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Evidence stage of Netanyahu’s corruption trial postponed until after elections

Proceedings to begin on April 5, less than two weeks after national vote; hearings will be held three times a week

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives a hearing in his corruption case at the Jerusalem District Court, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives a hearing in his corruption case at the Jerusalem District Court, February 8, 2021. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

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

Just 200 Israelis to be allowed into country per day from next week – reports

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev have decided during a meeting to restrict the number of Israelis allowed to enter the country daily to 200, from next week, according to Hebrew media reports.

Ben-Gurion Airport has been mostly closed since late January, to avoid the import of coronavirus strains. Those who returned to the country were ordered by the government into state-run isolation hotels, though many managed to get a dispensation to quarantine at home.

A Knesset committee, however, has refused to extend the hotel order further, requiring the government to find other solutions. As a result, in the interim, the government will limit the number of travelers to 200 until a legally viable monitoring system can be established, reports say.

Humanitarian exceptions will be made.

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

 

Bill giving municipalities data on the unvaccinated clears first reading

A bill that would allow the Health Ministry to hand over information on the unvaccinated to local authorities and the Education Ministry has been approved in its first Knesset reading.

The controversial proposal requires two more votes to become law.

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection at a mobile vaccine station on the beach in Tel Aviv, February 20, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Italian ambassador killed in Congo while in UN convoy

The Italian ambassador to Congo and an Italian carabineri police officer are killed while traveling in Congo in a UN convoy, the Foreign Ministry says.

In a brief statement, the ministry says Luca Attanasio and the officer were killed in Goma, the eastern regional capital. They were traveling in a convoy of the UN stabilization mission in Congo.

There are no other details.

In January 2019, Congo experienced its first peaceful democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 following the election of President Felix Tshisekedi. He succeeded strongman Joseph Kabila in a disputed election marked by allegations of large-scale fraud and suspicions of a backroom deal by Kabila to install Tshisekedi over an opposition candidate who, according to leaked electoral data, was the real winner.

The resource-rich nation the size of Western Europe suffered through one of the most brutal colonial reigns ever known before undergoing decades of corrupt dictatorship. Back-to-back civil wars later drew in a number of neighboring countries. And many rebel groups have come and gone during the UN mission’s years of operation, at times invading the eastern regional capital, Goma, where the ambassador was killed.

The UN peacekeeping mission, known by its acronym MONUSCO, has been working to draw down its 15,000-troop presence and transfer its security work to Congolese authorities.

Cabinet to debate night curfew over Purim, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The cabinet will convene today to discuss a Health Ministry proposal to impose a night curfew from Thursday through Sunday to prevent large gatherings and parties over the Purim holiday.

The curfew would begin at 8 p.m. and end at 5 a.m., Hebrew media reports say. The Health Ministry is also seeking to significantly scale back public transportation and limit movement between cities, according to the reports.

Purim begins on Thursday night in most of Israel and ends Friday evening, though its main festivities are marked in Jerusalem on Saturday night and Sunday.

Israelis dress in costumes and dance ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim in the settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion on February 12, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

15th-century Esther scroll, among oldest in world, gifted to National Library

A rare scroll of the Book of Esther, believed to have been penned in 1465 in the Iberian Peninsula, is donated to the National Library of Israel.

The artifact is one of the world’s oldest known scrolls recounting the Purim story, the library says.

It is “an incredibly rare testament to the rich material culture of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula.  It is one of the earliest extant Esther Scrolls, and one of the few 15th century megillot in the world,” says Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the National Library of Israel’s Haim and Hanna Salomon Judaica Collection, in a statement.

“The Library is privileged to house this treasure and to preserve the legacy of pre-Expulsion Iberian Jewry for the Jewish people and the world,” adds Finkelman.

The donation is made by Michael Jesselson and family, the library says.

15th-century Megillat Esther is donated to the National Library (Courtesy of National Library of Israel)

Hamas-ruled Gaza kicks off vaccination drive

The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip begins its coronavirus vaccination drive following the arrival of the first vaccines to the coastal area.

Former health ministers and several medical workers were inoculated with Russia’s Sputnik V jabs in front of dozens of cameras. More medical workers and patients with chronic diseases are to start receiving injections on Tuesday.

The inoculation drive “will result in more immunity among the people and further curb the spread of the pandemic,” says the Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra.

The area has received just 22,000 doses of vaccines, a tiny fraction of what is needed to immunize the strip’s 2 million people, of whom some 1.4 million are over age 18.

A Palestinian health worker prepares a shot of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Gaza City on February 22, 2021 (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Boeing recommends grounding 777s with certain type of engine

Boeing recommends that airlines ground all of 777s with the type of engine that suffered a catastrophic failure over Denver this weekend, as US regulators order United Airlines to step up inspections of those planes.

Several airlines, including United, said they were temporarily removing the aircraft from service after one of the American carrier’s planes made an emergency landing at Denver International Airport Saturday because its right engine blew apart just after takeoff. Pieces of the casing of the engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4000, rained down on suburban neighborhoods. None of the 231 passengers or 10 crew on board were hurt, and the plane landed safely, authorities said.

In this photo provided by the Broomfield Police Department on Twitter, debris is scattered in the front yard of a house at near 13th and Elmwood, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Broomfield, Colorado (Broomfield Police Department via AP)

US Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement Sunday that based on an initial review of safety data, inspectors “concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes.”

Dickson said that would likely mean some planes would be grounded — and Boeing says they should be until the FAA sets up an inspection regime. Japan ordered the planes out of service, according to the financial newspaper Nikkei, while saying that an engine in the same family suffered trouble in December.

Boeing says there are 69 777s with the Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines in service and another 59 in storage.

World’s virus death toll nears 2.5 million; over 111 million cases detected

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 2,466,453 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Monday.

At least 111,331,990 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 68,323,000 are now considered recovered.

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

On Sunday, 5,878 new deaths and 306,582 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 1,311 new deaths, followed by Brazil with 527 and Russia with 337.

The United States remains the worst-affected country with 498,901 deaths from 28,134,275 cases.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 246,504 deaths from 10,168,174 cases, Mexico with 180,107 deaths from 2,041,380 cases, India with 156,385 deaths from 11,005,850 cases, and the United Kingdom with 120,580 deaths from 4,115,509 cases.

Pall bearers carry a casket with the body of Lydia Nunez, who died from COVID-19, after a funeral service at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Los Angeles, July 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 189 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Slovenia with 182, the Czech Republic 181, the United Kingdom 178 and Italy 158.

Europe overall has 829,710 deaths from 36,546,417 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 659,523 deaths from 20,748,236 infections, and the United States and Canada 520,560 deaths from 28,979,364 cases.

Asia has reported 251,882 deaths from 15,910,075 cases, the Middle East 102,484 deaths from 5,286,266 cases, Africa 101,347 deaths from 3,829,663 cases, and Oceania 947 deaths from 31,975 cases.

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

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

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

IDF arrests 2 Palestinians over West Bank car-ramming, attempted shooting

Israeli security forces arrested two Palestinians suspected of carrying out an attempted shooting and successful car-ramming in the northern West Bank last month, the military says ahead of their indictment.

On January 9, the two men drove their car to a military checkpoint near the Palestinian village of Yabed armed with a loaded Carlo-style makeshift submachine gun. As they approached, the gun fell out of the car, so no shots were fired, but as they sped away, the driver rammed the vehicle into one of the soldiers at the checkpoint, lightly injuring him.

A manhunt was launched to track down the two suspects, and a gag order was placed on the case, barring outlets from publishing further details about it.

That has been lifted today, as the Israel Defense Forces reveals that the two suspects were arrested in a joint operation with the Shin Bet security service and Border Police days after the attack in the nearby Palestinian village of Qabatiya.

The military also releases helmet cam footage of the arrest, showing members of the elite counterterrorism Duvdevan unit raiding the village late at night and arresting one of the suspects from his bed.

The pair is due to be indicted in a military court later this month, the IDF says.

Israel says it received no advance warning of oil spill in Mediterranean

The Environmental Protection Ministry says it received no alert of the oil spill in the Mediterranean from neighboring countries or Israeli sources and only became aware of the environmental disaster when tar began washing up on Israel’s shores on February 17.

The Israeli ministry moreover says it has yet to receive any information from other countries on the spill.

The ministry estimates the spill happened 50 kilometers from Israel’s coast, outside its territorial waters. It says a simulation run by the ministry suggests it occurred off the coast of Ashkelon.

The ministry says 10 boats are suspects as perpetrators of the disastrous leak, one of which was ruled out when inspectors carried out a surprise check at the Ashdod port. Two of the 10 docked in Ashdod.

An unusual gag order has been placed on the case.

People clean tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean sea in Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Netanyahu meets with top officials on Iran nuclear deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a high-level meeting to hammer out Israel’s policy vis-a-vis the Biden administration on the Iran nuclear deal, according to Hebrew media reports.

The three-hour meeting is attended by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Israeli Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, Mossad intelligence agency head Yossi Cohen and other officials, the reports say.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Mossad head Yossi Cohen during a toast for the Jewish New Year on October 2, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

US President Joe Biden has expressed interest in rejoining the accord, negotiated when he was vice president in 2015. His administration has said it will consult with Israel on the issue.

The Prime Minister’s Office declines to comment on the meeting.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

Top researcher at Polish institute resigns over Nazi salutes

A top official at a Polish research institute charged with investigating Nazi and communist-era crimes resigns after photos emerged of him performing Nazi salutes in public a few years ago.

Tomasz Greniuch had been named earlier this month as director of the Wroclaw branch in southern Poland of the Institute of National Remembrance, known by its Polish acronym as IPN.

Shortly after his nomination on February 9, photos began to emerge of Greniuch performing Nazi salutes at far-right rallies several years ago.

IPN director Jaroslaw Szarek says in a statement that it was no longer possible for Greniuch “to continue to perform this function” and that he had accepted his resignation.

IPN was set up in 1999 to investigate and prosecute Nazi and communist-era crimes in Poland.

There was immediate criticism of IPN’s decision to nominate Greniuch, both in Poland and internationally.

“We were surprised to learn that the new director of the IPN Branch in Wroclaw, Tomasz Greniuch, sees nothing wrong with raising his hand in a Nazi salute,” the Israeli embassy said on Twitter earlier.

“In Poland, a country that suffered so much under Nazi occupation, there should be no place for the use of Nazi symbols,” it said, inviting Greniuch to visit Auschwitz to learn about “the dangers of Nazi ideology”.

But IPN had defended the nomination, with Szarek saying that Greniuch had “apologized” for his Nazi salutes and that this was “behavior from his youth.”

In a statement, IPN had quoted Greniuch saying: “I have never been a Nazi. I apologize once again for the irresponsible gesture from several years ago and I consider it a mistake.”

Poland’s nationalist government has been accused in the past of politicizing the IPN’s work, including a campaign against memorializing communist-era figures who fought against Nazism.

Polish official attitudes to the country’s troubled past have been in the spotlight already this month.

A Warsaw court on February 9 ordered two leading Holocaust historians to apologize to the descendant of a Polish village mayor they had referred to as betraying some Jews during World War II.

The defamation trial was widely condemned internationally and interpreted as an attempt to limit academic freedoms on researching a particularly emotionally charged period in Polish history.

Rivlin meets with visiting Egyptian energy minister

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Egypt’s energy minister, who is on a rare visit to Israel.

“We will continue to strengthen the cooperation between the countries and the connections between our peoples in all fields,” tweets Rivlin after the meeting.

Egypt’s Minister for Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek el-Molla met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday.

Former defense officials back US return to Iran deal, urge new long-term pact

Over 20 former senior military and intelligence officials in Israel send a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz backing the US return to the Iran nuclear deal, while calling for a new international agreement that will curtail Tehran’s other military activities in the region.

The letter, dispatched by former IDF deputy chief of staff Matan Vilnai — also a former Labor minister — welcomes the Biden administration’s efforts to reengage with Iran.

“We welcome the American initiative to bring Iran into compliance… with the nuclear deal, provided that it also requires Iran to fully comply with its obligations under UN Security Council resolution 2231 on the development of missiles and the IAEA inspections agreements,” the letter says.

US President Joe Biden (left) and Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. (Collage, AP)

The former security officials also call for a “new, long-term agreement that will address the loopholes and weaknesses discovered in the previous deal.”

They also say the Biden administration must lay out for Iran which violations will not be tolerated, and emphasize that the United States will not allow the Islamic Republic to obtain nuclear weapons — even if diplomacy fails.

The signatories include former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, former IDF general Nitzan Alon, former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, and over a dozen others.

 

New COVID-19 cases worldwide down by half compared to early January — WHO data

Data from the World Health Organization indicates coronavirus infections around the world are on the decline for the sixth week in a row. The week of January saw over 5 million new cases detected globally, while this past week saw 2.4 million, or less than half.

The sharp decline was prominent in the Americas, where new daily cases dropped from over 444,000 on January 10 to 169,000 on Sunday, according to WHO tallies. Europe also saw 150,000 fewer cases on Sunday as compared to six weeks earlier.

COVID-19 deaths are also dropping globally, albeit at a slower rate. During the week starting January 18, over 98,000 people died around the world of the virus, while the past week saw 66,000 deaths.

Since the start of the pandemic, over 111 million infections have been recorded and 2.46 million people have died.

Patients diagnosed positive for COVID-19 who are hospitalized at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital coronavirus ward receive a visit from family members (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

9 children, teenagers hospitalized in serious condition with COVID

Nine children and teenagers under the age of 19 are hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19, Channel 12 reports.

Among them is an 11-year-old girl who was hospitalized at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot on Saturday night.

Her father, identified only as Roi, tells Channel 12: “For all those who claim that children aren’t seriously sick from the coronavirus, I will tell you — look at the situation my daughter is in. She couldn’t breathe alone, not even for a short while.”

The girl’s condition is said to be stable.

Cabinet discussion on Purim restrictions delayed until Tuesday

The cabinet won’t discuss imposing possible restrictions over the Purim holiday today, with the debate postponed until tomorrow at the Blue and White party’s request, according to reports.

The delay comes after the centrist party demands to see the official health recommendations before the meeting.

Purim begins on Thursday evening.

Blinken: US wants to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ the Iran nuclear deal

The United States is prepared to return to the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran shows “strict compliance” with it, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says. It’s a new sign of Washington’s ambition to revive the deal rejected by former president Donald Trump even as Tehran appears to be backing further away from it.

Speaking to the UN-backed Conference on Disarmament, Blinken lays out a US wish list about many issues including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and space-borne threats in the future. He expresses concerns about a Russian anti-satellite weapons test last year and China’s “provocative and dangerous weapons development programs,” in addition to the message about Iran.

Blinken’s comments by video signaled another step by the Biden administration to re-engage with many international institutions and agreements that were shunned, rejected or largely ignored by Trump. It is the first time in years a top US diplomat has spoken to the disarmament body, which has become mainly a venue for countries to voice concerns about disarmament because it has failed to usher in any accords.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to staff at the US State Department during the first visit of US President Joe Biden (L) in Washington, DC, February 4, 2021. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

The comments on Iran are perhaps Blinken’s most timely message, coming in the wake of new signs over the weekend that Tehran is moving away from — not toward — compromise with Western governments over the nuclear deal.

Blinken says the United States is prepared to return to the accord “if Iran comes back into strict compliance” with it.

Blinken emphasizes that the United States remains committed to making sure that Iran “never acquires a nuclear weapon,” adding: “Diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal.”

Working with allies and partners, he says the US will aim to “lengthen and strengthen” the Iran nuclear deal, which was struck in 2015 between Iran and Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and the US. Trump pulled the US out three years later.

Iran has slowly walked away from all the nuclear deal’s limitations on its stockpile of uranium and has begun enriching up 20%, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels.

Dismissing reports, Netanyahu says there’s no vaccine shortage

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the start of the cabinet meeting, says there is no shortage of vaccines, rejecting reports warning of a possible shortfall in the coming weeks.

He also says the government will introduce restrictions over the Purim holiday this weekend to prevent an outbreak.

In blow to Trump, US Supreme Court won’t halt turnover of his tax records

In a significant defeat for former president Donald Trump, the US Supreme Court declines to step in to halt the turnover of his tax records to a New York state prosecutor.

The court’s action is the apparent culmination of a lengthy legal battle that had already reached the high court once before.

Trump’s tax records are not supposed to become public as part of prosecutors’ criminal investigation, but the high court’s action is a blow to Trump because he has long fought on so many fronts to keep his tax records shielded from view. The ongoing investigation the records are part of could also become an issue for Trump in his life after the presidency. Trump has called it “a fishing expedition” and “a continuation of the witch hunt — the greatest witch hunt in history.”

Then-US president Donald Trump gestures to the crowd as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, NC, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

The Supreme Court waited months to act in the case. The last of the written briefs in the case was filed October 19. But a court that includes three Trump appointees waited through the election, Trump’s challenge to his defeat and a month after Trump left office before issuing its order.

The court offers no explanation for the delay, and the legal issue before the justices did not involve whether Trump was due any special deference because he was president.

The court’s order is a win for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been seeking Trump’s tax records since 2019 as part of an investigation. Vance, a Democrat, had subpoenaed the records from the Mazars accounting firm that has long done work for Trump and his businesses. Mazars has said it would comply with the subpoena, but Trump, a Republican, sued to block the records’ release.

Vance’s office had said it would be free to enforce the subpoena and obtain the records in the event the Supreme Court declined to step in and halt the records’ turnover, but it was unclear when that might happen. In a three-word statement, Vance on Monday says only: “The work continues.”

Representatives for Trump do not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Deported from US, former Nazi guard agrees to be questioned by Germany

A 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard deported from Tennessee has agreed to be questioned by German prosecutors as they re-examine whether there is enough evidence against him to bring charges, authorities say.

Friedrich Karl Berger arrived Saturday in Frankfurt on a special flight from the US after being ordered deported to his native Germany by a court in Memphis last year.

He was met by Hesse state police detectives at the airport and told them he would be willing to be questioned by investigators with a lawyer present, says Bernd Kolkmeier, spokesman for the Celle prosecutor’s office, which is handling the case.

Organizing counsel and ensuring they are up to speed on the facts will take time, however, so the earliest such an interview would take place would be next month, Kolkmeier says.

Friedrich Karl Berger in 1959 (US Department of Justice)

A US immigration judge ordered Berger deported a year ago after finding that his “willing service as an armed guard of prisoners at a concentration camp where persecution took place” constituted assistance in Nazi-sponsored persecution.

The court found that Berger, who had been living in the US since 1959, had served at a camp in Meppen, Germany, near the border with the Netherlands, which was a subcamp of the larger Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg.

It said during the winter of 1945, prisoners in Meppen were held in “atrocious” conditions and were exploited for outdoor forced labor, working “to the point of exhaustion and death.”

Berger admitted to American investigators that he served in Meppen as a guard for a few weeks near the end of the war but said he did not observe any abuse or killings. The Memphis court found, however, that Berger had helped guard prisoners during a forced evacuation that took nearly two weeks and claimed the lives of 70 people.

Celle prosecutors shelved their initial investigation of him in December, however, saying they had been unable to refute his account. They’re now having another look, with him back on German soil, Kolkmeier says.

“Nothing has changed except that he is now in Germany and we can talk with him,” Kolkmeier says. “We can personally question him, which is naturally different than reading a transcript.”

Kolkmeier would not say whether Berger still had family in Germany nor where he was residing.

Berger, who was born in 1925 in the tiny northern town of Bargen, was serving in the German Navy when he was assigned to guard prisoners in Meppen in 1945, according to the Neuengamme Memorial’s website.

He served between January 28, 1945 and April 4, 1945, as an auxiliary attached to the SS command of the camp, according to Celle prosecutors.

Former Fatah terrorist who recruited Hezbollah’s Mughniyeh dies of COVID-19

Anis Naccache, a former pro-Palestinian terrorist who participated in the 1975 kidnapping of oil ministers in Vienna, dies after battling COVID-19, a Palestinian official and Lebanese media say. He was 69.

Naccache, a Lebanese citizen, participated in attacks around the world but spent much of the past two decades running a Beirut-based think tank and has frequently appeared on TV shows as an analyst on Middle Eastern affairs.

A staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, and in the past few decades of the so-called Iran-led axis of resistance, Naccache last tweeted on February 5 about the crisis over the formation of a new Cabinet in Lebanon.

Syria-based Palestinian official Khaled Abdul-Majid and Lebanese media outlets say Naccache died in a private hospital in the Syrian capital Damascus, where he had been undergoing treatment for days.

Born in June 1951, Naccache joined late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group in the early 1970s and also worked closely with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Among those Naccache recruited while with Fatah was Imad Mughniyeh, who later rose to become Hezbollah’s top operative and the suspected mastermind of dramatic attacks on the US Embassy and US Marine barracks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s. Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus in 2008 by a bomb planted in his vehicle in an attack blamed on Israel.

“Imad’s friend is gone. May his clean soul be blessed by a thousand mercies,” tweets Mughniyeh’s sister, Zeinab.

In the early 1970s, Naccache became a friend and associate of Venezuelan-born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a former political extremist known as Carlos the Jackal. In one of his most dramatic operations as a terrorist, Carlos led an attack on a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna in December 1975. More than 60 people, including 11 OPEC ministers, were taken hostage and three people were killed. Naccache took part in the operation.

Years later, Naccache and four other men were convicted in the July 1980 attack in France on Shahpour Bakhtiar, Iran’s prime minister before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Bakhtiar escaped injury but a policeman and a bystander were killed.

In 1990, France pardoned Naccache and his four accomplices. His release had been demanded by Iran-backed terrorists who set off deadly bombs around Paris in 1986.

Israel’s health minister condemns SNL for ‘anti-Semitic lie’

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein condemns “Saturday Night Live” after one of its actors suggests only Jews are being vaccinated in Israel, calling the allegation an “anti-Semitic lie.”

“Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population, and I’m gonna guess it’s the Jewish half,” cracked Weekend Update co-host Michael Che to a chuckling audience.

Saturday Night Live Weekend Update co-host Michael Che on February 20, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)

US Jewish groups have demanded he apologize.

“I’m updating you that anti-Semitism isn’t funny, it’s dangerous and false,” tweets Edelstein in Hebrew, tagging SNL.

“In Israel, more Arabs have been vaccinated than in most countries around the world. Satire is meant to be amusing, not horrifying. Your ‘joke’ is an anti-Semitic lie that could have dangerous repercussions in a country in which just two and a half years ago, 11 Jewish worshipers were killed just because they were Jews,” adds Edelstein, referring to the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein at a press conference in Jerusalem on February 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel to compensate families of missing Yemenite children

The government approves a NIS 162 million ($49.6 million) compensation plan for the families of immigrants to Israel during the state’s formative years, who say their children and siblings were taken from them by the authorities when they arrived in the country in the 1950s and then disappeared.

Known as the Yemenite children affair, the issue involves over 1,000 families — mostly immigrants from Yemen, but also dozens from the Balkans, North Africa, and other Middle Eastern countries — who have alleged their children were kidnapped from Israeli hospitals and put up for adoption, sometimes abroad.

The official explanation is that the children died while under medical care, but many families do not believe this.

Illustrative: Children being airlifted from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet, in front of an Alaskan Airlines plane. (Courtesy AJM)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement from his office, says: “The time has come that the families whose babies were taken from them receive recognition from the state and the Israeli government and also compensation.”

“The compensation will not atone for the terrible suffering the families have endured and are enduring,” he says, adding that he hopes the decision will bring “a modicum of comfort, which they deserve.”

Netanyahu also orders the Education Ministry to include the affair in Israeli history textbooks.

Under the plan, families whose children died and were not notified of the death at the time or told of the circumstances, or not immediately informed of the burial site, are eligible for NIS 150,000 ($45,000) in compensation. For the families of children whose fates still remain unknown, the sum is NIS 200,000 ($61,000).

Iran commutes sentence of Iranian-American, 84, but bans him from leaving

Iran has commuted the sentence of an ailing 84-year-old Iranian-American but barred him from leaving, his son says, urging US President Joe Biden to prioritize the case.

Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF official, was detained in February 2016 when he traveled back to Iran after the arrest in Tehran of his son Siamak Namazi, a businessman.

Siamak’s brother, Babak, revealed that the Iranian judiciary commuted the sentence to time served a year ago based on his serious medical problems.

“As you can imagine, we were overjoyed that finally the nightmare may be over for my father and he can leave Iran to get the much-needed medical attention and procedures and to spend what little time he has left with his grandchildren,” Babak Namazi tells an online news conference.

Babak says his father went on a “wild goose chase” despite ill health to obtain a new passport to leave Iran but that it turned out the Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards had placed a travel ban on him.

“It is beyond outrageous that Iran continues to play with my father’s life,” he says.

“My family expects that President Biden and his administration will not make concessions or deals with Iran that do not include — and, indeed, requires a precondition — the release of my father and Siamak,” he says.

Baquer Namazi requires a stent for the main artery to his brain, which is 80 percent blocked and puts him at grave risk of a stroke, says the family’s lawyer, Jared Genser.

The Biden administration last week offered to meet with Iran under the aegis of the European Union to jumpstart diplomacy to revive a denuclearization agreement.

Iran could increase uranium enrichment to 60%, supreme leader says

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the Islamic Republic could increase its uranium enrichment to 60 percent, according to Iranian media reports.

Iran is currently enriching uranium to 20%, which is just a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with the family of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in early 2020, and top military leaders, in Tehran, Iran, December 16, 2020. (Official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Amsterdam mayor wants state to return $22 million Nazi-looted painting

The mayor of Amsterdam asks a Dutch committee to reassess its decision on a Holocaust restitution claim that keeps a $22 million painting looted by the Nazis in the city’s hands.

Mayor Femke Halsema says the Dutch Restitutions Committee should “re-evaluate” its 2018 ruling on “Painting with Houses,” a work by Wassily Kandinsky, which is now the property of the city-owned Stedelijk Museum. The committee said the “public interest” of having the painting on display there outweighs that of the family trying to retrieve it.

The painting was illegally taken from its original Jewish owners.

“Returning this artwork will mean a lot to the victims and is important for acknowledging the injustice perpetrated,” Halsema writes.

Tourists stand near a disputed Wassily Kandinsky painting at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, July 10, 2019. (Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

The committee’s decision, which was upheld in court, diverges from international restitution norms. It provoked international pressure and protests.

The family of a Holocaust survivor named Irma Klein has been fighting for about decade in court to retrieve the painting. Klein and her husband sold “Painting with Houses” in the 1940s for the modern-day equivalent of about $1,600 because they needed money to survive the Holocaust.

Last year, an independent commission of inquiry into the progress in the restitution of looted art published an 86-page report titled “Striving Toward Justice,” which concludes that the Netherlands was an early leader in addressing the issue of stolen art, but “its reputation in recent years has been damaged by a limited number of refusals,” including the Kandinsky.

Poll: People who rely on social media for news more likely to believe fake stories

Americans who rely on social media as their main source of news are more likely believe false or unproven stories about important topics such as politics and COVID-19, a survey shows.

The Pew Research Center report finds that people who used social platforms for news were less informed about major public affairs topics and more susceptible to believing rumors and hoaxes.

The report comes with social media platforms becoming a growing source of news amid struggles by traditional media in the digital age.

The Pew report finds some 18 percent of respondents in the survey got most of their political and election news via social media.

An iPhone displays the Facebook app, August 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

But those people were less likely to correctly answer fact-based questions about politics and current events than those relying on print, broadcast or news apps.

Social media news consumers were more aware of specific false or unproven stories about the coronavirus and said they had seen more misinformation about the pandemic such as claims that Vitamin C could prevent infection, the survey finds.

On political news, social media users were less informed about facts such as the function of the state-by-state Electoral College votes, which ultimately decide who wins the White House, or the unemployment rate.

The report comes from a series on interviews with some 9,000 US adults from November 2019 through December 2020.

Khamenei: If we wanted nuclear weapons, no one could stop us

Iran’s supreme leader says no country, including Israel, could prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons if it so chose.

“That international Zionist clown has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons. First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him wouldn’t be able to stop us,” tweets Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“Second, we are not after nuclear weapons. This is based on Islamic fundamentals and commands that prohibit weapons that are used for killing ordinary people. The one that massacres 220,000 people with nuclear weapons is the US.”

He also says the Islamic Republic must make good on its pledge to end international inspections at its nuclear facilities. Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament months ago passed a law stipulating that if the US does not lift sanctions by this Sunday, Iran will suspend some IAEA inspections from Tuesday.

“God willing, tomorrow another part of this legislation will be implemented. This law, which is good, should be executed precisely,” he tweets.

In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

 

Over 3 million Israelis, roughly 1/3 of population, have received both vaccine shots

The Health Ministry records another 3,324 coronavirus cases since midnight, bringing the number of active infections to 39,692.

The number of serious cases stands at 801, continuing a downward trend. The death toll rises to 5,593.

As of this evening, over 3 million Israelis have received both doses of the vaccine, and another 1.4 million got the first shot.

 

Rockets target US embassy in Iraqi capital

A volley of rockets targets the high-security zone in the Iraqi capital that is home to the US embassy, the military and security sources say.

The attack is the third in a week to target Western diplomatic, military or commercial installations across Iraq after months of relative calm.

At least two rockets hit within the perimeter of the Green Zone, where the American and other foreign embassies are based, according to a statement by Iraq’s security services.

A security source tells AFP that at least one rocket hit the headquarters of Iraq’s National Security Service near the US diplomatic mission.

Others crashed into nearby residential districts, including a multi-story parking complex in the neighborhood of Harithiya, a witness tells AFP.

The attack comes one week after more than a dozen rockets targeted a military complex at the Arbil airport in northern Iraq, which hosts foreign troops from a US-led coalition helping Iraq fight jihadists since 2014.

Two people were killed, including one foreign contractor based at the airport, who died immediately, and a civilian, who died of his wounds on Monday.

DR Congo accuses Rwandan Hutu rebels of killing Italian ambassador

The Democratic Republic of Congo accuses a notorious Rwandan Hutu rebel group of ambushing a UN convoy in eastern DRC on Monday, killing Italy’s ambassador and two others.

“A convoy of the World Food Programme (WFP) was the victim of an armed attack by members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR),” the interior ministry says in a statement, adding that four people were also kidnapped, one of whom was later found.

Local authorities urge government to reopen all schools on March 1

Local authorities are urging the government to reopen all schools around the country on March 1, Channel 12 reports.

The proposal comes after over a dozen cities, including Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Haifa, threaten to reopen classes for 7th-10th graders from Wednesday. Younger grades and grades 11-12 have already resumed studies in low-infection and medium-infection areas.

It is not immediately clear whether the government will adopt the plan.

Fifth-grade students return to school in Efrat, February 21, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/ Flash90)

Health minister denies grades 7-10 could head back to school next week

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein dismisses reports that grades 7-10 could head back to class from next week, saying the “rumors” are “untrue.”

“The Health Ministry maintains that we cannot make the mistake of moving up the next stage in the reopening of the economy before two weeks have passed from the previous easing [of restrictions],” he says.

Health Ministry: 1% of 3,000 COVID samples found be South African variant

The Health Ministry says it has genetically sequenced 3,000 coronavirus samples from labs around the country since the end of January.

Twenty-seven of them, or nearly one percent, were found to be the South African variant. The ministry says there were certain areas where that rate was higher.

Experts fear the vaccines may prove less effective in combating the South African variant.

Israelis in quarantine hotels to be released at midnight

Israelis who are self-isolating in state-run hotels will be released to their homes for the remainder of their quarantine from midnight, after lawmakers refused to extend the government order forcing travelers entering the country into the facilities.

The government has yet to propose an alternative tracking program for travelers.

All arriving travelers will now go directly to home quarantine.

 

IDF won’t punish soldiers for failing to detect woman’s crossing into Syria

A military investigation into how an Israeli woman crossed into Syria earlier this month finds that while troops on the ground failed to spot the border breach, which became an international incident, no soldiers are believed to have acted against orders, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson says.

According to the probe, which was conducted by the IDF Northern Command, the woman, whose name is barred from publication, arrived to the Druze village of Majdal Shams on February 1. She evidently knew the area where she planned to cross into Syria well and set off the following morning.

She climbed a security fence — an older, lower barrier than the more robust steel fencing used elsewhere along the border — triggering a sensor, alerting the military to a possible breach.

A soldier operating a security camera scanned the area for signs of an infiltration. However, as the protocols that the soldier was following focused was on people entering Israel, rather than leaving it, the Israeli woman’s breach went undetected as she had already crossed into Syria.

As a result, the surveillance camera operator did not call in ground troops to investigate and dismissed the alert.

The military says that the soldiers involved followed their protocols so there is no room for punishment, but that the episode will be studied in order to prevent similar incidents in the future.

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)

IDF Central Command head makes rare visit to West Bank outpost

The head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, makes a rare visit to an illegal outpost in the West Bank.

Yadai’s visit to Maoz Esther was aimed at defusing tensions between settler youth and state authorities, following the death of Ahuvia Sandak in December, during a police chase. Sandak, 16, had lived at the outpost.

He was killed in a car crash last month while fleeing from police, after allegedly throwing rocks at Palestinians. His death set off furious protests in Israel against police, as well as a spate of anti-Palestinian attacks.

According to police, Sandak’s group fled from police before losing control of their vehicle. Sandak’s defenders view his death as a police killing; they allege that the police car hit his vehicle from behind, causing it to run off the road.

Evidence stage of Netanyahu’s trial postponed until after elections

The Jerusalem District Court postpones the evidentiary stage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial until April 5.

The decision means the criminal proceedings will begin after the March 23 elections.

The court says hearings will be held three times a week, from Monday through Wednesday, from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as he arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on February 8, 2021, PM Netanyahu is on trial on criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. (Reuven Kastro/POOL)

Israeli ambassador speaks to Kerry, vows cooperation to fight climate change

Israel Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan says he just got off the phone with the Biden administration’s climate envoy, John Kerry, during which they discussed “the environmental challenges we are facing.”

“I told him I would be a soldier in the fight against climate change. We agreed to meet soon to explore new initiatives & discuss the vision of zero carbon economy,” tweets Erdan, who also serves as Israel’s ambassador to the UN.

His office told The Times of Israel last month that the envoy would seek to share Israeli innovation and environmental technology that addresses climate change — an issue on which he will likely find common ground with Democrats, a growing number of whom have become vocally frustrated with the right-wing Netanyahu government.

Court chides attorney general for failing to approve Netanyahu probes in writing

The Jerusalem District Court has rejected a demand by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorneys to cancel the criminal indictments against the premier over the attorney general’s apparent failure to approve the criminal investigations in writing.

But the court chides Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for the oversight, acknowledging a “defect” in the legal procedures.

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