search
Live updates (closed)

Thousands of IDF troops to assist in clean up of disastrous tar spill on coast

Military to assist in mapping areas damaged by pollution, cleaning beaches, as head of parks authority calls incident Israel’s ‘worst environmental disaster in a decade’

Israelis stand around a 17-meter fin whale washed ashore on the Nitzanim beach, near the city of Ashkelon, February 19, 2021. (Photo by Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Israelis stand around a 17-meter fin whale washed ashore on the Nitzanim beach, near the city of Ashkelon, February 19, 2021. (Photo by Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

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

Anti-Netanyahu protest group says it’s holding rallies despite harsh weather

Weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are set to take place tonight nationwide for the 35th consecutive week.

Demonstrators are calling for the premier’s resignation due to his indictment on corruption charges, as well as for his handling of the pandemic and its economic fallout.

Rallies are set to take place outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, as well as his private residence in Caesarea, and at hundreds of bridges and traffic junctions nationwide.

The protests are held this week, amid unusually harsh winter weather, under the slogan, “Even in rain and cold, the protest will not stop.” (It rhymes in Hebrew.)

The protest group Movement for Quality Government says, “We will continue to act and protest as a reminder that the prime minister is in the midst of serious criminal proceedings that prevent his ability to simultaneously manage the country.”

Vaccine is 98.9% protective against death caused by COVID, Health Ministry says

The Health Ministry says its latest data shows the vaccine is 98.9% effective at preventing death caused by COVID-19.

The vaccine is also 99.2% protective against serious illness, reduces morbidity by 95.8% and decreases the chance of hospitalization by 98.9%.

The data represents Israelis who have received both doses of the vaccine, 14 days after their second dose, versus people who have not received any inoculation.

The data is representative of findings up to February 13, the Health Ministry says.

Israel is overwhelmingly using the Pfizer vaccine. As of Friday, over 4.25 million Israelis had received a first shot — out of a population of 9.3 million — of whom some 2.9 million had received the second.

The Health Ministry findings follow results nine days ago by the Maccabi HMO, which reported zero deaths among 523,000 people a week or more after their second vaccination shot.

Israel asks Egypt to mediate prisoner exchange talks with Hamas — report

The Al Arabiya news outlet says Israel has asked Egypt to mediate talks with Hamas over a prisoner exchange.

The two sides have held recent talks under Egypt’s aegis, the site says, citing “sources.”

Egypt has demanded that Israel make compromises for talks to move forward, and Hamas asked for a loosening of restrictions on fishing and a port, as well as prisoner releases, the report said.

Hamas is holding two Israeli civilians captive, and holds the bodies of two fallen Israeli soldiers.

Russia says it has found first case of H5N8 avian flu in humans, alerts WHO

MOSCOW — Russia says its scientists have detected the first case of transmission of the H5N8 strain of avian flu to humans and has alerted the World Health Organization.

In televised remarks, the head of Russia’s health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, said scientists at the Vektor laboratory had isolated the strain’s genetic material from seven workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia, where an outbreak was recorded among the birds in December.

The workers did not suffer any serious health consequences, she added.

“Information about the world’s first case of transmission of the avian flu (H5N8) to humans has already been sent to the World Health Organization,” Popova said.

There are different subtypes of avian influenza viruses.

While the highly contagious strain H5N8 is lethal for birds it has never before been reported to have spread to humans.

Popova praised “the important scientific discovery,” saying “time will tell” if the virus can further mutate.

“The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion,” Popova said.

People can get infected with avian and swine influenza viruses, such as bird flu subtypes A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) and swine flu subtypes such as A(H1N1).

According to the WHO, people usually get infected through direct contact with animals or contaminated environments, and there is no sustained transmission among humans.

H5N1 in people can cause severe disease and has a 60 percent mortality rate.

Located in Koltsovo outside the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, the Vektor State Virology and Biotechnology Center has developed one of Russia’s several coronavirus vaccines.

In the Soviet era, the top-secret lab conducted secret biological weapons research and still stockpiles viruses ranging from Ebola to smallpox.

Speaking in televised remarks, Vektor head Rinat Maksyutov said the lab was ready to begin developing test kits that would help detect potential cases of H5N8 in humans and to begin work on a vaccine.

The Soviet Union was a scientific powerhouse and Russia has sought to reclaim a leadership role in vaccine research under President Vladimir Putin.

Russia registered coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V in August, months before Western competitors and even before large-scale clinical trials.

After initial skepticism in the West, the Lancet journal this month published results showing the Russian vaccine — named after the Soviet-era satellite — to be safe and effective.

Avian flu has raged in several European countries including France, where hundreds of thousands of birds have been culled to stop the infection.

US study suggests vaccines up to 89% effective at preventing infection

A new US study says that vaccines may prevent transmission of the coronavirus, which has been a central question about the inoculations.

The Mayo Clinic, in a study of 31,000 people in four US states who received at least one vaccine shot, found the inoculations were around 83% effective at preventing infections 36 days after the first shot.

For people who got both doses, the figure climbed to 89%.

Fifteen days after the first shot, protection against infection was 75%, said the study, which has not been peer-reviewed.

The study covered people who had received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Vaccines have been found to be highly effective at reducing symptomatic COVID-19 and mortality, but there is a dearth of data on whether they prevent transmission and can stop the virus from circulating within a population.

The question is crucial because most of the population in the US and worldwide remains unvaccinated and other groups, mainly children, are ineligible for the shots.

Netanyahu says no Israeli vaccine doses went to Syria after captive release

Prime Minister Netanyahu says no Israeli vaccine doses have been sent to Syria, after Israel negotiated for the release of an Israeli woman who crossed the border into Syria and was held by the regime there.

Israel released two Syrian shepherds and reduced the sentence of a security prisoner in what was widely seen as an exchange deal, but other details of the agreement were kept under wraps by Israel’s military censor.

Foreign reports said Israel had agreed to buy $1 million of Russian vaccines for Syria.

In response to a reporter’s question on the issue, Netanyahu says, “I can say that not even one Israeli vaccine dose went to this thing.”

The woman crossed into Syria around two weeks ago, apparently of her own volition, under unclear circumstances.

She returned to Israel via Moscow on Friday, following Russian mediation.

“We brought the woman home, I’m happy we did it, but beyond that I’m not adding anything because that was what Russia requested,” Netanyahu says.

First pictures shown of Israeli woman who crossed into Syria

Channel 12 shows the first pictures seen to date of the Israeli woman who crossed into Syria two weeks ago, and was returned under a deal brokered by Russia.

The pictures are blurred to prevent her from being identified.

The woman, whose name has not been released for publication, is said to be a 25-year-old from Modiin Illit.

The Israeli woman who crossed into Syria and was returned in a deal brokered by Russia, in a shown by Channel 12 on February 20, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

She was flown home from Moscow overnight Thursday-Friday, and is said to be have spent the weekend in a Shin Bet facility, being questioned — gently, reports have stressed — about the incident.

Rivlin calls for urgent national action after environmental disaster off coast

President Reuven Rivlin calls for immediate national action following a major environmental disaster off of Israel’s coast.

Reuvlin says, “The images of pollution on our beaches are awful.”

“It’s terrible for our animals and plant life and for the sea that has been blackened by the tar,” Rivlin says. “Now is the time for an urgent national plan before we face an unprecedented ecological disaster.”

Reports of the pollution first emerged on Thursday when a 17-meter dead baby fin whale washed up on Israel’s coast, along with other wildlife.

Nature and Parks Authority chief Shaul Goldstein says the incident is Israel’s “worst environmental disaster in a decade.”

A number of people who volunteered to participate in a cleanup operation of the massive tar spill were hospitalized earlier in the day after inhaling apparently toxic fumes.

The cause of the spill — involving dozens of tons of tar spilled at sea — was not definitively clear and was under investigation.

From as north as Haifa and down south to Ashkelon near Gaza, black strips could be seen along the Mediterranean coastline. At Gador Nature Reserve near the northern city of Hadera, the tar smeared fish, turtles, and other sea creatures.

‘Green Pass’ website crashes, the night before it goes into use

The Health Ministry website (Hebrew link) that issues the “Green Pass” for vaccinated Israelis crashed and has been unable to issue the certificates for hours, the night before the passes are supposed to be put into use.

On Sunday morning Israel will roll back some of the major restrictions imposed in late December as part of its third lockdown, with stores, gyms, hotels and other venues allowed to reopen, for Green Pass holders.

People who have recovered from the virus can also get the pass.

The Health Ministry launched the long-awaited program on Thursday.

To be allowed to open Sunday, relevant businesses must scan people for the pass and only accept those carrying it.

The pass has seen additional problems, with reports of thousands of people scheming to forge the pass to illegally partake in newly-allowed activities.

‘No fence will stop me,’ woman who crossed to Syria previously wrote on Facebook

Channel 13 shows another picture from the Facebook page of the Israeli woman who crossed into Syria, was returned in a deal brokered by Russia overnight Thursday-Friday, and whose name has not been released for publication.

The Israeli woman who crossed into Syria and was returned in a deal brokered by Russia, in a picture shown by Channel 13 on February 20, 2021 (Channel 13 screenshot)

The Facebook page features numerous photographs and clips of the woman, a 25-year-old from Modiin Illit, out and about in glorious natural surroundings.

“No fence will stop me,” she writes in one post cited by the TV station.

The woman’s crossing into Syria earlier this month was not her first time attempting to cross Israel’s borders. According to Israeli authorities, she had twice tried to enter the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip — once by land and once on a makeshift raft — and once attempted to cross into Jordan. All three times she was captured by either the military or the police.

People recovered from COVID should get single vaccine shot: Health Ministry

The Health Ministry recommends that people who have recovered from COVID-19 receive a single vaccine dose, instead of the two doses other people are administered.

The decision is made by the Health Ministry’s Priority Committee that advises on vaccination guidelines.

The committee recommends that people get a single dose at least three months after recovering from the virus, Channel 12 reports.

Around 400,000 Israelis currently fall into that category.

There have been 744,513 confirmed cases in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

An Israeli study issued on Friday said that Pfizer’s vaccine is 75 percent effective two to four weeks after a single shot.

500 rally against Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 35th consecutive weekly protest

Some 500 anti-Netanyahu protesters rally near his official residence in Jerusalem, marking the 35th consecutive Saturday night demonstration against the premier.

Around 150 protesters are demonstrating at Netanyahu’s private residence in the coastal city of Caesarea.

The demonstrators are mainly from the protest organization Movement for Quality Government and the so-called Black Flag group.

The protesters call for Netanyahu to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges, as well as his handling of the pandemic and its economic fallout.

The protests take place this week despite the harsh winter weather that has included unusual cold and snow in some areas.

Hundreds of small rallies are expected to take place on bridges and at traffic junctions around the country.

Protesters march against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in Jerusalem, February 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Abbas orders Palestinian public freedoms boosted before planned vote

AP — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issues a decree ordering the respect of freedom of expression ahead of planned legislative elections in May, a step demanded by Palestinian factions who discussed the polls in Egypt-hosted talks this month.

The decree dispels some of the doubts overshadowing what would be the first Palestinian national elections in 15 years, although other hurdles remain unsolved.

The presidential decree bans all police pursuits and detentions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas terrorist group, for “reasons related to freedom of expression and political affiliation.” Prisoners held on such justifications must be freed, says the decree.

The elections on May 22 are hoped to be the first in the Palestinian territories since Hamas won the last vote in the Palestinian territories in 2006.

A year later, the Islamic group fought deadly street battles with pro-Abbas forces, culminating with Hamas violently taking over Gaza and separating it politically from the West Bank.

Palestinian Central Election Commission workers register citizens in preparation for elections, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 10, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Through 14 years of division, rights groups accused Hamas and the PA of cracking down on each side’s adversaries and opponents.

Hamas has urged the halt of all politically related arrests in the West Bank, and Abbas’ Fatah party demanded the same in Gaza.

The call for elections came in response to a series of crises Fatah and Hamas face that weakened the standing of the Palestinian cause in the turbulent regional and international spectrum. The PA is struggling with financial crisis and failure to reach a peace deal with Israel to create Palestinian statehood. In Gaza, Hamas has held power under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade meant to isolate it and weaken its weaponry, rendering it unable to deliver the minimum of basic services.

Palestinian factions are heading to Cairo next month for another round of talks in a bid to settle thorny issues that have blocked them from mending their rift, including security, employees, judiciary and expanding the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Campaign ad from extremist candidate sparks row between right-wing leaders

A campaign ad from extremist political candidate Itamar Ben Gvir sparks a row between right-wing lawmakers Bezalel Smotrich and Naftali Bennett.

Ben Gvir, from the Otzma Yehudit faction, releases a campaign video on social media that attacks Arab and left-wing lawmakers, as well as Bennett.

Smotrich’s Religious Zionism faction partnered with the extremist-right Kahanist Otzma Yehudit in a deal pushed by Netanyahu ahead of next month’s election.

Smotrich did not release the video, and claimed that he did not know about it ahead of its release.

The campaign ad shows a video of a fictional group text conversation between left-wing political leaders including the Arab majority Joint List’s Ayman Odeh, Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg, Labor’s Merav Michaeli and Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.

The group jokes around in the video and adds right-wing party leaders Bennett of Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope.

The video shows a fictional text from Labor candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana, saying, “I asked a Holocaust survivor one time, ‘What’s your number?’ hahaha.” Mara’ana, an Arab Israeli filmmaker, has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks.

At another point, Ma’aranana posts an image of Hitler with a heart emoji.

Lapid then agrees to demands from Arab lawmakers in the fictional chat, including canceling the right of return, which allows diaspora Jews to emigrate to Israel, and for establishing a “Hamas Recognition Day.”

Zandberg calls for a day for former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a monthly visit to his gravesite.

At the end of the ad, Lapid writes, “Believe me, we’re lucky there’s not a government with Ben Gvir.”

The ad closes with images of Ben Gvir and Smotrich and the text, “Winning together.”

Bennett wrote on Facebook, “Bezalel, the time has come to say enough.”

“There is a limit. I have been quiet until now over all these attacks because I did not want to fight with you but tonight you crossed a line.”

Smotrich says after the video’s release, “The video that was released tonight without our knowledge is a serious matter… the Holocaust is out of bounds. Period.”

He accused Bennett of aiming to form a government with Lapid and Michaeli, but said, “The debate needs to be held within boundaries.”

In another response, Smotrich says, “Naftali, I already clarified that the video is a serious incident and that I don’t stand behind it. Great that you’re celebrating this and doing a lap. Now let’s talk about values.”

Thousands of IDF troops to assist in clean up of major tar spill, army says

The Israel Defense Forces and Nature and Parks Authority say in a joint message that the military will assist in cleaning up a major tar spill off of Israel’s coast.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and Nature and Parks Authority head Shaul Goldstein have agreed that “starting this week, thousands of IDF soldiers will assist workers and volunteers of the Nature and Parks Authority in mapping areas damaged by the tar pollution, cleaning beaches and in the removal” of pollutants, the statement says.

Reports of the pollution first emerged on Thursday when a 17-meter dead baby fin whale washed up on Israel’s coast, along with other wildlife.

The spill is shaping up to be a major ecological disaster. Goldstein called it Israel’s “worst environmental disaster in a decade.”

A number of people who volunteered to participate in a cleanup operation of the massive tar spill were hospitalized earlier in the day after inhaling apparently toxic fumes.

The cause of the spill — involving dozens of tons of tar spilled at sea — was not definitively clear and was under investigation.

Vaccination certificate can be be used as ‘Green Pass,’ Health Ministry says

The Health Ministry says vaccination certificates can be used as a “Green Pass” for now, after the site issuing the passes collapsed, a day before they are set to go into use.

The Health Ministry says it already said the certificates could be used as a Green Pass.

The ministry website issuing the passes has been down for most of the night.

“There are heavy loads on the service issuing the Green Card, and therefore there may be difficulties,” the ministry says. “At the same time, most applications have been completed successfully and tens of thousands of people have already have their Green Pass.”

On Sunday morning Israel will roll back some of the major restrictions imposed in late December as part of its third lockdown, with stores, gyms, hotels and other venues allowed to reopen, for Green Pass holders.

People who have recovered from the virus can also get the pass.

The Health Ministry launched the long-awaited program on Thursday.

To be allowed to open Sunday, relevant businesses must scan people for the pass and only accept those carrying it.

Clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State leave at least 7 dead

AFP — Iraqi security forces clash with the Islamic State group north of Baghdad, leaving at least five jihadists and two security personnel dead.

A joint force of army troops and state-sponsored tribal fighters raided an IS hideout in the leafy plains of Tarmiyah, according to a statement from the military.

“We had learnt that IS was holding a meeting there to plan for attacks on the capital Baghdad,” Ahmad Salim, head of the Baghdad Operations Command, says near the site of the fighting.

Ensuing clashes kill five IS fighters and two tribal pro-government forces, the military statement says.

The new raid comes nearly one month to the day after twin suicide bombers killed more than 30 people in the packed Tayaran Square, the bloodiest such attack in Baghdad in three years.

Security sources said the two jihadists had infiltrated the city from the north.

Biden to hold first bilateral meeting as president with Trudeau on Tuesday

AFP — Joe Biden will attend his first, albeit virtual, bilateral meeting as US president on Tuesday, with the honor going to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It’s not Biden’s first time to prioritize his Canadian counterpart, who also received the new president’s first call to a foreign leader just two days after taking office.

The virtual meeting will allow the two “to review joint efforts” on matters such as COVID-19 and climate change, according to a White House statement issued Saturday.

The White House does not mention the Keystone XL pipeline connecting the Alberta oil sands to coastal refineries in Texas, which became a highly sensitive issue after Biden decided to block its completion.

In this May 19, 2020, file photo, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during his daily news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Ontario. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

The project, which was supported by Ottawa but criticized by environmentalists, was launched in 2008, before being blocked by former president Barack Obama’s administration. Under president Donald Trump, however, it was given the green light.

Biden campaigned in part on rescinding the Trump administration’s permit for the project, part of a larger promise to fight climate change.

Trudeau has expressed disappointment at Biden’s move to scrap the pipeline.

Expert says tar spill recovery will take months

An environmental expert says the tar spill on Israel’s coast is one of the country’s worst-ever pollution disasters, and that the recovery will take months.

Dr. Dor Adelist, a marine scientist from the University of Haifa, tells Walla news, “The greatest fear is that there is a lot more tar in the sea right now that is poisoning wildlife, and still hasn’t reached us.”

He said the spill was the result of an accident on a ship, but that the vessel has not yet been identified, and that the spill was the worst disaster of its kind in over 40 years.

Netanyahu calls the spill “a severe incident.”

“The images of animals covered in tar are shocking to all of us,” Netanyahu says.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed