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Half of Israel’s population has received at least one vaccine dose

Health Ministry data shows over 4.5 million administered first shot, with 3.1 million fully vaccinated

A young Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A young Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on February 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Cabinet to discuss night curfew over Purim

The Health Ministry is set to present a plan to ministers to impose a night curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. over the upcoming holiday of Purim.

The plan also reportedly seeks to restrict public transportation and movement between cities.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, in an interview with Galey Israel radio, implores Israelis to stay home this weekend.

“Tonight we will bring a proposal to the cabinet for a night curfew that will allow the public to go to synagogue to hear the megillah and later stay home,” says Edelstein, adding that the ministry has seen invitations to underground parties and is monitoring a spike in alcohol sales.

“If we aren’t careful on Purim, we’ll sit at home on Passover,” he says, referring to the Jewish holiday next month.

An Israeli dressed up in costume ahead of the holiday of Purim, puts on tefillin in downtown Jerusalem, March 8, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“I am asking those who, like me, hunger to host guests and family on Seder night, to keep the rules on Purim,” adds Edelstein.

Purim begins on Thursday night in most of the country and ends Friday night, though some of the customs are deferred until Sunday in Jerusalem.

Bill enabling cities to access info on unvaccinated residents faces final votes

Lawmakers approve for its final votes a controversial bill allowing the Health Ministry to hand over personal information on the unvaccinated to local authorities and the Education Ministry.

The proposal is expected to be passed into law on Wednesday in its second and third readings.

Report: Israel to give vaccines to Honduras in exchange for diplomatic support

Israel will exchange coronavirus vaccines for international support, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The first country to agree to the arrangement is Honduras, the report says, adding that a plane will arrive in Israel from the Central American country today to pick up a shipment of shots.

An Israeli official tells the station Honduras won’t be the last country to agree to such a deal.

Israel to send vaccines to PA, other unspecified countries

The Prime Minister’s Office announces that it will send a shipment of thousands of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority.

According to a statement, Israel has been contacted by numerous countries with requests for vaccines.

“Israel doesn’t manufacture the vaccines itself and has informed the countries that the quantities ordered by Israel are designated for the vaccination of its population and there is no expectation that it can significantly help until the vaccination drive in Israel ends,” the statement says.

But it adds that the stocks of vaccines in the country allow it to transfer a symbolic number of immunizations to Palestinian medical staff and to other countries that have asked Israel for help. The statement does not name the countries or the type of vaccines that will be donated. It says thousands of immunizations will be sent to Ramallah.

Tal Schneider contributed to this report.

A medic administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a fellow medic during a campaign to vaccinate front-line medical workers, at the health ministry, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Feb. 3, 2021. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

World’s COVID death toll hits 2,474,437

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 2,474,437 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Tuesday.

At least 111,641,390 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 68,552,400 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 Monday, 6,595 new deaths and 284,765 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 1,297 new deaths, followed by Brazil with 639 and Spain with 535.

The United States remains the worst-affected country with 500,313 deaths from 28,190,622 cases.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 247,143 deaths from 10,195,160 cases, Mexico with 180,536 deaths from 2,043,632 cases, India with 156,463 deaths from 11,016,434 cases, and the United Kingdom with 120,757 deaths from 4,126,150 cases.

Gravediggers carry the coffin of a COVID-19 victim at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, January 22, 2021. (Marcio James/AFP)

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 189 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Czech Republic with 182, Slovenia 182, the United Kingdom 178 and Italy 159.

Europe overall has 833,084 deaths from 36,667,016 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 661,324 deaths from 20,800,396 infections, and the United States and Canada 522,012 deaths from 29,038,265 cases.

Asia has reported 252,667 deaths from 15,949,216 cases, the Middle East 102,728 deaths from 5,315,547 cases, Africa 101,675 deaths from 3,838,878 cases, and Oceania 947 deaths from 32,072 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.

World Bank might suspend financing of Lebanon vaccines after lawmakers skip line

The World Bank threatens to suspend financing for coronavirus vaccines in Lebanon over what it says are violations by members of parliament who were inoculated without registering in advance.

Such a move by the World Bank would have grave consequences as Lebanon struggles through severe financial and economic crises and is in desperate need of aid. The World Bank said last month it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people. The vaccination campaign in the country began on February 14 and Lebanon has so far received nearly 60,000 shots of Pfizer-BioNTech.

“Everyone has to register and wait for their turn! #nowasta,” the World Bank’s regional director Saroj Kumar Jha tweets, using a Lebanese term meaning that there should not be nepotism.

Lebanon is notorious for corruption and nepotism, which has brought the Mediterranean nation to bankruptcy.

Parliament’s secretary general Adnan Daher is quoted by state media denying that the 16 legislators had jumped the line, which prioritizes medical workers and residents at least 75 years old. Daher says all of the legislators who received an inoculation had registered and were properly in line.

Members of Lebanese security forces and staff look on during the unloading of boxes of the first shipment of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, upon arrival to Rafic Hariri University Hospital in the capital Beirut, on February 13, 2021. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Czech Republic, Guatemala also said to get vaccines from Israel

The Czech Republic and Guatemala are among the countries set to receive vaccines from Israel in exchange for diplomatic support for the Jewish state, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The station had previously named Honduras as one of the countries that will benefit from the arrangement.


Government approves NIS 45 million plan to clean up oil spill

The cabinet earmarks NIS 45 million ($13.7 million) toward efforts to clean up the Mediterranean and the Israeli shoreline after a disastrous oil spill that has left the coast coated in tar.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel announces the government support for the recovery plan.

“We will do everything to repair the ecological damage so that we can go back to enjoying Israel’s beautiful beaches and open beach season on time,” she tweets.

An Israeli soldier wearing a full protective suit holds a piece of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea during a cleanup operation at Sharon Beach Nature Reserve, near Gaash, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israeli settler, 17, charged with attacks on Palestinians

Prosecutors file an indictment for a string of crimes against an Israeli settler, 17, who is accused of throwing stun grenades into Palestinian homes in the West Bank and causing other damage to their property.

With the filing of the charges at the Central District Youth Court in Ramle, an undercover investigation into the attack, which happened on January 4, becomes public.

The defendant is indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime for racist reasons, aggravated battery, carrying a weapon, attempted destruction of property using explosives, deliberate damage to a vehicle as well as other crimes, police say in a statement.

The defendant was a minor at the time of the alleged attack in the Palestinian village of Sarta in the northern West Bank.

He was arrested last week along with four other suspects and has been under house arrest. The other suspects are still being investigated, police say.

According to the indictment, the defendant and seven others, three of whom have yet to be identified, drove to Sarta in two vehicles in the middle of the night and entered the village on foot armed with stun grenades, large stones, and a sharp instrument.

A stun grenade thrown into a Palestinian home in Sarta in the West Bank by Israeli settlers, January 2021. (Israel Police)

The defendant is accused of throwing stun grenades into two homes as Palestinian families slept inside. Together with the others, the defendant also allegedly hurled stones at four homes and vehicles, causing damage.

As a result of the attack, a Palestinian man, 61, was injured in the forehead from broken glass and his daughter, 17, suffered a serious anxiety attack, dizziness, and confusion from the incident.

Virus czar warns parts of economy could be closed again if infections rise

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash warns Israel could shut down schools and parts of the economy that were reopened this week if COVID-19 infections rise further.

“The infection rates are dropping, but in the past two days the transmission rate has changed direction and has started to rise slightly. Is this the result of the reopening of education and the economy? It could be, but we don’t know for sure,” he tells ultra-Orthodox reporters in a special briefing.

“If we see the rates rise, and the basic reproduction number nears 1, we will be forced to close things that have been reopened,” he adds.

Ash implores members of the ultra-Orthodox community to heed the gathering rules during this weekend’s Purim holiday.

“We recall what happened during the previous holiday and you are familiar with the fragile situation today. We must stop the rise in infections which could happen as a result of behavior over Purim,” he says.

“What will we say in two weeks if we are forced to close the education system because of a rise in infections? It isn’t reasonable that we should shut down schools because of Purim,” says Ash.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash at a vaccination center in Herzliya, December 20, 2020 (Flash90)

Netanyahu to back night curfew over Purim, starting at 8:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the imposition of a nationwide night curfew on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 8:30 p.m. until 5 a.m. to prevent Purim holiday gatherings.

During a tour of a vaccine center in Acre, the prime minister says he’ll back the Health Ministry proposal when it’s brought to the cabinet this evening.

“This is to prevent what happened last Purim, we don’t want a repeat,” Netanyahu says, warning the virus is still spreading despite Israel’s vaccination campaign.

COVID-denying, anti-vax doctor loses medical license

An outspoken doctor who denies the coronavirus and opposes vaccination has lost his medical license, the Health Ministry says.

Arieh Avni had recently opened a clinic in Bnei Brak, according to Channel 13, where he continued to spread misinformation on the virus and offer forged immunization certificates and exemptions from wearing masks for pay.

Avni recently opined that “anyone who administers a vaccine is, to me, like Mengele,” referring to the notorious Nazi death camp doctor.

Haredi parties, Smotrich’s faction to sign pledge backing Netanyahu — TV

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is signing the ultra-Orthodox political parties and Betzalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party onto a pledge to back him as premier after the March elections, according to Channel 12.

The so-called “loyalty pledge” prevents the parties from independently holding coalition negotiations, the TV report says.

After spat over Trump support, Young Israel council replaces entire board

The National Council of Young Israel replaces its entire executive board, a stark move away from its vocally pro-Donald Trump leadership, whose statements have led to controversy in the Orthodox synagogue association.

The council represents more than 100 Orthodox synagogues across the country. It is more than a century old, and in recent years its national officers had sparked backlash from some member synagogues over their embrace of right-wing politics in the United States and Israel.

In 2019, 23 member synagogues objected when the movement was the first Jewish-American organization to defend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu working with a far-right political party. One of those synagogues, in Atlanta, ended up leaving the movement. Later that year, the national Young Israel gala had the feel of a Jewish Trump rally, with a lineup of Republican officials speaking and red MAGA-style hats on the tables.

Member synagogues elected the new board as a slate last week. The new council president, Rabbi David Warshaw, is a synagogue executive in New York. He said the group will place less of an emphasis on political advocacy.

“We will continue to speak out on Israel,” Warshaw tells Jewish Insider, “but the purpose of NCYI is not to be an advocacy organization.”

Ex-Capitol security officials to testify on law enforcement failures during riot

Testifying publicly for the first time about the January 6 insurrection, former security officials are poised to cast blame on the Pentagon, the intelligence community and each other for the disastrous failure to anticipate the violent intentions of the mob and defend the Capitol.

In prepared remarks before two Senate committees Tuesday, former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund will describe a scene that was “like nothing” he had seen in his 30 years of policing.

“When the group arrived at the perimeter, they did not act like any group of protesters I had ever seen,” the ousted chief will say, arguing that the insurrection was not the result of poor planning but of failures across the board from many agencies.

In this January 6, 2021, photo, Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Congress is set to hear from the former US Capitol security officials for the first time about the massive law enforcement failures on January 6, the day the violent mob laid siege to the building and interrupted the presidential electoral count.

Three of the four scheduled to testify Tuesday before two Senate committees resigned under pressure immediately after the deadly attack, including Sund.

Much remains unknown about what happened before and during the assault, and lawmakers are expected to aggressively question the former officials about what went wrong. How much did law enforcement agencies know about plans for violence that day, many of which were public? How did the agencies share that information with each other? And how could the Capitol Police have been so ill-prepared for a violent insurrection that was organized online, in plain sight?

The rioters easily smashed through security barriers on the outside of the Capitol, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police officers, injuring dozens of them, and broke through multiple windows and doors, sending lawmakers fleeing from the House and Senate chambers and interrupting the certification of the 2020 presidential election. Five people died as a result of the violence, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot by police as she tried to break through the doors of the House chamber with lawmakers still inside.

Former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger and former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving will speak publicly for the first time since their resignations at the hearing, which is part of a joint investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules Committee. They will be joined by Sund and Robert Contee, the acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, who sent additional officers to the scene after the rioting began.

‘Green Pass’ to be given to Israelis with antibodies — report

The Health Ministry will allow Israelis who are tested and found to have coronavirus antibodies to access sites open to the vaccinated and those who recovered from COVID-19, according to Channel 12.

Israelis seeking this route will have to pay for the serological testing to get the “Green Pass,” the television report says. The pass enables entry to gyms, hotels and other recreational facilities.

The Health Ministry confirms the report to the station, saying the policy change is in the works.

Finance minister says he’s unaware of plan to give vaccines to other countries

Finance Minister Israel Katz says he’s unaware of any plan to hand over vaccines to various countries in exchange for diplomatic support.

“I sign the checks and I didn’t sign off on anything like this,” he tells Army Radio.

Netanyahu: Pfizer promised ‘continuous supply’ of vaccines

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there will be no shortage of vaccines in Israel.

“I have important news. I spoke yesterday evening with my friend, Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla. We agreed that there will be a continuous supply of Pfizer vaccines without any shortage by Pfizer; without any shortage, interruption or halt. Go and be vaccinated. We are also receiving more and more and more vaccines from Moderna. Go and be vaccinated,” says Netanyahu, according to a statement from his office.

The comments follow reports suggesting there could be a shortfall.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (C) attend a ceremony for the arrival of a plane carrying a shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech anti-coronavirus vaccines, at Ben Gurion Airport on January 10, 2021. (Motti Millrod/Pool/AFP)

Israeli study: 95% of former COVID patients suffer no irreversible damage

A study of 166 recovered COVID-19 patients in Jerusalem finds that 94 percent still report symptoms three months on, notably shortness of breath, though most symptoms disappear within six months.

The research conducted by Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center further finds that 95% of recovered patients do not suffer irreversible respiratory or cardiac damage.

“We can cautiously report that based on our study, the majority of symptoms passed within a period of three to six months,” says Professor Gabriel Izbicki, director of the Pulmonary Institute at Shaare Zedek.

“Almost all the patients we studied after six months reported a marked improvement in their overall conditions and the test results reflected that. We found that regular fitness activities of three to four times a week were direct contributors to helping the patient recover that much more quickly.”

Family members wearing safety gear visit a relative at the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, on February 3, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In win for activists, area marked for construction to become national park

A years-long campaign to stop construction on the hills south of the city of Modiin in central Israel concludes with success as a subcommittee of the National Planning rules that the area will instead be turned into a national park.

The planning council had already recommended delaying the building plans, pushed by the Housing and Construction Ministry, at least until all housing plans within the existing city had been implemented, and until completion of an updated national masterplan for building, development and preservation.

On Tuesday, the Society for the Protection of Nature, which helped to lead the campaign to preserve the hills, praises National Planning Council Director Dalit Zilber for having convinced the various organizations involved to back the creation of a national park.

The SPNI describes the area as encompassing a rare habitat of herbaceous shrubland at the meeting point between the Samarian hills and the foothills that lead down to the coastal plain.

An area south of Modiin will become a national park, in a win for environmental activists who opposed construction there (Dov Greenblat)

UK, France, Germany condemn Iran for limiting international inspections

Britain, France and Germany say they “deeply regret” Iran’s decision to restrict site inspections by the UN’s nuclear watchdog after a US refusal to lift existing sanctions.

The three European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran say they are “united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision.”

“It will significantly constrain the (International Atomic Energy Agency’s) access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information,” they add.

An Iranian security guard walks past a gate of the Bushehr nuclear power plant as its reactor building is seen in the background, just outside the city of Bushehr 750 miles (1,245 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, August 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Smotrich said refusing to sign ‘loyalty pledge’ to Netanyahu

Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich is refusing to sign a so-called “loyalty pledge” to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the March elections, according to Hebrew media reports.

The agreement would prevent Smotrich from holding independent coalition negotiations.

The ultra-Orthodox parties — United Torah Judaism and Shas — have reportedly signed the pledge.

Bezalel Smotrich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (File; courtesy)

4.5 million Israelis, about half of the population, have received at least 1 vaccine dose

According to Health Ministry data, over 4.5 million Israelis — roughly half of the Jewish state’s total population — have now received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, and more than 3.1 million have received both shots.

The latest figures show 4,507,325 Israelis have had their first shot. Of them, 3,123,136 have had the second.

An Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection at an IKEA retail store in Rishon Lezion, February 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s population is some 9.3 million. But around 3 million Israelis are not eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and people who have recovered from COVID-19, among other reasons. People who have recovered from COVID are likely to be given a single inoculation.

The Health Ministry says another 2,835 coronavirus cases have been detected since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 41,177. On Monday, 4,763 cases were diagnosed and 7 percent of tests returned positive.

The ministry says 793 people are in serious condition, 263 of them on ventilators. The death toll is 5,631.

US Senate confirms Biden’s pick for UN ambassador

The US Senate confirms President Joe Biden’s choice to lead US diplomacy at the United Nations. The vote for Linda Thomas-Greenfield reflects a divide between the Biden administration’s determination to re-engage with the world body and former President Donald Trump’s diplomacy that often left the US isolated internationally.

Senators vote 78-20 to confirm Thomas-Greenfield to the post, which will be a Cabinet-level position.

Thomas-Greenfield, a retired 35-year veteran of the foreign service who resigned during the Trump administration, will be the third African-American and second African-American woman to hold the job.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations nominee Linda Thomas-Greenfield testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Many Republicans opposed her because they said she was soft on China and would not stand up for US principles at the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield had rejected those concerns during her confirmation hearing, telling senators that a 2019 speech she gave to the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute had been a mistake and was not intended to be an endorsement of Chinese government policies.

In the speech, she had praised China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road global infrastructure program in Africa and called for “a win-win-win situation” where the US and China would promote good governance and the rule of law.

She told senators that China is a strategic adversary and “their actions threaten our security, they threaten our values and they threaten our way of life, and they are a threat to their neighbors and they are a threat across the globe.”

Thomas-Greenfield spoke of China’s diplomatic inroads during the Trump administration, which pursued an “America First” policy that weakened international alliances. And she made clear there will be a change under Biden to re-engage internationally and promote American values.

She stressed that American leadership must be rooted in the country’s core values — “support for democracy, respect for universal human rights, and the promotion of peace and security.” She said that effective diplomacy means developing “robust relationships,” finding common ground and managing differences, and “doing genuine, old-fashioned, people-to-people diplomacy.”

At her hearing, she recalled going to a segregated high school and then to Louisiana State University “as a consequence of a lawsuit.” She said she was “not the norm” among the Ivy League graduates who also joined the Foreign Service in 1982.

“And yet, I had an extraordinary 35-year career, that culminated as the assistant secretary of state of African affairs,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “To me, that represents the progress, and promise, of America.”

Government to debate renewing hotel quarantine for travelers

In addition to discussing Purim restrictions, the cabinet is also set to discuss the renewal of mandatory quarantine in state-run hotels for those entering the country, Hebrew media reports say.

The order expired last night after lawmakers refused to extend it, urging the government to advance a better system.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash will push for the renewal of hotel quarantine as a stopgap measure until an alternative monitoring system can be introduced, reports say.

Gantz condemns Netanyahu’s vaccines-for-diplomacy deals

Defense Minister Benny Gantz condemns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to give surplus vaccines to the Palestinians and to a handful of foreign countries in exchange for diplomatic perks.

“The fact that Netanyahu is trafficking [in] the vaccines of Israeli citizens, which were paid for with their tax money, without accountability, shows that he thinks he’s running a monarchy, not a state,” tweets Gantz.

“Such a process requires discussion and approval. Only a security, diplomatic, or urgent medical need could justify such a process and Netanyahu must present this to the public or at the very least have it approved by the relevant forums,” adds Gantz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Yonatan Sindel, David Cohen/Flash90)

For 3rd time in days, Rivlin scraps events after learning Netanyahu to attend

President Reuven Rivlin cancels his appearance at a reopening ceremony for the Khan Theater in Jerusalem after learning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be there.

The theater is holding its first show tonight for the vaccinated, after a five-month closure.

This is the third time in several days that Rivlin has canceled appearances over Netanyahu’s last-minute participation at those events.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, September 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

His office says, “Unfortunately, the president cannot partake in the ceremony… after it became clear that it would take on a political tone, in the spirit of the election campaign.”

Israel is holding its fourth election in two years on March 23. Rivlin and Netanyahu, both longtime Likud members, have a famously acrimonious personal relationship.

UN confirms Iran increasing uranium enrichment purity, quantities

The UN’s atomic watchdog says its inspectors have confirmed that Iran has started enriching uranium up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels. It’s the latest in a string of violations of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reports in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press that as of February 16, Iran had added 17.6 kilograms (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched to 20% to its stockpile.

Overall, it increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to 2,967.8 kilograms (6,542.9 pounds), up from 2,442.9 kilograms (5,385.7 pounds) reported on November 2.

The nuclear deal signed in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds). It also allows enrichment only up to 3.67%.

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

IAEA concerned about possible nuclear material at Iran site flagged by Israel

The UN’s atomic watchdog says it’s “deeply concerned” by the possible presence of nuclear material at an undeclared site in Iran.

“The agency is deeply concerned that undeclared nuclear material may have been present at this undeclared location and that such nuclear material remains unreported by Iran under its safeguards agreement,” a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency seen by AFP says.

“After 18 months, Iran has not provided the necessary, full and technically credible explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles,” the report says.

The site in question is in the Turquzabad district of Tehran, previously identified by Israel as an alleged site of secret atomic activity.

Sources say there is no indication the site has been used for processing uranium, but that it could have been used for storing it as late as the end of 2018.

Illustrative: Iran’s alleged atomic warehouse in Turquzabad, Tehran. (YouTube screenshot)

Netanyahu says Israel negotiating purchase of millions more vaccines

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells his ministers that Israel is negotiating the purchase of millions of additional coronavirus vaccines, in anticipation that it will need to administer boosters in six months’ time, Army Radio reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives his second shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, on January 9, 2021. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Poll: Likud poised to win 28 seats; Netanyahu can’t pull together government

A poll by Channel 12 predicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud would pick up 28 Knesset seats in the upcoming election, but does not appear able to form a majority government.

The poll gives 18 seats to Yesh Atid; 13 to New Hope; 11 to Yamina; 9 to the Joint List; 8 to Shas; 7 to United Torah Judaism; 7 to Yisrael Beytenu; 6 to Labor; 5 to Blue and White; 4 to Meretz; and 4 to Religious Zionism.

Netanyahu, along with his ultra-Orthodox and right-wing allies, would together have 47 seats, which rises to 58 if Naftali Bennett’s Yamina joins. That’s still three seats shy of a Knesset majority.

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

His rivals, meanwhile, would have 60 seats among the center-right, and another four seats from the left-wing Meretz — technically winning a majority though the parties are divided by deep ideological differences and over who should be premier.

The survey is conducted with 506 respondents, and has a margin of error of 4.4%.


Ministers approve night curfew over Purim

An Israeli dressed up in costume ahead of the holiday of Purim, puts on tefillin in downtown Jerusalem, March 8, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An Israeli dressed up in costume ahead of the holiday of Purim, puts on tefillin in downtown Jerusalem, March 8, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The cabinet approves a nighttime curfew over the Purim holiday this weekend to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The curfew will be in effect on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 8:30 p.m. and ending at 5 a.m.


Health officials to TV: Airport could remain closed until after Passover

Health officials warn Israel’s main international airport will likely remain closed until after the Passover holiday next month, Channel 12 reports.

Ben-Gurion Airport has been mostly shuttered since January 25, with some humanitarian exceptions granted. Thousands of Israelis are stranded abroad.

The empty arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on February 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel, Saudis hold high-level talks on Biden’s Iran policies — report

Senior Israeli and Saudi officials have recently held several phone calls to discuss the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

During the conversations, the Saudis also expressed concern over the new US administration and lament its focus on human rights violations in the kingdom, the report says.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic ties, but have maintained clandestine ties.

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