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Negotiations between Israel and Syria on prisoner swap said to hit snag

Refusal of 2 Syrian prisoners to be deported from Jewish state reportedly holding up deal to secure release of Israeli woman; officials believe it’ll be resolved in days

Nihal Al-Maqt, a Syrian woman held by Israel, as shown in Syrian media on February 17, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Nihal Al-Maqt, a Syrian woman held by Israel, as shown in Syrian media on February 17, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

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

More schools to reopen as Health Ministry amends criteria

The Health Ministry is changing its policies for allowing 1st-6th grades and 11th and 12th grades to resume in-person studies, in a shift that will effectively allow more schools to reopen.

Under the new criteria, these grades in so-called “yellow” and “green” low-infection areas can reopen on Sunday. In addition, medium-infected “orange” zones whose ranking is below 7 out of 10 on the ministry’s website can resume classes. The ministry will also consider local vaccination rates of over-50s in its rankings.

The ministry will publicize a full list of cities and towns where this is applicable tomorrow.

A mother and daughter arrive at school in the costal city of Ashkelon, Israel, Feb. 11, 2021 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

4,406 new cases diagnosed; test positivity rate drops to 6.4%

The Health Ministry says another 4,406 virus cases were diagnosed on Tuesday, bringing the number of active infections to 53,048.

It says 6.4 percent of the over 71,000 tests conducted on Tuesday returned positive.

The ministry says 981 people are in serious condition, including 313 on ventilators.

The death toll stands at 5,463.

 

Stormy weather sweeps tar from sea onto northern beaches

Stormy weather is sweeping large quantities of fresh tar from the sea onto the northern Israeli beaches of Bonim, Maagan Michael and Neve Yam, the Environmental Protection Ministry reports, for reasons that it says are not clear.

Tar forms from the breakdown of oil, sometimes from oil spills or from oil seeping slowly out of oil wells. The ministry says the most usual source is oil dumped overboard by a passing ship.

Tar on a beach under the Carmel Beach Regional Authority’s jurisdiction in northern Israel, February 17, 2021. (Sharon Adi and Dan Biron, courtesy of the Environmental Protection Ministry)

Britain approves world’s first trial exposing volunteers to virus

British regulators have approved the world’s first coronavirus human challenge trial, in which volunteers will be deliberately exposed to the virus to study how infection spreads.

The government says that the UK’s clinical trials ethics regulator has approved the trial and it will start within a month. The aim is to develop more effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

Researchers are seeking up to 90 volunteers aged 18-30, who will be exposed to COVID-19 “in a safe and controlled environment.” The study will try to determine the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection.

Young people are being asked to volunteer because they have the lowest risk of serious illness from the coronavirus. Participants in the study will be monitored 24 hours a day.

Delta, United to resume flights to Israel next week — report

US carriers Delta and United Airlines are set to resume routes to Tel Aviv next week, pending the approval of an Israeli government panel, Army Radio reports.

Ben-Gurion Airport has been shuttered since January 25. The order expires on Saturday, when 2,000 travelers will be permitted to enter the country per day.

A technician collects nasal swab samples for COVID-19 at the coronavirus lab at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv on December 14, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Snowstorm hitting northern Israel also blankets Syria, Lebanon

Snow blankets parts of Syria, Lebanon and Israel, blocking roads, disrupting traffic and postponing exams at some universities.

Large parts of Syria were covered, including the capital Damascus which is witnessing this winter’s first snowfall. Snow was as high as 15 centimeters (6 inches) in the mountains of Sweida province, according to the official state news agency SANA.

Roads in some provinces are blocked. In the central province of Hama, bulldozers shoveled snow to open roads while vehicles skidded on ice, further causing traffic disruption.

The University of Damascus calls off midterm exams scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in all its branches around Syria because of the extreme weather conditions. The country’s ports remain open.

View of the Snow in the Golan Heights, Northern Israel, February 17, 2021. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

In the opposition-held northwestern Syria, civil defense teams have been building dirt mounds since Tuesday around displaced persons’ camps to prevent the rain from flooding the crowded areas. Nearly 3 million displaced people live in northwestern Syria, mostly in tents and temporary shelters. Heavy rainfall last month damaged over 190 displacement sites, destroying and damaging over 10,000 tents.

In neighboring Lebanon, Storm Joyce hit late Tuesday with gale force winds registering between 85 kilometers per hour (52 mph) and 100 kph (62 mph). The storm is expected to get stronger Thursday.

Breaking a warm spell, the storm brings heavy rainfall, a sharp drop in temperatures and the heaviest snowfall in Lebanon this year. Snow is expected to cover areas of altitudes as low as 400 meters high, according to the Meteorological department. Nearly a dozen roads in eastern and northern Lebanon were closed to traffic because of the snow.

The Israeli Meteorological Service forecast heavy thunderstorms and cold temperatures across much of the country, with snowfall at higher altitudes expected later today, including in Jerusalem. Heavy snowfall covers the Golan Heights near the border with Syria.

Israeli soldiers play in the snow in the Golan Heights, northern Israel, February 17, 2021. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

Europe powers and US to discuss Iran nuclear deal on Thursday

France says it will host talks tomorrow between the top diplomats of European powers and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken focused on Iran, as they try to salvage a 2015 deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will meet his counterparts Heiko Maas of Germany and Dominic Raab of Britain in Paris, with Blinken joining via videoconference, the French foreign ministry says.

The European powers want to revive the nuclear deal that former US president Donald Trump walked out of in 2018 but that the administration of Joe Biden has said it could rejoin if Tehran returns to compliance with the deal.

IAEA head to visit Tehran ahead of deadline on suspending inspections

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog will travel to Tehran on Saturday, Iran’s ambassador to the organization says, days before a looming deadline set by the Iranian government for the suspension of some inspections.

Kazem Gharibabadi tweets that International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi will “travel to Tehran on Saturday for technical discussions with the Atomic Energy Organization on how to continue cooperation in the light of new arrangements.”

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks during an AFP interview in Vienna on November 30, 2020. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Israeli woman said arrested in Syria; Israel negotiating for her release

Syria’s official SANA news agency reports that an Israeli woman accidentally entered the country through the Quneitra crossing and has been arrested.

Israel is negotiating a prisoner swap for the woman, who has yet to be identified, which is being coordinated by Russia, the report says. Two prisoners incarcerated in Israel may be exchanged for the woman, it says.

The report comes a day after Israel’s cabinet holds a meeting on a classified “humanitarian issue” related to Syria.

“The exchange is taking place through Russian mediation to liberate the Syrians Nihal Al-Makt and Dhiyab Qahmuz, the Syrian prisoner from the occupied Syrian Golan, in an exchange during which a young Israeli woman entered the Syrian territories by mistake will be released. She entered the Quneitra region by mistake and was arrested by the Syrian authorities,” reports SANA.

The SANA news agency says the two Syrians are natives of the Israeli Golan Heights. Nihal al-Makt, one of the Syrians, comes from a family of a number of former prisoners in Israeli prisons. Her brother was released in an exchange of prisoners last year, also mediated by Russia, that came after Syria returned the remains of an Israeli soldier killed in a 1982 battle.

Aaron Boxerman, AP contributed to this report.

Iran state TV: 3 intelligence agents die in operation in southeast

Three members of Iran’s intelligence agency were killed during an operation targeting an organized crime group in southeastern Iran, the country’s state TV reports.

The report does not provide further details. This is a high casualty toll for the agency, for a single operation that Iran reported.

The southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province has been scene of occasional clashes between Iranian government forces and militants as well as armed drug smugglers. The province, near the border with Pakistan, is also where a Sunni separatist group affiliated with al-Qaida and known as Jeish al-Adl, or Army of Justice, operates.

In 2019, a suicide car bombing struck a bus carrying members of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard forces, killing 27 troops. Jeish al-Adl claimed that attack. Iran says the militant group operates from across the border in Pakistan.

Israel confirms its national held in Syria, negotiations ongoing

Israel confirms that an Israeli woman is being held in Syria after crossing the border into the enemy state.

Negotiations are ongoing for her release.

Jerusalem rejoices as snow begins to fall

Snow begins to fall in Jerusalem, mixed with rain.

The main snowfall is expected overnight, however.

Top Israeli officials travel to Moscow for prisoner release talks — reports

Top Israeli officials have traveled to Moscow to negotiate the release of the Israeli woman who has been arrested in Syria, according to Hebrew media reports.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat and hostages coordinator Yaron Bloom left today for Russia, reports say.

Israeli researchers say ozone gas effective at killing coronavirus on surfaces

Ozone, the atmospheric gas that is known for protecting the earth against harmful rays, can also be used to disinfect surfaces from contamination by the coronavirus, say Tel Aviv University researchers.

A study shows that using the gas inactivated the virus even on hard-to-reach places that are not normally disinfected with hand-applied liquid disinfectants and at a 90% success rate, the university says in a statement Wednesday.

“For the first time, we have managed to prove that it is highly efficient in combating coronavirus as well,” says lead researcher Dr. Ines Zucker from the School of Mechanical Engineering at the Ivy and Eldar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at the Tel Aviv University.

The coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is able to remain active on surfaces for hours or even days depending on the surface and the environmental conditions.

Researchers demonstrate that ozone gas, which is already used as an antibacterial and antiviral agent in water treatment, can also be used to sanitize surfaces.

“Its advantage over common disinfectants (such as alcohol and bleach) is its ability to disinfect objects and aerosols within a room, and not just exposed surfaces, rapidly and with no danger to public health,” Zucker says.

EU buys 500 million more vaccine doses from Moderna, Pfizer

The European Union announces that it has agreed to buy a further 300 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine against COVID-19 and was injecting almost a quarter of a billion euros (almost $300 million) into efforts to counter the threat of coronavirus variants that are spreading on the continent.

The news came hours after Pfizer and BioNTech said they had signed a deal to deliver an additional 200 million doses of their vaccine to the bloc.

The EU Commission says its second contract with Moderna provides for an additional purchase of 150 million doses in 2021 and an option to purchase an additional 150 million in 2022. Should the EU have enough supplies by then it will consider donating the vaccine shots to lower- and middle-income countries.

Illustrative: A medical assistant prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, January 22, 2021. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Navalny says Europe court has ordered Russia to release him

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says that the European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to release him immediately, citing risks to his life.

A copy of the ruling posted by Navalny on his blog says the court’s order to release him “shall apply with immediate effect.”

Contacted by AFP, the court confirms the ruling and says it will soon be published.

In this image made from video provided by the Babuskinsky District Court, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage during a hearing on his charges for defamation, in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. (Babuskinsky District Court via AP)

Britain’s Prince Philip, 99, hospitalized

Britain’s 99-year-old Prince Philip has been admitted to a London hospital after feeling unwell, Buckingham Palace says.

The palace says the husband of Queen Elizabeth II was admitted to the private King Edward VII Hospital on Tuesday evening.

It says the admission is “a precautionary measure” on the advice of Philip’s doctor and that the senior royal is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days of “observation and rest.”

Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, retired from public duties in 2017 and rarely appears in public.

During England’s current coronavirus lockdown, he has been staying at Windsor Castle, west of London, with the queen.

Britain’s Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh greets guests at a garden party at Buckingham Palace in London on June 1, 2017. (John Stillwell / POOL / AFP)

Iran’s supreme leader demands ‘action’ from US as condition for nuke deal

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demands action and not just words from the Biden administration as a condition for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The Islamic Republic will not be satisfied this time with words and promises,” he says in a televised speech.

“This time, only action, action. If we see action from the opposite side, we will act too,” says Khamenei, who has final say in the country.

The new US administration of President Joe Biden has expressed readiness to return to the 2015 deal abandoned by Donald Trump, but has called on Iran to return to full compliance first.

Tehran says it is ready to return to its commitments on condition that Washington does so first by lifting sweeping unilateral sanctions that have dealt a heavy blow to the Iranian economy.

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army’s air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 7, 2021 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Report: British police foiled plot to poison Prince George’s ice cream

A man on trial in Britain for allegedly planning a terror attack has spoken of a plot to poison Prince George’s ice cream, reports Sky News.

Sahayb Abu, 27, is being prosecuted for purchasing a sword and balaclavas for a terror attack. He was arrested in July.

According to Sky News, he described a conversation he had with an undercover police officer over the alleged plot, which ultimately landed an unidentified suspect in jail for 28 years.

“You know what his plan was? Say like the Royal Family house is there, go to the nearest Sainsbury’s and… put poison in the ice creams so the Royal Family will go and buy the ice creams from there.

“They’re gonna go buy some ice creams and then most likely the son will eat it.”

This file photo taken on September 7, 2017, shows Britain’s Prince George arriving for his first day of school at Thomas’s school in southwest London. (AFP/Pool/Richard Pohle)

Woman held in Syria is formerly ultra-Orthodox, from Modiin Illit — report

Unconfirmed reports indicate the woman who crossed into Syria is a formerly ultra-Orthodox woman in her twenties from Modiin Illit, according to Channel 12.

The Israeli authorities have yet to name the woman.

No injuries as fire breaks out at Hadera nursing home; 230 evacuated

A fire breaks out at a nursing home in Hadera.

Hebrew media reports say 230 residents and staff were safely evacuated. There are no immediate reports of injuries.

Netanyahu tight-lipped on prisoner swap with Syria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a rare interview with Army Radio, declines to comment on the negotiations to release the Israeli woman held in Syria.

“We are working to save lives. I can just say I’m using my personal connections” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure her release, Netanyahu says.

Israel is “at the height of sensitive negotiations” on the issue, he says.

“I believe we will resolve it,” says Netanyahu.

The prime minister won’t confirm a report that says the woman is a formerly ultra-Orthodox woman from Modiin Illit.

 

Netanyahu: This won’t be a normal Purim

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the Israelis age 50 and up who have yet to be vaccinated to go get the shots.

But he says, in an interview with Army Radio, the number of those eschewing the shots in that age group is dropping.

Asked about the upcoming Purim holiday next week, Netanyahu says “this won’t be a normal Purim.”

He says synagogue services will be limited and Israelis will be asked to observe the holiday with their nuclear families. But he says the government’s hands are tied “due to democracy,” and asks Israelis to follow the rules, indicating there won’t be sweeping restrictions imposed over the festival.

 

 

Netanyahu says he believes Gantz will come around on economic plan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses claims he wants to advance an economic plan — opposed by Blue and White — that will give cash handouts to most citizens as a pre-election bribe to the electorate. He calls that argument a “joke” in his interview with Army Radio.

“I believe that in the end, common sense… will prevail,” he says of the economic plan.

Netanyahu says he hopes to bring the plan to a cabinet vote “in a positive atmosphere, with agreements” with Blue and White.

“I can’t believe there will be anyone who opposes it. It’s not logical,” he says.

Netanyahu defends transfer of vaccines to Gaza: We’re ‘one epidemiological unit’

Netanyahu, in his interview with Army Radio, says there is a “historic opportunity” to form a fully right-wing government after the March 23 elections.

“We will take the votes of the Arab citizens because they’re sick of” voting for Arab Israeli politicians that don’t work for their interests, says Netanyahu.

The prime minister says the vote is “me against [Yair] Lapid” and Israelis will have to choose between them.

Netanyahu also defends Israel’s decision to allow the transfer of vaccines to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Israel, Gaza and the West Bank are “one epidemiological unit” and therefore it’s in Israel’s interest to ensure vaccines are accessible there.

Netanyahu also says US President Joe Biden will call him soon. “Joe Biden is my friend for close to 40 years,” he says. But he says he won’t allow Iran to get nuclear weapons “and I believe Joe Biden will respect this opinion, I believe the whole world will respect this opinion.”

Asked whether Biden will continue with the Abraham Accords, Netanyahu says “they say they will.”

Syrian woman says she was released from house arrest in swap with Israeli

One of the two incarcerated residents of the Israeli Golan Heights involved in an alleged prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Syria says she has been released unconditionally from house arrest.

Israel and Syria are negotiating intensively for the release of an Israeli woman arrested by Syrian authorities after she entered Quneitra in southern Syria. Syria has demanded the release of two prisoners, Nihal al-Maqt and Dhiab Qahmuz.

Al-Maqt tells Syrian Al-Ikhbariya TV: “I am now free in my homeland.” Al-Maqt was convicted in 2017 by an Israeli court for incitement.

According to al-Maqt, she had already been released from prison. She was to complete her sentence under house arrest with very strict conditions.

Nihal Al-Maqt, a Syrian woman held by Israel, as shown in Syrian media on February 17, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

“If I step a toe outside of my house, they can arrest me and put me back in prison,” al-Maqt says.

Several soldiers came to her house and offered to remove the conditions if she were to leave Israel for Damascus, al-Maqt claims.

Al-Maqt says that she refused, asking to be released unconditionally and allowed to remain in the Golan — a request, she says, which was granted.

Al-Maqt tells the broadcaster she salutes “President Bashar al-Assad.”

US vaccinating 1.7 million Americans per week, White House says

The US is vaccinating on average 1.7 million Americans per week for the coronavirus, up from under 1 million a month ago.

New figures from the White House show the steady increase in the pace of vaccinations over President Joe Biden’s first month in office.

Much of the increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from people receiving their second dose of the approved vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.

The pace of first dose vaccinations has been largely steady over the past several weeks, hovering around an average of 900,000 shots per day.

Biden is on track to blow past his goal of 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office — though the pace must pick up even further to meet his plans to vaccinate nearly all adults by the end of the summer.

Lawyer for missing Dubai princess urges UAE to release her

The attorney for a daughter of Dubai’s ruler urges the Gulf emirate to release the young woman from almost three years of detention and avoid further international scandal after a videotaped plea for freedom spurred the UN’s human rights body to seek information about her status.

The case of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum made international headlines Tuesday after the BBC released excerpts from video diaries she said were recorded in a locked bathroom inside the Dubai villa where she is being held. Sheikha Latifa was detained by commandos off the coast of India in 2018 after she tried to flee Dubai in a yacht.

Sheikha Latifa, 35, hasn’t been heard from since she stopped responding to text messages six months ago, friends told the BBC. She is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the hereditary ruler of Dubai who also serves as prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates

Rodney Dixon, a London-based attorney for Sheikha Latifa, plays down calls for international sanctions, saying he hopes the videos will persuade authorities in Dubai to release the young woman who says she just wants to be free. Dixon helped secure the release of a British researcher who was jailed in the UAE on spying charges in 2018.

Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum of Dubai in a video aired by the BBC on February 16, 2021. (Screen capture: YouTube)

“Of course, steps can be taken to, as I’ve said before, look to impose sanctions, take other actions,” Dixon tells The Associated Press. “But why go down that route when we have a simple solution here which should be followed right away. Why protract it any longer, getting involved in legal avenues, litigation? This never ultimately benefits anyone over the long term. Better to sort it out right now and do the right thing.”

The case is particularly sensitive in Britain because of economic and historic links to Dubai and the UAE, which has large reserves of oil and natural gas.

Merkel expresses concern over nuclear program in rare call with Rouhani

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a rare telephone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which she voices her “concern” over Tehran’s non-compliance with the 2015 nuclear pact, her spokesman says.

“She expressed her concern that Iran continues to fail to meet its obligations under the nuclear agreement,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert says in a statement.

The chancellor also says that “now was the time for positive signals that create trust and increase the chances of a diplomatic solution,” he adds.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani (R) meets Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN Headquarters Sept. 24, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

164 doctors, nurses who refused to get vaccinated got COVID-19 — TV

Channel 12 reports that 164 doctors and nurses around the country have contracted COVID-19 after declining to be vaccinated.

That includes 66 doctors and nurses at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan; 18 medical workers at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center; and 17 at the Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod, according to the network.

A health care professional prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, January 12, 2021. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Number of seriously ill drops to 948; another 2,710 virus cases since midnight

The Health Ministry records another 2,710 virus cases since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 51,929.

The number of serious cases declines, hitting 948, including 305 on ventilators. The death toll stands at 9,470.

According to the ministry, over 4.1 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 2.7 million had both doses.

Lod man, 30, dies of COVID; had no preexisting health conditions

A 30-year-old father of two with no preexisting health conditions has died of COVID-19.

Lior Mevorach of Lod succumbed to the virus, the mayor of the central Israel city announces.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters, aged 3 and two months.

Russia rejects European court order to release Navalny

Europe’s rights court tells Russia to release jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny out of concern for his life, but Moscow swiftly rejects the call.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent, was arrested and jailed upon returning to Russia last month following months of treatment in Germany for a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin.

His jailing sparked the largest anti-government demonstrations in years and a new crisis in Russia’s ties with the West, whose leaders are demanding the anti-corruption campaigner be set free.

Navalny, 44, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights for his release on January 20, just days after his arrest at a Moscow airport, saying his life was in danger if he remained in custody.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a class cage during a hearing in the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2021. (Moscow City Court via AP)

The Strasbourg-based court says it has upheld that request and tells Moscow to release Navalny “with immediate effect”.

It says that the ruling was taken with “regard to the nature and extent of risk to the applicant’s life.”

Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, a rights body of which the ECHR is a part. Member states are obliged to enforce ECHR decisions and in the past Russia has done so, including in cases involving Navalny.

But shortly after the court makes its decision public, Russia’s justice ministry says its demands were “unreasonable and unlawful” and there were no legal grounds to release Navalny.

Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko tells the Interfax news agency that the ECHR demands represented “clear and gross interference” in the activities of Russia’s justice system.

US conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh dies

Rush Limbaugh, bombastic talk radio host and voice of American conservatism, has died, his website says.

Prisoner swap with Syria said to hit snag

Israeli officials tell Hebrew media that the prisoner exchange with Syria, coordinated by Russia, is being held up by the refusal of two Syrian prisoners in the Jewish state to be deported to Syria.

Israel is seeking the release of an Israeli woman who crossed the border and was arrested.

According to the Walla news site, officials believe the issue will be resolved and the deal will go through in the coming days.

Highways around Jerusalem closed as snow piles up

Route 1 is closed from Shaar HaGai until the entrance of Jerusalem — in both directions — due to the snowfall around the capital.

The Tunnel Road on Route 60 is also closed to traffic until further notice.

Hamas to review edict banning single women from traveling without guardian’s OK

The Hamas terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip says judicial authorities will review a controversial edict giving parents and guardians power to block adult children or dependants from traveling.

The ruling, circulated Sunday from the Supreme Sharia (Islamic law) Council in Gaza, allows “males over the age of 18 to be banned from traveling by court order, based on the wishes of the father or grandfather.”

It also bans “virgin, widowed or divorced women from traveling without permission from a guardian.”

Hamas says it is “happy” the Sharia council had decided to rephrase the edict “to avoid confusion.”

It says provisions regarding single women had “been misunderstood as a total travel ban” and will be “amended.”

US woman charged in Capitol melee says Proud Boys recruited her

An Arizona woman charged in the January 6 onslaught of the US Capitol bragged in a Snapchat video that she was recently recruited by a Kansas City chapter of the Proud Boys, a neofascist organization that describes itself as “Western chauvinists” and has long forbidden female members.

Felicia Konold’s claim that the chapter recruited her and she was “with them now,” even though she’s not from the Kansas City area, has intrigued experts who study extremist right-wing movements.

“It is ironic that such a deeply misogynistic organization has attracted someone who is a woman to join their organization,” says Eric Ward, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It tells us there is dissension in the ranks of Proud Boys right now.”

Details of the video surfaced last week in a probable cause affidavit against Konold, 26, of Tucson, who is charged with conspiracy, civil disorder and other federal charges stemming from the melee.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Konold sounded almost euphoric in the Snapchat video she posted after the Capitol attack, saying she never could have imagined having such an influence on the events that unfolded that day. She laughingly references “all my boys, behind me, holding me up in the air, pushing back. We (expletive) did it!”

In order to seemingly prove her point that she had just been “recruited into an (expletive) chapter from Kansas City,” she displayed on the video a two-sided “challenge coin” that appears to have markings that designate it as belonging to the Kansas City Proud Boys.

The challenge coin denotes membership, something that seems to go against the rhetoric about women from the organization’s national leadership, Ward says.

“The fact she has that coin, the challenge coin, tells me there is something happening around gender in the Proud Boys — and it is something worth paying attention to,” says Ward, who is also the executive director of the Western States Center, a civil rights advocacy group that works to advance gender equity.

Ministers approve bill allowing sharing of information on unvaccinated

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approves a bill that would allow the Health Ministry to hand over information on the unvaccinated to local authorities and the Education Ministry.

 

Public transportation in Jerusalem stops amid snowfall

Buses and the light rail in Jerusalem have stopped service due to the snowstorm.

People seen in downtown Jerusalem during a snow storm on February 17, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Husband of Iran’s ski coach bars her from leaving country

The Iranian women’s alpine ski team flies to Italy for the world championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo without their coach, whose husband has barred her from leaving the country, Iranian media reports.

The reports by the semi-official ISNA news agency and the pro-reform Shargh daily do not provide any details as to why Samira Zargari’s husband had not allowed her to leave. Iran’s ski federation also did not offer any information.

Under Iranian law, husbands can stop their wives from traveling outside of the country.

Zargar is not the first married athlete whose husband prevented her from leaving Iran. In 2015, soccer player Niloufar Ardalan missed the Asian Cup tournament in futsal — an indoor version of soccer — after her husband confiscated her passport in a domestic dispute.

Women’s sports largely disappeared from Iran after the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Over time, however, women’s sports gained in popularity, especially soccer. Social customs still come into the game though, as the country’s soccer team plays its games with players’ hair covered by traditional headscarves, or hijabs.

Two Islamic countries make the headscarf mandatory for women in public — Iran and Saudi Arabia. FIFA overturned a yearlong ban against players wearing hijabs in 2012.

Four Iranian skiers are entered for the women’s giant slalom race on Thursday at the world championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo: Atefeh Ahmadi, Sadaf Savehshemshaki, Forough Abbasi and Marjan Kalhor.

They are part of a 99-skier field for a race in which the favorites are Marta Bassino and Federica Brignone of host Italy, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia and Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States.

1/3 of US service members declining COVID vaccine

By the thousands, US service members are refusing or putting off the COVID-19 vaccine as frustrated commanders scramble to knock down internet rumors and find the right pitch that will persuade troops to get the shot.

Some Army units are seeing as few as one-third agree to the vaccine. Military leaders searching for answers believe they have identified one potential convincer: an imminent deployment. Navy sailors on ships heading out to sea last week, for example, are choosing to take the shot at rates exceeding 80% to 90%.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, tells Congress on Wednesday that “very early data” suggests that just up to two-thirds of the service members offered the vaccine have accepted.

That’s higher than the rate for the general population, which a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation put at roughly 50%. But the significant number of forces declining the vaccine is especially worrisome because troops often live, work and fight closely together in environments where social distancing and wearing masks, at times, are difficult.

Blinken says US to pay $200 million in WHO obligations

The United States will pay more than $200 million to the World Health Organization by the end of the month after reversing Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says.

The sum amounts to the commitments the United States had made to the global health body, to which it has been the largest donor.

“This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member and it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic,” Blinken tells a virtual UN Security Council session on COVID-19.

“The United States will work as a partner to address global challenges. This pandemic is one of those challenges and gives us an opportunity not only to get through the current crisis, but also to become more prepared and more resilient for the future.”

Blinken says the United States will also “provide significant financial support” to Covax, a global plan to distribute vaccines to the poorest nations.

Antony Blinken speaks during his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on January 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

In Geneva, the WHO welcomed Blinken’s announcement, saying that funds would back its goal of improving the health of billions by 2023 by “responding not only to the COVID-19 pandemic but also other health emergencies around the world.”

Trump — who faced criticism for his handling of COVID in the United States, which has suffered the highest reported death toll of any nation — announced a pullout from the World Health Organization, saying it was beholden to China and did not do enough to stop the pandemic.

President Joe Biden immediately reversed the decision upon coming into office, although his administration has also pressed China to be more forthcoming to a WHO team investigating the origins of the devastating virus.

“All countries must make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak,” Blinken says.

“And going forward, all countries should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies so the world learns as much as possible, as soon as possible.”

Liberman attends gathering in violation of health rules — reports

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman attends an event at the home of a Tel Aviv businessman which violated the health regulations on gatherings, reports say.

At least 20 people are seen indoors at the event, most of them not wearing masks. Current regulations permit five people indoors.

Liberman’s office says he was told just five people would attend the mezuzah-fixing event when he was invited. As more guests arrived, Liberman left, his office says.

Cop charged over death of Ethiopian Israeli teen deemed unfit for public service

The Civil Service Commissioner, Daniel Hershkowitz, rules that an officer charged with causing the shooting death of a teenager of Ethiopian descent in 2019 cannot serve as a public servant, Channel 13 reports.

The officer responsible for the death of Solomon Tekah, whose name is barred from publication, was recently reinstated by the Israel Police and then moved to the fire department amid an outcry.

The announcement of the officer’s return had caused anger among Israel’s Ethiopian community, which perceived the death of Tekah in Haifa as a reflection of racism and discrimination within the police ranks, and held mass protests for several weeks.

Worka and Wbjig Tekah hold a picture of their son Solomon Tekah, 19, who was killed by an off-duty police officer, at their home in the Israeli city of Haifa, on July 3, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The shooting occurred in the Haifa neighborhood of Kiryat Haim. According to an investigation, the off-duty officer, who was with his children, intervened after his wife noticed that some teenagers had taken money from another boy. He then alerted the police hotline to the alleged theft, but the dispatched police car was delayed.

In the interim, according to the investigation, the officer and his family members were pelted with stones, including by Tekah, prompting the officer to draw his weapon and fire at the ground. The bullet ricocheted and killed Tekah.

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