The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
A bus driving through Jerusalem is attacked and its windows shattered, with initial reports unclear if it was targeted by gunfire or rocks.
Magen David Adom says it is providing medical assistance to the driver of the bus, who was lightly wounded, and to a passenger who was in shock from the incident.
Police say they are investigating the incident and searching for a suspect who fled the scene.
The event occurred on a 59 bus traveling on Levi Eshkol Street in the Ammunition Hill neighborhood of the city.
CCTV footage appears to show the incident on Levi Eshkol St. in Jerusalem was a shooting attack toward a bus. No injuries. Police are searching for the suspect. pic.twitter.com/lcT2ESfbYF
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) February 9, 2022
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, UK Jewry’s mainstream umbrella organization, says far-right Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich is not welcome in the country.
“We reject the abominable views and the hate-provoking ideology of Bezalel Smotrich,” the organization tweets, “and we call on all members of the British Jewish community to show him the door.”
“Get back on the plane, Bezalel, and be remembered as a disgrace forever.”
Smotrich is currently on a tour of Jewish communities in the UK and France to rally opposition to the government’s plan to reform conversion to Judaism. He met earlier today in London with a Bnei Akiva group. The MK has repeatedly made comments about Arabs and gay people that have provoked outcry.
Authorities in Kosovo suspend the restoration of an old house linked to an Albanian official who was a notorious Nazi collaborator during World War II.
The project, funded by the European Union and Kosovo’s Culture Ministry, has become a target of criticism from Germany and of antisemitism accusations. Kosovar authorities say they will seek alternatives for a new cultural center that had been planned for the restored property.
“The sole purpose of restoration of this building is to serve the community and not whitewash the history or rehabilitate any historical personality or historical event,” says Culture Minister Hajrulla Ceku.
The house, located 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Kosovo’s capital in the city of Mitrovica, was owned by the family of Albanian Interior Minister Xhafer Deva during World War II. Deva is accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany when it invaded Kosovo and Albania.
The German ambassador to Pristina, Joern Rohde, says he is very concerned about the plan to renovate “Xhafer Deva’s house.”
“No history whitewashing! Don’t distort the truth about the Holocaust or war crimes committed by the Nazis and local collaborators,” Rohde tweets.
The European Commission, Kosovo’s Culture Ministry and the United Nations Development Program, which the EU picked to implement the project, say they will try to find “alternatives for the future benefit of the local community and inter-community dialogue.”
Police tried to install spyware on the phone of Iris Elovitch, wife of former Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch, shortly before the investigations into the Bezeq case, part of the Netanyahu affair, became public five years ago, Channel 13 reports.
The effort was attempted with the requisite judicial authorization, the TV report claims.
The same station last week reported that police “apparently” targeted Shaul Elovitch’s phone as well, and that of state witness Shlomo Filber, also with judicial approval.
News outlets have provided no evidence of their repeated claims over the past few weeks that a wide range of individuals were hacked by police using spyware. Both Elovitches are currently defendants in the ongoing trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Case 4000.
The officers involved in the hacking are adamant that their activities were legal, Channel 13 reports. Materials obtained were not transferred to the police team directly investigating the case, the network claims.
The same spyware was installed on the phones of people connected to “dozens of other cases” unrelated to the Netanyahu affair, the TV report says. This “proves,” according to the police, says Channel 13, that this was not part of any effort specifically targeting people connected to the Netanyahu cases.
Channel 13 also cites a police claim that no such spying was attempted against any of the three ministry director-generals named in this week’s Calcalist story: Keren Terner, Emi Palmor and Shai Babad.
Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit tells the Kan public broadcaster that he has no connection to the ongoing police spying scandal and does not know if any of it is true.
In a phone call with a Kan reporter, Mandeblit says: “I don’t think anyone serious thinks it is connected to me.”
Mandelblit, who ended his six-year tenure last week, says that the allegations that police used the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of government officials, activists and other figures are “disturbing.”
“Of course, I’m disturbed by it. I hope it’s not true,” he says. “If the allegations are true, they’ll be investigated and held responsible.”
Mandeblit rejected any claims that he or his office approved investigations of any of those mentioned, including the directors-general of several ministries.
“Nobody approved investigating any director-general [of a government ministry],” he says, referencing former Justice Ministry director Emi Palmor and former Finance Ministry directors Shai Babad and Keren Terner.
But, he notes, his office approved investigations, and not hacking of phones.
“If [the allegation] is correct, and I don’t know if it is, that’s not an investigation, that’s something else entirely,” he says. “I don’t know of any investigations against them, were there any investigations?”
In an initial police probe presented to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last night, police claimed that — of the 26 names purportedly hacked — just three were targeted, with judicial approval, and only one was successfully hacked.
During a press conference unveiling a plan to slash taxes, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is asked about the alleged police use of spyware to hack into the phones of dozens of citizens.
“The question is whether or not what was published in the past few days happened or not happened,” Bennett says. “Wholesale use of police orders and phishing on civilians cannot happen in a democracy.”
But the prime minister says that “we still don’t know if this really happened.” He says that the current Justice Ministry inquiry is backed by the Mossad and Shin Bet and will investigate the allegations in depth.
“Once we know what happened and if it happened, I will go ‘all in’ on the broadest and most extensive government commission of inquiry.”
The government announces a NIS 4.4 billion plan to address the rising cost of living, which will include a suite of measures to lower taxes for working families and to lower the price of energy and food staples.
The plan is unveiled at a joint press conference in Jerusalem by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Orna Barbivay.
Bennett promises to lower taxes for middle-class, working families to contribute to society.
The move is announced just a week after public pressure intensified, in response to manufacturers’ plans to raise prices on food and consumer goods, and the government’s intention to raise the price of energy and gasoline, the latter of which has been enacted.
Former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich makes his first statement on the bombshell scandal in which police allegedly used spyware to hack the phones of officials, activists and private citizens without judicial approval.
In a video statement, Alsheich says that once the Calcalist newspaper published its list of names on Monday that it alleged were hacked by police, “I have no doubt that the story that was published has no connection to reality.”
If the report was true, it would constitute a shocking blow to Israeli democracy.” But he says, he is not surprised to see that a probe into the report has found “no evidence” of such targeting, using NSO’s Pegasus or any other such software, “of people who were not suspected by police of criminal wrongdoing.”
Alsheich adds that “the enormous damage done to the police requires clearer answers from all the bodies and people involved.”
The former police chief, who served during the period in which many of the hacks allegedly took place, derides the dismissal he says greeted the initial internal police investigation of the issue.
“I am convinced that they investigated with clean hands.”
An internal police probe presented to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett yesterday claimed that — of the 26 names published by Calcalist — just three were targeted by police spyware and only one was successfully hacked.
Following the original Calcalist report exposing alleged police use of spyware, the Israel Police originally denied that such actions ever took place, before later admitting to some instances.
Israel tells the US State Department that it does not oppose the US returning to being a full member of UNESCO, according to a report in Axios.
Israel left UNESCO, as did the United States, during the Trump administration, over the international body’s alleged anti-Israel bias.
According to the report, the Biden administration has asked Israel behind the scenes not to oppose its return to UNESCO, where it is looking to counter China’s growing influence.
Last summer, Axios reported that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was considering bringing Israel back into the agency as well.
Iran’s only male athlete at the Beijing Olympics has tested positive for an anabolic steroid in the first confirmed doping case at the Games.
The International Testing Agency says Alpine skier Hossein Saveh Shemshaki failed a drug test on Monday in Beijing, before competing.
He is provisionally suspended and cannot compete at what was to be his third Olympics.
The 36-year-old raced in slalom and giant slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and four years later at Sochi. He carried Iran’s flag at the opening ceremony in Sochi.
He can appeal against his provisional ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Beijing.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announces that the state will end a COVID-19 mandate requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings, but will keep masking rules in place in schools.
The mandate requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings, like grocery stores, shops and offices, was put in place Dec. 10 as the Omicron variant of the virus began infecting huge numbers of New Yorkers. It was set to expire Thursday unless the Democrat’s administration extended it.
Speaking from her office in New York City, Hochul says infection rates have since declined to a level where it is safe to rescind the broad masking order.
“Given the declining cases, given the declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to lift this, in effect tomorrow,” Hochul says.
Masks, though, will still be required in many places, including in health care facilities and in schools. Hochul has said she would like to see vaccination rates for children improve before she does away with that statewide mandate, which has been in place since August.
A 70-year-old Jerusalemite is arrested and charged after he allegedly robbed a post office of NIS 100,000.
According to the indictment, the man entered a post office branch in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood of the capital to withdraw his monthly pension amount. At the same time, a delivery of cash arrived at the post office.
The man allegedly took advantage of a moment when nobody was looking and made off with NIS 100,000 in cash. When police arrested him a week later, he had only about two-thirds of the amount left in his possession, and said he lost the rest of it gambling.
Police arrest four rioters at an extremist ultra-Orthodox protest after they blocked traffic on Route 4 near Ramat Gan and Bnei Brak in the center of the country.
After close to two hours of the protest, police succeeded in clearing the rioters and allowing traffic to restart.
The rioters, said to be affiliated with the extremist Jerusalem Faction, staged a protest against the government’s plan to advance a new IDF draft law. Last month a bill that would lower the age of exemption from mandatory service for Haredi Torah students from 24 to 21 passed an initial vote.
Many yeshiva students are thought to remain in religious study programs longer than they normally would in order to dodge the draft by claiming academic deferments until they reach the age of exemption. By lowering the exemption age, the government hopes to spur those Haredi men to leave the yeshiva and enter the workforce at a younger age.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Central Council reaffirms its 2018 decision to suspend all security coordination with Israel until Israel recognizes a Palestinian state.
A similar resolution that was passed at the body’s last meeting four years ago went unimplemented.
Britain’s official threat level for international terrorism is lowered to “substantial,” meaning an attack is likely.
It previously stood at “severe,” signaling that UK intelligence officials considered an attack highly likely.
Home Secretary Priti Patel says that “any reduction in the threat level is positive but it must never make us complacent.”
She says the threat from terrorism in the UK is “complex, volatile and unpredictable.”
The threat level was raised to severe, the second-highest rung on a five-point scale, in November after an Iraq-born man blew himself up with a homemade bomb outside a hospital in Liverpool. The suspected bombmaker, Emad Al Swealmeen, died when the device went off inside a taxi. The driver was injured.
The Energy Ministry’s petroleum commissioner agrees to extend by a year a license to search for terrestrial oil in the Arava Desert in southern Israel.
The license to explore in a 275-square-kilometer (106,000-square-mile) tract called Aya was awarded in 2019 to Arbel Oil and Gas Exploration and Shafir Engineering and Industry.
It was set to expire this month.
Local residents, backed by the Society for the Protection of Nature, had hoped that the company’s failure to operate according to the license timetable would put paid to the plan.
In August, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar announced a ban on any new terrestrial oil exploration.
The only other existing terrestrial oil exploration license, held by Shafir Engineering and Industry for the Ahinoam field in southern Israel’s Negev Desert, is due to expire in May.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Orna Barbivay plan to give a press conference at 8 p.m. to present their plan to lower the cost of living.
In recent weeks a series of Israeli producers and importers announced plans to hike prices on basic products, though many of them delayed or scrapped their plans following public outrage and government pressure.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Bennett said, “Beyond any short-term actions that can be taken, the solution lies in identifying those spaces where competition does not exist and creating competition within them. This will require all ministers of the government. We need to ease regulation and open up the market to competition.”
Three Palestinian men approached the Gaza security fence and two of them threw a Molotov cocktail at an empty Israeli truck that was parked in the border region, setting it on fire, then ran back, according to Palestinian media reports and the Israeli military.
There are no reports of Israeli injuries in the incident.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the suspects approached the border, entering a buffer zone controlled by Israel but without crossing the barrier into Israeli territory.
In the buffer zone, two of the suspects went up to an empty truck and set it on fire, the military says.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 9, 2022
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says a recent flurry of diplomatic efforts marks “progress” in helping to stop Russia from invading Ukraine, as he voices confidence that war on the continent can be averted.
“The task is that we ensure the security in Europe, and I believe that that will be achieved,” he tells journalists at a joint press conference with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit reportedly told his confidantes that he would never have approved using spyware to hack the phones of government officials, activists and protesters.
Mandelblit, whose six-year term ended last week, is reported by Ynet to have said that “I would never have approved listening in to protesters. Someone in the police went crazy.”
He also reportedly says that he believes the scandal over police using NSO spyware to target citizens without oversight was rooted in police officers who didn’t know how “to hit the brakes.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggests that laws requiring people in England with COVID-19 to self-isolate will be lifted within weeks, bringing an end to all domestic coronavirus restrictions.
“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early,” Johnson tells Parliament.
He adds that he plans to present his plan for living with the virus when Parliament returns from a short break on Feb. 21.
Johnson’s Conservative government dropped most remaining COVID-19 restrictions last month. Face masks are no longer mandatory anywhere in England, except on London’s public transport network. Virus passports for gaining entry to nightclubs and large-scale events were scrapped, as was the official advice to work from home.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar publishes a list of new regulations that, if approved, will further decriminalize recreational cannabis usage in Israel.
Under the new draft guidelines, recreational marijuana usage will not be considered a criminal offense at all, and will become an administrative offense, similar to most traffic violations.
Under the current rules, first and second offenses are subject to a fine of NIS 1,000 and NIS 2,000 respectively, a third offense requires a conditional settlement deal, and a fourth offense means a possible indictment. Under the current arrangement, anyone with a criminal record can be charged from their first offense.
Sa’ar’s proposed new regulations, which still require approval by the government, will not allow for any prosecution “except in exceptional cases,” will not exclude people with a criminal record, will limit fines to NIS 1,000 and will not differentiate between a first and repeated offenses.
The current guidelines, Sa’ar says, expire in March and action is required to prevent a reversion to full criminal enforcement of recreational marijuana use.
Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov signs a deal for tourism cooperation with UAE Minister of State for Entrepreneurship Ahmad Belhoul.
The “historic” deal, says Razvozov, will help “establish meaningful relations that will result in great economic benefits for our markets and tourism industries.”
The agreement he says, “will direct tourists from the airports in the Emirates to Israel. Thanks to this, jobs will be added, businesses will be opened and the livelihoods of tourism workers will improve.”
Earlier, Razvozov met with members of the Jewish community during his Dubai visit, and wrote a letter in a Torah scroll to be used by the local community.
A representative of the current Sudanese military government is secretly visiting Israel, reports the Kan public broadcaster.
According to the report, the government representative is seeking “to advance relations between the countries.”
Last month, Kan also reported that an Israeli delegation was visiting Sudan to meet with Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who seized power in a coup last year.
Sudan and Israel agreed to normalize ties last year, although progress has been slow amid government instability and anti-Israel sentiment among the public.
A bill aimed at connecting illegal Israeli outposts to the power grid fails to garner enough votes to pass an initial vote.
As expected, the bill, put forward by opposition Likud MK Yariv Levin, did not get the support of right-wing coalition factions Yamina and New Hope.
Levin says their votes against the legislation are “a new height of shame, cynicism and the breaking of promises by people who don’t even care about the distress of small children.”
Egypt’s president swears in the first-ever Coptic Christian to head the country’s highest court.
Judge Boulos Fahmy is the 19th person to preside over the Supreme Constitutional Court since it was established in 1969. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi picked the 65-year-old Fahmy from among the court’s five oldest of 15 sitting judges, as is prescribed by law.
Fahmy succeeds Judge Saeed Marei, who retired over health reasons, according to Mohammed Bassal, a respected expert in Egypt’s judicial affairs and editorial manager of the Shorouk daily.
Fahmy has headed the court’s General Secretariat since 2014. His appointment as chief judge has been welcomed by many in the Muslim majority country.
Moushira Khattab, head of the government-appointed National Council for Human Rights, hails the decision as “historic” and “a giant move” in the field of political and civil rights.
Christians, who make up almost 10% of Egypt’s population of more than 102 million, have long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority. Activists also say Copts are discriminated against and kept from high office.
The World Health Organization says coronavirus case counts fell 17% worldwide over the last week compared to the previous week, including a 50% drop in the United States, while deaths globally declined 7%.
The weekly epidemiological report from the UN health agency shows that the Omicron variant is increasingly dominant — making up nearly 97% of all cases tallied by the international virus-tracking platform known as GISAID. Just over 3% were of the Delta variant.
“The prevalence of the Omicron variant has increased globally and is now detected in almost all countries,” WHO says. “However, many of the countries which reported an early rise in the number of cases due to the Omicron variant have now reported a decline in the total number of new cases since the beginning of January 2022.”
All told, WHO reports more than 19 million new cases of COVID-19 and under 68,000 new deaths during the week from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6. As with all such tallies, experts say such figures are believed to greatly underestimate the real toll.
Case counts fell in each of WHO’s six regions except its eastern Mediterranean zone, which reported a 36% jump, notably with increases in Afghanistan, Iran and Jordan.
Prof. Fahid Hakeem, the director of the EMMS Nazareth Hospital, also known as the English Hospital, says he has allowed healthcare workers to continue to show up to work after testing positive for COVID.
“They work only with COVID-positive patients in the COVID ward,” Hakeem tells Army Radio.
Hakeem says that the hospital got to a point where close to 30% of its staff had tested positive.
“I reached a situation where either I cannot provide treatment or I call in an infected staff member.”
The IDF announces that all military personnel can now receive a fourth dose of the COVID vaccination.
Anyone serving in the military who is over 18 and is more than four months past their third dose is now eligible, the IDF says.
Until recently, fourth doses of the vaccine were only available to those over 60 or those who are high-risk or work in a high-risk situation. To date, just 679,158 Israelis — 7.3% of the population — have received a fourth dose.
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