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Iran agents scouted Israeli, US, UAE embassies in East Africa for attack — TV

Kan News says several agents arrested, some in unnamed African country, others in different nations, while planning revenge for killing of top general, nuclear scientist

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, worshippers chant slogans during Friday prayers ceremony, as a banner show Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, left, and Iraqi Shiite senior militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone attack on January 3, 2020, and a banner which reads in Persian: "Death To America, "at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran, Friday, January 17, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, worshippers chant slogans during Friday prayers ceremony, as a banner show Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, left, and Iraqi Shiite senior militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone attack on January 3, 2020, and a banner which reads in Persian: "Death To America, "at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran, Friday, January 17, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

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

Israeli drone crashes in Lebanon

An Israeli drone crashes in southern Lebanon. The Hezbollah terror group says it shot it down.

The Israel Defense Forces confirms that one of its drones fell in Lebanese territory, but refrains from specifying the reason why.

“During operational activities by IDF troops on the Lebanese border, an IDF drone fell in Lebanese territory,” the military says.

The IDF says there is no risk of intelligence being taken from the device, which appears to have been a small, off-the-shelf reconnaissance model.

Health Ministry mulls forcing vaccinated travelers to self-isolate

A top Health Ministry official confirms that authorities are reconsidering a waiver for vaccinated travelers from quarantine upon entering Israel.

Sharon Alroy-Preis, in a Knesset committee hearing, says the policy is under consideration.

“We see cases in which people returned from abroad and were infected after they were vaccinated, so we are reconsidering the whole issue,” she says, adding that Israel also wants to avoid the import of new mutations.

Her comment comes as the airport is closed for another week.

The arrival hall at the almost empty Ben Gurion International Airport on January 25, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Daughter of Warsaw Zoo directors who saved Jews from Nazis dies

The daughter of former Warsaw Zoo directors Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust by hiding them at the zoo and whose story was told in the Hollywood movie “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” has died.

The zoo says on its Facebook page that Teresa Zabinska-Zawadzki died Saturday night, at age 77. It does not give the cause of her death.

“She always talked with pride about her parents and their heroism,” the zoo says.

It says that after having lived in Denmark, she returned to Warsaw some years ago.

In this file photo dated March 7, 2017, Teresa Zabinska, the daughter of Jan and Antonina Zabinski poses for a photo prior to the gala screening of ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ movie (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz, FILE)

Zabinska-Zawadzki was born at the zoo in 1944, under Nazi German occupation of Poland during World War II. For years during the war her parents saved some 300 Jews by hiding them at their villa on the zoo grounds, or in empty animal enclosures. Zabinska-Zawadzki’s brother Ryszard, who was 12 years older than her, brought food to the people in hiding and was featured in the movie. He died in 2019.

Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute has recognized the Zabinskis as Righteous Among the Nations for having risked the family’s lives in order to save Jewish lives.

In 2017, Zabinska-Zawadzki attended Warsaw’s gala screening of “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” a movie starring Jessica Chastain, about her parents’ heroism.

The movie was based on a 2007 US bestseller book by the same title, written by American author Diane Ackerman, that revealed the story to the world.

PA to begin vaccination drive in mid-February

The Palestinians will receive a first batch of 50,000 coronavirus vaccines by mid-February, when they will launch inoculations in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority prime minister says.

Speaking ahead of a Palestinian Authority weekly cabinet meeting, Mohammed Shtayyeh says the procurement had been secured through various sources, including the UN-backed Covax program set up to provide vaccines to less wealthy states.

“Vaccination will start in the middle of this month,” Shtayyeh says.

The prime minister says the vaccines will be allocated to the 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the two million people in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas terror movement.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

COVID-19 has killed 2,227,605 worldwide, infected 102.8 million

The coronavirus has killed at least 2,227,605 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally from official sources at 1100 GMT on Monday.

At least 102,878,810 cases have been registered. Of these, at least 62,454,800 are now considered recovered.

These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organizations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

Over Sunday, 8,457 new deaths and 404,266 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Medical personnel in the coronavirus ward of Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed, January 27, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were United States with 1,955 followed by United Kingdom with 587 and Brazil with 559.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 441,331 deaths from 26,187,424 cases.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 224,504 deaths from 9,204,731 cases, Mexico with 158,536 from 1,864,260 cases, India with 154,392 from 10,757,610 and the United Kingdom with 106,158 deaths from 3,817,176 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to population is Belgium with 182 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Slovenia with 168, United Kingdom 156, Czech Republic 153 and Italy 146.

Europe overall has 738,573 deaths from 33,409,695 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 597,439 from 18,924,598 and the United States and Canada 461,347 deaths from 26,964,985 cases.

Asia has reported 240,696 deaths from 15,234,753 cases, the Middle East 97,626 from 4,743,191, Africa 90,979 from 3,569,885 and Oceania 945 deaths from 31,707 cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of tests conducted has greatly increased while testing and reporting techniques have improved, leading to a rise in reported cases.

However, the number of diagnosed cases is only a part of the real total of infections as a significant portion of less serious or asymptomatic cases always remain undetected.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.

Southern Poverty Law Center says US hate groups on decline, but not hate itself

During one of the most politically divisive years in recent memory, the number of active hate groups in the US actually declined as far-right extremists migrated further to online networks, reflecting a splintering of white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups that are more difficult to track.

In its annual report, the Southern Poverty Law Center says it identified 838 active hate groups operating across the US in 2020. That’s a decrease from the 940 documented in 2019 and the record-high of 1,020 in 2018, said the law center, which tracks racism, xenophobia and anti-government militias.

“It is important to understand that the number of hate groups is merely one metric for measuring the level of hate and racism in America, and that the decline in groups should not be interpreted as a reduction in bigoted beliefs and actions motivated by hate,” says the report, first shared exclusively with The Associated Press.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based law center says many hate groups have moved to social media platforms and use of encrypted apps, while others have been banned altogether from mainstream social media networks.

People march with those who claim they are members of the Proud Boys extremist group at a rally in support of US President Donald Trump in Washington, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Still, the law center said, online platforms allow individuals to interact with hate and anti-government groups without becoming members, maintain connections with likeminded people, and take part in real-world actions, such as last month’s siege on the US Capitol.

White nationalist organizations, a subset of the hate groups listed in the report, declined last year by more than 100. Those groups had seen huge growth the previous two years after being energized by Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency, the report says.

The number of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate groups remains largely stable, while their in-person organizing is hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Bottom line, the levels of hate and bigotry in America have not diminished, says SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang.

“What’s important is that we start to reckon with all the reasons why those groups have persisted for so long and been able to get so much influence in the last White House, that they actually feel emboldened,” Huang tells the AP.

Labor members vote in party primaries

The Labor party is voting in its party primaries to lock down the center-left faction’s slate ahead of the March 23 national elections.

Over 60 candidates are running. Over 45,000 Labor members are eligible to vote. Amid the pandemic, most are voting digitally, though nine in-person ballot boxes have also been set up.

Party leader Merav Michaeli casts her vote and says: “I am proud to lead the only party in Israel that is holding democratic elections [primaries]. I welcome the thousands of members who joined just this week… and call on the tens of thousands of Labor members to vote. Come home.”

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli votes in the party primaries on February 1, 2021 (Courtesy of the Labor Party)

After blast outside Israel embassy, Netanyahu speaks to India PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi following a blast last week outside Israel’s embassy in New Delhi.

Netanyahu “thanks him for his government’s efforts to protect Israel’s representatives following the terror incident outside the Israeli embassy in India,” a statement from his office says.

The two also discuss “possible cooperation on vaccine manufacturing and distribution and mutual recognition of the vaccination certificates.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Netanyahu arrives in India on January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

US secretary warns Iran could collect enough material for nuclear bomb in weeks

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Iran is months away from amassing enough material to build a nuclear bomb — a timeframe that could be reduced to “a matter of weeks” if the Islamic Republic further expands its violations of the nuclear deal with world powers.

Blinken’s comments come in an interview with NBC News.

Then US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Seoul, South Korea, April 19, 2016. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

UK warns family of woman held in Iran not to publicize release date

The husband of detained British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says the UK government warned her family that public comments could jeopardize her possible release date in Iran early next month.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family has been campaigning for her release since she was held in Iran in April 2016 on sedition charges. She is currently under house arrest.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe writes on Twitter: “This week the Foreign Office warned us of threats to Nazanin and her family if we continued to publicize Nazanin’s release date.”

He retorts that the family believes “transparency is the best form of protection from abuse.”

The Foreign Office tells AFP that it remains in “close contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family” and continued to “provide our support.”

An undated file photo provided by the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national detained in Iran. (Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe via AP, File)

“We do not accept Iran detaining dual British nationals as diplomatic leverage,” it says, adding that it was doing “everything we can to secure the release of all dual British nationals.”

Unless Iran finds new grounds to extend her detention, Nazanin’s official release date is March 7, according to Ratcliffe.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media organization’s philanthropic arm.

She denies charges of sedition but was convicted and jailed for five years. She has spent more than four years in jail or under house arrest.

Police fine schools in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem open in breach of lockdown

Police have fined several schools in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem that are open in violation of the lockdown rules, according to the Ynet news site.

Officers also located busloads of students in Beit Shemesh that were making their way to the schools, the report says.

The names of the institutions are not publicized.

WATCH LIVE: Israel, Kosovo forge diplomatic ties in virtual ceremony

Kosovo and Israel are establishing diplomatic ties in a virtual ceremony.

The decision on mutual recognition between Muslim-majority Kosovo and Israel was achieved last September at a summit of Kosovo-Serbia leaders at the White House in the presence of then-President Donald Trump.

At the meeting Belgrade also agreed to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which it hasn’t done so far.

טקס כינון יחסים דיפלומטיים בין ישראל לקוסובו

הצטרפו אלינו לשידור טקס כינון יחסים דיפלומטיים בין ישראל לקוסובוJoin us for a special ceremony marking the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Kosovo and the State of Israel 🇮🇱 🇽🇰

Posted by ‎משרד החוץ‎ on Monday, February 1, 2021


Floor of Jerusalem store collapses; no injuries

The floor of a store in central Jerusalem has collapsed into the parking garage beneath it.

There are no immediate reports of injuries.

Firefighters and emergency services are making their way to the site.

Kosovo normalizes ties with Israel, recognizes Jerusalem as capital

Israel and Kosovo establish diplomatic ties on Monday, with the Muslim-majority territory recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world.

In a ceremony held over Zoom in Jerusalem and Pristina, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his counterpart from Kosovo Meliza Haradinaj Stublla sign a joint declaration establishing ties.

Ashkenazi says he has approved Kosovo’s “formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem.”

Europol warns organized crime gangs selling fake COVID-negative certificates

The EU’s police agency warns travelers to watch for organized crime gangs selling fake COVID-negative certificates at airports, sometimes for as much as 300 euros each.

The warning from Europol comes after police busted several suspects selling forged certificates declaring people COVID-19 negative at airports in Britain and France, online and through mobile messaging chat groups in Spain and the Netherlands.

Many EU countries and others now require proof that passengers are not infected by the disease, which has killed more than 2.2 million people around the world.

“As long as travel restrictions remain in place due to the pandemic, it is very likely that criminals will seize the opportunity of producing and selling fake Covid-19 test certificates,” Europol says.

“Given the widespread technological means available in the form of high-quality printers and different software, fraudsters are able to produce high-quality counterfeit, forged or fake documents,” the Hague-based police agency says.

Unemployment surged to 16.7% in January due to 3rd lockdown

The Central Bureau of Statistics says unemployment rates shot up to 16.7 percent in the first two weeks of January as a nationwide lockdown was introduced.

That’s 680,000 unemployed, the vast majority of whom (504,000) were placed on unpaid leave.

In late December, the unemployment rate stood at 13.7%, or some 566,000 jobless.

View of the closed-down stores in the Givatayim Mall during a nationwide lockdown, January 18, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Comptroller fines Likud over party retreat, says it’s a ‘forbidden donation’

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman has fined the Likud party NIS 100,000 ($30,402) for failing to include the “Likudiada” annual conference in Eilat in its list of donations.

The retreat for Likud party activists constitutes a “forbidden donation,” he writes.

He also warns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to use the Prime Minister’s Residence for large political gatherings.

Englman also fines a handful of lawmakers for exceeding the funds allocated to them for party primaries and other offenses. These include Likud MKs Ayoub Kara, Nir Barkat, Osnat Mark and Fateen Mulla and Labor’s Saleh Sa’ad.

Organizers of mass Jerusalem funerals summoned for police questioning — TV

Channel 12 reports that police have summoned the organizers of two mass funerals of ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem for questioning.

It’s unclear who organized the burials and whether family members are to be interrogated.

The funerals of Rabbi Meshulam David Soleveitchik and Rabbi Yitzchok Scheiner on Sunday drew thousands of mourners, in violation of the lockdown rules.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox men attend the funeral of Rabbi Yitzchok Sheiner, who died from COVID-19, in Jerusalem, January 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Virus czar says 80 cases of South African variant found in Israel

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, in a briefing with reporters, says 80 cases of the South African variant have been found in Israel.

“We’re working to locate every case,” he says.

Israeli health officials have expressed concern the South African variant may weaken the protection of the coronavirus vaccines.

Israel’s coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash visits the Ziv hospital in Safed, December 24, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

“As for the British mutation, we find it to be present in 70% of the positive tests,” he says.

Ash says the health authorities are “preparing for the end of the lockdown and are discussing how to open the education system and the economy.”

The senior official also condemns mass violations of the lockdown rules at two Jerusalem funerals on Sunday and urges police to bring the violators to justice.

Dubai creates ‘space court’ for out-of-this-world disputes

Dubai announces the creation of a “space court” to settle commercial disputes, as the UAE — which is sending a probe to Mars — builds its presence in the space sector.

The tribunal will be based at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts, an independent British-inspired arbitration center based on common law.

Space law is governed by international conventions and resolutions, including the UN Outer Space Treaty which entered into force in 1967. Several states have also signed bilateral or multilateral agreements to regulate their space activities.

However, while until recently the field was almost exclusively the domain of nations and institutions, space has become a commercial issue involving more and more private companies.

An H-IIA rocket with United Arab Emirates’ Mars orbiter Hope lifts off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan Monday, July 20, 2020. (Hiroki Yamauchi/Kyodo News via AP)

“An integrated space industry, supported by human resources, infrastructure, and scientific research, is under way,” Zaki Azmi, Chief Justice at DIFC Courts, says in a statement.

“The Courts of Space is a global initiative that will operate in parallel, helping to build a new judicial support network to serve the stringent commercial demands of international space exploration in the 21st century.”

Established in 2004, the DIFC Courts already draw many foreign companies to arbitrate their commercial disputes, but did not yet have courts specialized in the space activities of private companies.

Azmi says that as space commerce becomes more global, the complex commercial agreements that govern them “will also require an equally innovative judicial system to keep pace.”

The UAE, which takes in seven emirates including Dubai, has invested heavily in the space sector in recent years.

After sending its first astronaut into space in 2019, the country last year launched a probe named “Hope” towards Mars. It is due to reach its destination next week.

“That was for us an eye-opener that we need to provide the UAE with the right infrastructure (in case of disputes),” Amna Al Owais, Chief Registrar at DIFC Courts, tells AFP.

“We want to set the scene in terms of what courts can do. We believe that there will be a huge appetite for it,” she says, citing as examples disagreements over satellite purchases or collisions between devices in space.

Companies and institutions based both in the UAE and abroad will now have the option of agreeing to take grievances to the tribunal, with new contracts potentially specifying the new “space court” as the forum for resolving disputes.

The oil-rich nation, whose colossal skyscrapers and mega-projects put it on the world map, hopes otherworldly new industries could be a boost to its economic future.

It is also looking at other new frontiers — space tourism and mining — and has made plans to also help regulate those fledgling industries.

Immigration to Israel down nearly 40% amid pandemic

Immigration to Israel dropped by nearly 40 percent over the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic, official figures seen by AFP on Monday shows.

Some 21,200 Jews immigrated to Israel in 2020, compared to around 33,500 the year before, constituting a drop of 36.7 percent, according to data released by Israel’s immigration ministry and Jewish Agency.

The largest drop in aliyah, the Hebrew term for immigration to Israel, was recorded among newcomers from Russia, with 6,260 arriving in 2020 compared to over 15,000 in 2019.

The decrease in immigration is attributed by the semi-governmental Jewish Agency to the “paralysis in air travel and ongoing crisis” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New immigrants from North America arrive on a special aliyah flight arranged by the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, at Ben Gurion Airport on August 14, 2019 (Flash90)

Immigration from France, however, seemed to be unaffected by the global health crisis.

French aliyah had leapt following the Paris attacks of 2015 that targeted the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, customers at a Jewish supermarket and a concert hall. It then declined and stabilized at around 2,500 Jews immigrating to Israel per annum in 2019 and 2020.

“The pandemic did not lower the motivation to make aliyah. On the contrary,” the director of the Jewish Agency in France, Arie Abitbol, tells AFP.

“Despite the fact that for three months immigration has not been possible due to the lockdowns, the number of olim (immigrants) remained the same in 2020,” he said.

According to Abitbol, the economic difficulties in Europe along with Israel’s management of the health crisis, including a speedy vaccination campaign that has already reached a third of the country’s nine million-strong population, have increased French Jews’ interest in aliyah.

“We are overwhelmed by requests, especially from seniors and young people, families experiencing the uncertainty of an economic crisis due to the pandemic,” he says.

“Many people in the community say the health system in Israel is more reliable than in France and fear that the doors of Israel will be closed to them” if they don’t arrive soon, he adds.

Swastikas spray-painted on home of Belgian PM

The home of Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo was tagged with several spray-painted swastikas, triggering a investigation by authorities.

De Croo’s residence is located in the Flanders town of Brakel, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Brussels on the border with the French-speaking Walloon region.

According to media reports, demonstrators had gathered in the town on Saturday at the call of the Flemish far-right movement “Ons Land” (Our Country), but police prevented them from approaching the home.

Investigators have not established a link between the demonstration and the Nazi symbols left on the house’s white facade late Sunday or early Monday.

“An investigation is underway into the case,” a spokeswoman for the East Flanders public prosecutor’s office tells AFP.

A total of seven swastikas were daubed in light green paint on the facade and letterbox of De Croo’s family home, the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper reports, showing images on its website.

With airport closed, government lays out exceptions to enter country

A government panel led by Minister Yuval Steinitz says Israelis can enter the country only for the following reasons during the ongoing closure of the airport:

  • Essential medical treatment that cannot be delayed.
  • Attending a funeral of a first-degree relative.
  • If a first-degree relative is in an accident or suffers “a sudden injury.”
  • For essential workers in Israel, if they cannot work remotely.
  • Diplomatic and government representatives who left Israel for a short time.

The panel will also weigh additional humanitarian exceptions.

The rules are reported by Channel 12.

Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s sole international airport, is to remain mostly closed until Sunday to avoid the import of virus mutations.

The check-in desk for Israel’s flag carrier El-Al at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, January 25, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen quits politics

Deputy Finance Minister Yizhak Cohen of the Shas party announces he’s quitting politics.

Responding to his decision, Shas leader Aryeh Deri says Cohen is “loved and respected by all.

Cohen will retain some role in the party in the future, adds Deri. “We won’t give up on this talent.”

Cohen, 69, has served in Israel’s parliament since 1996.

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen attends a Shas party campaign event in Jerusalem on July 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Activists chain gates at Israeli arms company’s UK factory

Protesters have blocked the entrance of an Israeli-owned factory in England where they claim deadly weapons are made.

Activists from Palestine Action and Extinction Rebellion chain the gates of the Elbit Ferranti factory in Greater Manchester. Two protesters climb onto a ledge in front of the building, daubing red paint over the windows and spraying the words “Shut Elbit Down.”

The two groups say their joint action was meant to show Elbit, Israel’s largest arms firm, that they will “continue to take direct action until we shut Elbit down and end all complicity in systematic injustice.”

Greater Manchester Police says officers were sent to the scene. Elbit Systems UK, which has 10 sites across the UK, declines to comment.

Elbit recently won a contract with Britain’s Ministry of Defense to provide technology enabling frontline soldiers to detect and engage enemy targets in seconds.

The company employs over 500 people in the UK in high-tech and specialist manufacturing, and it also supplies a fleet of 38 aircraft to the UK military flying training school.

Moshe Gafni to lead United Torah Judaism slate; Litzman to be placed 2nd

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni will lead the party in the upcoming elections, according to Hebrew media reports, replacing MK Yaakov Litzman, who will be placed second on the ultra-Orthodox party slate.

United Torah Judaism leaders Yaakov Litzman (R) and Moshe Gafni (L) speak to the press at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019, after consulting with President Reuven Rivlin on which lawmaker should be tasked with forming the next government after the September 17 elections. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

US GDP to recover from pandemic in mid-2021

The world’s largest economy will recover from the coronavirus pandemic by the middle of 2021, the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says, sooner than it had forecast last year.

“CBO currently projects a stronger economy than it did in July 2020, in large part because the downturn was not as severe as expected and because the first stage of the recovery took place sooner and was stronger than expected,” the nonpartisan office serving Congress says.

1 in 5 Haredim contracted COVID since start of pandemic – expert

Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, says 1 in 5 members of the ultra-Orthodox community has tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Among the general population, 1 in 20 contracted the disease, while among Arab Israelis the rate stands at 1 in 15, Segal tweets.

Iran state TV airs launch of new satellite-carrying rocket

Iranian state TV airs the launch of the country’s newest satellite-carrying rocket, which it says was able to reach a height of 500 kilometers (310 miles).

The footage of the solid-liquid-fueled rocket showed the launch taking place during daytime in a desert environment. The report did not say when the launch happened.

The rocket, called Zuljanah for the horse of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, did not launch a satellite into orbit.

State TV says the rocket is capable of carrying a 220-kilogram (485-pound) satellite, adding that the three-stage rocket uses solid fuel in the first and second stages and fluid fuel in the third.

Iran in the past has used various fluid-fuel satellite carrier rockets to put smaller devices into orbit. Last year, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said it used a Qased, or “Messenger,” satellite carrier to put the Noor satellite into space.

Iran often coordinates its launches with national holidays. It will celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution later in February.

22 Beitar Jerusalem players test positive for COVID-19 — report

Twenty-two players on the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team test positive for COVID-19, according to Channel 12.

Two of the team’s physiotherapists also contract the virus, the report says.

Some of the players were likely sick with the virus during the team’s last game against Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Beitar Jerusalem soccer supporters sing and wave their flag as players enter the pitch during a team training session in Jerusalem, December 11, 2020, days after the club announced that an Emirati sheikh has purchased a 50 percent stake in the team (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

US awards $231M contract for at-home virus tests

White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt says the government awarded a $231-million contract to scale up production of a COVID-19 home test that was recently authorized by US regulators.

For months, health experts have stressed the need for fast, widespread home testing so that people can screen themselves and avoid contact with others if they have an infection. But the vast majority of tests still require a nasal swab performed by a health worker that must be processed at high-tech laboratories.

The test kit from Australian manufacturer Ellume allows users to swab themselves at home and check their status in about 20 minutes. It is one of only three tests that consumers can use themselves, and the only one available without a doctor’s prescription.

Ellume says it will use the contract to construct a US manufacturing plant and deliver 8.5 million tests for federal use. It does not specify a timeframe for delivery.

Report: IDF punishing soldiers who won’t vaccinate

Army Radio reports that the Israel Defense Forces is punishing servicemen who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The penalties include banning their home leave and barring them from cafeterias, according to the report.

The military denies it.

US hails establishment of Israel-Kosovo ties

The US State Department lauds the normalization deal inked by Israel and Kosovo.

“Congratulations to Israel and Kosovo for formally establishing diplomatic relations — a historic day,” spokesman Ned Price tweets.

“When our partners are united, the United States is stronger. Deeper international ties help further peace and stability in the Balkans and Middle East,” he adds.

“The ceremony was virtual, but the establishment of Israel-Kosovo diplomatic relations is very real —congratulations!” tweets Chargé d’Affairs at the US Embassy in Jerusalem Jonathan Shrier.

In a ceremony held over Zoom in Jerusalem and Pristina earlier Monday, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his counterpart from Kosovo, Meliza Haradinaj Stublla, signed a joint declaration establishing ties.

Travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of Ben Gurion Airport, made an in-person ceremony impossible. It was the first time Israel established relations with a country virtually.

As part of the agreement, the Muslim-majority territory recognized Jerusalem as the Israel’s capital — putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world. The other four countries that have normalized relations with the Jewish state in recent months have not made such a recognition, instead saying that they will open their respective embassies in Tel Aviv. Ashkenazi during the ceremony said he had approved Kosovo’s formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

The decision on mutual recognition between Kosovo and Israel was achieved last September at a summit of Kosovo-Serbia leaders at the White House in the presence of then-US president Donald Trump. At the meeting, Belgrade also agreed to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which it has not done so far.

The Biden administration has expressed its support for such agreements and has pledged to advance the issue as well, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed concern regarding some of the side agreements the US reached with involved parties that may have led them to agree to normalizing with Israel, such as the sale of F-35 advanced fighter jets to the UAE. Consequently, analysts have speculated that the new administration will tread more slowly on the issue than its predecessor.

Health official says schools in virus hotspots could remain closed post-lockdown

A top health official says Israel will “cautiously” reopen the economy and schools after the lockdown ends.

Sharon Alroy-Preis tells Channel 12 that schools in high-infection areas will remain closed in the first stages of reopening.

She says infections among children remain high, likely due to the British variant.

Deputy health minister signals lockdown may be extended again

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch signals the government may extend the lockdown beyond its Friday deadline.

“If we don’t see a drop in serious cases, it’s possible we’ll ask to extend the lockdown beyond Friday,” Kisch tells Channel 13.

Ministers to meet Wednesday over lockdown

Ministers are to meet on Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. to discuss the lockdown terms.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to extend the closure beyond Friday, according to Channel 13.

According to Channel 13, Netanyahu is being presented with a plan to gradually ease the closure. The proposal foresees schools opening in low-infection areas, but only kindergartens and 11th and 12th grades opening in virus hotspots. In the first stage, some commercial services will be allowed to resume and, possibly, street front stores. Malls will remain closed. The government will likely green-light a pilot of cultural events for the vaccinated.

Another 5,815 virus cases diagnosed since midnight

The Health Ministry says another 5,815 virus cases have been recorded since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 73,387.

There are 1,139 people in serious condition. The death toll rises to 4,813.

According to the ministry, 3.1 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine and 1.8 million have received both shots.

Labor primaries results: Omer Barlev in 2nd place, Emilie Moatti in 3rd

The Labor party primary results are in.

Former Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev is placed second on the party list after leader Merav Michaeli. He is followed by activist Emilie Moatti, Reform leader Gilad Kariv, TV personality and lawyer Efrat Rayten, and former Blue and White MK Ram Shefa. Film director Ibtisam Mara’ana is placed seventh, followed by former Labor lawmaker Nahman Shai.

Naama Lazimi is ninth, Gil Beilin is 10th, Eran Harmoni is 11th, Nissim Lasry is 12th, Alice Goldman is 13th, and Maya Nuri and Amir Hanifas are 14th and 15th.

Tzipi Livni says she won’t run in upcoming election

Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni announces she will not run in the upcoming March elections.

Livni makes the announcement in a video on social media.

She quit politics in February 2019.

Head of Hatnua party Tzipi Livni speaks at a campaign event on January 29, 2019. (Flash90)

Israel’s vaccine drive slows as fewer show up — reports

Israel’s vaccination drive appears to be slowing down, according to television reports. Channels 12 and 13 report that many vaccination centers are seeing less demand, as compared to weeks ago.

According to the Health Ministry, 86,000 people have been vaccinated since midnight, down from over 150,000 daily.

The vaccines are currently available to Israelis over 35.

State asks High Court to extend expiration of enlistment law until July

The state asks the High Court of Justice to extend the ultra-Orthodox enlistment law until July 6, citing the upcoming March elections.

The law expired last night at midnight.

The top court has in the past granted such extensions during election campaigns.

Iran agents scouted Israeli, US, UAE embassies in East Africa for attack — TV

The Kan public broadcaster reports that several Iranian agents who scouted out the Israeli, American, and Emirati embassies in an unnamed East African country for a possible attack have been arrested.

The report, which cites Western intelligence sources, says the agents — some of whom hold dual European and Iranian citizenship — were sent by the Islamic Republic to gather intelligence on the sites. Some were arrested in the African country, while others were apprehended in other countries.

The report says Iran intended to target one of the missions in retaliation for the killing of its general Qassem Soleimani by the US and top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in a strike blamed on Israel.

The attack was thwarted last month, according to the report.

Lod mayor: Only vaccinated residents will be able to receive city services

Lod Mayor Yair Revivo says the central Israel city will sanction residents who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Those who don’t get vaccinated won’t be able to receive municipality services. Their children won’t be able to go to school, kindergarten assistants won’t be able to work, people won’t be allowed to go to the market when it opens and other things that we will publicize,” he says on social media.

“Whoever doesn’t get vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus can’t receive services,” he says.

Yair Revivo votes in municipal elections at a polling station in the central city of Lod on October 22, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Biden threatens sanctions on Myanmar after military coup

US President Joe Biden threatens new sanctions on Myanmar after its military staged a coup and arrested the civilian leaders of its government, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Biden assails the country’s army for the coup, calling it a “direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and rule of law.” The coup in Myanmar, also known as Burma, has also been roundly condemned internationally.

“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy,” Biden says in a statement. “The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action. The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack.”

Myanmar has been a Western democracy promotion project for decades and had been a symbol of some success. But over the past several years, there have been growing concerns about its backsliding into authoritarianism. Disappointment with Suu Kyi, the former opposition leader, has run high, especially over her resistance to reining in repression of Rohingya Muslims in the country’s west.

Myanmar had been emerging from decades of strict military rule and international isolation that began in 1962, and Monday’s events were a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work promoting democracy and human rights.

She had lived under house arrest for years, as she tried to push her country toward democracy, and then became its de facto leader after her National League for Democracy won elections in 2015.

Cop hurt in clashes in East Jerusalem; 3 arrested

Police officers were attacked by a mob in East Jerusalem that hurled “stones, glass bottles, and items” in their direction, according to the Israel Police.

One officer is injured in his hand and foot during the altercation in A-Tur.

Three suspects have been arrested, according to police.

High-level security cabinet to convene Wednesday

The high-level security cabinet will convene on Wednesday morning, in its first meeting since US President Joe Biden entered office.

Jewish ‘Saved by the Bell’ star Dustin Diamond dies of cancer

Jewish “Saved by the Bell” star Dustin Diamond dies after a three-week fight with carcinoma, according to his representative. He was 44.

“Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful,” the actor’s spokesman, Roger Paul, says in a statement.

Diamond, best known for playing Screech on the hit ’90s sitcom, was hospitalized last month in Florida and his team disclosed later that he had cancer.

“Saved by the Bell” aired from 1989 to 1993, and its spinoffs included “Saved by the Bell: The College Years,” “Good Morning, Miss Bell” and “Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” in which Diamond starred. A sequel was launched on Peacock last fall, featuring many from the original cast, including Elizabeth Berkley, Mario Lopez, Tiffani Thiessen and Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Diamond was not included.

He starred in a handful of reality television series including the fifth season of “Celebrity Fit Club,” “The Weakest Link” and “Celebrity Boxing 2.” In December 2013, Diamond appeared on an episode of OWN’s “Where Are They Now?” and became a house member in the 12th season of “Celebrity Big Brother.”

Diamond was sued several times for delinquent taxes and in foreclosure proceedings for missing mortgage payments. He has appeared on reality TV shows, made a sex tape, and produced a tell-all documentary on Lifetime TV called “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story.” In 2015, he was sentenced to serve four months in jail for his part in a Wisconsin barroom stabbing.

“Dustin was a humorous and high-spirited individual whose greatest passion was to make others laugh. He was able to sense and feel other peoples’ emotions to such a length that he was able to feel them too — a strength and a flaw, all in one,” writes Paul.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

PA acknowledges receiving vaccines, doesn’t mention they’re from Israel

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry acknowledges receiving 2,000 Moderna vaccines today — without mentioning that Israel transferred them.

In an announcement earlier on Monday, the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories — Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians — said that it had transferred 2,000 coronavirus vaccines for Palestinian health care workers, through the Beitunia checkpoint south of Ramallah.

A senior Palestinian health official at first denied any knowledge of the matter to The Times of Israel. When the Health Ministry later admits to receiving the vaccines, its statement does not mention Israel as the source.

The alleged transfer of vaccines from Israeli authorities to Palestinians at Beitunia checkpoint south of Ramallah, on February 1, 2021. (courtesy)

The vaccines are intended to be used by health care workers, the PA says in a statement.

In its statement, the PA health ministry denies that vaccines had been distributed to “any groups not otherwise mentioned” — a tacit reference to rumors alleging that vaccines had been quietly handed out to PA leaders and their associates.

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