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Authorities reportedly set to ease back on quarantine rules, travel bans

Bennett said to be pushing ministers to get vaccination numbers up or face harsher rules and possible lockdown in future as new infections mount

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital's coronavirus ward in Jerusalem on December 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital's coronavirus ward in Jerusalem on December 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

All sides willing to work seriously on nuke deal, top EU negotiator says

EU diplomat Enrique Mora says all sides at nuclear talks in Vienna are showing “a clear will to work toward the successful end of this negotiation.”

“It’s a very good sign… We will be working very seriously in the days and weeks ahead… It’s going to be very difficult,” Mora tells reporters after the eighth round of indirect talks between Iran and the US on restoring the nuclear deal began.

Mora says negotiators will work through the week, but adjourn from Friday to Sunday for logistical reasons. They are expecting to resume Monday next week, he said.

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Moscow’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, says on Twitter that negotiators “held businesslike and result-oriented discussions.”

“In particular, they agreed to intensify the drafting process in order to achieve an agreement ASAP,” he says.

Earlier Monday, he said it was the “presumably final round of negotiations.”

Hospitals will be slammed by Omicron, but no need to panic, Biden says

US President Joe Biden says some US hospitals could be “overrun” by COVID cases, but the country is generally well prepared to meet the latest surge and Americans need not panic.

In a virtual meeting hosted by the White House with several state governors and top health advisors, Biden stresses that the rapid spread of the Omicron variant would not have the same impact as the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 or the Delta surge this year.

“Omicron is a source of concern, but it should not be a source of panic,” he says.

“Because there have been so many vaccinations and boosters, we’re not seeing hospitalizations rising as much as they did previously,” he says. “Americans, America have made progress. Things are better.”

But “with the rising cases, we still have tens of millions of unvaccinated people and we’re seeing hospitalizations rise,” he says. There are “hospitals in some places that are going to be overrun both in terms of equipment and staff.”

US envoy pours cold water on Israeli visa waiver buzz

US Ambassador Tom Nides appears to be attempting to curb Jerusalem’s excitement over progress on adding Israel to the US Visa Waiver Program.

“Seeing some news in Israel on the Visa Waiver Program. We still have lots of work to do,” Nides tweets.

On Sunday, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Interior Ministry notified US counterparts last week that Israel will ease restrictions on the entry of American citizens of Palestinian descent at Ben Gurion Airport. The official said the move would address a key barrier that has prevented Israel from becoming the 40th country to join the waiver program.

However, the policy will not extend to the thousands of Palestinians who hold both American citizenship and Palestinian ID cards, the senior Israeli official clarified.

In order to have the visa requirement waived, countries must provide reciprocal privileges to all US passport holders at all points of entry. For Israel, it would also mean allowing thousands of US citizens living in the West Bank and Gaza to enter country without a visa — something that Israeli authorities do not currently allow.

Nides avoids highlighting the apparent gaps that remain between the sides in his tweet, adding, “I’m thankful to have a great partner for this in [Interior Minister] Ayelet Shaked. Looking forward to rolling up our sleeves together to help Israel meet all the requirements.”

Shaked also seeks to gloss over any disagreements, tweeting, “thank you @USAmbIsrael for your partnership and leadership on this important initiative. I’m eager and optimistic to work together and to make this change that so many have waited to see.”

No New Years restrictions, but lockdown still a threat — report

Authorities have no plans to place any special restrictions on New Years Eve gatherings, the Kan network reports.

Rather, officials will up enforcement of existing “Green Pass” rules, which are supposed to restrict access to large events to those who have been vaccinated or tested negative for the coronavirus.

However, the network reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told fellow lawmakers that a possible lockdown is not off the table, even if the rest of the government is signaling that it is.

According to the report, Bennett warned ministers that they need to push people to get vaccination numbers up, or they will need to significantly tighten current health guidelines.

Bennett, Netanyahu trade sick barbs in heated Knesset battle

Speaking from a special rostrum set up in his Knesset isolation chamber, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett renews his attacks on the opposition for dragging him into the plenum despite being in quarantine, due to contact with a likely Omicron carrier.

“Public health should be above political games. You’ve lost the plot,” he fumes. “You are going to cause a mass breakout in the Knesset. The public is watching you in shame.”

Hitting back, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu advises that Bennett “quit whining,” since the rules require him to appear at the Knesset.

“You’re afraid of criticism and wasting precious time. We don’t care about life? Shame on you,” he says.

He accuses Bennett of putting the country in veritable lockdown by requiring those exposed to Omicron to quarantine, and charges that Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton is a pandemic denier, sabotaging vaccination of kids in schools.

Syria condemns ‘dangerous’ Israeli plans to boost Golan population

Syria says Israel’s plans to double the number of people living in the Golan Heights are “dangerous and unprecedented,” and only perpetuate its occupation of the territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday a multimillion-dollar plan meant to double the population of the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria more than five decades ago.

Ministers take part in a special cabinet meeting on the Golan Heights on December 26, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO)

“Syria strongly condemns the dangerous and unprecedented escalation from the Israeli occupation forces in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and its persistence in settlement policies, and grave and methodological violations that rise to the level of war crimes,” a Syrian Foreign Ministry statement says.

The statement says the Syrian government remains committed to the Syrians living in the Golan “who are steadfast in their resistance to the Israeli occupation and their rejection of the decision to annex the Golan.”

Mandelblit says BDS accusation not enough to strip Israel Prize from professor

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says the Israel Prize should be granted to Prof. Oded Goldreich, after Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton ordered it be withheld over the mathematician’s supposed support for anti-Israel boycotts.

Mandelblit says in an opinion submitted to the High Court that evidence presented by Shasha-Biton to back her decision does not rise to a level that would justify stripping him of the honor.

Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, was supposed to receive the prize earlier this year for his work on computational complexity theory. However, the previous education minister, Yoav Gallant, alleged that Goldreich backed the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Goldreich has denied backing BDS, but said he objects to West Bank settlements. In March, Goldreich signed a petition urging the European Union to stop funding for Ariel University, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Jury resumes deliberations in Ghislaine Maxwell trial

Jurors in Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex crimes trial have resumed deliberations in a case that could see the British socialite spend the rest of her life behind bars, asking the judge for the legal definition of “enticement.”

Maxwell, who turned 60 on Christmas Day, is accused of recruiting and grooming young girls to be sexually abused by the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein.

The 12-person jury began considering Maxwell’s fate on December 20 after a three-week trial and were granted a holiday break from Thursday.

The jury reconvened on Monday morning and sent a note to Judge Alison Nathan requesting highlighter pens, colored post-it notes and a white board.

The jurors also asked for a legal definition of enticement and to review the transcript of testimony given by the ex-boyfriend of “Jane,” one of the four women who testified against Maxwell.

One of the six counts Maxwell is charged with relates to enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. Another is conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.

Israel reportedly set to roll back most travel bans, but not for US

The number of countries that Israel is banning travel to and from is set to shrink considerably, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the channel’s unsourced and unverified claim, the number of countries deemed red and requiring special permission to fly to or from, will drop from 69 to 18.

However, some of the most popular destinations will remain off limits. This includes the US, France, the UK, the UAE, Turkey and Canada.

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

Experts have increasingly questioned the sense of Israel’s travel rules given the likelihood that the Omicron variant is already inside the country’s borders.

On Saturday, 112 people entered the country carrying the virus, according to Health Ministry statistics.

Bennett isolated in Knesset as Barkat calls US consulate a ‘Trojan horse’

A special Knesset debate on the reopening of a US consulate in Jerusalem that used to serve Palestinians has opened, with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Nir Barkat in the plenum and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett behind glass in a special isolation area in a gallery above the plenum hall.

Bennett enters the chamber and takes a seat in the back row.

Down below, Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, calls the opening of a consulate “a Trojan horse that will bring destruction, and that will be the beginning of the ruination of Israel’s third commonwealth,” an allusion to the modern Israeli state.

 

Over 2,000 new coronavirus cases confirmed Monday

The Health Ministry reports over 2,000 new cases of coronavirus so far Monday, with several hours still to go in the day.

The last time more than 2,000 new cases were recorded in a day was October 10, when 2,343 new cases were confirmed.

However, serious hospitalizations remain steady, dropping slightly from 87 reported Monday morning to 84.

In total, 134 patients are hospitalized, out of over 14,000 active cases nationwide.

Prof. Dror Mevorach of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital tells Army Radio that the Jerusalem medical center reopened its COVID ward earlier in the day when the number of patients reached 12.

“There’s evidence that the number will go up. We still don’t have any Omicron patients, but the majority are, of course, unvaccinated,” he says.

 

Officials set to ease quarantine rules — report

The cabinet is set to significantly ease quarantine rules, according to Hebrew media reports.

Channel 12 news reports that a current rule requiring a vaccinated person exposed to Omicron to quarantine for a week, pending two negative tests, or two weeks for the unvaccinated, will be rescinded sometime Monday.

Instead, fully vaccinated individuals will be exempt from any quarantine, no matter if their contact was infected with Omicron or not. However, if the Omicron carrier they were exposed to is a member of their household, the vaccinated person will still need to quarantine for seven days.

Hospitals told to gird for wave of coronavirus cases among kids

The government has ordered hospitals to prepare for a wave of adolescent coronavirus cases, with signs that Omicron may be spreading rapidly.

Officials have ordered that 300 beds be prepared at hospitals around the country, along with 40 ICU beds, to help ease potential overcrowding.

Kids at a school in Tel Aviv hold up antigen coronavirus testing kits, on August 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“Morbidity figures in Israel and around the world point to a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, especially the Omicron variant,” the ministry says in a press release on vaccine timing.

Reports indicate poor vaccination numbers among younger kids, leading to fears that they may be ultra-susceptible.

Likud dismisses Bennett ‘spin’ about public health

The Likud party hits back at Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, accusing him of spinning a tale of woe due to the opposition demanding he show up for a Knesset session despite being placed under quarantine.

“Bennett is obligated to appear for the debate and participate from the isolation area. So Bennett’s spin is just malarkey — he doesn’t care about public health but his own political health, which is indeed in danger,” Likud says.

France accuses man of funneling ingredients for chemical weapons to Syria

French investigators say they have detained a man suspected of supplying authorities in Syria with materials that can be used in the production of chemical weapons.

The dual French-Syrian national was arrested in the south of France while vacationing with his family and is being held on preliminary charges of complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity, a French judicial official says. The official speaks on condition of anonymity to discuss the probe covered by legal confidentiality rules.

International investigators have blamed Syrian government forces for using toxic gas and nerve agents in the country’s decade-long civil war. In April, member states of the global chemical weapons watchdog suspended Syria’s voting rights at the organization as a punishment for the repeated use of toxic gas by Damascus.

The man detained in France is suspected of having used a transport company in France and the United Arab Emirates to supply materials to Syria in violation of an international embargo. The man was handed preliminary charges on Saturday and is being held in custody, the judicial official said.

Illustrative: This photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center, shows victims of a suspected chemical attack, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)

The name of the man and his company weren’t given. The judicial official didn’t provide details about the materials he is suspected of transporting.

Earlier this month, a Washington Post report claimed that Israeli planes had bombed Syrian facilities where they suspected chemical weapons were being made or precursors stockpiled on two occasions in the last two years.

Revising rule, Health Ministry says booster okay 3 months after second dose

The Health Ministry has changed its guidance on the timing for coronavirus booster shots, saying they can now be given three months after the second initial dose, and not five months as previously recommended.

The new guidance is a break with much of the rest of the world, which still recommends that mRNA vaccine recipients wait 5-6 months for the booster.

The plan appears to be designed to give Israel a leg up against the Omicron variant, which is able to break through some vaccine protection. A government bid to push a fourth dose was shot down last week in the absence of reliable data.

Bennett accuses Netanyahu of endangering public health for cheap points

In a statement to the press Prime Minister Naftali Bennett fumes at opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu for pulling a play to push him out of home quarantine.

According to the statement, the coalition pleaded with Likud to drop the demand or allow another absent MK to offset the premier, noting how contagious Omicron is, to no avail.

Bennett accuses the opposition of abandoning public health. “Netanyahu is playing with the pandemic for cheap political points,” he charges. “Netanyahu has lost any inkling of national responsibility.”

Answering opposition demand, quarantining Bennett to appear in Knesset

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will appear in the Knesset despite officially being in quarantine, several Hebrew-language news outlets report.

Bennett will attend a Knesset session from a special isolation booth in the viewing gallery.

His appearance at the Knesset is meant to mollify opposition members, who had threatened to filibuster all Knesset work unless he showed up for a discussion under rules requiring his presence if 40 MKs sign a petition demanding it.

It’s not clear what the debate will be on. Such debates normally take an hour, during which an opposition and the prime minister normally present differing views on a subject, followed by a short discussion and a vote.

The Likud party had demanded that Bennett show up shortly after his spokesman announced that the premier’s daughter was suspected of carrying the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and that he would therefore self-isolate and work from home.

Jordan and Egypt discuss support with Palestinians in Cairo

Senior Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian diplomats and intelligence chiefs are gathered in Cairo to discuss “the latest developments in the Palestinian cause,” officials say.

Key Abbas adviser Hussein al-Sheikh and Ramallah’s intelligence head Majid Faraj represent the Palestinian Authority, according to the official PA WAFA news agency.

“The tripartite meeting discussed the latest political developments in the Palestinian cause, and confirmed positions supportive of the Palestinian people,” the PA mouthpiece reports.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi attend the talks, as well as the intelligence chiefs of both countries.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was strikingly absent from the meeting.

Heavy overcrowding reported at Nahariya hospital

Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya says it’s experiencing unusual overcrowding, with fears an uptick in coronavirus cases fueled by the Omicron variant may make things even worse.

The hospital says its internal medicine wards are at 150% capacity, with one unit experiencing even higher crowding, forcing some patients into hallways, Channel 12 reports. Staff shortages are also taking a toll.

President Isaac Herzog visits the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, on November 17, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

A quarter of all beds are taken up by flu patients, and the deputy head of the hospital attributes the crowding to “wintertime illnesses.”

“If we have to open the coronavirus ward it will be at the expense of the internal wards, which will create complicated challenges,” Dr. Zvi Sheleg says to the channel. “I hope we’re not on the cusp of another tough coronavirus wave, since that can push us to the edge of our capabilities.”

Lawmakers okay extra NIS 9 billion for Defense Ministry, purpose unknown

The Knesset Finance Committee has okayed the transfer of NIS 1.5 billion ($480 million) to the Defense Ministry, the Ynet news site reports, days after okaying another NIS 7.4 billion ($2.3 billion) earmarked for defense.

According to the news site, lawmakers tried to keep the transfers secret and have refused to answer questions about what the money, which will increase the defense budget by 15 percent, is for.

Recent reports have suggested that budget issues in the previous government led to the military being delayed in planning for possible military action against Iran.

 

Liberman vows taxes on imported produce to end immediately

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman is throwing a grenade into his fight with local farmers, promising to immediately remove protectionist tariffs and calling for reform of the industry.

“There’s no reason to tax imported fruits and vegetables. We’re getting rid of that immediately. The rest will come in stages,” he says at a faction meeting. “Our agriculture needs change. What’s happening in the north in the chicken coops shows that we need to progress, need to turn Israeli agriculture into a tech-level startup.”

Liberman is apparently referring to an outbreak of avian flu among poultry in Israel’s north.

Fruit and vegetable prices have skyrocketed in recent months, with farmers, distributors, supermarkets and government officials all accusing each other of marking up prices exorbitantly.

Likud threatens to block Knesset work unless quarantining Bennett shows up

The opposition Likud party is demanding that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appear before the plenum to be grilled on questions from lawmakers, despite his having been sent into quarantine by a suspected exposure to the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Likud’s Yariv Levin has sent an official letter to Knesset speaker Mickey Levy threatening to block all Knesset debates until Bennett is hauled before the plenum in a special isolation chamber.

The letter notes that the Knesset has found ways to allow quarantining individuals to participate when it wants to.

“Should the prime minister decide of his own volition to go against the rules and his own commitment, be it understood that there can be no debate on other matters and he won’t be allowed to participate in such debates and vote on these matters,” it reads.

The letter demands that the premier show up for a special type of debate which the law requires if 40 MKs sign a petition to that effect.

The demand comes moments after Bennett’s spokesman announces that the premier will remain in quarantine and work from home after his daughter was found to be carrying a suspected case of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

French traveler jailed in Iran launches hunger strike

A Frenchman held in Iran for more than 18 months on espionage charges he rejects has begun a hunger strike to protest at his detention conditions, his family says.

Benjamin Briere, 36, was arrested in Iran last May, allegedly while flying a drone and taking photographs in a prohibited area.

“Benjamin started the hunger strike on December 25 because he was not allowed to call us for Christmas, but also to draw attention to the mistreatment he has suffered for twenty months,” his sister Blandine Briere tells AFP.

“He sees no evolution in his case.”

His family describes him as an innocent tourist who set out in 2018 on a road trip in his camper van that began in Scandinavia before heading overland toward Iran.

His Iranian lawyer said in May that prosecutors had confirmed he would be tried for espionage as well as “propaganda against the system.” A conviction of espionage is punishable by death in Iran.

Bennett in quarantine as daughter suspected of carrying Omicron

Naftali Bennett’s spokesman says the prime minister’s daughter, who tested positive for the coronavirus, is highly suspected to be carrying the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The news means Bennett will need to quarantine for seven days and get two negative tests, despite being vaccinated. He last tested negative on Sunday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 19, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/pool)

Spokesman Mata Sidi says genetic coding to confirm if the strain is Omicron should be completed in the next couple of days.

Rumors have swirled in recent days that the government may ease that quarantine requirement following an outcry and predictions that a large chunk of the country would be rendered homebound by the fast-spreading variant.

Lapid bashes Netanyahu for English-language ad ‘against the State of Israel’

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is denouncing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu for an English-language video stumping against government legislation, a clip he says crosses the bounds of acceptable criticism by undermining the country’s international efforts.

“When Israel was fighting the nuclear deal, I was head of the opposition and stood alongside the government. Now opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu is running a campaign in English against the State of Israel and Israeli democracy and putting a lot of money behind it, as is his wont,” he complains at a Yesh Atid faction meeting. “I can’t remember damage like this with timing like this. This is a shameful embarrassment and every Israeli patriot should condemn it.”

Other government figures have also attacked Netanyahu for releasing the video over the past week. Likud has responded by pointing out instances of internal Israel criticism being picked up by the international press, facetiously calling it “absurd.”

Lapid also denies claims of hundreds of thousands of people being in quarantine due to the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant, and says he does not envision the country locking down.

Walder death sends shockwaves through Haredi world

Reports indicate that Chaim Walder’s body was found next to the grave of his son Meir Zvi, who died of cancer in 2019 at the age of 28.

News of the death has sent shockwaves through the Haredi world, which was already roiled by the allegations against Walder. Walder’s Kids Speak books were a practical mainstay for many ultra-Orthodox children.

The top story on the Haredim10 news website calls Walder “The man who influenced an entire generation of kids,” and much of the coverage focuses on his denial of the allegations against him and on the work he did within the community.

On social media, some are slinging flak at Haaretz’s Aaron Rabinowitz, whose award-winning reporting first brought the allegations against Walder to light.

“Who made you judge, jury and executioner,” one person asks him. Another vows that Walder “will have his revenge from upon high. There’s a law and there’s a judge… Journalism kills, the Torah forgives those who return to the path. Now he’s totally clean.”

Fellow journalists jump to Rabinowitz’s defense. “Aaron Rabinowitz saves lives. The souls of children. Plain and simple,” tweets Haaretz reporter Michael Hauser Tov.

 

 

 

Iran presses for unfettered crude exports as nuke talks resume

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran is insisting that the United States and its allies promise to allow Tehran to export its crude as negotiations on restoring the tattered nuclear deal were to resume in Vienna.

The remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian signal that Iran is pressing its position ahead of the negotiations over reviving the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. The talks have struggled to make headway and were adjourned earlier this month after a round marked by tensions over new demands from Tehran.

Speaking to reporters in Tehran, Amirabdollahian says Iran wants the upcoming round of talks to focus on its sanctions-hit oil industry. The aim is to get to the “point where Iranian oil is being sold easily and without any barriers and its money arrives in Iran’s bank accounts,” he says.

As the parties to the atomic deal prepared to convene, Amirabdollahian says Iran wanted to “be able to enjoy full economic concessions under the nuclear deal.”

“Guarantee and verification (of the removal of sanctions) are among topics that we have focused on,” he says.

The new, conservative administration of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has repeatedly demanded the removal of all economic sanctions before Iran reins in its nuclear advances.

Separately on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says it would be “intolerable” for the West to demand anything from Tehran beyond compliance with the original deal.

Probe clears officers of wrongdoing in death of border guard during Gaza riots

The Israel Defense Forces’ probe into the killing of a Border Police sniper during a Gaza border riot earlier this year, which was released on Monday, clears the commanders involved of wrongdoing and blames the outcome on a “professional error,” not negligence.

The results of the probe draw fire from the family of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who died after being shot on August 21 as Palestinians in the Gaza Strip held a large demonstration along the Gaza border, near the defunct Karni Crossing.

Barel Hadaria Shmueli, a Border Police officer who was shot dead by a Gaza gunman at the border in August 2021 (Courtesy)

At one point during the demonstration, dozens of rioters suddenly rushed the border barrier, running up to a hole in the concrete wall that was being used by Israeli snipers as a firing position.

One man, armed with a pistol, approached this hole in the wall, stuck the gun through it and fired three times. One of these shots struck Shmueli in the head, critically wounding him. He died of his injury on August 30.

The findings of the investigation were shared with Shmueli’s family earlier this morning.

Palestinian protesters at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City, on August 21, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The probe found a number of errors in how the military responded to the riot, particularly in the decision to station troops against the concrete wall where they were exposed, but cleared the officers involved — even praising their actions — and again disputed a claim that overly restrictive open-fire regulations were at fault.

Shmueli’s family criticizes the investigation’s findings. “Barel is gone and the commander of the Northern [Gaza] Brigade (Col. Yoav Bruner), the person who was responsible for the area, received a promotion after this event and now in the internal military investigation gets a citation,” the family says in a statement, referring to Bruner’s transfer to serve as commander of the Paratroopers Brigade in October.

Sheba kicks off groundbreaking trial of fourth COVID vaccine dose

Sheba Medical Center, outside Tel Aviv, has begun trials of a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine in what is believed to be the first study of its kind.

The trial begins with 150 medical personnel who received a booster dose in August getting a fourth shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The staff receiving the additional dose were tested and found to have low antibody levels.

Professor Jacob Lavee receives a fourth dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

The trial comes after Israeli officials considered rolling out a second tranche of booster shots to its population as the country grapples with rising infections due to the new Omicron variant.

Prof. Jacob Lavee, former director of the heart transplant unit at Sheba, says “hopefully, we’ll be able to show here… that this fourth booster really provides protection against Omicron, which is highly needed.”

Celebrated Haredi author accused of abuse dead by suicide — reports

Chaim Walder, a popular ultra-Orthodox  children’s author accused of sexually abusing teenage girls, has been identified as the man found dead in a Petah Tikva cemetery.

Police say a victim was found in the cemetery just before 1 p.m. with gunshot wounds.

According to initial reports, Walder died by suicide. He has apparently been missing since Sunday.

Walder, 52, was accused last month by three girls who said he had sexually abused them.

On Sunday, a Safed rabbinical court heard 22 testimonies from people alleging abuse at Walder’s hands against girls who had come to him for treatment over the years, considerably expanding upon the allegations already against him.

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