The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
The Knesset gives final approval to controversial legislation allowing the Health Ministry to give local authorities personal details of residents who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The proposal is passed into law in its second and third readings.
The country’s public health union has warned against the legislation, saying it will cause damage due to privacy concerns.
Details of those who are fully vaccinated will not be given to the local authorities.
A German court convicts a former Syrian intelligence service agent for complicity in crimes against humanity, in the first court case worldwide over state-sponsored torture by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
Eyad al-Gharib, 44, is found guilty over his role in helping to arrest protesters and deliver them to a detention center in Damascus in autumn 2011.
“The accused is sentenced to four years and six months for aiding and abetting a crime against humanity in the form of torture and deprivation of liberty,” judge Anne Kerber says.
A notorious Iraqi preacher said to be the Islamic State jihadist group’s de facto leader in Germany is sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison by a German court.
The 37-year-old Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah Abdullah, better known as Abu Walaa, was accused of directing a jihadist network that radicalized young people in Europe and helped them travel to Iraq and Syria.
He was found guilty of belonging to a foreign terrorist organization, helping to plan subversive violent acts and financing terrorism.
The verdict marks the end of a “special case” that was “very long and very complex,” judge Frank Rosenow says as he hands down the verdict after 245 days of hearings.
With Iran moving to limit some UN inspections of its nuclear facilities, Israel’s foreign minister says its actions threaten regional stability and calls for an immediate international response.
“Iran is crushing the last vestiges of oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency and continues to challenge and threaten regional stability,” Gabi Ashkenazi says in a statement.
“Iran’s extreme steps necessitate an immediate international response,” he says. “The Iranian policy is a statement of intentions as to its desire to continue to clandestinely develop nuclear capabilities.”
Authorities suspect passengers on a so-called rescue flight from New York to Tel Aviv Sunday boarded the plane with forged negative coronavirus tests, while carrying the pathogen.
At least 11 of the ultra-Orthodox passengers on the flight, approved despite the general flight ban to enable Israelis abroad to return to the country, have been diagnosed with the virus since arriving, sending dozens of passengers on the flight into quarantine.
Passengers report hearing some of those same passengers boasting they had acquired fake negative test results to board the flight.
A passenger tells Channel 12 the ultra-Orthodox passengers also failed to wear masks for much of the time and stood near other passengers. He says repeated requests to flight attendants to enforce mask-wearing and distancing did not help, and that the latter were afraid of confronting the Haredi passengers on the matter.
The Health Ministry in coordination with other investigative authorities is probing whether the passengers forged their tests.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derides right-wing rivals Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope and Naftali Bennett of Yamina, claiming they will partner with the centrist Yesh Atid and its leader Yair Lapid after the election to form “a left-wing government.”
“It’s the eve of Purim, and Bennett and Gideon keep wearing costumes. They say all day ‘We won’t sit with Lapid.’ You ask them about the weather and they say ‘We won’t sit with Lapid.’ They’ve got to deny it, but they have no way of forming a government without it being a left-wing government headed by Lapid,” Netanyahu says.
Notably, neither party has said it will not sit with Lapid in a coalition, only that he will not lead that coalition.
Kan News reports that the number of countries Israel will provide thousands of vaccines to in exchange for diplomatic backing has risen to at least 19.
The countries include Cyprus, Mauritania, Hungary, Honduras, Guatemala, Czech Republic, the Maldives, Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Guinea and more.
Each country will receive between 1,000 and 5,000 doses from Jerusalem.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin orders the nation’s top counterintelligence agency to redouble its efforts to address what he describes as Western attempts to destabilize the country.
Speaking at a meeting of top officials of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main KGB successor agency, Putin points at the “so-called policy of containment of Russia,” charging that it includes efforts to “derail our development, slow it down, create problems alongside our borders, provoke internal instability and undermine the values that unite Russian society.”
The Russian president adds that those activities by foreign powers, which he doesn’t name, are aimed at “weakening Russia and putting it under outside control.”
Russia’s relations with the West have plummeted to post-Cold War lows after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, and, most recently, the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a sweeping crackdown on protests demanding his release.
The Health Ministry will begin a pilot program to allow returnees from abroad who do not want to quarantine at government-run hotels to isolate at home with an electronic bracelet.
The ministry says in a statement the idea is “to provide more efficient alternatives to arrivals in the country, and out of a desire to limit harm to personal freedoms.”
Numerous rights groups are criticizing the passage of a new law to allow the Health Ministry to provide local authorities with data on unvaccinated individuals.
Hadas Ziv of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel tells Channel 12 says the new legislation is “dangerous,” and calls it “a draconian law that crushes medical ethics and patient rights, and whose repercussions could be disastrous.”
Several groups intend to petition the High Court of Justice against the law.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatens military action against Iran in order to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining an atomic bomb, though he says that he also supports a comprehensive deal to end the country’s nuclear program and halt its military entrenchment in the region.
Gantz’s comments come as US President Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to open negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program and a return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
“We all need to make sure that if an agreement is signed with Iran, it will be one that ends its nuclear project, enables long-term effective oversight and inspection, and puts a stop to Iranian entrenchment in Syria, Yemen and Iraq,” Gantz says.
“In parallel, the IDF is currently working to build up our forces and is preparing itself for any scenario, including one in which we would need to take operative action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” he adds.
Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine protects against COVID-19, according to an analysis by US regulators today that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic.
The Food and Drug Administration’s scientists confirm that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. The agency also says J&J’s shot — one that could help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two — is safe to use.
That’s just one step in the FDA’s evaluation of a third vaccine option for the US On Friday, the agency’s independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the long-anticipated shot. Armed with that advice, FDA is expected to make a final decision within days.
The Anti Defamation League’s midwest regional office has called out a former head of Israel’s military prosecution in the West Bank for a “misogynistic, racist and completely disgusting” tweet targeting Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Maurice Hirsch had responded to a post in which Omar wished her daughter a happy birthday, writing “Do you know who her father is? Is it your brother or your lover?”
He appeared to be referencing false reports that the congresswoman married her brother.
This tweet, in response to a birthday message from @IlhanMN to her daughter, is misogynistic, racist and completely disgusting. It requires an immediate apology. There should be no place on Twitter for hate like this. pic.twitter.com/cDtSrZtVML
— ADL Midwest (@ADLMidwest) February 23, 2021
ADL says the post “requires an immediate apology. There should be no place on Twitter for hate like this.”
Jerusalem and Washington will launch strategic discussions on Iran in the coming days, which will focus on the two nations’ intelligence assessments regarding the Islamic Republic nuclear program, Axios reports.
The sides are planning quiet, serious dialogue in a bid to avoid a public fight over US policy on Iran under the new Biden administration.
They will reconvene the working group on Iran, first set up under the Obama administration, which is led by the national security advisers of both nations.
Yesterday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, regardless of whether a multilateral accord is in place to prevent Tehran from doing so.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows 60% of Americans have confidence in US President Joe Biden’s ability to handle foreign policy issues.
This figure is lower than that of Barack Obama during his first year in office (74%) but better than Donald Trump’s numbers (46%).
A majority, 69%, also say they believe Biden’s leadership will bring other countries to regard the US more positively.
A new video being shared online shows a shop owner in the city of Holon stab himself in the head after getting fined for placing his merchandise out on the street.
City inspectors fined the man for placing stands on the sidewalk. The fine does not appear to be tied to coronavirus restrictions.
In response the man began stabbing himself in the head with a sharp object, as inspectors wrestled him to the ground to prevent him from further harming himself.
He was lightly to moderately injured and rushed to hospital.
תוצאה של מצוקת בעלי העסקים?
בעל עסק בחולון קיבל דו"ח ודקר את עצמו לעיני השוטרים. pic.twitter.com/l92vrimcu0
— אריאל אלחרר (@ariel_elharar_) February 24, 2021
The municipality says the man has been fined several times in recent months for similar incidents and has attempted self-harm in the past while filming the incidents.
There is speculation that the man’s extreme reaction is tied to the economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, though this has not been confirmed.
Ghana becomes the first country to receive vaccines from the global Covax scheme, paving the way for poorer nations to catch up with inoculation drives in wealthier parts of the world to stamp out the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 217 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, according to an AFP tally, though the vast majority have been given in high-income countries.
The head of the World Health Organization applauds the first delivery of the Covax vaccines with an enthusiastic tweet.
“At last!” posts WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “A day to celebrate, but it’s just the first step.”
The WHO is one of several organizations behind Covax, which aims to deliver at least two billion doses globally by the end of the year.
Iranian police say they arrested a man plotting bomb attacks in the capital, calling him a “suicide bomber” linked to “opponents” of the Islamic Republic.
The man was arrested last week carrying “a handgun and explosives” at a tollbooth on entry to Tehran, the city’s police chief General Hossein Rahimi says, according to Iribnews, the state television site.
Police were alerted by the driver of the taxi that the unnamed suspect was traveling into the city, but police “deactivated” the explosives and arrested him.
Rahimi says the man had planned to “sabotage several places in Tehran,” but gives no details of potential targets.
Police say they will deploy checkpoints in 24 locations around the country as they enforce the Purim curfew decided upon by the government, which will be in effect Thursday-Saturday between 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Those breaking the curfew will be fined NIS 500 ($150). Meanwhile, those hosting parties or large events during the holiday against the rules will be fined between NIS 5000-10,000 ($1,500-$3,000).
At a press conference with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he hopes to vaccinate the entire over-16 population by the end of March and fully open up the country by April.
Senior officials in the Health Ministry tell Channel 12 they were not briefed on Netanyahu’s presentation ahead of time and say they are not aware of the details of his plan.
“There are over a million Israeli adults who have not even gotten one vaccine dose and could still fall seriously ill and God forbid die. All over the world people are waiting for vaccines. In Israel, vaccines are waiting for people. We need to change that now,” Netanyahu says.
Edelstein says the upcoming Purim holiday “must not be reminiscent in any way of last year’s Purim and the results we saw from those revelries.”
“Remember, the children are not yet vaccinated. Let’s protect them and avoid parades and parties.”
Netanyahu also acknowledges that Israel will transfer vaccines to other countries.
“I decided [to do it], and we sent symbolic numbers that do not deprive a single Israeli citizen of a vaccine,” he says.
“It was done in return for things we already received, through many contacts in various areas that I will not detail here,” Netanyahu says. “I think it absolutely buys goodwill.”
Nature and Parks Authority says 70 tons of tar, contaminated material scraped off Israel’s shores so far
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority says some 70 tons of tar and contaminated material have been scraped off and collected along Israel’s shores — from beaches, nature reserves and national parks — since efforts began to tackle last week’s oil spill disaster.
The worst of the pollution remains “on the rocky surfaces on the beaches,” where it is difficult to remove, it says. The sandy surfaces on most beaches are relatively clean, it says, although there are still considerable quantities of lumps and flakes of tar. The cleanup requires “filtering large areas of sand” — work that requires large teams, it says.
“The authority is trying to find effective mechanical and technological measures to grapple with the small lumps of tar, and more advanced measures to tackle the tar on rocky surfaces,” it adds.
Some 2,000 INPA volunteers joined the cleanup today, it says. “Tomorrow, about 200 medical and other staff from hospitals around the country are expected to join the groups of volunteers cleaning and rehabilitating the beaches, including medical teams who have been dealing with the coronavirus for the past year.”
The Environmental Protection Ministry said earlier today that it was beginning its efforts to collect and safely dispose of what is said would be 1,200 tons of tar and contaminated materials from the spill. These will be taken to biological treatment facilities or appropriate landfill sites, the ministry said in a statement. It specified that it was removing and safely disposing of the tar, and materials contaminated by the spill, including “sand and solid waste such as plastic, wood, algae and shells.”
The ministry says most of the contamination that remains now is on rocky surfaces where it is particularly difficult to remove.
Twenty ultra-Orthodox arrivals from New York were barred from entering the country today after it was discovered they had used forged permits from the committee that currently approves entry to the country.
One family of 13, who are not Israeli, will be deported tonight, with another family of seven, in which the mother is Israeli, still under review.
Germany’s foreign minister urges Iran to accept diplomatic overtures coming from the West in order to preserve the 2015 nuclear accord.
Heiko Maas accuses Tehran of further undermining the transparency it is required to show under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, after Iran began restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities yesterday.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran added 17.6 kilograms (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 20% to its stockpile as of Feb. 16 — far past the 3.67% purity allowed under the JCPOA.
“In the end, Iran needs to understand that what’s important is to de-escalate and accept the offer of diplomacy that’s on the table, including from the United States,” Maas says.
The Health Ministry has banned the sale of fish or any seafood from the Israel’s Mediterranean shore until further notice due to the major oil spill that has inundated Israel’s coast with black tar.
The ministry says there is no current evidence of a health hazard in seafood, but it is awaiting test results from labs.
The spill is believed to have caused the deaths of marine wildlife.
Earlier today the Environmental Protection Ministry launched a major operation to dispose of tons of tar scraped so far from the country’s beaches in an ongoing cleanup following the huge spill that severely contaminated most of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price avoids giving a US commitment that the capital of a future Palestinian state will be in East Jerusalem.
Pressed on the matter at the daily press briefing, Price dodges and instead regurgitates an old statement offering support for a two-state solution.
“The Biden administration believes that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state while living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state. That is precisely why the two-state solution continues to be the crux of how we view the conflict and where we believe — and how we believe the conflict should be resolved,” he says.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked about the matter during a CNN interview earlier this month and similarly avoided answering.
“Look, what we have to see happen is for the parties to get together directly and negotiate these so-called final status issues. That’s the objective. And as I said, we’re unfortunately a ways away from that at this point in time,” Blinken said then.
A US intelligence report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul will be out “soon,” the White House says.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki says that President Joe Biden is also due to speak “soon” with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
Psaki would not confirm a report in Axios that the Biden call with Salman will take place today and that the unclassified intelligence report will be published tomorrow.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who wrote for The Washington Post and was a US resident, was killed and dismembered in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The CIA has directly linked Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder. He has accepted overall responsibility, as his country’s leader, but denies a personal link.
I’ll tell you the truth: Life here in Israel isn’t always easy. But it's full of beauty and meaning.
I'm proud to work at The Times of Israel alongside colleagues who pour their hearts into their work day in, day out, to capture the complexity of this extraordinary place.
I believe our reporting sets an important tone of honesty and decency that's essential to understand what's really happening in Israel. It takes a lot of time, commitment and hard work from our team to get this right.
Your support, through membership in The Times of Israel Community, enables us to continue our work. Would you join our Community today?
Sarah Tuttle Singer, New Media Editor
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.