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Gantz threatens to block extending entry ban after damning report on exemptions

Blue and White chair says Israelis who wish to come to Jewish state to vote in March 23 elections must be allowed to do so

Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz visits at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz visits at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.

After US strike on proxies, Iran calls to name perpetrators of anti-US attacks in Iraq

Iran asks Baghdad to “identify the perpetrators” of rocket attacks on the US embassy and other Western targets in Iraq, saying they were launched to damage Iran-Iraq relations.

A volley of rockets on Monday targeted the high-security Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, where the American and other foreign embassies are based. The attack was the third in a week to target Western diplomatic, military or commercial installations across Iraq after four months of relative calm.

“We underline the need for the Iraqi government to identify the perpetrators of these incidents,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says after talks in Tehran with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein.

“Recent attacks and incidents… could be designed to disrupt Iranian-Iraqi relations and destabilize” Baghdad, Zarif says in a statement.

New oil slick said spotted 150km from Israel’s coast

Air Force drones have located a new oil slick that is currently located some 150 km west of Israel’s shores but appears to be moving away from them, the Ynet news site reports.

Earlier today, Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the use of Air Force drones to locate the oil slicks at sea, at the request of the Environmental Protection Ministry.

A storm more than a week ago threw tons of sticky, black tar onto the beaches of the Jewish state, which apparently leaked from a ship.

Israeli soldiers clean tar off the Palmachim beach in central Israel following an offshore oil spill that polluted most of the Israeli Mediterranean coastline, February 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government on Sunday advised Israelis to avoid all Mediterranean beaches from north to south due to the pollution. The ministry reiterated the warning Thursday, noting that more tar was still washing up on the coast, while the cleanup is ongoing.

On Wednesday, as the cleanup gathered pace, the Health Ministry ordered a precautionary ban on the sale of fish and other seafood from the Mediterranean.


Health Ministry: 3,690 new virus cases diagnosed yesterday

The Health Ministry says another 3,690 virus cases were diagnosed yesterday, with an additional 884 cases diagnosed since midday today, bringing the number of active cases to 773,261.

The positivity rate was at 5.8%.

There are 760 people in serious condition, including 244 on ventilators.

The death toll climbs to 5,726, up 12 fatalities since this morning.

According to the ministry, a total of 4,682,737 people have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in Israel, and 3,314,381 of them have received a second dose as well.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters rally across Israel for 36th straight week

Anti-Netanyahu protesters rally across Israel, the 36th week of mass demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his indictment on graft charges and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The main demonstrations are being held outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and Netanyahu’s private home in the coastal city of Caesaria.

Several hundred demonstrators are gathered in each of the locations. Smaller protests are taking place at highway overpasses and junctions around the country.

Liberman: Nation-state Law should not have been passed, must be amended to include ‘equality’

Yisrael Beytenu chair MK Avigdor Lieberman tells Channel 12 news that the 2018 Nation-state Law should not have been enacted and should reflect be amended to refect “word to word” the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence, applying the value of “equality” into Israel’s Basic Laws.

The nation-state law passed in 2018 defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Its present form was opposed by Israel’s Druze and other Arab minorities, who insisted it effectively defined them as “second-class citizens.” Liberman supported the law at the time.

In addition, Lieberman says that Prime Minister Netanyahu is being “blackmailed” by his family members, who wanted access to decision-making.

“They want to influence the most sensitive security decisions. Netanyahu is afraid the truth about him will be revealed,” Lieberman says.

Report: Israeli delegation stayed away from Dubai arms fair for fear of Iranian attack

Israel decided not to send a delegation of defense companies to a prestigious arms fair in the United Arab Emirates last week for fear of an Iranian attack in Abu Dhabi against Israelis, Channel 12 reports.

The Defense Ministry has said that the decision was due to coronavirus restrictions that have forced the closure of Israel’s international airport.

According to Channel 12, however, Israeli security officials feared the event could be a target for attack in response to the supposed Israeli killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and the Emiratis were told that this was why Israel was pulling out.

Dozens of Israeli companies, including state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, had planned on sending delegations to the IDEX arms fair. It was to mark the first time Israel has participated in the gathering, a result of last year’s US-brokered agreement establishing ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The Defense Ministry, which oversees weapons exports, said it sought permission to allow the delegation to travel, but a governmental committee that grants exemptions allowing people to fly denied the request.

Gantz said to look to change criteria for entry to Israel after damning report

Defense Minister Benny Gants reportedly wants to change the criteria for allowing Israelis into Israel after a television report showed the vast majority of Israelis being approved to enter the country during a general border closure were ultra-Orthodox.

According to Channel 12 news, Gantz plans to bring up the issue at tomorrow’s cabinet meeting in an effort to change the way the committee that okays individuals to fly on a small number of available flights, despite the general ban, works.

New Hope chairman Gideon Saar calls for Israel to allow all Israelis stranded abroad to return home,

“I again reiterate the call for all Israeli citizens abroad to be allowed to return to Israel safely (with inspections and isolation as needed),” he says on Twitter. “There is no logic in continuing the violation of civil rights and the return of Israelis should not be conditioned on a politicized “who you know” committee,” he adds.

Defense Minister Gantz: Iran may be behind explosion on Israeli ship in Gulf

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says Iran may be behind the explosion on an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman yesterday.

The Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman anchored in Dubai on Saturday morning, after a blast on Friday forced the vessel to head to the nearest port.

In an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Gantz says that the proximity between the location of the incident and the Islamic Republic raises concerns that it is responsible for the attack, but adds that the investigation has not yet been completed.

“We need to continue investigating,” he stresses. “The Iranians are looking to harm Israelis and Israeli infrastructure. The proximity to Iran brings the assessment that there is a likelihood that this is an Iranian initiative. We are committed to continuing to check.”

The area of the blast, off Iran’s coast at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, saw a series of explosions in 2019 that the US Navy blamed on Iran, against the backdrop of steeply rising threats between former US president Donald Trump and Iranian leaders. Tehran had denied the accusations, which came after Trump abandoned Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed harsh sanctions on the country.

TV: Defense officials believe explosion on Israeli cargo ship in Gulf cause by missile attack

Channel 13 news reports that Israeli defense officials estimate that an explosion on an Israeli ship in the Gulf of Oman yesterday was caused by two Iranian missiles.

The estimates are consistent with what a senior US official told Reuters last night, saying it was not an incident below sea level, meaning a mine, but above it, likely meaning a missile attack.

Such a strike would be a major escalation, as it would signal an Iranian military attack against a completely civilian target, without military or security affiliation with the State of Israel.

Israeli investigators raid ship in Greece as part of probe of oil spill

A team of Israeli investigators has raided a ship in Greece as part of the investigation into an oil spill disaster that has seen almost all of Israel’s Mediterranean beaches closed down because of tar pollution, the Environmental Protection Ministry says.

The ministry says that “a team of investigators has been sent to Greece. The investigators are there now and are conducting the checks.”

“The investigation is ongoing,” the ministry adds.

The ministry said last week that “at least five” ships had been identified as suspects, and that some of them had been inspected at Israeli ports and others at foreign ports.

Saudi Arabia says it intercepts missile attack over capital

Saudi Arabia says it has intercepted a missile attack over its capital and bomb-laden drones targeting a southern province, the latest in a series of airborne assaults it has blamed on Yemen’s rebel Houthis.

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen’s years-long war says the Iran-allied rebels had launched a ballistic missile toward Riyadh and several booby-trapped drones toward the province of Jizan. No casualties or damages are initially reported. There is no immediate comment from the Houthis.

The attack comes amid sharply rising tensions in the Middle East, a day after a mysterious explosion struck an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman, renewing concerns about ship security at the same site that saw a spate of suspected attacks on oil tankers in 2019 that the US Navy blamed on Iran.

Arab community calls for probe after 35 hurt by police in protest

Officials in Israel’s Arab community are criticizing the police and calling to open an investigation, following a clash at a protest against the spread of organized crime in the Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm on Friday that left dozens wounded.

At least 35 demonstrators, including an Arab mayor and a parliamentarian, were wounded after police fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, stun grenades, and water cannons as they clashed with hundreds of demonstrators in Umm al-Fahm, who were protesting law enforcement’s alleged unwillingness to fight a rising tide of violence in Arab cities and towns.

Officials from Umm al-Fahm’s municipality and from the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel decided in the meeting Saturday that next Friday protests will continue, and stated that an “inquiry commission must be established immediately,” the Walla news site reports.

6 East Jerusalemites die of coronavirus in new daily high

Six East Jerusalemites died on Saturday from coronavirus, the highest daily number since the start of the pandemic, a Clalit HMO official says.

In a statement, Clalit official Ali Jabrini laments rising case numbers in East Jerusalem, blaming the rapid spread of the so-called British coronavirus mutation.

Over the past week, around 48% of Jerusalem’s coronavirus cases were found in East Jerusalem, although Palestinian residents constitute only 38% of the city’s population.

East Jerusalemites also lag behind Jerusalem as a whole in vaccinations. Approximately 24% of East Jerusalem Palestinians have received at least one dose of a coronavirus shot, compared to 34% in Jerusalem as a whole.

Gantz threatens to block extending entry ban after damning report on exemptions

After a television report showed the vast majority of Israelis who are being given approval to enter the country during a general border closure were ultra-Orthodox, Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he will not approve the extension of regulations on international travel until a representative of the Ministry of Justice joins the committee that okays individuals to fly on a small number of available flights.

Ganz demands “to disclose to the public in a transparent manner the criteria by which the committee operates.”

In a press statement, he says that he intends to announce at the cabinet meeting on Monday that if an outline is not accepted which allows all Israelis who wish to enter the country to exercise their right to vote in the March 23 elections, regulations on Ben Gurion Airport ending on March 10 will not be extended.

“It will be Netanyahu’s sole responsibility and will prove that he cares about politics before he cares about human life,” Gantz says.

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