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Meeting in Cairo, Fatah and Hamas agree on mechanisms for elections

Draft joint declaration commits all sides to immediate release of political prisoners, establishing independent election court and respecting freedom to campaign

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
File: Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

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

Israel responds to Blinken: Golan will remain forever a part of Israel

The Prime Minister’s Office issues a terse statement saying that “the Golan Heights will remain forever a part of the State of Israel.”

This in response to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying the US supports Israel currently controlling the Golan but adding that that may change in the future.

“The Golan is very important to Israel’s security,” Blinken said. But “legal questions are something else. And over time, if the situation were to change in Syria, that’s something we’d look at.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

UAE on edge as ‘Hope’ probe poised to enter Mars orbit

A tense half-hour today will determine the fate of the UAE’s “Hope” probe to Mars, as the Arab world’s first space mission carries out a tricky maneuver to enter the Red Planet’s orbit.

If successful, the probe, which is designed to reveal the secrets of Martian weather, will become the first of three spacecraft to arrive at the Red Planet this month.

The United Arab Emirates, China and the United States all launched missions last July, taking advantage of a period when Earth and Mars are closest together.

Landmarks across the Gulf state have been lit up in red at night and government accounts and police patrol cars emblazoned with the #ArabstoMars hashtag.

Trump’s Senate trial to start as he is charged with ‘grievous crime’

Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial in the Senate opens today, an undertaking like no other in US history.

The defeated former president is charged by the House with inciting the violent mob attack on the US Capitol to overturn the election in what prosecutors argue is the “most grievous constitutional crime.”

Trump’s lawyers insist as the trial opens that he is not guilty on the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection,” his fiery words just a figure of speech, even as he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency. The Capitol siege on January 6 stunned the world as rioters stormed the building to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters loyal to US President Donald Trump storm the US Capitol in Washington. Arguments begin Tuesday, Feb. 9, in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump on allegations that he incited the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

No witnesses are expected to be called, in part because the senators sworn as jurors, forced to flee for safety, will be presented with graphic videos recorded that day. Holed up at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to testify.

Egypt opens Gaza border crossing ‘indefinitely’

Egypt opens its border with the Gaza Strip “indefinitely,” an Egyptian security source says, as it hosts inter-Palestinian reconciliation talks.

“This isn’t a routine or normal opening. This is the first time in years that the Rafah border crossing is opening indefinitely,” the source tells AFP.

“It used to open only three or four days at a time,” he notes.

Rafah is the only passage to the outside world for Gaza — a densely populated enclave of around two million Palestinians, half of whom live below the poverty line — that is not controlled by Israel.

Hamas security forces stand guard at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on February 9, 2021 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

IDF launches 2-day exercise simulating combat along the Lebanese border

The IDF launches a two-day exercise along the Lebanese border to simulate combat along the northern frontier.

“The drill is intended to improve the readiness of IDF forces of the Northern Command along the border,” the army says.

“It will include robust movement of forces and vehicles, explosions will be heard in the area and checkpoints will be deployed in several locations near the border.”

Illustrative photo of Israeli artillery on the Lebanese border, January 28, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson)

Virus czar to Haredim: Mass funerals will lead to more funerals

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells Haredi media that mass funerals “will lead to more funerals,” the Walla news website reports.

Meeting with ultra-Orthodox press, Ash says morbidity in the community “is trending downwards but is still high and concerning. The heart aches to see the mass violations at funerals, because these funerals will lead to more funerals.”

Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash visits the Ziv hospital in Safed, December 24, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

He also warns against celebrations during Purim later this month.

“We remember with pain what happened in the Haredi public last year [after Purim],” he says. “We should not pay with lives for the merriment [of the holiday].”

Tel Aviv gives foreign nationals, asylum seekers COVID shots

Dozens of asylum seekers and foreign workers in Tel Aviv line up at a vaccination center in the city’s south to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as part of an initiative to inoculate the city’s foreign nationals.

Tel Aviv city hall and the Sourasky Medical Center are administering vaccines free of charge to the city’s foreign nationals, many of whom are undocumented asylum seekers.

Posters provide information in English, Tigrinya, Russian and Arabic. Recipients include foreign workers from the Philippines, Moldova, and Nigeria, as well as Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers.

American Airlines launching new direct route between Miami and Tel Aviv

American Airlines is launching a new direct route between Miami and Tel Aviv, to start in June. It will be the only US carrier flying the direct route between the two cities.

The route will operate three times a week. Booking will open on February 15.

The route “will ensure enhanced connectivity for our customers traveling from Israel to the US, Latin America and the Caribbean,” says Tom Lattig, vice president EMEA Sales and Distribution, American Airlines.

Report: Schools to partially reopen in cities with low to medium morbidity

Channel 12 News reports on what is shaping up to be the plan to reopen the education system starting Thursday.

The report says preschools and grades 1-4 and 11-12 will open in cities deemed “green” and “yellow” in the government’s color-coding system for morbidity rates. Some orange cities will also see schools opened, depending on various statistics.

Illustrative: Israeli students arrive at a high school in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, November 29, 2020. (Flash90)

President Rivlin pans ICC ruling allowing probe of Israel, calls it ‘political’

President Reuven Rivlin condemns the International Criminal Court’s decision that it has jurisdiction to investigate Israel for possible war crimes against Palestinians.

“The court in The Hague was established to deal with atrocities around the world, not to persecute democratic nations with efficient and independent judicial systems,” Rivlin says in a statement.

He says Israel will continue to take all necessary steps to defend itself “from this wrong, political decision.”

President Reuven Rivlin on September 17, 2020 (video screenshot)

Top Haredi rabbi Kanievsky says education at bottom of government’s concerns

Leading ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky has accused the government of abandoning the education of the country’s children during the pandemic, associates tell Hebrew media outlets.

Kanievsky, widely acknowledged as the preeminent living Ashkenazi Haredi sage, has said that “the education of Israel’s children is at the very bottom of the government’s concerns. Every other issue is given priority over education, which is the lifeblood of the nation.”

He has added that “millions of Israeli children have been at home for a year, in both spiritual and mental danger, and an immediate solution must be found to bring them back to school as quickly as possible, while maintaining health rules.”

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky in the northern Israeli city of Safed, February 26, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Kanievsky has faced intense criticism for his handling of the pandemic and rulings given to his followers, and has instructed schools to open in defiance of government decisions on several occasions, leading hundreds of institutions to illicitly open their doors throughout the pandemic.

Kanievsky’s instructions, rather than government orders, are the final word for many in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Former Nazi guard, age 100, charged with accessory to murder

German prosecutors have charged a 100-year-old man with 3,518 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served during World War II as a Nazi SS guard at a concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin, authorities say.

The man is alleged to have worked at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1942 and 1945 as an enlisted member of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing, says Cyrill Klement, who led the investigation of the centenarian for the Neuruppin prosecutors’ office.

Visitors are seen at the former concentration camp Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, eastern Germany, on August 7, 2019. (Odd Andersen/AFP)

The man’s name isn’t released in line with German privacy laws. Despite his advanced age, the suspect is considered fit enough to stand trial, though accommodations may have to be made to limit how many hours per day the court is in session, Klement says.

The Neuruppin office was handed the case in 2019 by the special federal prosecutors’ office in Ludwigsburg tasked with investigating Nazi-era war crimes, he says.

Moroccan singer arrested in Kuwait over duet with Israeli artist

Moroccan singer Sanaa Mohamed has been arrested in Kuwait for her musical collaboration with Israeli artist Elkana Marziano, Channel 12 reports.

Mohamed had been hit with multiple death threats following her appearance alongside Marziano.

A source involved in the case tells the network Mohamed will likely be released but forced to leave Kuwait. It is not immediately clear whether Sanaa was living there or visiting.

Morocco agreed in 2020 to normalize ties with Israel under a US-brokered deal, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. However, Kuwait has no relations with Israel.

Deputy health minister: We’ll recommend reopening commerce only in 2 weeks

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch says the ministry will recommend reopening Israeli commerce only in two weeks’ time.

Kisch tells Channel 12 current morbidity rates do not allow businesses to widely reopen.

The Israel Commerce Forum says in response it has lost faith in government promises. “You promised us 60 days ago that you were closing commerce for two weeks, and we’re still closed. We’re tired of your promises. We will open on Thursday.”

Knesset Committee Chairman Yoav Kisch leads a discussion on rules of ethics for Knesset Members, January 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

IDF sees permanent ban on weapons-grade uranium as essential for Iran nuke deal

Israeli Military Intelligence believes a new nuclear agreement that prevents Iran from ever enriching uranium up to the 90 percent level needed for a nuclear weapon is both feasible and would alleviate some of Jerusalem’s primary concerns, The Times of Israel has learned.

This view, presented as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ annual intelligence assessment, comes as US President Joe Biden considers a return to the 2015 nuclear deal or, potentially, the negotiation of a new accord.

The Israeli military, ToI has learned, regards an eventual US return to the deal as a near-certainty.

Read the full report here.

IDF expects Hezbollah to initiate limited rounds of violence

The Israel Defense Forces does not anticipate the outbreak of a large-scale war in the coming year, but does expect that Hezbollah and other terror groups will likely initiate more limited rounds of violence, according to its annual intelligence assessment.

This represents a significant change in the military’s assessments regarding its dynamic with Hezbollah. The IDF has long believed that were a conflict to break out with the Lebanese terror group, it would likely develop into a potentially major exchange.

Now, the IDF believes that Hezbollah is operating under the assumption that it can launch smaller attacks on the IDF without this leading to a full-blown war.

Israeli army forces seen stationed near the Lebanese border on July 27, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

This change in the terror group’s operating assumptions were on display last week when Hezbollah fired anti-aircraft missiles at an Israeli drone flying above southern Lebanon. Those surface-to-air missiles missed their target, and the IDF refrained from retaliating, but had the attack succeeded, the military was prepared to respond significantly, potentially leading to a multi-day conflict, something Hezbollah must have known was a possibility.

FM Ashkenazi meets head of Morocco’s new liaison office in Israel

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi meets with the head of Morocco’s new liaison office in Israel, Abdel Rahim al-Bayoud, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Al-Bayoud arrived in Israel this afternoon following the two countries’ agreement to normalize ties.

Ashkenazi wishes him luck in his mission to advance Israeli-Moroccan ties. Al-Bayoud says he was happy to be appointed to the post and will work to bring the countries closer together.

“Welcome to Israel,” Ashkenazi says. “Today we’re making history!”

The head of Morocco’s new liaison office in Israel, Abdel Rahim al-Bayoud right) stands alongside Lior Ben Dor, head of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s North Africa desk, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, February 21, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)

Islamic State kills at least 6 Bedouins in Sinai ambush

Members of the Islamic State terror group kill at least six Bedouins in an ambush for their alleged collaboration with the Egyptian military in the country’s restive Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian security officials say.

The ambush took place in the mountainous Maghara area in central Sinai when members of a local IS affiliate established a fake checkpoint and opened fire on two vehicles carrying Bedouins, the officials say. They say a seventh Bedouin is missing following the attack.

Egypt has been battling militants in the northern part of Sinai Peninsula for years. Violence and instability there intensified after the 2013 military ouster of Mohammed Morsi, an elected but divisive Islamist president amid nationwide protests against his brief rule. The militants carried out numerous attacks, mainly targeting security forces, minority Christians and those they accuse of collaborating with the military and police.

Polish court rules against Holocaust scholars in case that may muzzle research

A court in Warsaw rules that two prominent Holocaust researchers must apologize to a woman who claimed her deceased uncle had been slandered in a historical work that suggested he helped kill Jews during World War II.

Lawyers for 81-year-old Filomena Leszczynska argued that her uncle was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, and that the scholars had harmed her good name and that of her family.

The District Court in Warsaw does not, however, rule that they should be forced to pay her 100,000 zlotys ($27,000), as her lawyers had demanded.

The case has been closely watched because it is expected to set an important precedent for independent Holocaust research. The ruling can be appealed, however.

At stake in the case was Polish national pride, according to the plaintiffs, and according to the defendants, the future independence of Holocaust research.

Judge Ewa Jonczyk rules that the scholars, Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, must make a written apology to Leszczynska for “providing inaccurate information” that her late uncle, Edward Malinowski, robbed a Jewish woman during the war and contributed to the death of Jews hiding in a forest in Malinowo in 1943, when Poland was under German occupation. They are also ordered to apologize for “violating his honor.”

Iran summons Belgian envoy after its diplomat is jailed in terror plot

Iran summons Belgium’s ambassador in Tehran in protest after a court in Antwerp jailed one of its diplomats for plotting a thwarted 2018 bombing in neighboring France.

Assadollah Assadi, 49, was sentenced to 20 years behind bars on Thursday after being convicted of attempted murder of a “terrorist” nature and “participation in the activities of a terrorist group.”

He denies the charges.

The Iranian foreign ministry says it summoned the Belgian ambassador in Tehran “to convey the strong protest of the Islamic Republic of Iran against the illegal decision of the court in Antwerp concerning our diplomat Assadollah Assadi.

Assadollah Assadi (Courtesy)

“The Belgian government has also been called upon to take measures for the immediate release of Assadi” and “to respect human rights standards.”

UAE’s ‘Hope’ probe successfully enters Mars’ orbit

The United Arab Emirates’ “Hope” probe successfully enters Mars’ orbit, mission officials say, in the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

“To the people of the UAE, to the Arab and Muslim nations, we announce the successful arrival to Mars orbit. Praise be to God,” says Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager.

Sharaf and other officials at mission control broke into applause, visibly relieved after a tense half-hour as the probe carried out a “burn” to slow itself enough to be pulled in by Martian gravity, in what was the most perilous stage of the journey.

It rotated and fired all six of its powerful thrusters to dramatically slow its average cruising speed of 121,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) per hour to about 18,000 kph.

Gantz told no decision possible on future of Army Radio before election

The Attorney General’s Office says Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s plan to remove Army Radio from under military auspices will need to wait until a new government is formed.

Gantz announced the plan last month, saying an inter-agency team would be formed to develop a plan “to transfer the station or shut it.”

Deputy Attorney General Meir Levin tells the defense minister he cannot make any final decision on the matter at this time due to the country being headed to an election.

The newsroom of Army Radio, which contains both conscripted soldiers and civilians who work on its programming. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90/File)

But he says the panel can do its work and give its recommendations to the next defense minister.

The military’s operating, and funding, a radio station with journalists responsible for investigating the Israel Defense Forces itself, as well as politicians, has long been considered anachronistic, expensive and an ethical minefield. For that reason, for at least the past five years, the IDF has called for Army Radio to no longer be part of the military.

Don’t let ‘Long COVID’ fall through the cracks, WHO warns

The World Health Organization calls for greater research, recognition and rehabilitation for Long COVID sufferers as it brings experts together to share insights into the little-understood condition.

The WHO holds the first in a planned series of seminars aimed at expanding understanding of post-COVID conditions, which hears not only from scientists and doctors but also from sufferers themselves.

Little is known about why some people, after coming through the acute phase of COVID-19, struggle to recover and suffer ongoing symptoms, including tiredness and brain fog as well as cardiac and neurological disorders.

Studies suggest that potentially one in 10 cases may have prolonged symptoms one month after infection — meaning millions may be suffering from ongoing illness.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that with attention around the coronavirus pandemic turning towards vaccination campaigns, “Long COVID should not fall through the cracks.”

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a special session on COVID-19 response, October 5, 2020. (Christopher Black/WHO via AP)

He says the impact of Long COVID on society and the economy is starting to become clear, and for those reasons, “people start to listen” beyond the medical community.

Coronavirus cabinet meets to discuss partial reopening of school system

The coronavirus cabinet is meeting to discuss a partial opening of the school system in the coming days.

Ministers are expected to consider a plan to allow studies of some grades in communities with relatively low infection rates.

US Senate opens unprecedented 2nd impeachment trial of Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial has opened in the US Senate, with Democrats arguing that the former president should be convicted for inciting a violent mob of his supporters to attack the US Capitol on January 6.

Watch it live here:

Tuesday is the first day of arguments in the trial, which is expected to last around a week or more. Senators, sitting at their desks and in other locations around the chamber, will listen to arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer president. Democrats will dispute that claim, pointing to legal experts and historical precedent.

Each side has two hours to make its case today, after which the Senate is expected to vote and reject the GOP efforts to dismiss the trial.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the US Senate, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of former US president Donald Trump, swears in members of the Senate for the trial at the US Capitol in Washington, January 26, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

The House prosecutors will cite the nation’s founders to declare a president “must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last.” There is no “January exception” just before he leaves office, they will argue, according to aides granted anonymity to discuss the arguments ahead of the trial.

Health officials present proposed stages for reopening entire economy

Ministers are now considering health officials’ proposal for stages of exiting the ongoing national closure.

According to Channels 12 and 13, the stages are as follows:

  • February 23: Opening of street shops, malls, gyms, culture and sporting events, museums, libraries and hotels, in accordance with health rules.
    Conditions: At least 3 million Israelis have received 2nd vaccine shot; at least 90% of over 50s are vaccinated; 900 or fewer COVID-19 patients are in serious condition; a virus basic reproduction number of less than 1 (meaning every infected person infects fewer than one other person on average).
  • March 9: Opening of cafes and small restaurants, hotels, attractions, conferences and event venues.
    Conditions: At least 4 million Israelis have received 2nd vaccine shot; at least 95% of over 50s are vaccinated; the number of patients in serious condition is stable, without a rise; virus basic reproduction number is stable.

Feeling better ‘after 2 hours’: Israeli COVID drug for critically ill enters Phase 3 trials

Channel 13 reports on experimental Israeli-made drug Allocetra, used to treat serious and critical COVID-19 cases, which has completed Phase 2 trials successfully.

Of 20 seriously ill patients treated with the drug so far, 90% recovered, the report says.

Allocetra treats the over-response of the immune system and inflammatory response that is sometimes seen in COVID-19 patients, called a cytokine storm. The phenomenon can cause severe immune system attacks on the body’s own organs, leading to organ failure and sometimes death.

Channel 13 speaks to one recovered patient, 49-year-old building inspector Yair Tayeb, who was released from the hospital three days after getting the drug.

“I couldn’t breathe, I could barely speak. [I was in] very very serious condition,” Tayeb says. “I went through an experience you can’t put into words.”

He says within two hours of receiving the drug, he felt a change. “They gave me the drug. Suddenly after two hours I started feeling something strange in my body. I stopped coughing, my breathing started to come back, I was feeling better. I stopped sweating. I couldn’t believe it. I was afraid to tell people I was okay, I was so excited.”

Dr. Dror Mevorach, head of one of Hadassah’s coronavirus wards and chief scientific and medical officer at Enlivex, who developed the treatment, says: “It is useful for serious and critical patients because it can prevent the need to ventilate them, and that’s the major goal because the moment you go into ventialtion, the entire situation changes and complications rise and it’s more difficult to treat.”

The drug is now entering Phase 3 trials and will be given to over 100 people.

Prof. Dror Mevorach, head of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital’s coronavirus department, February 9, 2021 (Channel 13 screenshot)

“Two days ago I couldn’t stand on my legs,” Tayeb says as he leaves the hospital. “Look at me now, going home.”

High Court delays issue of conscription of Haredim until after election

The High Court of Justice accepts the government’s request to delay the conscription of ultra-Orthodox Israelis, pushing the issue off until this summer.

In 2017, the High Court overturned a law exempting ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Israelis from military service on the grounds that the exemption was unfair. The court demanded that the government either pass new legislation or begin conscripting Haredi men. Since then, the government — through the defense minister — has requested and received extensions for this deadline on the grounds that it was still working to pass the bill. But last month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz — in what was widely seen as a campaign stunt — refused to request the delay.

However, despite his opposition, the government requested an extension anyway, not because it was making progress on the issue but because of the incoming election.

The court has accepted this argument and grants an extension on the issue until July 6, 2021.

Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo say they’ve agreed on mechanisms for elections

Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas meeting in Cairo announce they have agreed on the “mechanisms” for forthcoming elections, after a rapprochement between the two movements.

A draft of the document is being circulated in Palestinian media.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya says that all sides have agreed on procedures for establishing an independent election court and securing free and fair elections. Al-Hayya adds that the Palestinian factions will return to Cairo in March for further discussions.

Hamas senior political leader Khalil al-Hayya in Cairo, Egypt on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

The draft joint declaration commits all sides to the immediate release of political prisoners and respecting the freedom to campaign. The declaration also calls for the appointment of an election court with members from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, one of the talks’ most contentious facets.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in mid-January ordering three successive rounds of Palestinian national elections. The first round — for the currently defunct Palestinian legislature — is set to be held on May 22. Observers are skeptical that elections will indeed happen, as several election promises have fallen by the wayside before. But Fatah officials respond that this is the first time Abbas has issued a formal election decree in more than a decade.

Ministers okay partial opening of schools Thursday

Ministers have agreed to reopen kindergartens and grades 1-4 Thursday in towns with low-to-moderate coronavirus infection rates.

They are believed to be considering allowing groups of up to 10 students to study in the open air in high-infection areas.

Channel 12 reports that top Haredi Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky has warned that without a plan for allowing studies in towns with high morbidity, he will order all schools in his community opened in defiance of the government.

Data shows far less than 1% of Israelis vaccinated reported side effects

Channel 13 reports on new Health Ministry stats regarding side effects from vaccination.

Of over 3,000,000 who’ve received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 7,039 reported side effects — less than a third of one percent.

Of over 1,700,000 to receive the second dose, 4,469 reported side effects, again less than a third of a percentage point.

A young Israeli receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot, at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on February 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The vast majority of the side effects were light, but 43 people required hospitalization. Most of those 43 had preexisting medical conditions, and 28 were over the age of 60.

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