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COVID vaccines for 2 million Israelis may arrive in coming month — reports

Israeli television says health officials weighing giving approval to Pfizer’s vaccine before FDA does, potentially allowing Israel to begin receiving inoculations

Illustrative: Vials with COVID-19 vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, on November 17, 2020. (Justin Tallis/AFP)
Illustrative: Vials with COVID-19 vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, on November 17, 2020. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

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

No cops to be charged over serious injury to 9-year-old in East Jerusalem raid

The Justice Ministry’s police internal investigations unit has closed its investigation into the serious injury of a 9-year-old boy, who was apparently injured by a sponge-tipped bullet during a raid in East Jerusalem in February.

No officers will be charged over the incident in the neighborhood of Issawiya, according to Hebrew media reports.

Malik Eissa’s lawyer condemns the decision by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, calling it “shameful.”

“If a policeman shot at a wall while children are returning from school, and a bullet hit Malek’s eye, this is the most serious possible negligence,” his attorney says, according to the Walla news site.

Eissa’s father has said his son went to a store to buy something. When he came out of the door “he was hit between the eyes.”

The father also denied there were demonstrations prior to the incident, as police have said.

UAE launches tourist visas for Israelis

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has launched tourist visas for Israeli citizens on, official media says, in the latest move following the normalization of ties between the two countries.

Abu Dhabi’s foreign ministry “announced the activation of tourist entry visas through airlines and travel and tourism offices for Israeli passport holders,” the WAM news agency reports.

The measure is a stop-gap until a mutual visa waiver agreement is put in place meaning Israelis visiting the UAE will be eligible for visas on arrival. The same will apply to Emiratis visiting the Jewish state.

“The move falls within bilateral cooperation between the UAE and the State of Israel following the signing of the Abraham Accords and aims to facilitate travel to the UAE for the time being,” the report adds.

With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the US-brokered normalization deal signed in September.

They have already signed treaties on direct flights and visa-free travel, along with accords on investment protection, science and technology.

The UAE was only the third Arab country to normalize ties with Israel following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

However, its move was quickly followed by Bahrain and in October Sudan also announced it would normalize relations with Israel.

— AFP

Iran surpasses 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says its novel coronavirus infections surpassed one million cases today, as authorities consider easing restrictions in many parts of the Middle East’s hardest hit country.

The Islamic Republic has recorded 1,003,494 COVIDd-19 infections since announcing its first cases in February, ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says on state television.

The novel coronavirus has killed 49,348 people in Iran over the same period of time, according to official figures.

But by the admission of some officials, including Health Minister Saeed Namaki, these figures are much lower than the reality.

In the past 24 hours the virus caused 358 new deaths in the country with a population of more than 80 million, and 13,922 new cases of infection, Lari says.

The number of fatalities, however, appears to have slightly eased in past days after soaring to a daily average of more than 400 for much of November.

COVID-19 first surfaced in Iran on February 19, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital.

They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.

In response, the authorities have taken a series of measures aimed at halting the spread of the virus.

But faced with the dual challenge of US sanctions and the pandemic, they have never imposed full lockdowns for fear they would cause further damage to Iran’s battered economy.

— AFP

Thousands attend Jerusalem funeral for Haredi rabbi in violation of virus rules

Thousands of people in Jerusalem attend the funeral of a prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi, violating coronavirus limitations on mass gatherings.

Representatives of the Mir Yeshiva reached an agreement with police to observe Health Ministry guidelines during the funeral for Rabbi Aharon Hadash, according to Channel 12 news, but participants are packed closely together with little apparent social distancing.

Funerals are currently limited to 20 people under government-mandated restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Minor scuffles break out as police try to block mourners taking part in the funeral procession from advancing beyond the Kikar Hashabat intersection in Jerusalem, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Palestinians confirm record number of coronavirus cases

Palestinians see record coronavirus cases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the third time in the past week, with the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reporting 2,516 new cases in the past 24 hours.

There are currently 23,678 cases among Palestinians — 10,321 cases in Gaza and 13,357 in the West Bank, according to PA Health Ministry figures.

Palestinian Authority Interior Ministry official Ghassan Nimr warns in an interview with Voice of Palestine Radio that the PA could return to a full lockdown if the number of new infections doesn’t decline.

Another 827 cases are recorded in Gaza, where officials have warned that the health system is close to collapse. Around 93% of hospital beds with ventilators for coronavirus patients in critical condition were occupied as of this morning, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reports.

— Aaron Boxerman

New head named for Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration

Col. Fares Atila has been named the new head of the Civil Administration, a Defense Ministry body that’s part of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit that regulates much of the daily life in the West Bank.

Atila will replace Brig. Gen. Ghassan Alian, who currently serves in the position and was recently tapped to serve as the next Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

Atila currently serves as commander of Israel Defense Forces’ Populations Department, which is responsible for liaising between the military and the minority groups who serve in it. He will be promoted to the rank of brigadier general before entering his new position.

— Judah Ari Gross

English Premier League adopts IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism

The English Premier League adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which the soccer league’s No. 2 says will better equip it to address anti-Semitic behavior directed at teams or personnel.

“The adoption of the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism is the latest step in the Premier League’s continued work to ensure that football is a welcoming environment for all,” Bill Bush says in a statement.

The move is hailed by Lord John Mann, the British government’s anti-Semitism advisor, and the head of the American Jewish Committee.

“Hundreds of millions of people around the world follow closely the Premier League’s teams and players. The impact of today’s decision and its implementation can be extraordinarily helpful in the battle against rising anti-Semitism,” the AJC’s David Harris says.

PLO official denounces Bahrain for pledging to treat settlement goods as made in Israel

A senior member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization denounces comments by Bahrain’s trade minister that said the Gulf kingdom won’t differentiate between goods produced in Israel and those in disputed territories.

Wasel Abu Youssef also calls for Arab states not to import goods from Israel to thwart it from “stretching into Arab markets to strengthen its economy,” according to Reuters.

Iran’s FM says no renegotiation of nuclear deal if Biden seeks to rejoin

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Iran won’t agree to renegotiate elements of the international accord limiting its nuclear curb, as US President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll reenter the deal if Tehran returns to full compliance.

“It will never be renegotiated. Period,” Zarif tells a conference in Italy, speaking remotely.

He says Iran won’t agree to any curbs on its missile program or backing of regional proxies unless Western countries stop their “malign behavior” in the Middle East.

“As long as they’re not able to put up, they have to shut up,” Zarif says.

Mourners at Haredi funeral in Jerusalem throw rocks at police, injuring 2

Mourners throw rocks at police during a funeral procession in Jerusalem for a prominent Haredi rabbi, injuring two officers, Channel 12 news reports.

An officer struck in the head by a rock is reportedly taken to a hospital.

Germany plans return to pre-Nazi tables for learning alphabet

BERLIN — Germany is planning a return to pre-World War II alphabet tables that existed before the Nazis removed all names with Jewish associations, local media report.

The old version of the tables that use names to help children learn to spell — such as “A for Anton” and “B for Berta” — will be used from autumn 2021, according to the Funke media group.

A new version using mainly city names is in the works and will be rolled out from autumn 2022, with the so-called Weimar version to be used in the meantime.

The Nazis removed all Jewish names from the alphabet tables in 1934. For example, “D for David” became “D for Dora” and “North Pole” was swapped in for the original Nathan.

Although there was a revision in 1950, most of the old names were not reinstated.

The change was decided by a committee at the German Institute for Standardization (DIN) after a campaign started by Michael Blume, anti-Semitism commissioner for the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Blume had written a letter to DIN calling for a temporary return to the old alphabet table.

“My concern is that the Nazis’ table should not simply be continued,” he tells the Funke group.

“It is a nice gesture for the year in which we celebrate 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany to make it clear what the table originally looked like,” he says.

Germany is planning a series of commemorative events in 2021 to mark the anniversary of a document dating from the year 321 — the first written proof relating to a Jewish community in what is the city of Cologne today.

— AFP

Iran postpones execution of Iranian-Swedish academic accused of spying for Israel

STOCKHOLM — The planned execution of Iranian-Swedish academic Ahmadreza Djalali, who was sentenced to death in Iran three years ago for spying, has been postponed, his wife says.

Vida Mehran Nia tells AFP she has been informed by her husband’s lawyer that Iranian authorities had decided to delay the execution for “some days.”

According to information gathered by rights group Amnesty International, Djalali was scheduled to be moved on Tuesday afternoon to a prison in the Iranian city of Karaj where the execution was to be carried out, but his wife says he had not yet been transferred.

Mehran Nia tells AFP she believes the postponement is related to “political issues” in Iran, and even if it is a “good sign” she is unsure what it means for her husband’s chances.

“I don’t know honestly, but at least we have some hope,” says Mehran Nia, who lives in Sweden.

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

He was subsequently found guilty of passing information about two Iranian nuclear scientists to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency that led to their assassinations.

While imprisoned he was granted Swedish citizenship in February 2018, only months after his death sentence was confirmed by Iran’s Supreme Court.

Djalali has claimed he is being punished for refusing to spy for Iran while working in Europe and his death sentence has been widely condemned by rights groups and by UN rights experts.

— AFP

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

Politician named Adolf Hitler wins local election in Namibia

Adolf Hitler has won a local election — in Namibia.

Adolf Hitler Uunona, who goes by Adolf Uunona, insists that unlike his namesake, he has no plans to conquer the world after his election win.

“My father named me after this man. He probably didn’t understand what Adolf Hitler stood for,” he tells German tabloid Bild.

He adds: “It was a very normal name for me as a child. It was not until I was growing up that I realized that this man wanted to subjugate the whole world. I have nothing to do with any of these things.”

US virus deaths top 3,100 in new single-day high

The US records over 3,100 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, obliterating the record set last spring, while the number of Americans hospitalized with the virus has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time and new cases are topping 200,000 a day, according to figures released today.

The three benchmarks altogether show a country slipping deeper into crisis, with perhaps the worst yet to come, in part because of the delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.

Across the US, the surge has swamped hospitals with patients and left nurses and other health care workers shorthanded and burned out.

The US recorded 3,157 deaths yesterday, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than the number of people killed on 9/11, and it shattered the old mark of 2,603, set on April 15, when the New York metropolitan area was the epicenter of the US outbreak.

The number of people in the hospital likewise set an all-time high yesterday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. It has more than doubled over the past month.

Also, the number of newly confirmed infections climbed just over 200,000 yesterday for the second time in less than a week, by Johns Hopkins’ count.

— AP

Netanyahu reiterates opposition to Biden reentering Iran nuclear deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubles down on his position that US President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to reenter the Iran nuclear deal would be misguided.

“It’s a mistake to go back to the JCPOA. You shouldn’t go back to that flawed agreement,” he says in a televised interview with the DC-based Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran.

Biden campaigned on returning to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in 2015 when he was vice president and told the New York Times yesterday that he would do so only if Tehran went back to strict compliance with the agreement first, while also promising to take steps to curb the influence of the Islamic Republic’s regional proxies.

Netanyahu says the deal is what gave Iran the funds to establish itself in Syria and Iraq, as well as fund proxies around the region.

Asked by Doran he was worried whether the US might leave the Middle East, the premier responds, “Yes of course. I think it would be a great misfortune for us but also for the United States. For us and our newfound Arab allies. We have peace breaking out now and I think the United States has a vested interest to expand that peace.”

It was unclear what US pullout Doran was referring to, but the interview comes as US President Donald Trump is withdrawing American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January.

— Jacob Magid

Top health official: New restrictions being considered to curb rising infections

With coronavirus infections increasing, the director-general of the Health Ministry says officials are weighing new restrictions to curb the rise.

Among the measures being discussed are nightly curfews and stricter enforcement of the quarantine for Israelis returning from countries with high infection rates, Chezy Levy says during a press briefing.

He also urges Israelis not to be “complacent” amid signs vaccines could begin arriving soon, calling for continued adherence to Health Ministry guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Prosecutors reject PM’s request to throw out graft charges

Prosecutors reject claims by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lawyers that investigators fabricated graft charges against him and therefore his criminal indictment should be dismissed.

In a response submitted to the Jerusalem District Court, prosecutors write, “there was no flaw in the proceedings to file an indictment.”

Netanyahu’s lawyers made the request to the court on Sunday.

The prime minister is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing and has claimed without evidence the charges are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

Facebook to remove misinformation about COVID vaccine

LONDON — Facebook says it will start removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, in its latest move to counter a tide of coronavirus-related online misinformation.

In the coming weeks, the social network will begin taking down any Facebook or Instagram posts with false information about the vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts.

The US tech giant is taking action as the first COVID-19 vaccines are set to be rolled out. Britain this week became the first country to give emergency authorization for a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, and inoculations could start within days. Regulators in the US, the European Union and Canada are also vetting vaccines.

Facebook says it’s applying a policy to remove virus misinformation that could lead to “imminent physical harm.”

Posts that fall afoul of the policy could include phony claims about vaccine safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects.

“For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list,” the company says in a blog post.

Conspiracy theories about the vaccines that are already known to be false will also be removed.

Facebook has taken other steps to try to stop the spread of vaccine and coronavirus-related misinformation on its platform. From March to October, it has removed 12 million posts with coronavirus-related misinformation. The deleted posts include one by President Donald Trump with a link to a Fox News video of him saying children are “virtually immune” to the virus.

In October, the company banned ads discouraging vaccinations, though it made an exception for advocacy ads about government vaccine policies. The company has also promoted articles debunking COVID-19 misinformation on an information center.

— AP

Gantz to meet with Likud treasury chief to discuss state budget

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he’ll meet with Finance Minister Israel Katz of Likud on Sunday to discuss the state budget, which is as the core of coalition infighting.

“Finance Minister Israel Katz has reached out to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, requesting a meeting to present a budget for 2020-2021. The two are expected to meet sometime next Sunday,” Gantz’s spokesperson says in a laconic statement.

The statement comes a day after Gantz’s Blue and White backed a bill to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections, appearing to set the stage for a fourth round of elections in under two years.

If the Knesset dissolution bill isn’t ultimately approved, the government has until December 23 to pass a 2020 budget or the government will fall and elections will automatically be scheduled for March 23, 2021.

Likud and Blue and White feuded almost since the inception of their power-sharing coalition in May, but ties between the two hit a nadir in recent weeks as the budget deadline nears. Gantz has accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of refusing to pass the 2020 and 2021 state budgets in one shot — as per the coalition agreement — in an attempt to prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister in November 2021, also as per the coalition agreement.

US sanctions Iranian group allegedly involved in chemical weapons research

The US Treasury Department sanctions an Iranian entity and its director for alleged involvement in chemical weapons research for Iran.

“Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to the security of its neighbors and the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says in a statement. “The United States will continue to counter any efforts by the Iranian regime to develop chemical weapons that may be used by the regime or its proxy groups to advance their malign agenda.”

As a result of the sanctions, any US assets belonging to Shahid Meisami Group and Mehran Babri will be frozen and American nationals are generally barred from dealings with them.

The Treasury Department says the group is linked to the Iranian Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, which is already under US sanctions.

The announcement of the sanctions comes as US President Donald Trump tightens the screws on Iran before leaving office.

France inspects dozens of mosques in crackdown on radical Islam

PARIS — French authorities will inspect dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings starting today, as part of a crackdown on Islamist extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says.

Darmanin tells RTL radio that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected is found to promote extremism, it will be closed down.

The inspections are part of the government’s response to two brutal recent attacks that shocked France — the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.

Darmanin doesn’t reveal which places of worship will be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he cites 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.

— AFP

US withdraws staff from Baghdad embassy amid concerns of possible Iranian attack

BAGHDAD — The US is withdrawing some staff from its embassy in Baghdad, Iraqi and US officials say, temporarily reducing personnel amid regional security concerns.

US Ambassador Mathew Tueller says the reduction won’t affect the mission’s work, adding that he will continue to carry out his duties from the embassy for the “foreseeable future.”

“I will do so with the support of a core team of American diplomats and US advisors to the Iraqi military,” he says in a video statement posted on the US Embassy’s Facebook page this evening, following local reports that the US is withdrawing some Baghdad embassy staff as tensions with Iran and its allies spike.

It isn’t immediately clear how many personnel are to be withdrawn, nor does Tueller give any reasons.

A US official, however, says the decision stems from concern about a possible Iranian retaliatory strike on the first anniversary of the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassim Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad’s airport in January. The killing sparked outrage and led Iraq’s parliament to pass a non-binding resolution days later calling for the expulsion of all foreign troops from Iraq.

The government later retreated from such threats, but Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi still faces pressure from Iran-aligned groups to eject US forces.

The US official, who isn’t authorized to give press statements and speaks on condition of anonymity, also cites concerns about possible Iranian retaliation for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran last week.

Iran has accused US ally Israel of being behind the assassination. Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.

— AP

Hamas to tighten virus restrictions amid surge in coronavirus infections

New COVID-19 restrictions will be imposed in the Gaza Strip as Hamas authorities weigh how to combat a wave of coronavirus infections in the Palestinian enclave, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry announces.

Gaza has 10,321 active cases, and 827 were recorded over the past 24 hours. Around 32% of coronavirus tests came back positive over the past day.

Mosques, schools, universities and nurseries will all be closed for the foreseeable future, a nightly curfew is being imposed starting at 6 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday there will be a total lockdown across the Gaza Strip, says Interior Ministry spokesperson Iyad al-Bozm.

“We considered imposing a full lockdown, but we decided against it, given the burdens it imposes,” al-Bozm sais.

Around 88% of hospital beds with ventilators for coronavirus patients in critical condition were occupied as of this morning, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reported last night.

Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said authorities estimated that another 17,000 Gazans exposed to the virus have been ordered to quarantine.

“The reality is, we are in an extremely dangerous stage,” al-Qidra said.

— Aaron Boxerman

Netanyahu fumes at prosecutors for rejecting unfounded claim that graft charges were fabricated

Prime Minister Netanyahu lashes out at prosecutors for telling the Jerusalem District Court there is no basis for the premier’s claim that graft charges against him were fabricated.

“The State Attorney’s Office is relinquishing all responsibility and distorting reality,” associates of Netanyahu are quoted saying in a statement to Hebrew media. “All the legal antics can’t hide the fact that an offense was invented for the prime minister.

Israel may get COVID vaccines for 2 million Israelis this month — reports

Israel may receive up to four million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by the end of December — enough for two million people — and the Health Ministry is preparing health maintenance organizations for the possibility of inoculating some 80,000 Israelis every day, Israeli TV networks report.

The vaccines may start arriving next week, though they will still not be used as they have not yet received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, Channel 12 news reports.

Health officials are weighing whether to give approval to the vaccine before the FDA does, potentially allowing Israel to begin distributing shots, Channel 13 says.

FILE – In this June 24, 2020 file photo, a volunteer receives an injection at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg, as part of Africa’s first participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial developed at the University of Oxford in Britain in conjunction with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (Siphiwe Sibeko/Pool via AP)

Such a development could see a significant chunk of Israel’s population vaccinated by January — a far more optimistic projection than previously assumed.

Court expanding courtroom to allow more room for spectators at Netanyahu’s trial

The Jerusalem District Court is combining two court rooms to allow more space for journalists and spectators when the evidentiary stage in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s corruption trial begins in February, Channel 13 news reports.

FM Ashkenazi meets with Jordanian counterpart, who calls for resuming peace talks

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met today with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, the Jordanian foreign ministry says.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman confirms the meeting, but declines to give further details.

According to a statement from Jordan’s foreign ministry, Safadi and Ashkenazi discussed “a number of pending concerns, including water, lifting restrictions on Jordanian exports to the West Bank, Jordanian provision of additional electricity to the Palestinian Authority, and organizing movement through border crossings in light of their closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Safadi’s office also says he emphasized the need to restart bilateral peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in light of the Palestinian Authority’s recent decision to resume security coordination with Israel.

The two met at the Allenby Bridge Border Crossing, also known as the King Hussein Bridge.

— Aaron Boxerman

National Security Council warns Iran may attack Israeli targets overseas

The National Security Council issues a travel advisory warning Iran may try to attack Israeli targets oversees, citing recent threats toward Israel by Iranian officials.

The NSC doesn’t specify the nature of the Iranian threats, but the warning comes as Iran blames Israel for the assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and threatens revenge. Israeli officials have refused to comment on the killing.

A statement from the NSC lists countries neighboring Iran as places where the Iranians could try to attack Israelis, such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the UAE and Bahrain, as well as Iraqi Kurdistan.

It also says “global jihadist organizations,” a term used to refer to Sunni extremist groups like the Islamic State, are showing “high motivation” to launch attacks following the recent terror assaults in France, Austria and Germany.

“It’s possible that part of the current wave of Islamist terror will reach targets identified with Israel or the Jewish community,” the NSC says.

Bahrain’s Gulf Air to begin direct flights to Israel in January

Bahrain’s flag carrier Gulf Air announces it will begin direct flights to Israel in January, following the agreement between the countries to normalize ties.

The announcement comes as Bahraini Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed R. Alzayani, who chairs Gulf Air’s board of directors, visits Israel.

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