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Health Ministry recommends lifting most COVID travel restrictions

Government must still approve proposal to allow unvaccinated tourists under 12 to enter, cancel pre-flight COVID test entry requirement and end quarantine for unvaccinated children

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

Travelers at the Departure Hall in the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
Travelers at the Departure Hall in the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

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

Russian planes intercepted US Navy aircraft over Mediterranean, says Pentagon

In this photo taken from video and released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on February 5, 2022, a Tu-22M3 bomber of the Russian air force is seen from the cockpit of another such plane during a training flight. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo taken from video and released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on February 5, 2022, a Tu-22M3 bomber of the Russian air force is seen from the cockpit of another such plane during a training flight. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Three US Navy aircraft were intercepted by Russian planes in an “unprofessional” manner over the Mediterranean Sea last weekend, the Pentagon says.

“While no one was hurt, interactions such as these could result in miscalculations and mistakes that lead to more dangerous outcomes,” US Navy Captain Mike Kafka says in a statement.

The three P-8A maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft “experienced unprofessional intercepts by Russian aircraft” while “flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea,” Kafka says.

He says the United States has “made our concerns known to Russian officials through diplomatic channels.”

According to a US official who asked to remain anonymous, one of the Russian planes came dangerously close to a US aircraft.

FBI: Texas synagogue hostage-taker sought to buy ‘machine gun’

A law enforcement vehicle is seen near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP)
A law enforcement vehicle is seen near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP)

The man who took hostages at a Texas synagogue sought to buy drugs and a “machine gun” before the standoff last month that ended with the hostages escaping and the gunman’s death, an FBI agent says in court.

The testimony comes during a detention hearing for the Dallas man accused of selling Malik Faisal Akram the handgun he used in his attack on Congregation Beth Israel in the suburb of Colleyville.

A federal magistrate ordered the alleged seller, Henry “Michael” Williams, detained ahead of his trial on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Williams, 32, was arrested less than two weeks after the standoff ended with an FBI tactical team rushing into the synagogue and fatally shooting Akram just as the hostages made their escape. Authorities said Williams confessed to selling Akram, a 44-year-old British national, the previously stolen pistol.

During the detention hearing, FBI agent Taylor Page testifies that Williams said Akram initially reached out to him seeking to buy methamphetamines and “a machine gun or a weapon that contains a large number of bullets.” Akram explained that he wanted the gun for intimidation to help settle a debt, according to Page.

Page also said that Akram fired his gun at some point during the standoff but did not provide details.

Magistrate Judge Rebecca Rutherford ordered Williams be held as a potential danger to the community.

Probe finds police did not spy on ministry directors, claims TV report

A person holding a phone with the NSO logo in the background, in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A person holding a phone with the NSO logo in the background, in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to a TV report, the Justice Ministry investigation into claims that Israel Police illegally spied on Israeli citizens has found that many of the allegations in the original Calcalist report were false.

Channel 12 news reports that the initial probe headed by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari finds that NSO’s Pegasus spyware was not used against three former directors of ministries: Shai Babad, Keren Terner and Emi Palmor.

According to the report, there were some individuals named by Calcalist who were subjected to police phone hacking via spyware, but they were suspected of criminal activity and the use of spyware was given judicial approval.

Marari’s findings are expected to be presented to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett soon. Many lawmakers have called to establish a state commission of inquiry into the incident.

Health Ministry recommends lifting most COVID travel restrictions

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 21, 2021. (Flash90)
Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on December 21, 2021. (Flash90)

Health Ministry officials met Wednesday to formulate a plan on lifting a range of COVID restrictions before making recommendations to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett is scheduled to hold a meeting Thursday and rule on the recommendations, although he reportedly favors lifting most restrictions.

The Health Ministry recommendations include canceling the requirement for returning travelers to present a COVID test at the airport before boarding a flight to Israel (though the test at Ben Gurion after landing will remain); ending quarantine for unvaccinated children who travel abroad; allowing unvaccinated foreign children under 12 to enter; and ending the use of the “Green Pass” vaccine proof at all events.

TV report: Honduran ex-president asked Israel to help prevent his arrest

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with then-Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, November 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with then-Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, November 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

According to a TV report, former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández claimed that Israel promised to help him if he was arrested in the future.

Police arrested Hernández at his home yesterday, following a request by the United States government for his extradition on drug trafficking and weapons charges. The arrest came less than three weeks after Hernández left office and followed years of allegations by US prosecutors of his alleged links to drug traffickers.

Channel 12 news reports that Hernández, who visited Israel in June 2021 — just after the new government was established — to open the Honduran Embassy in Jerusalem, told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that the previous administration had promised him such aid.

Hernández reportedly also made a similar request of Israeli officials when the Israeli Embassy was inaugurated in the country’s capital later last year.

AP contributed to this report.

UK to begin rolling out COVID shots to all children ages 5-11

A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit vaccination center in Katzrin, Golan Heights, on December 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
A child receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit vaccination center in Katzrin, Golan Heights, on December 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

All children aged five to 11 in England will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine, the UK government says, following similar announcements in the rest of the UK.

Until now, Britain has only been vaccinating at-risk under-12s and those who live with immuno-suppressed people, using a lower-dose formulation of the jab that was found to be “safe and effective.”

However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid says he has now accepted guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, which advises UK health departments, to expand the rollout.

Hours earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland would also start jabbing five to 11-year-olds, while Wales unveiled the same policy the previous day. Northern Ireland also followed suit today.

Diaspora minister: Allow unvaccinated tourist children to enter for Passover

Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/ Flash90)
Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/ Flash90)

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai calls on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to allow unvaccinated children of foreigners to enter Israel ahead of Passover.

“In honor of the upcoming Passover holiday, [you should] allow immediately for every Jewish family that wants to do so to gather around the holiday table,” says Shai.

Bennett and other government officials are slated to meet tomorrow to weigh lifting the few COVID restrictions that remain in place, including considering loosening entry restrictions to allow children who are unvaccinated to enter.

Ukraine leader says ‘we are not afraid… we will defend ourselves’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gestures during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz following the talks at The Mariinskyi Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gestures during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz following the talks at The Mariinskyi Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky uses a “Day of Unity” address to declare that Ukraine is fearless in the face of a potential Russian invasion, vowing his country would fight back.

“We are not afraid of forecasts, we are not afraid of anyone, of any enemies,” Zelensky says at a military-style event in the eastern port city of Mariupol, adding: “We will defend ourselves.”

Earlier today, Zelensky watched as the Ukraine military staged drills and trained with some of their new Western-supplied anti-tank weapons on a range near Rivne, west of the capital.

2 opposition bills advance in Knesset amid Ra’am boycott

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar sits in the plenum hall of the Knesset on February 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar sits in the plenum hall of the Knesset on February 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Two bills backed by the opposition advance in the Knesset as the Ra’am faction boycotts votes amid a dispute with the rest of the coalition.

The bills that pass an initial vote include Shas-backed legislation that requires companies to provide a human customer service representative to senior citizens who call via phone and only receive an automated menu, and a bill that would prevent debt collectors from charging interest on accumulated debts.

Ra’am head Mansour Abbas is reportedly angry at coalition ministers for holding up legislation it backs in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

KKL-JNF signs agreement with Chad to collaborate on climate change

Representatives from Chad and the KKL-JNF sign a deal in Jerusalem on February 16, 2022. (Rafi Ben Hakoon)
Representatives from Chad and the KKL-JNF sign a deal in Jerusalem on February 16, 2022. (Rafi Ben Hakoon)

The Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael–Jewish National Fund agrees to sign a memorandum of understanding with the nation of Chad to promote cooperation on issues of climate change.

Chad is “experiencing many agricultural and ecological challenges arising within its borders,” according to KKL-JNF. “This cooperation will promote and implement technical cooperation, knowledge sharing and capacity building between KKL-JNF and the Republic of Chad.”

The deal is slated to focus specifically on the fields of water resources, forestry and combating desertification.

Netanyahu associates reject prosecutors’ claims about spying in corruption case

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his ongoing corruption trial, on November 22, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Associates of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reject claims by state prosecutors that instances of improper spying on witnesses in his corruption trial are irrelevant.

“We completely reject the claims of the prosecutors and the police,” his associates say in a statement released to Israeli media. “It’s unacceptable for investigators to investigate themselves without anyone being questioned and without revealing to the public the information obtained through illegal spying.”

They suggest the findings are “just the tip of the iceberg in police spying against Israeli citizens.”

Earlier today, prosecutors in the case told the court that their initial probe found that only one person linked to the case — Shlomo Filber — was improperly spied on by police, but that no relevant information was found or used, and therefore the trial should proceed.

US man gets 5 years for trying to burn Jewish assisted living facility

The Ruth's House assisted-living facility in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. (Screen capture: Google Street View)
The Ruth's House assisted-living facility in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. (Screen capture: Google Street View)

A man convicted of using a homemade bomb to try to burn a Jewish-sponsored assisted living home in Massachusetts is sentenced to five years in prison.

In addition to his prison term, John Rathbun, 37, of East Longmeadow, is sentenced in US District Court in Springfield to three years of probation and ordered to stay away from the home.

Rathbun assembled, placed and lit a 5-gallon (19-liter) canister of gasoline — with pages from a Christian pamphlet as the wick — outside an entrance of a building at Jewish Geriatric Services Lifecare Inc. in Longmeadow on April 2, 2020, according to prosecutors.

The facility is a Jewish-sponsored assisted living center for seniors of all faiths, according to its website. No one was injured.

Herzog hosts Pelosi, congressional delegation, in Jerusalem

From left: Paul Pelosi, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, President Isaac Herzog and Michal Herzog in Jerusalem on February 16, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
From left: Paul Pelosi, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, President Isaac Herzog and Michal Herzog in Jerusalem on February 16, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog hosts US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is visiting Israel with a congressional delegation.

“We are really overjoyed that you are here in Israel and we are grateful to you for your friendship, which represents so much in the unique relationship between Israel and the United States, an unbreakable bond, and we are very glad that you are here with your husband in Israel, in Jerusalem, in the Holy Land,” Herzog tells Pelosi. “Welcome and have a wonderful visit.”

Pelosi thanks the president for his hospitality, and the two discuss poetry by Ehud Manor. “It really is true, and we’ve discussed this, that the arts bring us together,” she says. “Somehow there is a way, where the inspiration and shared values enable us to forget some of our differences. To the beautiful friendship between our countries.”

Israeli economy grew 8.1% last year, outdoing predictions

The entrance to Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, in the center of Tel Aviv, December 25, 2018. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)
The entrance to Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, in the center of Tel Aviv, December 25, 2018. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

The economy grew 8.1% last year, the Central Bureau of Statistics says, well above the Bank of Israel’s forecast of 6.5% and a sharp rebound from a 2.2% contraction in 2020.

According to the data, the fourth fiscal quarter of 2021 saw a staggering 16.6% growth in GDP, bringing the yearly average to 8.1%, the highest since 2000, when Israel’s growth rate stood at 8.4%.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman was quick to take credit for the impressive figures, touting the government’s policy of keeping Israel’s economy as open as possible during the pandemic.

“The policy I’ve promoted of ‘living alongside the coronavirus’ with no lockdowns, no unpaid vacations, and passing a revolutionary [state] budget, have allowed us to break records and surpass all forecasts – leading the State of Israel to the first place in growth among Western countries,” Liberman tweets.

Prosecutors in Netanyahu case: 1 witness was spied on, but trial shouldn’t halt

Shlomo Filber, then director general of the Communications Ministry, during a court hearing in the Supreme Court regarding the closing of the Israel Broadcasting Authorities, May 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Shlomo Filber, then director general of the Communications Ministry, during a court hearing in the Supreme Court regarding the closing of the Israel Broadcasting Authorities, May 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prosecutors in the corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tell the court that spyware was used to hack the phone of just one witness in the case, but that no material discovered was used and the case should continue as scheduled.

State prosecutors tell the Jerusalem District Court that the only person connected to the case who was spied on with the NSO Group’s Pegasus software was Shlomo Filber, the former director of the Communications Ministry and a key witness. Prosecutors claim that the spyware was activated on his phone for around a day but that no material relevant to the case was discovered.

Prosecutors say that the phone of Iris Elovitch, the wife of former Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, was targeted, but unsuccessfully.

Reports have swirled over the past two weeks that the Israel Police used spyware without judicial approval to target many public officials and activists, including figures central to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial. Supporters of Netanyahu have pointed to the allegations as a reason to toss out the case against it.

This week’s scheduled sessions in the trial were postponed amid the controversy, to allow for state prosecutors to complete an investigation into the claims.

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah warns Israel: We can transform missiles into precision weapons

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link from a secret location through a giant screen, during a ceremony marking Prophet Muhammad's birthday, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a video link from a secret location through a giant screen, during a ceremony marking Prophet Muhammad's birthday, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah tells his followers that his group is producing drones and can turn its thousands of rockets into precision-guided missiles.

“I tell the Israelis that their ‘battle between wars’ has turned the threat into an opportunity for the resistance,” Nasrallah says in comments carried by the Lebanese news site Naharnet. “We now possess the ability to transform our thousands of missiles into precision-guided missiles.”

Nasrallah warns Israel that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has “started manufacturing drones.”

“We encourage the Israelis to leave Palestine and we’re ready to pay for their travel tickets,” Nasrallah is quoted as saying. “There is a decline in the Israelis’ will to fight and in their confidence in their army amid an increase in their desire to emigrate.”

“I’m not underestimating Israel, seeing as it still possesses a lot of strength elements, but it is in decline,” he adds. “The Israelis know that going to war would be difficult and costly.”

France warns Iran has ‘days’ left to accept Iran deal

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a joint press conference with his Qatari counterpart in Qatar's capital Doha, on September 13, 2021. (Karim Jafaar/AFP)
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a joint press conference with his Qatari counterpart in Qatar's capital Doha, on September 13, 2021. (Karim Jafaar/AFP)

Iran has days left to accept a deal on its nuclear program at talks in Vienna, France says, warning that a major crisis would be unleashed if there is no agreement.

“It is not a question of weeks, it is a question of days,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. “They [Iran[ have a very clear choice, either they unleash a serious crisis in the next days… or they accept an agreement that respects the interests of all the parties,” he tells the Senate.

Blinken: ‘We haven’t seen a pullback’ of Russian forces from Ukraine border

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, soldiers practice at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills in Belarus. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, soldiers practice at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills in Belarus. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Western leaders say they have not seen concrete evidence that Russia has pulled back some of its forces from its border with Ukraine despite promises by President Vladimir Putin.

“We haven’t seen a pullback,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tells ABC News. “He [Putin] can pull the trigger. He can pull it today. He can pull it tomorrow. He can pull it next week. The forces are there if he wants to renew aggression against Ukraine.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance also sees no sign of decreasing troop levels around Ukraine.

“At the moment, we have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces,” he says, before chairing a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels. “If they really start to withdraw forces, that’s something we will welcome but that remains to be seen.”

Recycling receptacles slated to finally return to Jerusalem streets

A man sorting bottles for recycling in Jerusalem, February 1, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A man sorting bottles for recycling in Jerusalem, February 1, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

After months without any way to recycle plastic bottles, the Jerusalem Municipality is agreeing to return recycling containers to the streets.

Under the new deal, around 2,000 orange bottle-recycling containers will be stationed across the capital.

The municipality began removing the old recycling cages in October, and pulled them all by December ahead of a new bottle deposit law.

But a dispute between the municipality and the Tamir recycling authority meant residents went months without the ability to recycle bottles unless they brought them to a local supermarket.

US troop reinforcements arrive near Poland-Ukraine border

US soldiers stand next to their vehicles at a temporary base installed close to the Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, south eastern Poland, February 16, 2022. (Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP)
US soldiers stand next to their vehicles at a temporary base installed close to the Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, south eastern Poland, February 16, 2022. (Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP)

Dozens of US paratroopers land at a Polish airport near the Ukrainian border as part of a deployment of several thousand to bolster NATO’s eastern flank amid tensions with Russia.

AFP reporters witness the soldiers leaving a Boeing C-17 military transport plane and boarding buses at Rzeszow Airport, located around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the border with Ukraine.

Another group of soldiers, around a dozen, board two Black Hawk helicopters that then took off. Two Chinook helicopters are also seen landing.

Armored cars, military trucks, containers and dozens more soldiers are seen at a makeshift camp set up in and around a glass-covered conference center opposite the airport terminal.

“We don’t know yet,” a sergeant manning a checkpoint into the camp, who declined to be named, tells AFP when asked how long they might stay.

The US has said it is planning temporarily to deploy a total of around 4,700 additional soldiers to EU and NATO member Poland in response to Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine.

German dictionary changes definition of ‘Jew’ after outcry

FILE -  In this June 19, 1938 file picture, the word Jude (Jew) is smeared on the windows of a shop in Berlin run by Jews.  (AP Photo)
FILE - In this June 19, 1938 file picture, the word Jude (Jew) is smeared on the windows of a shop in Berlin run by Jews. (AP Photo)

The leading dictionary of standard German changes its definition of Jew, or “Jude” in German, after a recent update caused an uproar in the country’s Jewish community — a move reflecting the sensitivities that persist eight decades after the Holocaust.

The Duden dictionary had recently added an explanation to its online edition saying that “occasionally, the term Jew is perceived as discriminatory because of the memory of the National Socialist use of language. In these cases, formulations such as Jewish people, Jewish fellow citizens or people of the Jewish faith are usually chosen.”

This explanation led to an outcry from leading Jewish groups and individuals who stressed that identifying themselves or being called Jews is not discriminatory, in contrast to what Duden’s definition implied.

The publisher of Duden reacts to the criticism and updates its definition again to reflect the Jewish community’s protests.

“Because of their antisemitic use in history and in the present, especially during the Nazi era, the words Jew/Jewess have been debated… for decades,” it now says on the dictionary’s website. “At the same time, the words are widely used as a matter of course and are not perceived as problematic. The Central Council of Jews in Germany, which has the term itself in its name, is in favor of its use.”

Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight visits Israel

Actor Jon Voight visits Jewish settlements in the West Bank on February 16, 2022. (Samaria Regional Council)
Actor Jon Voight visits Jewish settlements in the West Bank on February 16, 2022. (Samaria Regional Council)

Jon Voight, a veteran actor who won an Oscar for “Coming Home” in the 1970s, is visiting Israel to film a new movie.

Voight pays a visit to Jewish settlements in the northern West Bank with representatives of the Shomron Regional Council.

Yossi Dagan, head of the regional council, presents Voight with a bottle of wine from the Har Bracha winery and tells him that it is “a great honor to host an important actor like you and more importantly a friend of Israel.”

According to a statement from the council, Voight says: “I don’t understand why Judea and Samaria is called the West Bank, when it’s clear that if you look at a map Samaria is at the heart of the land of Israel.”

Syria regime shelling kills three civilians, says monitor

Syrian firefighters extinguish fire following artillery shelling by the Syrian regime on a fuel depot affiliated to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group on February 16, 2022 in the northwestern rebel-held town of Dana. (Abdulaziz KETAZ / AFP)
Syrian firefighters extinguish fire following artillery shelling by the Syrian regime on a fuel depot affiliated to the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) jihadist group on February 16, 2022 in the northwestern rebel-held town of Dana. (Abdulaziz KETAZ / AFP)

Shelling by Syrian government forces of a fuel depot in the rebel-held Idlib region kills three civilians and starts a huge fire, a war monitor says.

The bombardment strikes a building in farmland near the town of Dana used as a supply station for diesel fuel, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Large numbers of first responders are attempting to extinguish flames that sent massive plumes of black smoke billowing into the sky, AFP correspondents report.

The depot is owned by a fuel company affiliated to the authorities in Idlib, who are backed by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist group, the Britain-based Observatory says.

Biden orders release of Trump White House logs to Congress

In this October 23, 2020 photo, then-US president Donald Trump talks on a phone during a call with the leaders of Sudan and Israel in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this October 23, 2020 photo, then-US president Donald Trump talks on a phone during a call with the leaders of Sudan and Israel in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US President Joe Biden orders the release of Trump White House visitor logs to the House committee investigating the riot of January 6, 2021, once more rejecting former president Donald Trump’s claims of executive privilege.

The committee has sought a trove of data from the National Archives, including presidential records that Trump had fought to keep private. The records being released to Congress are visitor logs showing appointment information for individuals who were allowed to enter the White House on the day of the insurrection.

In a letter sent Monday to the National Archives, White House counsel Dana Remus said Biden had considered Trump’s claim that because he was president at the time of the attack on the US Capitol, the records should remain private, but decided that it was “not in the best interest of the United States” to do so.

The committee is focused on Trump’s actions from Jan. 6, when he waited hours to tell his supporters to stop the violence and leave the Capitol. Investigators are also interested in the organization and financing of a Washington rally the morning of the riot, when Trump told supporters to “fight like hell.” Among the unanswered questions is how closely organizers of the rally coordinated with White House officials.

Pope meets British Jewish leaders at Vatican

Pope Francis meets with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the Vatican on February 16, 2022. (Courtesy)
Pope Francis meets with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the Vatican on February 16, 2022. (Courtesy)

Pope Francis speaks with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the umbrella organization for UK Jewry, at the Vatican.

The organization’s president, Marie van der Zyl, and the head of its board, Michael Wegier, “conversed with His Holiness for a few minutes” following his weekly general audience, the organization says.

According to the Board of Deputies, van der Zyl thanks the pope “for his significant efforts towards Holocaust Remembrance and speaking out against antisemitism,” and presents him with a gift of a rare, signed volume of the History of the Great Synagogue, written by British Jewish historian Cecil Roth.

“As two historic religious communities, the relationship between the Jewish and Catholic communities is of great significance,” says van der Zyl. “As faith communities, we will continue to build on this relationship and work together to further combat bigotry, protect religious freedoms and create bridges of understanding between our communities.”

Bennett said to weigh lifting all COVID restrictions by end of month

People, some wearring face masks, walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, on January 6, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People, some wearring face masks, walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, on January 6, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is reportedly considering lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions by the end of the month.

According to reports, Health Ministry experts are slated to meet this evening to formulate a final plan to be presented at a hearing tomorrow with Bennett and other government officials.

The plan, which Bennett is said to favor, would include reopening Israel even to unvaccinated tourist children, canceling the “Green Pass” requirement for all events, and potentially lifting the indoor mask mandate within a few weeks.

Somalia says al-Shabab attack killed 5 outside capital

A young boy runs past the wreckage of a vehicle destroyed in an attack on police and checkpoints on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
A young boy runs past the wreckage of a vehicle destroyed in an attack on police and checkpoints on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

An attack by the al-Shabab extremist group killed five people and wounds 16 on the outskirts of Somalia’s capital, police say.

Somalia’s government says the early morning attack targeted police and checkpoints outside of Mogadishu.

The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab often targets Mogadishu, and the United Nations and other international observers have warned that the group would take advantage of Somalia’s current election crisis to launch more attacks.

National elections have been delayed for more than a year.

Hezbollah skiing video sets Lebanese social media on fire

A screenshot from a Hezbollah video in the snow released on February 15, 2022. (Screenshot)
A screenshot from a Hezbollah video in the snow released on February 15, 2022. (Screenshot)

The near simultaneous release of propaganda videos in which Lebanon’s army and the terror group Hezbollah flaunt their alpine skills triggered an avalanche of comments online Wednesday, some jokingly referencing the Winter Olympics.

Iran-backed Hezbollah looked eager to demonstrate it was undeterred by recent heavy snowfall in a slick two-minute production released late last night that soon started trending on social media.

Hezbollah fighters, having swapped their usual colors for all-white snow camouflage gear, are seen doing target practice on skis and snowmobiles near Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.

Also yesterday, Lebanon’s army released a video showing its alpine unit performing drills in the snow.

Many on social media volunteered comparative analysis and style marks, while others drew parallels with the biathlon events at the Winter Olympics currently underway in Beijing.

Erdogan: Visit by Herzog will be ‘good for Turkey-Israel relations’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on January 22, 2022. (Adem Altan/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on January 22, 2022. (Adem Altan/AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that an upcoming visit to Ankara by President Isaac Herzog will be beneficial for the two nations.

Erdogan tells reporters that he welcomes Herzog’s visit, saying “God willing it will be good for Turkey-Israel relations for such a step to be taken after such a long period.”

Herzog’s office confirmed yesterday that the president is planning to visit Turkey next month as relations between the two countries thaw.

A delegation of Turkish officials is on its way to Israel today to begin advanced planning for the trip, and is said to include İbrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s chief adviser, as well as a deputy foreign minister.

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