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Israel said to lead 10-country simulation of major cyberattack on world markets

Report says 10-day simulation held in Jerusalem tested several scenarios, is aimed at promoting international cooperation to minimize damage to global financial systems

An illustrative image of computer popup box screen warning of a system being hacked; hackers, cybersecurity attack. (solarseven; iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of computer popup box screen warning of a system being hacked; hackers, cybersecurity attack. (solarseven; iStock by Getty Images)

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

Fire at Tunisian Islamist party HQ leaves 1 dead, 18 injured

Firemen stand outside the Ennahda party headquarters after a fire broke out at Tunisia's Ennahdha, Tunisia's moderate Islamist party, December 9, 2021, in Tunis. (AP Photo/Francesca Ebel)
Firemen stand outside the Ennahda party headquarters after a fire broke out at Tunisia's Ennahdha, Tunisia's moderate Islamist party, December 9, 2021, in Tunis. (AP Photo/Francesca Ebel)

A fire at Tunisia’s largest Islamist party’s headquarters in the capital Tunis has killed one person and injured 18, authorities and the party say. The injured include a former prime minister who is hurt after jumping out of a window.

In a statement, the Ennahdha movement says party activist Sami Sifi, 51, died and several staff members and politicians were injured.

The cause of the blaze is not immediately clear. The Interior Ministry says a judicial inquiry has been opened.

Videos on social media show a thick column of white smoke rising from the building, as occupants try to jump out of the windows to escape the flames.

Ennahdha Vice-President Ali Laarayedh, who served as Tunisia’s prime minister in 2013-2014, suffers leg fractures after jumping from a second-floor window.

“The Party prays for mercy for the deceased and expresses condolences to his family, it thanks the firefighters who intervened quickly to put out the fire and rescue those present at the headquarters,” the party says in a statement.

Israeli author David Grossman says Israel’s West Bank control has become ‘apartheid’

Author David Grossman speaks at the Meretz party's central committee meeting in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Author David Grossman speaks at the Meretz party's central committee meeting in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Prominent Israeli author David Grossman suggests Israel’s military rule over the West Bank has turned into an “apartheid” regime, in an interview with Army Radio.

“Maybe it should no longer be called an ‘occupation,’ but there are much harsher names, like ‘apartheid,’ for example,” he says.

Speaking about the Israeli government that took office earlier this year and is led by Naftali Bennett, Grossman says it is “good and important.”

“But it cannot do the most important thing: cure Israel of the sick evil that is the occupation,” he says.

Grossman has previously used the word “apartheid” to describe Israel’s control of the West Bank.

He was honored with the Israel Prize, the country’s top civilian honor, in 2018, in recognition of his contributions to Hebrew literature. His works, which have been translated into dozens of languages and often address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have won other prestigious awards such as the Man Booker Prize and the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Award.

Gantz meets US defense chief, warns of Iran’s ‘hegemonic’ aspirations

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets his US counterpart Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon, discussing bilateral ties, the Iranian threat and Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East.

Gantz’s office says the defense chiefs held a “meaningful discussion that reflected the historic bond and strategic ties between the US and Israel.”

“The ministers discussed emerging challenges and opportunities in the region, with a particular focus on the developing challenge vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear program and its regional aggression,” the statement says.

In his remarks at the meeting, Gantz says: “Iran is not just a threat to our physical security. Iran poses a concrete threat to our way of life and our shared values. In its aspirations to become a hegemon, Iran seeks to destroy all traces of freedom, human dignity and peace in the Middle East and beyond. The nuclear program is a means to its hegemonic goals.

“I look forward to deepening our dialogue and cooperation vis-à-vis Iran, including on topics of military readiness. Iran is the biggest threat to global and regional peace and stability and building an existential threat to Israel,” he says, adding: “Iran is playing poker with a bad hand and it’s playing on time.”

Israel said to lead 10-country simulation of major cyberattack on world markets

Illustrative image: a computer hacker (iStock via Getty Images)
Illustrative image: a computer hacker (iStock via Getty Images)

Israel has recently led a 10-country, 10-day simulation of a major cyberattack on the world’s financial system by “sophisticated” players, with the goal of minimizing the damage to banks and financial markets, the Reuters news agency reports.

The report, which cites sources in Israel’s government, including the Finance Ministry, says the “war game” simulated several scenarios, including sensitive data surfacing on the dark web alongside fake news, causing global financial chaos.

The simulation “featured several types of attacks that impacted global foreign exchange and bond markets, liquidity, integrity of data and transactions between importers and exporters,” Reuters reports.

The report quotes Israeli officials saying international cooperation is the only way to counter the threat of major cyberattacks.

“Attackers are 10 steps ahead of the defender,” it quotes Micha Weis, financial cyber manager at the Finance Ministry, as saying.

The simulation was intended to be held at the Dubai World Expo but was moved to Jerusalem due to travel restrictions caused by the emergence of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus, the report says.

US envoy meets opposition chief Netanyahu

Thomas Nides at a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 4, 2012. (AP/Anjum Naveed)
Thomas Nides at a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan on April 4, 2012. (AP/Anjum Naveed)

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides meets opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“It’s important to maintain open dialogue,” Nides is reported to say as he meets the former premier.

Netanyahu’s office says the meeting went well and discussed a range of issues, headed by Iran.

Netta Barzilai said to refuse show at Miss Universe over objectification of women

Israeli Netta Barzilai, the winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest performs "Nana Banana" during the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israeli Netta Barzilai, the winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest performs "Nana Banana" during the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Tel Aviv, May 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Israeli singer and Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai has reportedly refused to perform at the Miss Universe contest taking part this year in Eilat, due to its objectification of women.

Barzilai, who has become an outspoken body-positive advocate, says she won’t perform at the competition because it “judges women according to their body,” according to Channel 13 news.

Met Museum to remove Sackler name, in opioid crisis fallout

A sign with the Sackler name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, January 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A sign with the Sackler name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, January 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will reportedly remove the name of the Sackler family from its Sackler Wing and other exhibition spaces following the outrage over the family’s involvement in the opioid crisis.

“Our families have always strongly supported the Met, and we believe this to be in the best interest of the museum and the important mission that it serves,” the descendants of Dr. Mortimer Sackler and Dr. Raymond Sackler say in a joint statement along with the museum, according to The New York Times.

“The earliest of these gifts were made almost 50 years ago, and now we are passing the torch to others who might wish to step forward to support the museum.”

Other museums, including the Louvre in Paris, France, have already removed the Sackler name and the Met Museum has previously severed ties to the family’s funding.

The development comes three months after a settlement was reached for the Sacklers to pay $4.5 billion and dissolve Purdue Pharma, and two years after the Stamford, Connecticut-based company filed for bankruptcy under the weight of some 3,000 lawsuits from states and local governments, individuals, Native American tribes, hospitals, unions and other entities.

They accuse Purdue Pharma of fueling the crisis by aggressively pushing sales of its best-selling prescription painkiller OxyContin.

Health Ministry said set to recommend extending travel restrictions by 10 days

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has called another meeting for 8:30 p.m. on the potential extension of COVID-19 restrictions at Ben Gurion Airport, with the Haaretz daily reporting that the Health Ministry will likely recommend a 10-day extension of the travel rules.

In a meeting earlier today, Bennett reportedly pushed for a lockdown on the unvaccinated that would also prevent them from leaving or entering the country. Ministry representatives reportedly rejected the offer, calling it “disproportionate.”

Foreigners are currently barred from entering the country besides exceptional cases, and vaccinated or recovered Israelis must enter quarantine that can end upon two negative test results, one upon arrival and another after 72 hours.

Trump testimony sought in fraud probe of his company — report

Then US president Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, on July 7, 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Then US president Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, on July 7, 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP)

New York’s top justice official wants former US president Donald Trump to testify in an investigation into possible fraud in his namesake real estate group, The Washington Post reports.

State Attorney General Letitia James has asked Trump to testify in person at her office in the probe into whether the Trump Organization may have illegally reported false values on its properties, potentially to gain banking and tax advantages, according to the Post.

James wants Trump to testify on January 7, the Post says, citing people familiar with the matter.

There is no immediate comment from either James’ office or Trump.

Ombudsman says he’ll probe claims that female prison guards were ‘pimped’ to inmates

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman photographed at the Calcalist conference in Tel Aviv on December 31, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman photographed at the Calcalist conference in Tel Aviv on December 31, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman says his office will probe the claims that female prison guards at Gilboa Prison were “pimped” to Palestinian inmates.

“The soldiers’ descriptions of what happened at the prison should ring warning bells,” Englman tells students at Ariel University in the West Bank. “What happened there must be probed. It’s even more problematic if the harrassed guards were soldiers in their mandatory military service.”

Englman adds that he’ll examine the issue of having such soldiers serve in units outside the military, including “what are the tasks given to them and how protected they are.”

‘We acted as expected,’ say border cops cleared in fatal shooting of terrorist

Border Police chief Amir Cohen (R) and the two officers who shot an attacker (faces blurred) in an undated photo (Israel Police spokesperson)
Border Police chief Amir Cohen (R) and the two officers who shot an attacker (faces blurred) in an undated photo (Israel Police spokesperson)

Two Border Police officers who shot dead a Palestinian assailant on Saturday, after he stabbed a Jewish civilian in a Jerusalem terror attack, issue a statement defending their conduct after prosecutors closed a probe into the incident.

The officers, a man and a woman, were questioned after video of the Saturday incident showed them firing at Muhammad Salima once he was already lying on the ground.

Police video of the entire incident that was later released showed Salima stabbed one civilian and then also tried to attack the officers. The video showed that the officers did not immediately fire the fatal shot at the assailant as he lay on the ground, but did so only after he moved, apparently trying to get up.

State Prosecutor Amit Aisman on Thursday adopted the recommendations of the Justice Ministry’s internal investigations unit, and decided to close the probe into the two officers.

“We acted as expected,” the male officer says in a statement cited by Hebrew media. “We strived for contact as expected of all fighters.”

He says they hadn’t been concerned by their questioning since “we knew that was what’s expected from us.

“I know I’m going to sleep well tonight, knowing I protected human life.”

Justice Ministry nixes single-use plastic, announces more environment-friendly moves

The Justice Ministry is to significantly slash the use of single-use plastic from January 1, replacing it with multi-use crockery and cutlery and installing mini dishwashers in staff kitchens.

The move joins other environment-friendly actions, such as scanning investigative materials instead of photocopying them (saving 17.5 tons of paper and three million pages per year), using fully recyclable paper and printing on both sides, installing the most energy-efficient electrical and air conditioning items and reducing the use of electricity and water.

It will soon approve digital methods for having documents notarized or obtaining an apostille.

Gantz to meet PA chief Abbas for 2nd time next week, says minister

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) attends a conference in the Eshkol region, southern Israel. on July 13, 2021; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech regarding COVID-19, at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 5, 2020. (Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) attends a conference in the Eshkol region, southern Israel. on July 13, 2021; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech regarding COVID-19, at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 5, 2020. (Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej will travel to Ramallah next week to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to strengthen the PA and calm tensions that have resulted in a wave of terror attacks, Frej tells Channel 12 news.

It will be Gantz’s second meeting with Abbas since the current government was sworn in in June. The previous meeting was the first of its kind since 2010.

The meeting is expected to deal with proposals for security and economic cooperation aimed at helping the PA govern in the West Bank and weakening the rival Hamas terror group.

Former Mossad chief has been paid $500,000 for lectures abroad — report

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 has been paid some $500,000 for a series of lectures in Jewish communities abroad, the Walla news website reports.

According to the unsourced report, Cohen went on a trip to Europe in October and will soon go on another to Australia, sponsored by the Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal organization, which raises funds for Israel in Jewish communities.

Cohen declines to comment on the report, which comes days after Channel 12 news reported that Cohen helped secure his daughter a job at a firm with links to a senior Emirati official while still serving as head of the spy agency.

According to that report, Achinoam Cohen Ganonyan began working for Group 42 earlier this year before her father’s term as Mossad chief ended.

Iranian gas condensate pipeline reportedly explodes, said to be accident

A gas condensate pipeline in southwestern Iran has exploded, Iranian media reports, claiming it was an accident in which an excavator hit the 10-inch pipeline at the Parsian refinery.

According to the semi-official Fars news agency, cited by Reuters, “there were no casualties, and rescue and operations forces are currently at the scene.”

COVID boosters ‘safe and effective’ 3 months after last shot — EU regulator

The European Medicines Agency says it is “safe and effective” to issue booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines as soon as three months after the initial course, down from the previous guidance of six months.

“The data currently available support safe and effective administration of a booster as early as three months from completion of the primary vaccination, should such a short interval be desirable from a public health perspective,” EMA vaccine strategy chief Marco Cavaleri says.

Iran says it’s sticking to stance slammed by Western powers as backtrack

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 3, 2021. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 3, 2021. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Iran’s top negotiator at the Vienna nuclear talks says Tehran hasn’t backed down from its basic position, which has been slammed by Western countries as backtracking on previous compromises and endangering the talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.

“Iran underlined that it is seriously continuing the talks based on its previous position,” Ali Bagheri Kani tells reporters, according to Reuters, after talks renewed today and were called off after an hour. “Iran is serious about reaching an agreement if the ground is paved (towards a deal)… The fact all sides want the talks to continue shows that all parties want to narrow the gaps.”

Enrique Mora, the European Union’s coordinator for the talks who chaired the meeting, says the sides “don’t have all the time in the world,” adding: “What I felt this morning was from… all delegations a renewed sense of purpose in the need to work and to reach an agreement on bringing the JCPOA back to life.”

Israel has fewer than 100 serious COVID cases for 1st time in 4.5 months

Israel now has fewer than 100 serious COVID-19 cases, for the first time since late July, after a major fourth outbreak ended and as fears mount of a potential new wave of infections driven by the Omicron strain.

According to Health Ministry figures published today, there are 96 serious cases in the country, the lowest point in 4.5 months.

The last time there were this few serious cases was on July 24.

No Israeli flag at Lapid-Sissi meet, but it wasn’t a snub — Foreign Ministry

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sits with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sits with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, December 9, 2021 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

There was no Israeli flag in the room when Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Foreign Ministry confirmed to The Times of Israel.

However, this appears not to be any sort of snub, but rather an element of protocol when Sissi meets ministerial-level officials.

There was an Israeli flag prominently displayed when Lapid met Egypt’s foreign minister and deputy foreign minister.

When PM Naftali Bennett met with Sissi in the Sharm El-Sheikh in September, the Egyptians placed an Israeli flag next to the Egyptian.

The same rules apply even for Egypt’s most powerful backer, the US. When Antony Blinken met Sissi in May, there was no US flag, and he sat in the same seat as Lapid did today.

At Lapid Cairo meeting, IAA presents Egypt with 95 stolen relics smuggled into Israel

Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escozido (L) looks on as Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (C-L) presents Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (C-R) with stolen Egyptian artifacts that were smuggled to Israel and returned back to Egypt, during their meeting at Tahrir Palace in Cairo on December 9, 2021. (Mohamed HOSSAM / AFP)
Israel Antiquities Authority Director Eli Escozido (L) looks on as Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (C-L) presents Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (C-R) with stolen Egyptian artifacts that were smuggled to Israel and returned back to Egypt, during their meeting at Tahrir Palace in Cairo on December 9, 2021. (Mohamed HOSSAM / AFP)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has a private meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry after first holding talks with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the two top diplomats discuss cooperation on security and economic issues.

In addition, Eli Escozido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, presents Shoukry with Egyptian relics that were illegally smuggled into Israel.

Four of the relics were nabbed by Israeli customs agents in 2013 as a traveler tried to bring them into Israel from the United Kingdom. After a legal battle, the relics were handed over to Israel in 2015.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) presents Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) with stolen Egyptian artifacts that were smuggled to Israel and returned back to Egypt, during their meeting at Tahrir Palace in Cairo on December 9, 2021. (Mohamed HOSSAM / AFP)

In addition, 91 ancient Egyptian artifacts were found in a Jerusalem antiquities dealership in August 2013. Egyptian authorities asked Israel to deal with the matter, and the items were also handed over to Israeli authorities.

Escozido gives all 95 artifacts — including tablets with hieroglyphic writing, papyrus documents, idols of Egyptian gods, and a piece of a sarcophagus — to Shoukry in Lapid’s presence.

Russia to return prewar Jewish archives stolen by Nazis to Greece

People march from the old train station in the Greek northern town of Thessaloniki, during a Holocaust anniversary, on Sunday, March 15, 2015 (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
People march from the old train station in the Greek northern town of Thessaloniki, during a Holocaust anniversary, on Sunday, March 15, 2015 (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Russia will return to Greece the prewar archives of Jewish communities that were stolen by Nazi forces, the country’s Jewish council says.

“Our history returns home,” the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KISE) says in a statement.

KISE says Nazi forces in July 1942 plundered archives, books and religious artifacts from 30 synagogues, libraries and communal institutions just in Thessaloniki, which at the time was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe.

They were transferred to Moscow after the Red Army took Berlin in May 1945.

“Their restitution would mean justice and would transmit knowledge about a part of the Greek people that contributed to the progress of the country and no longer exists, that of the 60,000 Greek Jews who were deported to and exterminated in the Nazi death camps,” the board says.

Corporate backers pull funding from UK theater after antisemitism row

A view of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square Apr. 20, 2021 in London, England. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images via JTA)
A view of the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square Apr. 20, 2021 in London, England. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images via JTA)

Two corporate sponsors pull funding from the London theater that was accused of antisemitism over a play which included a character named Hershel Fink, a billionaire with plans for global domination.

Law firms Kirkland & Ellis and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, tell the BBC they will no longer fund the Royal Court.

In a statement to the British broadcaster, a spokesperson for Kirkland & Ellis says: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms any and all forms of racism and discrimination, including antisemitism, and in light of the recent events, we were unable to continue our sponsorship.”

Weil, Gotshal & Manges, the theater’s only “gold” corporate sponsor, tells the BBC: “Weil strongly condemns any form of anti-Semitism or discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, and we will be withdrawing our support for the Royal Court.”

The playhouse said the character’s name was due to “unconscious bias” against Jews, and it was changed before the play opened last month.

Greece says Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz conditionally freed

French-Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz comes back to Geneva's courthouse during his trial over allegations of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea, on January 11, 2021, in Geneva. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
French-Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz comes back to Geneva's courthouse during his trial over allegations of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea, on January 11, 2021, in Geneva. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

French-Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz is conditionally freed after he was detained in Athens on an international warrant, a Greek judicial source says.

Last January, a Swiss court sentenced the 65-year-old billionaire diamond magnate to five years in prison and a fine of 50 million Swiss francs (46 million euros, $52 million) for bribing public officials to obtain access to mining rights in Guinea.

And prior to that, he was convicted in Romania and similarly sentenced to five years for setting up “an organized criminal group” in a series of land deals between 2006 and 2008 which cost the Romanian state an estimated 135 million euros ($152 million).

It was Bucharest that had issued the international arrest warrant.

Steinmetz was detained entering Greece on November 24 from Israel on a private jet and the judicial source says he was released on condition that he remain in the country pending an investigation.

Resumed Iran nuclear talks in Vienna end an hour after they began

The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Iran nuclear talks, is pictured in Vienna, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)
The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Iran nuclear talks, is pictured in Vienna, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

The nuclear talks in Vienna end an hour after they resumed.

“The meeting of the Joint Commission is over. It was rather short and constructive,” tweets Russia’s representative, Mikhail Ulyanov.

“The participants observed a number of important commonalities in there positions, including with regard to the need to finalize the #ViennaTalks on restoration of #JCPOA successfully and swiftly,” says Ulyanov.

The talks resumed amid high tensions after Tehran made demands last week that European countries strongly criticized.

European diplomats urged Tehran to come back with “realistic proposals” after the Iranian delegation made numerous demands last week that other parties to the accord deemed unacceptable. US and European representatives at the nuclear talks have voiced pessimism and frustration over Iran’s demands.

WHO warns Omicron fears could spark new vaccine hoarding, straining global supplies

A woman holds onto a cotton pad after being inoculated with AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine during the first day of a nationwide three-day vaccination drive at a school in Quezon city, Philippines on Nov. 29, 2021 (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
A woman holds onto a cotton pad after being inoculated with AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine during the first day of a nationwide three-day vaccination drive at a school in Quezon city, Philippines on Nov. 29, 2021 (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

The World Health Organization expresses concerns that rich countries spooked by the emergence of the Omicron variant could step up the hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines and strain global supplies again, complicating efforts to stamp out the pandemic.

The UN health agency, after a meeting of its expert panel on vaccination, reiterates its advice to governments against the widespread use of boosters in their populations so that well-stocked countries instead can send doses to low-income countries that have largely lacked access to them.

“What is going to shut down disease is for everybody who is especially at risk of disease to become vaccinated,” says Dr. Kate O’Brien, head of WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals. “We seem to be taking our eye off that ball in countries.”

Months of short supplies of COVID-19 vaccines have begun to ease over the last two months or so, and doses are finally getting to needier countries — such as through donations and the UN-backed COVAX program — and WHO wants that to continue. It has long decried “vaccine inequity” by which most doses have gone to people in rich countries, whose leaders locked down big stockpiles as a precautionary measure.

“As we head into whatever the Omicron situation is going to be, there is risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccine to protect — in a sense, in excess — their opportunity for vaccination, and a sort of ‘no-regrets’ kind of approach,” O’Brien says.

“It’s not going to work,” she adds. “It’s not going to work from an epidemiological perspective, and it’s not going to work from a transmission perspective unless we actually have vaccine going to all countries, because where transmission continues, that’s where the variants are going to come from.”

US to tighten Iran sanctions, warning UAE banks and firms not to do business with Tehran

The sunrise reflects on city skylines at the Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers districts in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
The sunrise reflects on city skylines at the Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers districts in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The United States is making moves to tighten the enforcement of sanctions on Iran, the State Department says.

The US is sending a senior delegation to the United Arab Emirates to issue a warning to banks that conduct business with Tehran and are not complying with sanctions, the Reuters news agency reports.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the delegation will also meet with petrochemical companies and other private firms doing billions of dollars’ worth of business with Tehran.

The delegation is set to include the head of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Andrea Gacki.

A State Department spokesperson tells Reuters that the US has proof of noncompliance, and that there could be sanctions or penalties. There is no immediate comment from the UAE on the matter.

Prosecutors won’t appeal community service term for man who shot dead car thief

Aryeh Schiff, who shot and killed a thief who broke into his car at his home in Arad, seen with supporters as he arrives for a court hearing at the Beersheba District Court, March 21, 2021. (Flash90)
Aryeh Schiff, who shot and killed a thief who broke into his car at his home in Arad, seen with supporters as he arrives for a court hearing at the Beersheba District Court, March 21, 2021. (Flash90)

Prosecutors say they won’t appeal the community service sentence handed to Arad resident Aryeh Schiff, 71, for shooting dead a man who was trying to steal his car.

In response to the announcement, relatives of Schiff say: “We are very happy, this is the right decision.”

Last year, 36-year-old Mahmoud Al-Atrash broke into Schiff’s vehicle, which was parked near the trailer where Schiff was sleeping. Upon hearing sounds of the break-in, Schiff got out of the trailer and shot at the vehicle with Al-Atrash inside.

Schiff was found guilty of reckless homicide in July as part of a plea deal.

Last month he was sentenced to the community service, as well as a suspended sentence of nine months, and was told to pay compensation to the victim’s family totaling NIS 10,000 ($3,200).

British PM Johnson’s wife gives birth to baby girl

In this file photo taken on May 6, 2021, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds arrive at Methodist Hall in central London to cast their votes in local elections. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on May 6, 2021, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds arrive at Methodist Hall in central London to cast their votes in local elections. (AFP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie announce the birth of a baby girl.

The couple say a healthy baby, the couple’s second child together, was born in a London hospital early Thursday.

“Both mother and daughter are doing very well,” the office says in a statement. “The couple would like to thank the brilliant NHS maternity team for all their care and support.”

The baby is a sister for Wilfred, who was born in April 2020.

The couple moved into 10 Downing St. together when Boris Johnson became prime minister in 2019, becoming the first unmarried couple to openly live together at the British prime minister’s official London residence.

Boris Johnson, now 57, and Carrie, who is 33, married in May 2021, in what is her first marriage and his third.

Johnson has at least five other children from previous relationships.

The new baby is the fourth born to a sitting British prime minister this century. The wives of leaders Tony Blair and David Cameron also had babies while their husbands were in office.

Environmental Protection Ministry warns of very high levels of air pollution

A general view taken on December 9, 2021, from the Mount of Olives shows Jerusalem's Old City (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A general view taken on December 9, 2021, from the Mount of Olives shows Jerusalem's Old City (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The Environmental Protection Ministry warns of very high levels of air pollution.

In a statement, the ministry says the air quality is expected to improve throughout the course of the day.

The ministry says it recommends, along with the Health Ministry, that people with heart or lung conditions, the elderly, children and pregnant women avoid any strenuous physical activity outside. All others are told to try to reduce strenuous exercise outdoors.

The ministry says the pollution is due to a deep depression over the eastern Mediterranean that is causing strong southwesterly winds and the movement of dust from the Sinai Peninsula, as well as local sandstorms in the Negev desert.

Iran nuclear talks restart in Vienna after pause

The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Iran nuclear talks, is pictured in Vienna, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)
The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Iran nuclear talks, is pictured in Vienna, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

Negotiations between Iran and world powers aimed at salvaging a tattered 2015 nuclear deal resume in Vienna after a few days’ pause, with tensions high after Tehran made demands last week that European countries strongly criticized.

A meeting of all the deal’s remaining signatories — Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — is chaired by European Union diplomat Enrique Mora.

The United States has participated indirectly in the ongoing talks because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump. US President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

Washington plans to send a delegation led by Robert Malley, the special US envoy for Iran, to Vienna over the weekend.

European diplomats urged Tehran to come back with “realistic proposals” after the Iranian delegation made numerous demands last week that other parties to the accord deemed unacceptable. US and European representatives at the nuclear talks have voiced pessimism and frustration over Iran’s demands.

Last week’s talks were the first in over five months, a gap caused by a new hardline government assuming power in Tehran.

Meanwhile, Israeli and American military leaders are set to discuss possible military drills to practice destroying Iranian nuclear facilities in a potential worst-case scenario, a senior US official said.

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