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Running out of vaccines, Israel may stop giving 1st doses for short period

Supplies will run out in 10 days at current pace, Channel 13 says; plan would see 2nd doses get priority for 2-week period; health minister warns current lockdown ‘a swiss cheese’

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Rehovot on December 29, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Rehovot on December 29, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

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

Vetting panel okays Yaakov Shabtai as next police chief

The government panel for senior appointments, known as the Goldberg Committee, has approved the candidacy of Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai as police chief, following his nomination by Public Security Minister Amir Ohana earlier this month.

The appointment must now be approved by the cabinet in order to take effect.

Blast at Yemen’s Aden airport as new Cabinet members land

A large explosion strikes the airport in the southern Yemeni city of Aden as a plane carrying the newly formed cabinet landed there, security officials say.

The source of the blast is not immediately clear. There are no reports of casualties among the government delegation but officials at the scene say they have seen bodies lying on the tarmac and elsewhere at the airport.

Images shared on social media from the scene show rubble and broken glass strewn about near the airport building and at least two lifeless bodies, one of them charred, lying on the ground. In another image, a man tries to help another man whose clothes were torn to get up from the ground.

— AP

Criticism grows in France over slow vaccination drive

The French government faces criticism over the slow progress of its drive to vaccinate people against COVID-19, a problem compounded by the high levels of public skepticism about the campaign.

France on Sunday joined several other EU countries in launching vaccinations with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, focusing its initial efforts on elderly residents of care homes.

A resident of a retirement home receives a dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine, in Loos, northern France, on December 28, 2020 (FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP)

But in the first three days of the campaign fewer than 100 people have been given the injection — compared to 42,000 so far in Germany — raising questions over the government’s cautious approach to vaccinating a largely skeptical population.

France’s strategy “is not suited to a situation that is so dangerous,” Axel Kahn, a prominent geneticist who leads the National League against Cancer tells Europe 1 radio.


Kushner’s family business said planning to sell $100 million in bonds in Israel

Jared Kushner’s family business is planning to sell bonds in Israel, in a bid to raise some $100 million, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Kushner Cos. has filed a request to do so with the Israel Securities Authority.

The paper notes that the plan raises new questions about the top White House adviser’s conflicts of interest, with Kushner spearheading recent normalization deals between Israel and Arab nations that have greatly benefited the Jewish state.

Jared Kushner in Oval Office of the White House on September 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Palestinians say they’ll get first vaccines in next two weeks

The Palestinians will receive their first shipment of coronavirus vaccines within the next two weeks, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry says.

According to the PA Health Ministry, the initial shipment will contain 100,000 vaccines for medical staff, at-risk groups, and Palestinian security forces. The Health Ministry does not specify which vaccine will be arriving. So far, Ramallah has yet to announce any official deals with countries or vaccine companies, although senior health officials have said that the PA government is negotiating with Russia, China, and the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company, among others.

Palestinian medical teams at the hospital in the West Bank town of Dura near Hebron, seen during work in the coronavirus ward, on July 9, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

“The best vaccine is the one which reaches Palestine the fastest,” says Health Ministry spokesperson Dr. Kamal al-Shakhra.

— Aaron Boxerman

Blue and White’s no. 2 Gabi Ashkenazi quitting party: ‘Taking time off’

Benny Gantz’s top partner in the leadership of Blue and White is quitting the party and is considering whether to remain in politics.

Gabi Ashkenazi says he’s “taking time off” and won’t run as part of Blue and White in the next election, as the party that only recently seemed poised to challenge Likud for leadership of the country continues to disintegrate,

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at the Wannsee Lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

Gantz yesterday vowed to continue leading Blue and White into the next election in March.

In a statement, Ashkenazi takes credit for his party “changing the discourse” on annexation, which he asserts “opened up the window of opportunity for the peace deals [with Arab nations], and together we prevented any attempt for diplomatic and judicial adventurism.”

“I do not intend to run in the next election in Blue and White and I’m taking time off and considering how to proceed.”

He says he will remain in his post as foreign minister for the time being, so long as Gantz wants him there.

Gantz thanks Ashkenazi, says he helped ‘block annexation plan’

Benny Gantz thanks Gabi Ashkenazi “from the bottom of my heart for [our] partnership over the last two years in service of the country” and wishes him luck going forward.

He says he respects Ashkenazi’s decision to leave the party and hails him for “bringing the Foreign Ministry back as a leading and influential ministry after years of neglect.”

He says the foreign minister “was a great help in blocking the annexation plan and promoting normalization in the region.”

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, and MK Gabi Ashkenazi at an election campaign event in Kfar Saba, on Feb 12, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Gabi Ashkenazi: Sorry we didn’t find partner for responsible government

In an internal message to Blue and White members, Ashkenazi says the party “presented an alternative to the rule of Netanyahu and Likud.

“We took the risk and decided together to influence things from within [the government], out of national responsibility.

“I’m sorry we did not find a fitting partner for this,” he says, in reference to Likud.

Former Finance Ministry official Yaron Zelekha expected to announce new party

Yaron Zelekha, a former Finance Ministry accountant general, is expected to announce the formation of a new party tonight, with a focus on economic and social issues, Hebrew media outlets are reporting.

Israeli economist Yaron Zelekha, January 15, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)

NYC public relations impresario Howard Rubenstein dies at 88

Public relations veteran Howard Rubenstein, who for decades polished and protected the images of New York celebrities and power brokers from George Steinbrenner to Donald Trump, has died. He was 88.

The Jewish Rubenstein died Tuesday at home “in peace and in no pain,” his son Steven Rubenstein writes on the website of the firm that bears the family’s name. No cause of death was given.

Howard Rubenstein founded the agency in 1954. Polite and soft-spoken, he was the antithesis of the stereotypical curt and fast-talking New York City press agent. But his hundreds of clients — from high-brow cultural institutions to politicians — attested to his clout.

Clients included the Metropolitan Opera, the Archdiocese of New York, media magnate Rupert Murdoch and the late Yankees owner Steinbrenner. Rubenstein worked with Trump during the future president’s highly publicized divorce from Ivana Trump in 1990.

— AP

Zelekha announces new party, wants to save Israel from ‘economic destruction’

Yaron Zelekha announces his new party under the name “The Economic Party.”

Zelekha heavily criticizes the economic conduct of Israel’s leadership under the coronavirus pandemic, with lockdowns causing hundreds of thousands to lose their livelihoods and thousands of businesses to close.

“My goal is to save Israel from economic destruction,” he says. “Our financial leadership must change.”

Report: 1 in 1,000 Israelis say they’ve experienced side effects from vaccine

About 1 in 1,000 Israelis is reporting side effects from the coronavirus vaccines distributed so far, Kan News reports.

The report says 652 people have reported some effects out of about 650,000 to receive the vaccine.

These included local pain, redness and swelling at the site of injection, some weakness, dizziness and a temperature. Rare side effects included diarrhea (5 people), paresthesia (19), and allergic-like reactions such as itching or swelling in the tongue or throat (14).

Only some 51 people (0.008%) sought medical attention for side effects.

New US bomber mission over Persian Gulf in warning to Iran

The United States flies strategic bombers over the Persian Gulf for the second time this month, a show of force meant to deter Iran from attacking American or allied targets in the Middle East.

One senior US military officer says the flight by two Air Force B-52 bombers is in response to signals that Iran may be planning attacks against US-allied targets in neighboring Iraq or elsewhere in the region in the coming days, even as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.

A B-52 heavy bomber, flanked by fighter jets, flies to the Middle East in a tacit threat to Iran on November 21, 2020. (US Air Force/Facebook)

The B-52 bomber mission, flown round trip from an Air Force base in North Dakota, reflects growing concern in Washington, in the final weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, that Iran will order further military retaliation for the US killing last Jan. 3 of top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Adding to the tension was a rocket attack last week on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups. No one was killed, but Trump tweeted afterward that Iran was on notice.

— AP

US says it won’t allow Daniel Pearl murder suspect to evade justice

The US warns it won’t allow a Pakistani man who was convicted and later acquitted in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl to evade justice after a provincial court in Pakistan ordered his release.

The warning from acting US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen comes days after the Sindh High Court in Pakistan’s south overturned a government detention order that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl’s slaying, should remain in custody.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s abduction, arrives at a court in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 29, 2002. (AP Photo/Zia Mazhar, file)

Sheikh was convicted for his role in helping lure Pearl in January 2002 to a meeting in the city of Karachi, during which he was kidnapped. Pearl, 38, was killed the next month. He had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “Shoe Bomber” after trying to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes. A gruesome video of Pearl’s beheading was sent to the US Consulate.

Sheikh, who was on death row for 18 years, was acquitted earlier this year of murdering the Wall Street Journal reporter from Encino, California. But he has been held while Pearl’s family appeals.

— AP

Iran allocates $150,000 to families of each Ukraine crash victim

Iran’s cabinet has created a compensation fund to pay the families of the 176 victims of a Ukrainian passenger plane that was shot down by Iranian forces outside Tehran last January, the president announces.

Iran will pay $150,000 for each victim, state TV reports, without specifying a timeline. The announcement comes as the families of victims prepare to mark the anniversary of the January 8 crash and diplomats from nations that lost citizens push Iran for more cooperation on the investigation and compensation issues.

There is no immediate comment on Iran’s announcement from the five countries in talks with Iran about reparations.

A bulldozer seen working as rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

— AP

Lebanon PM’s office backtracks after citing unspecified FBI blast report

The office of Lebanon’s caretaker premier backtracks a day after he said an FBI report found only 500 tons of fertilizer caused the devastating Beirut port blast.

Hassan Diab, who resigned in the wake of the August 4 blast that killed more than 200 people, said last summer that more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been stored haphazardly at a port warehouse for years.

According to his office, the outgoing prime minister yesterday told journalists a report by the US domestic intelligence agency showed less than a quarter of that amount had actually exploded.

Diggers remove earth at the blast site next to the silos at the port of Beirut on August 16, 2020, in the aftermath of the massive August 4 explosion there that ravaged Lebanon’s capital. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

But it issues a clarification now.

“Prime minister Diab was relying on unofficial information attributed to the FBI,” his office says. “Diab has not received an official report on this matter from the FBI.”

One of his advisers tells AFP he had been referring to press reports.


Poll: 78% of Haredim back health rules, but 60% broke them to send kids to school

A new poll shows 78 percent of ultra-Orthodox Israelis believe there is great or moderate importance to adhering to the Health Ministry’s instructions during the pandemic.

The Haredi community has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Though many Haredim keep to the guidelines, certain sectors of the community have repeatedly flaunted restrictions.

The survey by the Askaria research firm also shows 60% sent their children to Torah-teaching schools that opened against health regulations during the pandemic.

Of the remaining 40%, most did not send their children to school because the institutions were closed, rather than a conviction to keep to the guidelines.

A group of ultra-Orthodox men wears protective face masks following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, as they walk in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

One in five respondents says they have tested positive for coronavirus.

The poll questioned 500 people representative of the Haredi population in Israel and had a margin of error of 4.4%.


UK’s Johnson signs post-Brexit EU trade deal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, acclaiming it as the start of a “wonderful relationship” across the Channel.

“It’s an excellent deal for this country but also for our friends and partners,” he says at the signing in Downing Street, after EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel earlier had themselves inked the 1,246-page Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU, the Brexit trade deal, at 10 Downing Street in central London on December 30, 2020 (Leon Neal / POOL / AFP)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warns current lockdown is ‘a swiss cheese’

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warns that the current lockdown is “a swiss cheese” — i.e. full of holes.

“This situation worries us very much,” he says. He alludes to various coalition partners of Likud who opposed tighter restrictions.

Edelstein says the closure is unlikely to achieve significant results in its current form within two weeks.

He joins comments by his ministry’s director-general who says he does not expect significant results within two weeks and expects the lockdown will need to be extended.

After months of delay, Ohana signs order to enforce ban on seeking sex services

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana signs an order to enforce a law banning people from seeking prostitution services.

Though the ban entered into effect in July, Ohana’s delay did not allow police to punish transgressors with the designated fines.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (FLASH90)

Ohana had insisted enforcing the ban was problematic, as a program to treat and rehabilitate those engaged in prostitution was not yet ready. He now says he is satisfied the work on the program is far enough along to sign the measure.

US expects to approve UK-backed AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in April

The United States is expected to approve the low-cost AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in April, a senior official says — more than three months after Britain’s green light on Monday.

Moncef Slaoui, the chief advisor to Operation Warp Speed, the military-led US effort for vaccines, does not question Britain’s move but tells reporters that US trials will be complete for approval “sometime in early April.”

This photo issued by the University of Oxford shows a vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP)


Likud panel okays Netanyahu’s request to cancel party primaries

A Likud committee has approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to cancel party primaries ahead of the coming national elections.

Netanyahu will receive 5 reserved spots for candidates of his choice on the slate.

TV: Health Ministry may freeze 1st dose vaccinations for 2 weeks

The Health Ministry may freeze its vaccination campaign for two weeks in January, as it may run out of injections otherwise, Channel 13 News reports.

With a slowdown in the arrival of new Phizer vaccines, current stocks will run out in 10 days at the current pace of inoculation — at some 150,000 shots a day — the report says

The freeze will allow those who’ve received the first dose to get the second dose, but new first doses will not be given, it says.

This will likely lead to a delay in opening up vaccination for the general public, Channel 12 reports. Some officials had previously assessed this could happen within a week or so, but it may now need to wait a month and a half or more.

Polls: Huldai’s new party at 8-9 seats, siphoning support from Lapid, Bennett

Three television polls by TV networks this evening show Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party eating into support for Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina, but failing to much affect Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope.

Meanwhile Benny Gantz’s Blue and White continues its crash, just barely passing the electoral threshold in both polls.

Despite enjoying a lead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still does not have a clear path to forming the next government, with rival Gideon Sa’ar vowing not to bring his New Hope party into a government under Netanyahu.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announces his new ‘The Israelis’ party, December 29, 2020. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Channel 13’s poll has Likud with 29 seats, New Hope 17, Yamina 12, Yesh Atid 11, Joint List 10, Huldai’s The Israelis at 9, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism at 8, Yisrael Beytenu 6, Blue and White 5, Meretz 5.

Channel 12’s survey shows Likud at 28, New Hope 17, Yesh Atid 13, Yamina 12, Joint List 11, Shas 8, UTJ 8, The Israelis 8, Yisrael Beytenu 6, Meretz 5 and Blue and White 4.

Kan’s results are similar: Likud 28, New Hope 18, Yamina 14, Yesh Atid 13, Joint List 11, The Israelis 8, Shas 8, UTJ 7, Yisrael Beytenu 5, Blue and White 4, Meretz 4.

Edelstein confirms Israel may stop giving 1st vaccine doses for ‘a short period’

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein confirms the ministry may stop administering first doses for “a short period,” telling Channel 12 News that “there will be no shortage in the second dose.”

Jihadist attack kills 30 soldiers in east Syria, war monitor says

At least 30 Syrian soldiers were killed Wednesday in a jihadist attack on their bus in the east of the war-torn country, a monitor says.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the attack in Deir Ezzor province was carried out by the Islamic State group.

The official news agency SANA reports that a “terrorist attack” on a bus killed “25 citizens” and wounded 13.

Netanyahu said to offer ex-health ministry chief Bar Siman-Tov top spot in Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered the former director-general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the fifth spot on Likud’s slate for the coming elections, Channel 12 News reports.

There is no word on whether Bar Siman-Tov, who gained prominence as the face of the Health Ministry during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, plans to accept. He has said in the past he has no intention of entering politics.

Then Health Ministry director-general Manager Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Police said to expect thousands of illicit New Year’s Eve parties Thursday

Police believe thousands of underground New Year’s Eve parties are being planned around the country tomorrow, against coronavirus health regulations, Channel 12 reports.

Authorities are basing their assessment on intel, including data gleaned from social media. Parties are expected to be held in private homes, rented properties and public parks.

Some 2,000 officers will deploy throughout the country to stop illicit gatherings, with cops also using choppers and drones to help them patrol, the report says.

302 people died in road accidents this year — lowest number since 2013

Data from the National Road Safety Authority shows 302 people died in road accidents in 2020, the lowest number since 2013, and lower by 53 than the toll in 2019.

It is part of a general trend of decline in recent years, but is also believed to have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its many restrictions, which have confined people to their homes for lengthy periods.

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