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Health Ministry chief says too early to lift new Omicron travel restrictions

Nachman Ash says officials will wait for more data on new COVID variant before making decisions on changing air travel rules

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

Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport on November 29, 2021. (Flash90)
Travelers seen at the Ben Gurion International Airport on November 29, 2021. (Flash90)

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

Ex-Mossad chief reportedly used his ties to help daughter land UAE-linked job

Former head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen attends the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen attends the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen helped his daughter get a job with a prominent company in the United Arab Emirates, reports Channel 12 news.

According to the report, Cohen intervened during the period in which he was still head of the Mossad to get his daughter, Achinoam, a job at a company owned by a man that helped broker the Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE last year.

The company’s owner, Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also serves as the UAE’s national security adviser.

As head of the Mossad, Cohen was also intimately involved in the efforts to ink the unprecedented peace deal. Achinoam was hired shortly after the accords were signed, and the company opened a branch in Israel, reports Channel 12.

Bennett convenes hearing on Omicron travel restrictions

Arriving travelers walk to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Arriving travelers walk to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett opens a hearing into the issue of the new travel restrictions on fully vaccinated Israelis.

Bennett and health officials are slated to weigh a continuation of the restrictions, which came into effect late last month with the spread of the new Omicron COVID variant.

Currently, even those Israelis with three vaccine doses must complete three days of quarantine when returning from any country abroad, pending two negative tests. Those who do not show up for a second test are subject to a NIS 2,500 fine. Those not vaccinated or without a booster must complete seven days.

The restrictions are currently in place until December 13, although Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash said earlier today that he believes it is too soon to discuss lifting them.

So far, 21 Omicron cases have been confirmed in Israel.

US announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

April Ross, left, of the United States, places the gold medal around the neck of teammate Alix Klineman, after winning a women's beach volleyball Gold Medal match against Australia at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
April Ross, left, of the United States, places the gold medal around the neck of teammate Alix Klineman, after winning a women's beach volleyball Gold Medal match against Australia at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The United States announces a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics citing human rights abuses, in a move that will not stop US athletes from competing.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games given the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” says White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support,” she adds. “We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home.”

Jordanian TV rejects German station’s accusation that it is anti-Israel

The building of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Germany, July 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz, File)
The building of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Germany, July 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz, File)

A Jordanian broadcaster rejects accusations that it published antisemitic content — which led a German broadcaster to suspend a decade-long cooperation agreement.

Amman-based Roya TV says in a statement that it “regrets the declared decision” of international German broadcaster Deutsche Welle to suspend the partnership. It adds that the Arab media group is the target of “a hostile campaign” from parties it did not name.

On Sunday, Deutsche Welle said anti-Israeli and antisemitic content and caricatures distributed by the popular Jordanian channel’s social media platforms were “definitely not consistent with the values of DW,” forcing the German company “to re-evaluate the cooperation.”

“We are truly sorry that we did not notice these disgusting images,” said Guido Baumhauer, a senior executive with Deutsche Welle.

In today’s statement, Fares Sayegh, Roya’s chief executive, stresses that the “criticism of illegal, inhumane or racist actions by Israel as a state” should be differentiated from antisemitism.

Netanyahu said to request extension of security protection for his family

(From L-R) Avner, Sara, Benjamin and Yair Netanyahu tour the Golan Heights on April 23, 2019. (PMO)
(From L-R) Avner, Sara, Benjamin and Yair Netanyahu tour the Golan Heights on April 23, 2019. (PMO)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has requested that high-level protection of his family members be extended further, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Walla news site cites a letter sent by Netanyahu’s chief of staff to the Prime Minister’s Office, which claims that serious threats remain against his family, despite the fact that he is no longer prime minister.

“Do not view the murder threats to the family of former prime minister Netanyahu as threats coming from delusional people,” the letter reads, “since it is precisely from these people that the next murder may come.”

The letter also suggests that Iran or another enemy nation could attempt to harm his family. The protection of his family members is slated to run out next week, six months after Netanyahu left office.

Hamas official threatens ‘escalation’ in violence with Israel

Worshippers raise the Palestinian flag and a Hamas banner following Eid al-Adha prayers on the Temple Mount, July 20, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Worshippers raise the Palestinian flag and a Hamas banner following Eid al-Adha prayers on the Temple Mount, July 20, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

A senior Hamas source says the Gaza-ruling terror group is weighing a renewal of violence against Israel, while lashing out at Egypt over its role as mediator between the sides.

“We are considering options for an escalation with Israel in light of the continued siege of Gaza and the delay in rehabilitating the Strip,” the unnamed source tells Al Jazeera. “We will not allow the current situation to continue and the next phase will prove the credibility of our words.”

The source also warns Israel against “attacks” on Palestinian security prisoners and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, saying they “will again blow up the situation.” The fighting in Gaza earlier this year began after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem amid tensions over the holy city.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is slated to visit Cairo tomorrow.

Biden slated to speak to Putin this week amid Ukraine tensions

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the 'Villa la Grange', Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the 'Villa la Grange', Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

US President Joe Biden is slated to speak Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a particularly tense time between Moscow and Kyiv.

US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year.

Moscow has denied hatching plans to attack Ukraine and rejected the Western concerns as part of efforts to smear Russia.

At the same time, Putin has urged the West to provide guarantees that would exclude Ukraine from joining NATO and the deployment of the alliance’s weapons on its territory.

US regulators probing Trump’s social media merger deal

In this January 6, 2021, file photo, US president Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as president in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
In this January 6, 2021, file photo, US president Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as president in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

US regulators are scrutinizing a deal between Donald Trump’s fledgling social media company and an investment vehicle to bring the former president’s venture to the stock market, documents show.

The companies, once merged, say they plan to launch the social media platform “TRUTH Social” nationally early next year, hoping to rival services like Twitter, which banned Trump over the January US Capitol riot.

Digital World Acquisition Corp (DWAC), which is partnering with Trump, reports in a filing to US markets watchdog the Securities and Exchange Commission that it received “preliminary, fact-finding inquiries from regulatory authorities, with which it is cooperating.”

Digital World, already listed on Wall Street, announced in late October it would merge with Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), allowing the ex-president’s venture to be listed without the usual procedures.

In a joint statement, the two companies announced on Saturday that a group of institutional investors had committed to contributing $1 billion to the transaction. They did not specify in the regulatory document the identity of these investors.

Digital World says the SEC is seeking details of its board meetings, brokerage procedures, the identity of certain investors and dealings with Trump’s company.

Health Ministry director says it’s too soon to weigh lifting travel restrictions

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash speaks during a meeting at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on October 24, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash speaks during a meeting at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on October 24, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Health Ministry Nachman Ash says that he does not believe the new travel restrictions instituted in the wake of the Omicron COVID variant should be lifted just yet.

“There isn’t enough information yet to change the restrictions,” Ash tells Channel 12 news. “We still don’t know if this variant will stand up to the vaccines.”

Ash suggests that the Health Ministry and other Israeli officials will “have to wait a few more days, and more data will come,” before making any decisions on changes.

Last month, Israel shut its doors to foreigners, added the majority of African nations to a banned “red list” and mandated three days of quarantine — with two negative tests — for returnees from all foreign countries, including those who have three COVID vaccine doses.

So far, 21 Omicron cases have been identified in Israel.

EU envoy questions if Border Police shooting of stabber was ‘extrajudicial killing’

Israeli security forces at the scene of stabbing attack outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene of stabbing attack outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The European Union envoy to the Palestinian Authority says that the recent shooting of a Palestinian attacker by Border Police officers could be an “extrajudicial killing.”

“Yet another violent incident in Jerusalem,” tweets Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff about the Saturday stabbing of Jewish civilian next to the Old City of Jerusalem by a Palestinian terrorist who was then shot dead.

“A young Palestinian stabbed an unarmed Israeli civilian on 4 December, and footage shows that the [Israeli Security Forces] subsequently killed the perpetrator while he appeared to be lying injured on the ground,” writes the envoy. “Stabbing attacks are clearly unacceptable. So are measures that might appear to amount to extrajudicial killings. This incident must be swiftly investigated and full accountability ensured.”

The two Border Police officers were questioned over the incident, but received widespread backing from Israeli officials, including the prime minister, and are expected to be cleared of any suspicion. The officers stopped firing at the assailant within some 20 seconds of the moment he lunged at them.

In wake of NSO scandal, Defense Ministry tightens restrictions on cyber exports

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

The Defense Ministry imposes new restrictions on the export of cyber warfare tools following major international backlash after Israeli-made surveillance software has reportedly been used against journalists, activists and political rivals by human rights violators around the world.

This summer, an international consortium of journalists reported that the Israeli firm NSO Group had helped governments spy on dissidents and human rights workers. NSO insists its product was meant only to assist countries in fighting serious crime and terrorism. However, due to the broad definitions some countries use for these offenses, the software appears to have been against a broad range of figures.

In apparent response to this, the Defense Ministry’s Defense Export Control Agency releases an updated version of its “end use/user certificate,” which more clearly defines what does and does not amount to terrorism and serious crimes “in order to prevent a blurring of the definitions about this,” the ministry says.

Terror is generally defined by the ministry as violent activities or threats of violence that are meant to intimidate a population, sway a government to act or not act, or destabilize a country or international organization.

However, the new form explicitly states that “an act of expressing an opinion or criticism… shall not, in and of itself, constitute a Terrorist Act” or a “Serious Crime.”

The regulation also prevents Israeli systems from being used “to inflict harm on an individual or a group of individuals, merely due to their religion, sex or gender, race, ethnic group, sexual orientation, nationality, country of origin, opinion, political affiliation, age or personal status.”

If these conditions are violated, Israel would have the right to revoke the export license. The Defense Ministry says these new regulations were developed by a joint team from the Defense and Foreign Ministries.

Algeria pledges to donate $100 million to Palestinian Authority

President Mahmoud Abbas holds a joint press conference with his Algerian counterpart Abd al-Majid Tebboune on December 6, 2021 in Algeria. (WAFA)
President Mahmoud Abbas holds a joint press conference with his Algerian counterpart Abd al-Majid Tebboune on December 6, 2021 in Algeria. (WAFA)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visits Algeria and meets with Algerian President Abd al-Majid Tebboune, according to the official PA WAFA news agency.

Abbas has been on a diplomatic tour in recent days, visiting Russia, Italy and Qatar over the past month and meeting with heads of state. Abbas’s trip comes as observers fear the PA could face financial collapse due, in part, to dwindling external support.

In a joint press conference with Abbas, Tebboune announces that Algeria will donate $100 million to Ramallah’s coffers.

“The Palestinian-Algerian relationship expresses the Algerian people’s support for the just cause of Palestine,” Tebboune says.

Deri says government’s religious reform is more dangerous than nuclear Iran

Shas party chair Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party chair Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas leader Aryeh Deri says that the current government is more dangerous than a nuclear-armed Iran, according to reports.

In a closed meeting held today of the political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, Haredi political leaders make harsh statements about the government’s planned reforms.

According to Walla, which received a recording of the event, Deri — a former minister — says that “I can say with certainty that the steps this government is taking to change the Jewish identity of the state are more dangerous than a nuclear Iran.”

UTJ leader Moshe Gafni says that there is a “culture war” going on in Israel, and therefore Haredi leaders should “not hold back from saying the harshest words or taking the strongest actions… we have to fight with all our might, take the gloves off. It’s a matter of life or death for the Jews.”

The ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are furious at the plans of the current government to push through major reforms in the areas of kosher certification and conversion, as well as efforts to return a planned expansion of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

Ethiopian government claims to recapture key towns Dessie, Kombolcha

Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) are seen on a truck in Shewa Robit, Ethiopia, on December 5, 2021. (Amanuel Sileshi / AFP)
Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) are seen on a truck in Shewa Robit, Ethiopia, on December 5, 2021. (Amanuel Sileshi / AFP)

Ethiopia’s government announces that it has recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, more than a month after Tigrayan rebels claimed control of the two cities.

“The historic Dessie city and the trade and industry corridor city Kombolcha have been freed by the joint gallant security forces,” the government communications service says on Twitter.

US Treasury sanctions individual who aided blacklisted Israeli billionaire

Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler (Screen capture YouTube)
Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler (Screen capture YouTube)

The US Treasury announces sanctions on a man who aided Dan Gertler, an Israeli mining billionaire sanctioned by the United States for corruption.

According to the Treasury, Alain Mukonda — and 12 entities linked to Mukonda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gibraltar — have been marked for sanctions due to their ties to “serious human rights abuse and corruption.”

Washington claims Gertler deprived the DRC of $1.4 billion in tax revenues over the past decade. The Trump administration lifted sanctions on the Israeli billionaire, but the Biden administration reinstated them in March.

48 said killed in tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region

A Sudanese boy lifts a banner which reads in Arabic, 'imagine the fear of the military of chants on the streets,' during a rally in the capital Khartoum, on December 6, 2021. (AFP)
A Sudanese boy lifts a banner which reads in Arabic, 'imagine the fear of the military of chants on the streets,' during a rally in the capital Khartoum, on December 6, 2021. (AFP)

Close to 50 people have been killed in the latest outbreak of tribal violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, say officials.

“The violence began with an argument and it spiraled into killing six people on Saturday and then on Sunday more than 40 people were killed,” West Darfur governor Khamis Abdallah tells AFP.

The Doctors’ Committee, an independent union, says that 48 people were killed in the Krink area of Darfur by live ammunition.

Lapid to meet Egyptian counterpart in Cairo this week

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks to Conservative Friends of Israel in London, Britain, alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, November 29, 2021. (Stuart Mitchell)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks to Conservative Friends of Israel in London, Britain, alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, November 29, 2021. (Stuart Mitchell)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is slated to depart for a visit to Cairo this week.

The foreign minister is scheduled to meet with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, as well as with other Egyptian officials. Lapid is expected to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the tentative Egyptian-brokered truce with Gaza, as well as the issue of the Israelis and the remains of Israelis being held in the Strip.

In September, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met in Sharm el-Sheikh with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, for the first such summit between Israeli and Egyptian leaders in more than a decade.

According to Channel 12 news, which first reported on the trip, it is not yet clear if Lapid will be meeting with Sissi during his visit.

New York City to impose vaccine mandate on private sector employers

Illustrative: People sign-up for a shot at a city-operated mobile pharmacy for the COVID-19 vaccine in a Brooklyn neighborhood on July 30, 2021 in New York City. (SPENCER PLATT / Getty Images via AFP)
Illustrative: People sign-up for a shot at a city-operated mobile pharmacy for the COVID-19 vaccine in a Brooklyn neighborhood on July 30, 2021 in New York City. (SPENCER PLATT / Getty Images via AFP)

New York City employers will have to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for their workers, announces Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The vaccine mandate for private businesses will take effect Dec. 27 and is aimed at preventing a spike in COVID-19 infections during the holiday season and the colder months, the Democratic mayor says on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of COVID and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” de Blasio says. “All private-sector employers in New York City will be covered by this vaccine mandate as of Dec. 27.”

Vaccinations are already required for hospital and nursing home workers and city employees including teachers, police officers and firefighters. A vaccination mandate for employees of private and religious schools was announced last week.

The city was moving to impose the mandate on private sector businesses even as federal courts have temporarily blocked an attempt by US President Joe Biden to do the same nationally for larger companies.

Netanyahu said to put metal detectors at Temple Mount in 2017 due to son’s pressure

Security measures including metal detectors and cameras outside Lions Gate, a main entrance point for those heading to the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 23, 2017. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Security measures including metal detectors and cameras outside Lions Gate, a main entrance point for those heading to the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 23, 2017. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

The “security incident” that an ex-aide to Benjamin Netanyahu referenced in his testimony today at the former prime minister’s corruption trial involved placing metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount, according to reports.

Nir Hefetz, a former aide to Netanyahu, said earlier today that a security incident that “could have killed thousands” was never revealed publicly, and that the then-prime minister was influenced by his “surroundings.”

According to Ynet and Channel 12 news, the incident was the placement of metal detectors at the Temple Mount in 2017, at the pressure of Netanyahu’s son, Yair Netanyahu.

Hefetz said earlier that he left his job with Netanyahu in September 2017 because he “believed that [the premier] was no longer fit to make security decisions for the State of Israel.”

Confirmed cases of Omicron variant in Israel rise to 21

An arriving traveler walks to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
An arriving traveler walks to the COVID-19 testing area at Ben Gurion International Airport on November 28, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant rise to 21, with 10 more cases identified in the past day, reports the Health Ministry.

According to the latest data, 16 of the cases were among those who returned from abroad, while five were in those who have not left the country recently, but came in contact with those who did. The cases were identified in those who returned from South Africa, the UK, the US and the United Arab Emirates.

Out of the 21 cases, 13 of them were fully protected, says the Health Ministry, which includes in that definition anyone either with a booster dose or those who have recovered or received two doses within the past six months.

The Health Ministry says that it is waiting for the final test results of 21 other suspected cases of the Omicron variant.

New EU ambassador presents credentials to Herzog

New EU Ambassador to Israel Dimiter Tzantchev presents his credentials to President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on December 6, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
New EU Ambassador to Israel Dimiter Tzantchev presents his credentials to President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem on December 6, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

New EU Ambassador to Israel Dimiter Tzantchev presents his credentials to President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem.

Herzog tells Tzantchev — who has previously served in Israel as a representative of his home country, Bulgaria — that the relationship between Israel and the EU is critical.

“I am a true believer in the partnership with the European Union; I think it’s the natural partnership for Israel,” says Herzog, who also stressed the importance of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

According to the president’s office, Tzantchev says that the EU fully supports the recent Abraham Accords normalizing relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

New ambassadors from Italy, Switzerland and Rwanda also present their credentials to Herzog.

Controversial housing plan for E. Jerusalem Atarot site delayed by committee

The terminal at what was once Jerusalem Airport at Atarot, November 2021. (David Horovitz / Times of Israel)
The terminal at what was once Jerusalem Airport at Atarot, November 2021. (David Horovitz / Times of Israel)

The Finance Ministry’s Jerusalem District Planning Committee effectively delays a controversial plan to build 9,000 housing units on the grounds of the disused Atarot airport in East Jerusalem, saying the environmental impact of the site’s placement on potential residents must first be investigated.

The placement of the new neighborhood had sparked concern from the international community, including the United States. The planned neighborhood, intended for ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents, would be built snugly against the West Bank security barrier.

On the other side of the concrete wall lies the lawless East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab and the Qalandiya refugee camp, which is in the West Bank. According to the plan, construction less than 50 meters from the wall will be banned, officials said.

During the hearing, Israeli officials observed that the new neighborhood was close to the Atarot Industrial Zone, whose factories could reduce the quality of life for residents.

Critics of the plan said such a housing project would serve as an obstacle for a two-state solution, as it would seriously impede a contiguous Palestinian swath of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

After American pressure last week, Israel indicated it would walk back the plan, but the US was dismayed to see that it nevertheless remained on the docket for today’s meeting of the District Planning Committee.

Sudan police fire tear gas as thousands protest government in capital

Sudanese demonstrators lift national flags as they block a road with bricks and burning tires during a rally in the capital Khartoum, on December 6, 2021. (AFP)
Sudanese demonstrators lift national flags as they block a road with bricks and burning tires during a rally in the capital Khartoum, on December 6, 2021. (AFP)

Sudanese police fire tear gas as thousands of protesters rally against the military-dominated government near the presidential palace in Khartoum, witnesses tell AFP.

The demonstrators marched from various districts of the capital, many carrying national flags or chanting “No to military rule” and “The army might betray you, but the street will never betray you.”

Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, seized power and detained Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok on October 25 but, after international condemnation and mass protests, reinstated him in a deal signed on November 21.

Critics have lambasted the agreement and accuse Hamdok of “betrayal” as pro-democracy activists vowed to maintain pressure on the military-civilian authority.

Ministers push to reestablish airport on controversial Atarot site

The abandoned Atarot Airport, north of Jerusalem, on November 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The abandoned Atarot Airport, north of Jerusalem, on November 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej suggest that the controversial site on the former Atarot Airport next to Jerusalem be reestablished as an air travel hub rather than a housing site.

“We could build an airport that will serve the metropolitan Jerusalem area — including 3 million Palestinians who cannot head abroad, except via Jordan,” Frej tells a meeting of the Interior Ministry’s District Planning Committee.

Michaeli tells a Labor faction meeting that she “hopes and believes that the option of building an airport at Atarot will be considered seriously.”

Last month, a local committee in the Jerusalem municipality gave preliminary approval to a mass housing project on the grounds of the old Atarot Airport in East Jerusalem, sparking concern from Washington.

Israel then indicated it would walk back the plan, but the US was dismayed to see that it nevertheless remained on the docket for today’s meeting of the District Planning Committee in the Interior Ministry.

Earlier today, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that a deal for the area would be reached that would not anger the White House.

Ex-Netanyahu aide: I left my job when I felt former PM was not fit to serve

Nir Hefetz at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nir Hefetz at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior ex-aide to Benjamin Netanyahu says he left his position because he feared the former prime minister was not fit to serve.

In his testimony in court during Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption, trial, Nir Hefetz alleges that there was a top-secret security incident during his tenure that endangered thousands and has never been revealed.

“I told my interrogators, ‘it’s incredible that until today it still hasn’t been revealed,'” Hefetz says in court. ‘I left my job with Netanyahu in September 2017 because I believed that he was no longer fit to make security decisions for the State of Israel because of the situation surrounding him. I still believe that today.”

Netanyahu: If US won’t pose a military threat against Iran, Israel must

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu heads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on November 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu heads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on November 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel must be ready to act independently to protect itself against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

“Only one deal with Iran can be considered,” says Netanyahu to a meeting of his Likud faction. “The only deal we can accept is a deal that dismantles Iran’s nuclear capabilities.”

Without such a deal, the former prime minister adds, “Israel must be ready to act independently against Iran’s nuclear program. Independently means also without any heads’ up — and with surprises.”

Netanyahu says that “if the United States is not prepared to pose a real military threat to Iran, then Israel must do so.”

Lapid promises to formulate Atarot plan that won’t anger Americans

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

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says that the government will formulate a policy for the Atarot area that won’t lead to a diplomatic crisis.

“The government of Israel will determine its policy on the construction of Atarot,” Lapid tells a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party. “We will make sure that it does not turn into a confrontation with the American government.”

Lapid promises that the issue will be resolved internally within the coalition government.

Last month a local committee in the Jerusalem municipality gave preliminary approval to a mass housing project on the grounds of the old Atarot airport in East Jerusalem, sparking concern from Washington. Israel then indicated it would walk back the plan, but the US was dismayed to see that it nevertheless remained on the docket for today’s meeting of the District Planning Committee in the Interior Ministry.

Austria swears in its third chancellor in three months

Newly appointed Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (R) and Austria's outgoing chancellor and newly appointed Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg stand during a swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria on December 6, 2021.(Joe Klamar / AFP)
Newly appointed Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (R) and Austria's outgoing chancellor and newly appointed Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg stand during a swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria on December 6, 2021.(Joe Klamar / AFP)

Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer is sworn in as the country’s third chancellor in as many months, after the fallout from a corruption scandal shook his ruling People’s Party.

President Alexander Van der Bellen formally swears in Nehammer at a ceremony at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace.

The previous Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg offered his resignation on Thursday, hours after his predecessor and close ally Sebastian Kurz announced he was resigning as head of the conservative People’s Party (OeVP) in the wake of a corruption scandal.

On Friday the OeVP nominated Nehammer, 49, to take over as party head and chancellor.

Nehammer’s first act has been to conduct a cabinet reshuffle, sending Schallenberg back to his previous post as foreign minister and appointing new finance, interior and education ministers. The new cabinet members were sworn in along with Nehammer.

French prosecutors open probe into clashes at Zemmour campaign rally

Protesters march behind a banner reading 'Paris will block the far right,' during a demonstration against French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, on December 5, 2021, in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
Protesters march behind a banner reading 'Paris will block the far right,' during a demonstration against French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, on December 5, 2021, in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

French prosecutors open an investigation into violence that erupted at the first official campaign rally of a far-right candidate who has shaken up France’s presidential race.

The prosecutors’ office says police detained around 60 people after fists and chairs flew and anti-racism campaigners were left bloodied at Eric Zemmour’s rally with thousands of supporters north of Paris yesterday.

Campaign group SOS Racisme condemns savage beatings that targeted its activists at the rally, Zemmour’s first since the 63-year-old far-right author and former TV commentator with repeated convictions for hate speech officially launched his campaign last week for the presidential election in April.

The prosecutors’ office says it also is investigating a fracas that involved Zemmour himself.

Video images show a man surging out of the crowd with arms outstretched as the candidate walked through throngs at the rally. The man appeared to briefly lock arms around Zemmour’s neck before he was pulled off.

Nurse charged with murder for killing teen ex-patient

Edward Kachura, suspect in the murder of Lital Melnik, appears at a court hearing in Haifa on November 29, 2021. (Flash90)
Edward Kachura, suspect in the murder of Lital Melnik, appears at a court hearing in Haifa on November 29, 2021. (Flash90)

Edward Kachura, 49, is indicted for the murder of 17-year-old Lital Yael Melnik in October.

Kachura, who was employed as a nurse in the psychiatric facility where Melnik was hospitalized, is charged at Haifa Magistrate’s Court with murder under aggravated circumstances, a severe charge that carries a mandatory life sentence.

Prosecutors said last week that the decision was made “upon completion of the investigation and after carefully studying the evidence in the case.” The state prosecutor is also expected to request that Kachura remain in custody for the entire court proceedings.

Kachura was reportedly involved in Melnik’s treatment and then engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with her. Investigators suspect that Melnik, whose body was discovered at a construction site in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin, was buried alive.

Liberman vows to move ahead with reform in religious conversions

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman says that the issue of conversion reform is on the government’s agenda and will be tackled soon.

Speaking at a meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu faction, Liberman says reforming conversion to Judaism in Israel — and allowing conversions to be formed by local municipal rabbis, and not just the Chief Rabbinate — is part of the government’s coalition agreements.

Liberman says that he agreed to push off dealing with the issue until after the budget passed, and will now work on the issue in collaboration with Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana.

Bennett compares crime wave in south to ‘Wild West’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a tour of the south on December 6, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a tour of the south on December 6, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

During a tour of the south, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett decries the ongoing wave of crime in the region among the Arab community.

“The crime in the Arab community is not only its problem — it is all of ours,” says Bennett. “There are militias here like there are in the Wild West.”

Bennett says that after years of neglect, his government is moving toward action, and will prove to residents that “the law of Beersheba and Rahat is like the law of Tel Aviv.”

Unemployment in Israel drops significantly in November

A man queues at the entrance of the National Insurance Institute branch in downtown Jerusalem on September 21, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A man queues at the entrance of the National Insurance Institute branch in downtown Jerusalem on September 21, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Unemployment rates in Israel dropped significantly in the month of November, according to new statistics released by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

In November, about 4.5% of people in the workforce were unemployed, approximately 202,000 individuals. In the second half of October, that figure stood at 5.6%, which is around 232,000 people.

Despite the drop, unemployment is still higher than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, when it stood at just 3.8%.

Saudi crown prince embarks on tour of Gulf Arab states to discuss Iran

In this photo released by Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greets French President Emmanuel Macron, left, upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)
In this photo released by Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greets French President Emmanuel Macron, left, upon his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is heading to Oman, the first stop of a tour of Gulf Arab states that will see him meet neighboring rulers and allies as the kingdom closely watches negotiations in Europe to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit coincides with a flurry of other diplomatic meetings in the region, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to ally Qatar and a visit by a high-ranking security official from the United Arab Emirates to Iran.

The tour will take Prince Mohammed to the UAE, where a rivalry has heated up for business amid diverging foreign policies between the traditional allies, as well as Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, according to diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss tour details.

The diplomats say the tour aims to eliminate geopolitical differences and enhance cooperation and coordination among the six Gulf Arab countries, particularly in dealing effectively with Iran’s nuclear program and regional ambitions.

Iran slams France for selling weapons to Gulf Arab states

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

Iran accuses France of “destabilizing” the Gulf region after Paris signs a record 14 billion euro deal with the United Arab Emirates for 80 Rafale fighter jets.

“We must not ignore France’s role in destabilizing the region,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tells a news conference. “We expected France to be more responsible.”

“The militarization of our region is unacceptable and the weapons they sell in the region are the source of turmoil,” he adds.

France clinched the order for 80 Rafale fighter aircraft during a visit Friday by President Emmanuel Macron to the UAE. During the visit, Abu Dhabi also inked a deal to buy 12 Caracal military transport helicopters, for a total bill of more than 17 billion euros (more than $19 billion).

Khatibzadeh also complains that “billions of dollars worth of weapons are being sold to Arab countries” without sparking global concern while Iran’s missile program is condemned by world powers.

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