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Minister: US will never attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israel may act alone

Tzachi Hanegbi says Israeli leaders will be forced to choose between accepting a nuclear-armed Tehran and independently taking action

Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the capital Tehran, on April, 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)
Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the capital Tehran, on April, 9, 2007. (Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP)

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

Likud minister: Iran 1-2 years away from obtaining nuclear weapons

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz says Iran is not “weeks” away from the bomb.

“If they do everything to break out, it will be half a year; in terms of nuclear weapons, they are a year or two away,” Steinitz tells the Kan public broadcaster.

The Likud minister also says “Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal weakened Iran.”

Steinitz’s comments come after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Iran was currently months away from being able to produce enough material to build a nuclear weapon. And, he said, that timeframe could be reduced to “a matter of weeks” if Tehran further violates restrictions it agreed to under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2019. (Flash90)

Blue and White’s Diaspora Minister Yankelevich won’t run in next election

Diaspora Minister Omer Yanekelevich of the Blue and White party announces she won’t run in the upcoming March elections.

In her message to Blue and White members on her break from politics, she writes that “baseless lies were spread about me, but I chose to ignore the smear campaign and focus on actions.”

Most of Blue and White’s members have quit the party.

Illustrative: Blue and White party member Omer Yankelevich at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

High Court: Stores open during lockdown can’t sell nonessential items

The High Court of Justice rules that stores deemed essential, which are permitted to remain open during the lockdown, may not sell nonessential items, such as toys and other entertainment.

The ruling follows a petition by businesses, including toy stores, hurting by the closure.

Top health official says 3rd lockdown may not be Israel’s last

A top health official says Israel’s current lockdown, its third since the start of the pandemic, may not be its last.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll know if there will be a fourth lockdown,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, tells the Kan public broadcaster.

In the interview, Alroy-Preis also addresses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip next week to the United Arab Emirates, which comes as the airport has been largely closed to prevent the import of new virus variants.

“We are in a situation in which we are making an effort not to bring new strains of the coronavirus into [Israel]. I assume the prime minister will make his considerations. There is a professional health opinion paper calling to keep entry and exit from the country to the minimum,” she says.

Gantz held political Zoom events from Defense Ministry, against rules — report

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, held at least three online political events with his supporters from the Defense Ministry, in violation of campaigning rules, the Walla news site reports.

The rules ban the use of ministerial offices or equipment in the service of electioneering. Gantz used a Defense Ministry computer for the events, the report says.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz in a weekly Facebook address, on January 22, 2021. (Screen capture/Facebook)

Study: 65% of ultra-Orthodox Jews in UK have COVID antibodies

A new study suggests nearly two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the UK may have been infected with COVID-19, one the highest rates yet recorded in a community worldwide.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) study, as reported by British media, says nearly 65% of those tested have coronavirus antibodies, including 28% of children under five, and more than half of school-age children.

The study collected blood samples from 1,242 people between November and December 2020 to test for antibodies. Roughly 40% of those approached agreed to participate in the study. The reports do not say where they were located.

The “estimates are amongst the highest sero-prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 described anywhere in the world to date,” it says.

Illustrative photo of an Orthodox Jew walking past the Ahavas Torah Synagogue in the Stamford Hill area of north London on March 22, 2015. (AFP/Niklas Halle’n)

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox schools open in breach of lockdown — report

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox schools are open today in violation of the lockdown rules, the Haaretz daily reports.

Most of the schools are affiliated with Hasidic sects or hardline ultra-Orthodox groups, according to the report.

Haredi children from the Bnei Moshe Kretchnif ultra-Orthodox school wear face masks at their school in the city of Rehovot, on May 24, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The report says some non-Hasidic schools have also partially reopened.

Pfizer swings to a profit, but misses Wall Street expectations

Pfizer swings to a small profit in the fourth quarter as rising medicine sales helped offset big increases in spending on research and production, but it still misses Wall Street expectations.

The New York drugmaker, the first company to get US emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine, reports fourth-quarter net income of $594 million, or 10 cents per share. A year earlier, Pfizer posted a loss of $337 million, or 6 cents per share, mainly due to a big writedown on the value of eczema drug Eucrisa.

Excluding one-time items, adjusted earnings came to 42 cents per share, or 4 cents shy of Wall Street projections, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

Illustrative: A pharmacist prepares a syringe of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Seattle. (AP/Ted S. Warren)

The maker of the world’s top-selling vaccine, Prevnar 13 for preventing pneumonia and related bacterial diseases, reports revenue of $11.68 billion, up 12% from 2019’s fourth quarter. That beats Wall Street forecasts for $11.01 billion.

Pfizer says it expects full-year earnings in the range of $3.10 to $3.20 per share, with revenue in the range of $59.4 billion to $61.4 billion.

Shares are essentially flat before the opening bell.

Police bust West Bank arms trafficking ring, arrest 22 Palestinians, 5 Israelis

Police say they have arrested 22 Palestinians and five Israelis suspected of trafficking illegal weapons in the West Bank.

Police apprehend the suspects after an undercover agent purchases five M-16s and additional firearms from the ring.

 

Amid Groundhog Day-esque pandemic, groundhog predicts 6 more weeks of US winter

There will be six more weeks of winter, Punxsutawney Phil predicts as he emerges from his burrow on a snowy morning to perform his Groundhog Day duties.

Members of Phil’s “inner circle” wake up the furry critter at 7:25 a.m. at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to see whether he would see his shadow or not.

Shortly after this year’s prediction is revealed, one of the members of the inner circle shares a message he said Phil had told him earlier in the day: “After winter, you’re looking forward to one of the most beautiful and brightest springs you’ve ever seen.”

Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle Members Jason Gursky and official handler, AJ Dereume and Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, work a Zoom call with schoolchildren in hundreds of schools throughout the United States on Gobblers Knob on February 1, 2021 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images/AFP)

Another member of the “inner circle” notes the uniqueness of the past year.

“People have been referencing Groundhog Day. It has felt like at times we’re all living the same day over and over again,” one of the members says. “Groundhog Day also shows us that the monotony ends. The cycle will be broken.”

“Today actually is Groundhog Day, there’s only one,” he adds. “There is quite literally a new day coming over the horizon.”

The spectacle that is Groundhog Day still went on, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, revelers weren’t able to see Phil and celebrate in person: This year, it was all virtual.

A livestream, which had more than 15,000 viewers at one point, played footage from previous Groundhog Day’s ahead of the big reveal.

Then of course, the prognosticator of prognosticators — assisted by his Inner Circle — emerged at dawn. The lore goes that if he sees his shadow as he did this year, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring comes early.

The livestream from Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill just outside Punxsutawney about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northeast of Pittsburgh, is made possible by the Pennsylvania Tourism Office’s Holi-stay PA. The event there — always Feb. 2 — dates back to 1887.

Phil this year, like many years in the past, gives his forecast during a major snowstorm that hit the entire Northeast.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6% effective — independent Lancet study

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19, according to results published in The Lancet that independent experts say allays transparency concerns over the shot, which Moscow is already rolling out.

Sputnik V — named after the Soviet-era satellite — was approved in Russia months before results from its final-stage clinical trials were published, leading to skepticism from experts.

But the new analysis of data from 20,000 participants in Phase 3 trials suggests that the two-dose vaccination offers more than 90 percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19.

“The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency,” says an independent Lancet commentary by Ian Jones of the University of Reading and Polly Roy of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of Covid-19.”

The results suggest Sputnik V is among the top-performing vaccines, along with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs that also reported more than 90 percent efficacy.

Pre-empting the results of the phase 3 trials, Russia has already launched a mass inoculation campaign for citizens 18 and older.

A Russian medical worker, right, administers a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to a patient in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Iran allows crew of seized South Korea tanker to leave country

Iran’s foreign ministry says the Islamic Republic has allowed the crew of a seized South Korean tanker to leave the country as part of a “humanitarian move.”

“In a humanitarian move by Iran, the crew of the South Korean tanker accused of polluting the environment of the Persian Gulf were allowed to leave the country,” says ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh in a statement.

Jerusalem psychologist accused of sex crimes named

Yuval Carmi, 66, is the Jerusalem-based psychologist accused of sexual assault by three of his patients, according to Hebrew media reports.

The first patient to complain about his conduct to police was a young woman who witnessed the 2015 murder of teenager Shira Banki at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade and sought counseling after the murder.

A court lifts a gag order on his identity as Carmi’s remand is extended by another week.

He is also suspected of drug offenses and has confessed to most of the charges against him, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Twitter flags Turkish minister’s ‘hateful’ anti-LGBT posts

Twitter slaps a second “hateful conduct” warning in just days on a message from Turkey’s interior minister condemning the LGBT community’s role in month-long student protests.

Turkey has been hit by weeks of rallies across major campuses against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a loyalist to head Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici University at the start of the year.

Police detained 159 students after storming a protest staged inside the fenced-off campus on Monday night.

AFP reporters saw plainclothes police make more arrests as students tried to march along a central street in the capital Ankara on Tuesday.

Students of Bogazici University hold placards during a protest in Istanbul, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Huseyin Aldemir)

The standoff over the rector gained a new dimension when someone hung a poster near his office depicting Islam’s holiest site with pictures of the LGBT rainbow flag last week.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted on Saturday that “four LGBT freaks” had been detained for “inciting hatred” with their poster.

Twitter hid that message under a warning that it violated the platform’s “rules about hateful conduct” — the same thing it did to tweets from former US President Donald Trump before banning him last month.

Soylu posted a new message on Tuesday asking why Turkey should “tolerate LGBT deviants.”

Twitter hid that message under another “hateful content” warning that requires an extra click to see what the minister said.

The offending messages also cannot be retweeted.

Twitter has been one of the few platforms to resist a new Turkish requirement for social media giants to appoint local representatives who can quickly follow court orders to take down contentious posts.

Turkey hit Twitter with an advertising ban as punishment last month.

Twitter’s continued resistance could make it effectively inaccessible inside Turkey should officials follow through on threats to cut off its bandwidth by 90 percent in May.

WHO experts visit animal disease center in Wuhan

The World Health Organization experts visit an animal disease center in the Chinese city of Wuhan as part of their investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

A team member says they met with staff in charge of the health of livestock in Hubei province, toured laboratories and had an “in-depth” discussion with questions and answers.

Meanwhile, WHO officials in Geneva are pushing back against suggestions the team was not getting enough access or data. The officials say the agency is continuing to ask for more data. They also say the team plans to visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology, considered among the major sources of information about the origins of the coronavirus.

Israel’s top diplomat speaks to Moroccan counterpart

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to his Moroccan counterpart, Nasser Bourita.

“We agreed to work together to rapidly implement the agreements between Morocco & Israel. We also discussed increasing bilateral cooperation as well as wider regional issues,” says Ashkenazi in a tweet.

Israel reopened its liaison office in Rabat last week, after 20 years.

Morocco agreed in 2020 to normalize ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. In return, then-US president Donald Trump fulfilled a decades-old goal of Morocco by backing its contested sovereignty in Western Sahara, what Rabat refers to as its “southern provinces.”

Iran installing second batch of advanced centrifuges at Natanz — IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in a confidential report obtained by Reuters, says Iran has installed a second cascade of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at the Natanz site to enrich uranium and will soon add a third.

The first batch is composed of 174 IR-2m machines, according to Reuters. The second cascade is currently in use for enrichment, it says.

“The Agency also verified that installation of the second of the aforementioned three (extra) cascades of IR-2m centrifuges was nearing completion and installation of the third of these cascades had started,” the report says.

Iran said last month it plans to install 1,000 new centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility within three months and that its scientists had exceeded previous goals for uranium enrichment.

Natanz is Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plant. An explosion at the site last year, which foreign media reports have attributed to Israel or the US, damaged an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant.

This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Firebomb thrown at police outside synagogue in London’s Golders Green — reports

A man appears to hurl a Molotov cocktail at police officers outside a synagogue in Golders Green, London.

According to footage from the scene, the incident takes place outside the Golders Green Beit Hamedrash, known more commonly as Munk’s synagogue.

There are no immediate reports of injuries.

Iran envoy confirms 348 IR2m centrifuges are running at Natanz

Iran’s envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog confirms the installation of a second batch of advanced centrifuges at the Natanz plant.

“Thanks to our diligent nuclear scientists, two cascades of 348 IR2m centrifuges with almost 4 times the capacity of IR1 are now running… successfully in Natanz,” Kazem Gharibabadi says on Twitter, according to Reuters. “Installation of 2 cascades of IR6 centrifuges has also been started in Fordo. There’s more to come soon.”

Trump lawyer: Impeachment case ‘undemocratic,’ ill-advised

Democrats are using the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump as a political “weapon” to bar the former president from seeking office again and are pursuing a case that is “undemocratic” and unconstitutional, one of his lawyers says.

Trump faces trial next week on accusations that he incited a harrowing and deadly siege at the US Capitol on January 6, when loyalists in town for a rally supporting the president overran the police and violently stormed the building. The House passed a single article of impeachment against Trump one week before he left office, triggering a trial that Democrats say is necessary to hold Trump publicly accountable for the attack. If Trump is convicted, Congress could bar him from holding public office again.

Whether the Senate trial is constitutional is a point of contention because of the unique circumstances: never before has a president faced an impeachment trial after leaving office. Democrats say there is precedent, pointing to an 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who resigned his office in a last-ditch attempt to avoid an impeachment trial. The Senate held it anyway.

In this file photo taken on February 06, 2020, US President Donald Trump holds up a newspaper that displays a headline “Acquitted,” as he arrives to speak at the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

On the eve of expected legal briefs from lawyers for both sides, Trump attorney David Schoen’s appearance on Fox News previews some of the arguments he plans to make at the trial. He calls the case needlessly divisive.

“It’s also the most ill-advised legislative action that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Schoen says.

Trump is the first president in American history to be impeached twice. He was acquitted at a Senate trial last year over his contacts with his Ukrainian counterpart, but was acquitted by the Senate. Impeachment, Schoen says, “is the weapon they’ve tried to use against him.”

The new case was an effort to bar Trump from ever running for office again, Schoen says, “and that’s about as undemocratic as you can get.”

The Constitution specifies that disqualification from office can be a punishment for an impeachment conviction.

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, Trump supporters, including Doug Jensen, center, confront US Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington. Some followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory are now turning to online support groups and even therapy to help them move on, now that it’s clear Donald Trump’s presidency is over. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Schoen, a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer, and Bruce Castor, a former county prosecutor in Pennsylvania, were announced as Trump’s legal team on Sunday evening, one day after it was revealed that the former president had parted ways with another set of attorneys in what one person described as a mutual decision.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Schoen said he did not plan to argue that Trump lost the election because of fraud, as Trump has repeatedly insisted, and would instead argue that the trial itself is unconstitutional. He also said he’ll make the case that his words were protected by the First Amendment and did not incite a riot.

Iran’s parliament rejects Rouhani’s budget bill

Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament rejects a budget bill for the next Iranian year put forward by the administration of the relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani, state television reports.

The broadcaster says that of the 261 lawmakers present from a total of 290, 148 voted against the bill while 99 were in favor, with the rest abstaining.

It is the latest development in the back and forth between parliament and the Rouhani administration since it presented the bill in early December.

The government will now have a two-week window to amend and return the bill to lawmakers, according to the parliament’s ICANA news agency.

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei reacts by saying the administration is willing to modify the bill, but without “changing the overall structure and projecting unrealistic earnings.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Rouhani had warned that any substantial change to the bill would “seriously damage the people’s livelihood.”

Israeli researchers find 6,600-year-old olive pits off coast of Haifa

Israeli archaeologists have found evidence of the earliest-known production of olives for consumption rather than for olive oil, which dates back 6,600 years, according to a University of Haifa study.

Thousands of olive pits are found off the southern coast of Haifa, in an area that is now submerged but was believed to have been part of the northern coast in the past.

Dr. Ehud Galili, a marine archeologist who led the study, says the find enables researchers to trace the uses of the olive tree, from “the use of its wood for heating, through the production of oil 7,000 years ago, to our find, in which the olive was used as food.”

Noting that basins and wells were found in the area, but not houses, Galili speculates that the site may have been an “industrial zone” for olives.

Biden rules out appointing Rahm Emanuel as Israel envoy — report

Former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel could be appointed ambassador to China or Japan, according to NBC News, which cites three sources involved in the deliberations.

The idea of appointing the Jewish former White House chief of staff as envoy to Israel was raised, but was quickly discarded over his tense relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the report says.

According to NBC News: “Another person familiar with the discussions said Emanuel’s name had also been floated internally for US ambassador to Israel. But, this person said, the idea was deemed unworkable because of Emanuel’s notoriously rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dating to his time as Obama’s chief of staff.”

Then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel waves as he arrives at a news conference outside of the south air traffic control tower at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, April 22, 2019. (Kiichiro Sato/AP)

Netanyahu, Edelstein to make public statement on lockdown, virus surge

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will give a press conference at 6:15 p.m. on the lockdown and rising virus cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with then-Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, at the Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Unveiling party slate, Liberman pledges not to enter coalition with Haredim

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman unveils his party’s slate for the March 23 elections.

MK Oded Forer gets the second slot in the secularist right-wing party, followed by, in descending order, MKs Evgeny Sova, Eli Avidar, Yulia Malinovsky, Hamad Amar, and Alex Kushnir. Professor Yossi Shein gets the eighth slot, attorney Limor Magen-Telem is placed ninth, and Dr. Elina Bardatz is 10th.

“Yisrael Beytenu won’t enter a coalition with Shas or United Torah Judaism,” says Liberman. “We cannot rehabilitate the economy and reach equal rights and obligations so long as Shas and United Torah Judaism are tipping the scales. I am telling Saar and Lapid, don’t have any illusions about this.”

“From the second round [of elections], we have stood against what is happening in the ultra-Orthodox community. For years, I have tried to reach compromises on religion and state and on the issue of integrating the Haredi public in Israeli society. But my conclusion is that the other side is not willing to make any compromises, any concessions. Even a small concession. We see this in the fight against the coronavirus, there are no concessions,” adds Liberman.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman wears a protective face mask during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on June 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Minister: US will never attack Iran’s nuclear facilities; Israel may act alone

Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi says the United States will never attack Iran’s nuclear program, and Israel will have to decide whether to launch such a strike alone or come to terms with a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic.

“The United States will never attack the nuclear facilities in Iran, Israel must decide whether it will accept a nuclear Iran,” Hanegbi tells the Kan public broadcaster. “Israel will be forced to act independently to remove this danger.”

Hanegbi, who is close to Netanyahu, says the Iranians have proven to have a “very limited” capacity to retaliate against Israel.

“It’s possible that in the future there will be no choice [but to attack Iran militarily],” adds Hanegbi. “I hope that when our leadership is met with this dilemma, it won’t accept [a nuclear-armed Iran].”

Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi in Gush Etzion in the West Bank, December 24, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Kurds end siege of government-held areas in northeast Syria

Kurdish forces in northern Syria end a weekslong siege of government-held neighborhoods in two northeastern cities, they say, two days after Kurdish fighters shot one person dead during a pro-government protest.

Local Kurdish police say in a statement they will end the siege on government-held parts of the provincial capital of Hassakeh province, also called Hassakeh, and the city of Qamishli along the border with Turkey.

Areas held by the government in Hassakeh and Qamishli are known as the security square. State institutions still function in the areas despite the fact the US-backed Kurdish-led fighters control much of the region.

The Kurds, Syria’s largest ethnic minority, carved out a semi-autonomous enclave in Syria’s north after the start of the civil war in 2011. In the area, the Kurds run their own affairs and control most of the country’s oil resources.

Trump accused of ‘grievous betrayal’ in impeachment trial brief

US impeachment managers denounce Donald Trump’s alleged incitement of insurrection as “a betrayal of historic proportions” as they unveil their arguments against the former president one week before the Senate begins hearing his case.

“In a grievous betrayal of his oath of office, President Trump incited a violent mob to attack the United States Capitol during the Joint Session, thus impeding Congress’s confirmation of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. as the winner of the presidential election,” the Democratic lawmakers, led by congressman Jamie Raskin, say in their pre-trial brief to the Senate.

“Failure to convict would embolden future leaders to attempt to retain power by any and all means — and would suggest that there is no line a President cannot cross,” they say, adding that the American people should be protected “against a President who provokes violence to subvert our democracy.”

US President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, January 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Palestinians administer first COVID vaccines after receiving doses from Israel

The Palestinian Authority administered its first known coronavirus vaccinations on Tuesday after receiving thousands of doses from Israel.

A Palestinian official confirms that a first dose was given to a small number of medical workers. The official speaks on condition of anonymity because the PA does not consider this the official start of its vaccination campaign.

Israel began transferring 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinians this week, and the first doses will go to front-line medical workers. The Palestinians hope to acquire tens of thousands more doses in the coming weeks through a World Health Organization program.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

British WWII veteran who raised millions in pandemic effort dies of COVID at 100

Capt. Tom Moore, the World War II veteran who walked into the hearts of a nation in lockdown as he shuffled up and down his garden to raise money for British healthcare workers, has died after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was 100.

His family announces Moore’s death Tuesday in a tweet with his photo, noting that his death was in 2021.

Captain Tom, as he became known in newspaper headlines and TV interviews, set out to raise 1,000 pounds for Britain’s National Health Service by walking 100 laps of his backyard. But his quest went viral and caught the imagination of millions stuck at home during the first wave of the pandemic. Donations poured in from across Britain and as far away as the United States and Japan, raising some 33 million pounds ($40 million).

Tom Moore, a British veteran who started a campaign to thank the National Health Service by walking lengths in his garden.(Moore Family via AP)

For three weeks in April, fans were greeted with daily videos of Captain Tom, stooped with age, doggedly pushing his walker in the garden. But it was his sunny attitude during a dark moment that inspired people to look beyond illness and loss.

“Please always remember, tomorrow will be a good day,” Moore said in an interview during his walk, uttering the words that became his trademark.

When Captain Tom finished his 100th lap on April 16, a military honor guard lined the path. The celebration continued on his 100th birthday a few days later, when two World War II-era fighter planes flew overhead in tribute. Moore, a plaid blanket over his shoulders, pumped a fist as they roared past.

In July, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II during a socially distanced ceremony at Windsor Castle, west of London. The 94-year-old monarch used an impossibly long sword to confer the honor as Moore, wearing his wartime medals on his chest, leaned on his walker and beamed.

“I have been overwhelmed by the many honors I have received over the past weeks, but there is simply nothing that can compare to this,″ he tweeted after the ceremony. “I am overwhelmed with pride and joy.”

Netanyahu pleads with over 50s to get vaccinated immediately

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is racing to vaccinate to offset the fast-spreading mutations of the coronavirus.

“The vaccination drive is our key” to lifting the restrictions, he says.

He says the British mutation accounts for 80% of all cases in Israel. Netanyahu says 97% of deaths and 93% of serious cases are among those over 50 years old.

If we manage to vaccinate those over 50, “then we are on our way to victory over the coronavirus,” he says.

Netanyahu says Israel aims to vaccinate 90% of those over 50 within two weeks. He says 77% in that age group have already received the shots.

He urges all Israelis to go get vaccinated.

Netanyahu says the vaccination drive will enable Israel’s economy to become “the fastest-growing in the world.”

The prime minister says Israel will begin gradually removing its lockdown restrictions next week, “but we will do it carefully.”

“We will exit cautiously,” he adds.

Edelstein warns against easing lockdown from Friday

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warns against lifting the lockdown on Friday.

He says 200,000 additional Israelis could be inoculated against the coronavirus between Friday — the date when the lockdown is set to expire under a compromise with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party — and Sunday, the date that Likud sought to begin lifting the closure.

Edelstein warns that if the rules are lifted Friday, thousands will meet their family members and mingle in stores.

“This Friday will go down as ‘Black Friday,'” he says, warning it would cause a serious uptick in cases.

He expresses hope the government will extend the lockdown until next week.

Health minister signals high vaccination-areas could see rules lifted faster

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says that after the lockdown is lifted, the share of vaccinated people in a particular city or town could determine what restrictions are lifted there.

He says the Health Ministry may allow Israelis under 35 to get vaccinated in the coming days.

“It’s true there is no legal obligation to get vaccinated, but there is a civil obligation,” he says.

Netanyahu defends trip to UAE: It’s been reduced to 3 hours

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defends his trip to Abu Dhabi next week, which comes as Israel’s airport has been shut to prevent the import of coronavirus mutations.

The visit, Netanyahu’s first to the Gulf since the normalization deals were signed, has been postponed several times. It has “great security, national and international importance,” he says of the trip.

“But I have reduced it, at my request, from three days to three hours,” he says.

Netanyahu confirms he’ll visit Abu Dhabi, and says he may add a whirlwind stop in Bahrain.

“We have a lot to talk about with them,” he says.

Serbia ‘not happy’ with Israel’s establishment of ties with Kosovo

Serbia’s foreign minister says the government is “not happy” with Israel’s decision to recognize Kosovo, a former Serbian province whose statehood Belgrade denies and has waged a diplomatic battle to de-legitimize.

The reaction came a day after Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties, in what was a major victory for Pristina’s efforts to gain full global recognition of the independence it declared in 2008, following a war with Serbia in the 1990s.

Kosovo has since been recognized by much of the Western world, but its rejection by Serbia’s key allies Russia and China has locked it out of the United Nations.

Until Monday, Israel was another key holdout on Belgrade’s side.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right, unveils a sign that will be placed at the Kosovo embassy in Jerusalem when it opens in the future; in Jerusalem, February 1, 2021. (Courtesy)

“We have invested serious efforts in our relations with Israel in recent years and we are not happy with this decision,” Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic says on public broadcaster RTS.

Israel’s move will “undoubtedly influence relations between Serbia and Israel,” he adds.

Since establishing ties in 1991, the countries have maintained good relations, with growing Israeli investment in the Balkan state.

In exchange for Israel’s recognition, Kosovo also became the first Muslim-majority territory to recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.

The deal was brokered last year by the administration of former US president Donald Trump.

Netanyahu says he’s not seeking to postpone his court hearing next week

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he won’t seek to postpone a court hearing on Monday in his corruption trial, which he is scheduled to attend.

“Delaying my trial is not on the agenda, regardless of whether the lockdown is extended,” he says at a press conference.

“This issue is absurd,” he says, adding that the matter has been decided.

The start of the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Thousands protest in Arab cities after student killed in shootout

Thousands of Arab Israelis are protesting in Tamra, Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth over a fatal shootout between cops and criminals on Monday night.

Two men in their 20s were killed in a shootout between police and underworld criminals in the Arab city of Tamra in northern Israel — one of them a suspect and one an innocent bystander — sparking outrage, protests, and an investigation.

The incident began when police forces identified three criminals who were suspected of firing gunshots toward a house. Cops opened fire toward them, with police saying the suspects responded with gunfire from M-16 rifles.

One of the suspects was hit and killed by officers in the ensuing shootout, another was wounded and the third escaped, police said in a statement.

But the bullets also hit and killed 22-year-old Ahmed Hijazi, a nursing student who came out of his house due to the noise, the reports said.

Demonstrators block roads in northern Israel over the student’s death.

Russia sentences opposition leader Navalny to 3.5 years in prison

A Moscow court orders Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to 3.5 years in prison on charges that he violated the terms of his probation while he was recuperating in Germany from nerve-agent poisoning.

Navalny, the most prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin in Russia, had earlier denounced the proceedings as a vain attempt by the Kremlin to scare millions of Russians into submission.

The prison sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he has rejected as fabricated.

The 44-year-old Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon returning from his five-month convalescence in Germany from the attack, which he has blamed on the Kremlin. Russian authorities deny any involvement.

Another 5,395 virus cases diagnosed since midnight

The Health Ministry says another 5,395 coronavirus cases have been recorded since midnight.

The number of active cases now stands at 72,488.

Of them, 1,113 are in serious condition, 324 on ventilators.

The death toll stands at 4,886.

US demands Russia free Navalny ‘immediately and unconditionally’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemns a Russian court’s prison sentence of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and demands his release.

“We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny, as well as the hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained in recent weeks for exercising their rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly,” Blinken says in a statement.

German police probes threat to school named after neo-Nazi victim

German police say they have launched an investigation into a threatening letter, apparently from the far-right, sent to a school named after a politician murdered by a neo-Nazi.

They say the Walter-Luebcke School in Wolfhagen last week received a threatening letter signed “NSU 2.0,” in reference to a neo-Nazi cell that murdered immigrants between 2000 and 2007.

“Police took the threat seriously and in close agreement with the school’s management took necessary measures,” police from the state of Hesse tell AFP.

No suspicious objects were found at the school, police say, adding that there was no danger for staff or students.

Luebcke, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who backed her pro-migrants stance, was shot dead by 47-year-old Stephan Ernst in 2019 in what was believed to be Germany’s first far-right political assassination since World War II.

Ernst was sentenced to life in prison last Thursday, after the prosecution argued that he had been motivated by “racism and xenophobia.”

Netanyahu urges far-right to merge, pledges portfolios and Likud representation — TV

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is again urging a merger of far-right parties ahead of the March election, according to Channel 12.

The prime minister has promised Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party that he’ll place a candidate of his choice on the Likud list and will offer him at least one ministerial portfolio if he merges with Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit, the network says.

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Poll shows Labor rising, predicts PM’s rivals can form majority coalition

A Channel 13 poll, conducted two days before parties must finalize their slates and 49 days before the elections, shows Likud slipping and Labor rising. It predicts a potential majority for a coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals, sans Likud and without the Arab parties.

According to the poll, Likud is projected to win 29 seats, down three from Channel 13’s previous survey. Yesh Atid and New Hope are neck-and-neck with 16 seats apiece; Yamina and the Joint List both pick up 10 seats; Labor, boosted by its new leadership and newly elected slate, climbs to eight seats; United Torah Judaism picks up eight seats; Shas and Yisrael Beytenu win seven seats each; Meretz picks up five, and Blue and White hovers near the electoral threshold with four seats.

Ron Huldai’s The Israelis, Ofer Shelah’s Tnufah and far-right parties led by Betzalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir all fail to cross the threshold.

Party leaders ahead of the 2021 elections (from left): Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Gideon Sa’ar, Benny Gantz (Courtesy)

According to the survey, a coalition of Yesh Atid, New Hope, Yamina, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu, and Blue and White would win 61 seats, giving it a majority in the Knesset. With the left-wing Meretz, it would pick up 66.

Netanyahu’s bloc, of Likud and the two ultra-Orthodox parties, meanwhile, would win just 44.

The survey also indicates that Labor would gain three seats from a merger with Huldai and Shelah, rising to 11 seats.

Toying with other possibilities, the survey tests what would happen if several small far-right parties merged, and if the Ra’am party ran independently from the Joint List. This is seen as Netanyahu’s optimal scenario.

The union of far-right parties would win 6 seats in such an alliance, and Ra’am would win four, it forecasts. Yet it still finds Likud unable to form a coalition, according to the survey, predicting that an outcome like this could foretell fifth elections.

Asked who was best-suited to be prime minister, 35% said Netanyahu, 16% say Gideon Sa’ar, 9% say Naftali Bennett, 7% say Benny Gantz; and just 4% say Yair Lapid.

If a government is formed by Netanyahu’s rivals, 23% prefer Sa’ar lead it; 20% say Bennett, and 19% say Lapid. But a plurality, 27%, say none of the candidates.

Biden administration ’embraces and champions’ IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

A senior US State Department official has announced that the Biden administration “embraces and champions” a definition of anti-Semitism that has become a point of tension between mainstream and progressive Jewish organizations in America.

“As prior US Administrations of both political stripes have done, the Biden Administration embraces and champions the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s] working definition [of anti-Semitism]. We applaud the growing number of countries and international bodies that apply it. We urge all that haven’t done so to do likewise,” says Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Kara McDonald.

Addressing an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting, McDonald says, “We must educate ourselves and our communities to recognize anti-Semitism in its many forms, so that we can call hate by its proper name and take effective action. That is why the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, with its real-world examples, is such an invaluable tool.״

The IHRA working definition is a 500-word document with a brief explanation of anti-Semitism followed by 11 examples of how it can manifest — most of which involve speech about Israel.

The definition has been adopted by dozens of countries and a growing list of organizations and universities to help monitor, teach about and combat anti-Semitism. But its Israel provisions have also become a flashpoint for debate. Adoption of the definition can signify different things to different groups.

Defenders of the definition say its Israel examples — which include comparing Israel to the Nazis, calling Israel racist and applying a double standard to Israel that isn’t applied to other countries — are helpful in identifying where anti-Israel activity turns into anti-Semitism. Its detractors, however, say that the examples can have the effect of branding all criticism of Israeli policy anti-Semitic.

Vaccines may be available for all ages from Wednesday

Vaccines may be made available to all age groups from Wednesday as demand for the shot slows, according to Hebrew media reports.

Top health officials are meeting on the issue.

Currently, Israelis over 35 are eligible to get the vaccine.

UK tests house-to-house in hunt for new coronavirus variant

The United Kingdom has begun house-by-house coronavirus testing in some communities as authorities try to snuff out a new variant of the virus before it spreads widely and undermines a nationwide vaccination program.

Authorities want to reach the 80,000 residents of eight areas where the variant, first identified in South Africa, is known to be spreading because a handful of cases have been detected among people who have had no contact with the country or anyone who traveled there.

Officials are dispatching home testing kits and mobile testing units in an effort to reach every resident of those communities. It is “critical” for everyone in these areas to stay at home unless travel is absolutely essential, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says.

“Our mission must be to stop its spread altogether and break those chains of transmission,” Hancock tells the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Public health officials are concerned about the variant first identified in South Africa because it contains a mutation of the virus’ characteristic spike protein that existing vaccines target. The mutation may mean the vaccines offer less protection against the variant.

As the door-to-door testing drive got underway, Public Health England also says scientists had discovered the same spike protein mutation in 11 cases involving another variant that is now the most prevalent form of the virus in England. The mutation had not previously been detected in the so-called Kent variant, named for the English county where it was first identified.

Dr. Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, says recent discovery of the spike protein mutation in the Kent variant was a “worrying development, though not entirely unexpected.”

“Closing borders/restricting travel may help a little with this, but there is now probably already a sufficient critical mass of virus-infected people within the endemic UK population to allow this natural selection/evolution to proceed — as this report suggests — so we really need to stick to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions as much as possible,” Tang says in a written statement.

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