violence and human rights violations, argues a new study.

“Despite existing anti-terrorism regulations, the EU has not addressed funding by the Palestinian Authority to families of convicted terrorists as well as the persistent issue of incitement to hatred and widespread anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks,” write researchers Tommaso Virgili and Paul Stott.

The study was commissioned by B’nai Brith International, a Jewish philanthropic organization that also advocates on behalf of Israel in the United States and abroad.

Government approves cutting in-person public sector work to 50%

The reconstituted "coronavirus cabinet" meets at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
The reconstituted "coronavirus cabinet" meets at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 23, 2021. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Ministers vote to approve a measure that will cut back the in-office presence of public sector work to 50%.

The COVID cabinet approves the measure — which will see at least half of public sector employees working from home — in an effort to curb the rising COVID cases and the Omicron outbreak.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged private sector companies and businesses to allow their employees to work from home as much as possible.

Omicron is now the dominant COVID strain in Denmark, says minister

Illustrative: A runner dressed as Santa Claus takes part in an annual Christmas run in Middelfart, Denmark, on December 11, 2021. (Soeren Gylling / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP)
Illustrative: A runner dressed as Santa Claus takes part in an annual Christmas run in Middelfart, Denmark, on December 11, 2021. (Soeren Gylling / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP)

The highly transmissible Omicron variant is now dominant in Denmark, which set a new record for daily COVID-19 infections today, its health minister says.

“The Institute of Public Health now considers Omicron to be the dominant variant and climbing” a month after first being detected in the Nordic country, Magnus Heunicke tweets.

A record 13,558 new cases in 24 hours were registered in the nation of 5.8 million people. At least 500 of the cases were people who had already had COVID-19.

Faced with surging cases, Denmark — which sequences more samples than many other countries — on Sunday shut cinemas, theaters and concert halls and has restricted restaurant opening hours. The measures are due to last at least four weeks.

Omicron cases in Israel top 340, says Health Ministry

People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on October 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, on October 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry reveals that 170 new cases of the Omicron COVID strain have been confirmed in Israel, bringing the total number of such cases to 341 and doubling them in just one day.

According to ministry statistics, 234 of the cases are among those who returned from abroad — including from South Africa, the UK, France, the US, the UAE, Hungary, Italy, Namibia, Tanzania, Germany, Morocco, Spain, Serbia, Belgium, Cyprus and Turkey — while 29 cases were among those who came in contact with those who returned from abroad and 66 were communal spread.

Another 807 cases are considered to be highly likely to be Omicron, but have yet to be confirmed by a lab, says the ministry.

Among the infected, 246 of the 341 were considered to be fully protected, either with a booster dose or a recent second dose of the COVID vaccine.

Liberman vows that skyrocketing house prices will ‘moderate’ by end of 2022

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference, presenting new reform on housing, at the Finance Ministry offices in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference, presenting new reform on housing, at the Finance Ministry offices in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman says that Israel’s skyrocketing housing prices will “moderate” by the end of next year and Israel may even see prices drop in the following year, according to his estimates.

The housing issue “is not something that can be solved in a month or two, it’s a long process,” Liberman says at the Israel Business Conference hosted by business daily Globes in Tel Aviv.

“For several years, this issue was neglected… I believe that towards the end of 2022, we will see a significant moderation in housing prices. Within two years we can even lower prices. Purchase tax has come to cool off demand and I am optimistic.”

COVID cabinet to convene to discuss new restrictions

Israelis wear face masks in the Dizengoff Center mall, Tel Aviv, September 13, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis wear face masks in the Dizengoff Center mall, Tel Aviv, September 13, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The government COVID-19 cabinet is slated to convene this evening at 6 p.m. to weigh new measures to spread the rising coronavirus caseload in Israel.

The ministers, who met last night without making any decisions, are expected to discuss size limits on gatherings, expanding the Green Pass requirement — proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 — to the entire commerce sector, and ending subsidies of antigen tests for unvaccinated children.

Yesterday, 1,306 Israelis tested positive for COVID, after 1,017 tested positive on Sunday and 876 on Friday.

NSO’s Pegasus used to target Khashoggi’s wife before his murder, claims WashPost

In this Oct. 2, 2019, photo, a Turkish police officer walks past a picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
In this Oct. 2, 2019, photo, a Turkish police officer walks past a picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

The Washington Post reports that the Israeli firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware was placed on the cellphone of the wife of Jamal Khashoggi months before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

According to the report, the spyware was placed on Hanan Elatr’s phone after she was questioned by security agents at the Dubai airport months before Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered. The Citizen Lab research group says that the spying was carried out by a United Arab Emirates customer.

NSO has claimed that its spyware was never used to attack the phones of Khashoggi or Elatr before the killing of the prominent Saudi critic.

Health Ministry says 90% of ritual baths don’t meet water quality standards

Illustrative: A luxury mikveh (ritual bath) for women, in the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut on August 25, 2015. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)
Illustrative: A luxury mikveh (ritual bath) for women, in the Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut on August 25, 2015. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90)

The Health Ministry says that 90% of mikvehs, or ritual baths, in Israel do not meet the legal business standards set for such bodies of water.

A study of 121 ritual baths — which observant Jewish women immerse in monthly, and some observant Jewish men use regularly — found that 44% of them had too much chlorine in the water while 20% did not have enough chlorine, according to regulatory standards.

Renovations begin on entrance to Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem

An artistic rendering of the future opening gate of the Mount Herzl cemetery. (Herzlberg Architects)
An artistic rendering of the future opening gate of the Mount Herzl cemetery. (Herzlberg Architects)

The World Zionist Organization and KKL-JNF hold a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a new entrance gate to the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem.

The new gate is being designed by the Herzlberg team of architects, led by architect Daniel Strasburger.

Once the renovations are complete, the new entrance complex will showcase a “floating roof” both inside and outside the complex providing shade to visitors, lined by perforated triangles “creating a disassembled and abstract geometry of the Star of David.”

The existing gate was constructed in 1955 by architect Joseph Clervin.

Highly vaccinated UAE reports its highest daily COVID cases in months

Illustrative: Emiratis wearing face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic work on the floor of the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 7, 2020. (Jon Gambrell/AP)
Illustrative: Emiratis wearing face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic work on the floor of the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 7, 2020. (Jon Gambrell/AP)

The United Arab Emirates records its highest daily virus caseload in months, a spike that comes as the Omicron variant races across the globe and the Mideast tourist hub prepares to welcome hordes of tourists for the holidays.

The emirate reports 452 infections in the past 24 hours, including two deaths — an increase not seen in the highly vaccinated Gulf Arab state since mid-September. Infections had plummeted to record lows, around 50 a day, just over a week ago.

A nationwide mask mandate remains in place outdoors, but Dubai’s bars and restaurants have been teeming with mask-less revelers. Most luxury hotels report that they’re booked through the December holidays. Each year, giant New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city draw thousands of tourists and social media influencers fleeing wintry weather in Europe.

The UAE boasts one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, with authorities reporting that over 99% of eligible residents have received at least one dose. The government also offers Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots to all adults.

A passenger on Prime Minister’s Naftali Bennett’s flight home from the UAE last week tested positive for the virus. Israel shortly afterward banned travel to the UAE due to the high risk of infection.

Lebanon’s Central Bank says it needs $12-15 billion to kickstart recovery

In this January 14, 2020 file photo, anti-government protesters smash a bank widow during protests against the Lebanese central bank's governor and against the deepening financial crisis, at Hamra trade street, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)
In this January 14, 2020 file photo, anti-government protesters smash a bank widow during protests against the Lebanese central bank's governor and against the deepening financial crisis, at Hamra trade street, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Lebanon needs to receive 12 to 15 billion dollars from its partners to kickstart its economic recovery and shore up fast-diminishing foreign currency reserves, says Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.

Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst in modern times. More than 80% of the population lives in poverty and the currency has lost more than 90% of its black market value amid political squabbling that has delayed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

“Our quota in the International Monetary Fund is $4 billion,” Salameh says in an AFP interview. “If countries add to it, we could reach $12 to $15 billion, an amount that could help start Lebanon’s recovery and restore confidence,” he says.

Lebanon defaulted on its debt for the first time last year but political leaders have continued to resist key reforms demanded by donors to unlock necessary funds.

EU to limit the validity of its COVID vaccine pass to nine months

A man receives a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in a vaccination clinic set up at St Columba's Church in Sheffield on December 15, 2021 as the UK steps up the country's booster drive to fight a "tidal wave" of Omicron. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)
A man receives a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in a vaccination clinic set up at St Columba's Church in Sheffield on December 15, 2021 as the UK steps up the country's booster drive to fight a "tidal wave" of Omicron. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

The European Union is poised to limit the validity of vaccine recognition in its EU COVID certificate to nine months, its executive says, in a bid to encourage boosters.

The European Commission says in a statement it has adopted “a binding acceptance period of nine months (precisely 270 days) of vaccination certificates for the purposes of intra-EU travel,” to come into force from February 1.

The measure — which needs approval of EU member states to come into effect — comes as the bloc races to get booster jabs into arms under the shadow of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Several EU countries had already announced go-it-alone measures that would soon consider double-jabbed people no longer “fully vaccinated” unless they also got a booster shot.

Israel was one of the first countries in the world to limit its COVID “Green Pass” to six months following the second dose of the vaccine, if a booster was not received. During the brief period in which fully vaccinated tourists were allowed in, only those within six months of a second or third dose were welcome.

US to provide an additional $580 million in international COVID aid

Airport workers transport a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the Covax global vaccination program, at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana on February 24, 2021. (Nipah Dennis / AFP)
Airport workers transport a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the Covax global vaccination program, at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana on February 24, 2021. (Nipah Dennis / AFP)

The United States will give $580 million in additional aid to international organizations to fight Covid-19 in the face of surging Omicron cases, says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant reinforces that we must all continue to accelerate our efforts to end this pandemic and that none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Blinken says. “The world is at a critical point in our global response to this virus.”

Blinken says he was scheduled to hold a meeting later today with his counterparts from other countries to coordinate the international response to the new variant, which has already become the dominant strain in the United States.

“I call on my counterparts to fulfill and bolster their commitments in fighting the pandemic. We must work together, and we must act quickly,” he says.

The additional funds to seven multilateral agencies bring overall US assistance to $19.6 billion, according to the State Department.

Yair Netanyahu handed NIS 2,000 fine for skipping court appearance

Yair Netanyahu, son of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court hearing on a defamation suit, in Tel Aviv, November 29, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court hearing on a defamation suit, in Tel Aviv, November 29, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Yair Netanyahu, the son of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is ordered to pay NIS 2,000 ($630) for failing to show up to court in a libel suit against him. The court date is postponed to January 27, and the judge warns Netanyahu that he must attend next time.

This is Netanyahu’s second time missing a court date in the case.

The case was filed by Dana Cassidy last year after Netanyahu posted her photo and details online, alleging that she had a romantic relationship with Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Cassidy said the post led to repeated online harassment against her by Likud supporters.

Putin warns West of countermeasures over Ukraine threats

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Presidential Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on December 9, 2021. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel / SPUTNIK / AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Presidential Council for Development of Civil Society and Human Rights via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on December 9, 2021. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel / SPUTNIK / AFP)

President Vladimir Putin warns that Russia is prepared to take “military-technical measures” against “unfriendly” Western actions over the Ukraine conflict.

“In the event of the continuation of the obviously aggressive stance by our Western colleagues, we will take appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures,” he tells a defense ministry meeting, as fears grow that Moscow could launch an invasion of ex-Soviet Ukraine.

After amassing some 100,000 troops near Ukraine, Russia on Friday unveiled proposals to contain the role of the United States and NATO in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, calling for urgent negotiations with Washington.

The West has threatened Russia with harsh sanctions should its soldiers enter Ukraine.

Car falls into sinkhole in Netanya amid stormy weather

A car that fell into a sinkhole in Netanya on December 21, 2021. (United Hatzalah)
A car that fell into a sinkhole in Netanya on December 21, 2021. (United Hatzalah)

A car falls into a sinkhole on a road in Netanya amid heavy rains and winds brought by the Carmel storm.

According to paramedics, a 25-year-old man was brought to the hospital with light wounds after the incident.

A car also fell into a sinkhole in northern Tel Aviv yesterday, as one of the worst winter storms in years lashed Israel.

Ra’am head Abbas says Israel will remain a Jewish state

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, leads a faction meeting, in the Israeli parliament on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, leads a faction meeting, in the Israeli parliament on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas says that Israel will always be a Jewish state.

The head of the Islamist party tells a Channel 12 conference that “Israel was born a Jewish state, that was the decision of the people, and the question is not what is the identity of the state — it was born this way and it will remain this way.”

“The question is what is the status of the Arab citizen in the Jewish State of Israel. That is the question. And this challenge does not just stand in front of Mansour Abbas, but in front of the Jewish community and the Jewish citizen.”

Abbas, whose party made history joining the government coalition, says that “there is no doubt that we are standing at the start of a new era.”

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed