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Netanyahu hints at trips to Arab states: ‘I recently visited other countries’

PM doesn’t specify which countries he visited, following trip in November to Saudi Arabia for meeting with crown prince

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Iraq dismantles mine stuck to oil tanker in Gulf

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s military says explosives experts with its naval forces successfully dismantled a mine that was discovered stuck to an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf.

The statement says Iraqi authorities have opened an investigation into the incident. No group has claimed responsibility for placing the mine.

The announcement came a day after Iraq confirmed reports by private security firms that a mine had been discovered attached to the side of a tanker rented from Iraq’s Oil Marketing Company, known as SOMO, as it was refueling another vessel. It said that Iraqi teams were working to dismantle the mine.

Iraq has not provided further details, but the two private security firms said the discovery was likely a limpet mine on the MT Pola, a Liberian-flagged tanker.

A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that attaches to the side of a ship, usually by a diver-member of special forces. It later explodes, and can significantly damage a vessel.

The discovery came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Already, America has conducted B-52 bomber flyovers and sent a nuclear submarine into the Persian Gulf over what Trump administration officials describe as the possibility of an Iranian attack on the one-year anniversary of the US drone strike near Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general and a top Iraqi militia leader.

Iraq is marking the anniversary with a series of events this week, including a ceremony at Baghdad’s airport tonight, where the drone strike that killed the two men occurred a year ago.

— AP

Oil tankers load crude oil at Iraq’s Al-Basra Offshore Terminal in Basra, Iraq, December 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

8 arrested during clashes at anti-Netanyahu protest in Jerusalem

Police arrest eight anti-Netanyahu demonstrators during clashes outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

The scuffles broke out after dozens of protesters broke through police barricades outside the compound on the capital’s Balfour Street, according to Hebrew media reports.

The clashes came ahead of this evening’s protest against Netanyahu, the 28th straight week that demonstrators have rallied in Jerusalem against the premier.

Medics warn of coronavirus ‘catastrophe’ in Lebanon as cases surge

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s hospitals are being overwhelmed by coronavirus cases, medics warn, as infection rates surge in the wake of end-of-year holidays.

The national COVID-19 task force met today and recommended a three-week lockdown, its head Petra Khoury says, a decision supported by the parliamentary health committee.

Lebanon, with a population of around six million, has recorded 183,888 coronavirus cases, including 1,466 deaths, since February.

On Thursday, it hit a daily record of more than 3,500 new cases.

In what he terms a “catastrophic” situation, Sleiman Haroun, head of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, says “the 50 private hospitals in the country receiving patients with COVID-19 are now almost full.”

They have a total of 850 beds, including 300 in intensive care units, Haroun says.

“Patients are now waiting in line… waiting for a bed to be free,” he tells AFP.

After imposing tight restrictions in November to combat the spread of the pandemic, the government relaxed rules.

Ahead of the December holidays, the government pushed back a nighttime curfew to 3 a.m. and allowed nightclubs and bars to reopen.

This prompted criticism from health professionals who warned bed occupancy in intensive care units was running critically low.

“The problem is that once a patient is admitted to intensive care, they stay there for three weeks,” says Khoury.

The “gatherings and private parties” of the December holiday season have fed a dramatic rise in cases, Khoury says.

“Over the past three weeks, the occupancy rate of intensive care units has increased by 10 percent,” pushing the occupancy of hospital beds in Beirut to over 90 percent of capacity.


Netanyahu to hold talks on tightening virus lockdown

Prime Minister Netanyahu will hold consultations next week on tightening the national coronavirus lockdown, his office says.

The talks will focus on imposing a “tight and short lockdown that will allow a quick reopening of the economy,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The lockdown came into force on Sunday evening, but has yet to bring down daily infections.

Granddaughter of former Likud PM Shamir joins Sa’ar’s New Hope

Gideon Sa’ar announces that the granddaughter of former Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir will run on his New Hope party’s slate in the upcoming elections.

Sa’ar says that Michal Diament, a lawyer, will help draw up the party’s plans for “reforms in the judicial system.”

He doesn’t specify which spot on New Hope’s slate Diament will receive.

“One of the things most important to my grandfather was unity in the nation. Today, the leadership is unfortunately trying to bring about the opposite situation,” Diament says in a video released by New Hope. “Likud is no longer the party that I knew growing up.”

Palestinian official warns Gaza hospital’s at 80% capacity due to virus surge

Following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, the Gaza Strip’s hospital capacity is now 80 percent full, a senior Palestinian Authority health official says in a statement.

“The coronavirus curve is still rising, and it zigzags from one day to the next. The number of positive coronavirus tests over the past week has reached between 30 and 40 percent,” says senior Gaza health official Fathi Abu Warda.

Abu Warda warns of “a stage where the hospitals will no longer be able to accept patients.”

There are currently 9,816 confirmed active coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Around 36% of tests came back positive in the past 24 hours, the ministry reports.

— Aaron Boxerman

Vaccine appointments to be delayed to ensure those already immunized get 2nd dose — TV

Thousands of Israelis will have their appointments to receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine delayed, amid concerns there won’t be enough vaccines left for those who have already received a first shot to get a second dose, Channel 12 news reports.

Ex-Yesh Atid MK Shelah names new party Tnufa

Former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah says his new party will be called Tnufa (momentum).

Shelah says he is in talks with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai about a joint run with his The Israelis party.

“Any possible linkup that can bring me into the government, I’m in. There [are talks] with Huldai… my condition is values,” Shelah tells Channel 12 news.

Over 6,000 new virus infections recorded Friday; positive test rate at 6.1%

The Health Ministry says 6,004 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday, as infections continue to rise despite a third national lockdown.

Along with 2,154 cases recorded since midnight, the number of infections since the pandemic began rises to 433,799.

The death toll stands at 3,384, with 30 fatalities yesterday.

There are 48,701 active cases, including 739 people in serious condition, with 177 of them on ventilators. Another 185 Israelis are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

Of the 98,034 tests performed yesterday, 6.1 percent came back positive.

Yemen’s PM says airport attack aimed to ‘eliminate’ cabinet, blames Iran-backed rebels

CAIRO — Yemen’s prime minister says that a missile attack on the airport in Aden was meant “to eliminate” the country’s new government as it arrived in the key southern city — a daring assault which he blames on Iran-backed rebels.

Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed speaks to The Associated Press in an interview conducted at his office in the Mashiq Palace in Aden. It is the leader’s first interview with international media after he survived Wednesday’s attack that killed at least 25 people and wounded 110 others.

“It’s a major terrorist attack that was meant to eliminate the government,” the premier says. “It was a message against peace and stability in Yemen.”

Saeed repeats his government’s accusations that Yemen’s Houthi rebels were responsible for the missile attack on the airport and a drone assault on the palace, shortly after the premier and his Cabinet were transferred there.

The new Yemeni government was formed in December to end a dangerous political rift with southern separatists who are backed by the United Arab Emirates. The internal rift threatened the UAE’s partnership with Saudi Arabia that is fighting the Houthis in Yemen.

Saeed says that the “techniques” used in the airport missile attack were hallmarks of the Houthis’ strategy.

Houthi officials have denied being behind the attack, but sought to blame unspecified groups in the Saudi-led coalition. The rebel leaders have not offered any evidence nor answered requests for comment.

The Houthis have carried out similar attacks in the past. In 2015, former Yemeni prime minister Khaled Bahah and members of his cabinet survived a missile attack, blamed on the Houthis, that struck an Aden hotel used by the government. Last year, the Houthis fired a missile at a military parade of a militia loyal to the UAE at a base in Aden, killing dozens.

— AP

Over 45% of Israelis over 60 have received COVID vaccines — TV

Over 45 percent of Israelis over 60-years-old have received the first shot of a coronavirus vaccine, according to television reports.

Settler teens in deadly crash during police chase set to be indicted — TV

The police officers who chased Jewish teens alleged to have thrown rocks at Palestinians in the West Bank, one of whom died when the settlers’ car crashed while fleeing, are not expected to face criminal charges, Channel 12 news reports.

The officers have been questioned by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department in relation to 16-year-old Ahuvia Sandak’s death during the chase.

The network also says the four other so-called hilltop youth extremists who were in the car with Sandak are expected to be charged this week for allegedly throwing rocks at Palestinian cars.

At least one of them reportedly may also be indicted for negligent homicide.

The TV report comes as hundreds attend a protest in Jerusalem calling for an independent investigation into Sandak’s death.

UK hits daily virus record; teachers unions call for schools to stay closed

LONDON — With daily coronavirus infections surging as a result of a new virus variant, the British government is facing mounting pressure from teachers’ unions to keep schools in England closed for at least another two weeks.

The government, which oversees schools in England, has already decided to keep all schools in London closed next week to try to stem new infections. Unions want the policy extended across the whole of England, expressing fears about the health of both teachers and children.

The UK today hits a daily record for new coronavirus infections — 57,725 — and according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University has overtaken Italy once again to be the worst-hit country in Europe with nearly 75,000 COVID-related deaths.

The fear is that the number of deaths will grow over the coming weeks. The UK has recorded its five highest daily new infection numbers over the past five days — all above 50,000 and double the daily number of only a few weeks ago.

After an emergency meeting today, the National Education Union, which represents over 450,000 education workers, calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to move learning online for at least two weeks. It also tells members they have a legal right not to have to work in an “unsafe environment” of accelerating coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

Another union representing teachers, the NASUWT, also calls for an immediate nationwide move to remote education due to virus safety concerns. Its general secretary, Patrick Roach, says there is “genuine concern” that schools and colleges are not able to reopen safely at this time.

The government’s own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned at a December 22 meeting that schools needed to stay closed to bring down virus transmission rates.

— AP

11 GOP senators to challenge Biden’s win over Trump

WASHINGTON — A coalition of 11 Republican senators announces it will challenge the outcome of the presidential election by voting to reject electors from some states when Congress meets next week to certify the Electoral College results that confirmed President-elect Joe Biden won.

US President Donald Trump’s extraordinary refusal to accept his election defeat and the effort to subvert the will of the voters has become a defining moment for Republicans and is tearing the party apart. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged Republicans not to try to overturn the election.

The 11 senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas, say they will vote against certain state electors unless Congress appoints an electoral commission to immediately conduct an audit of the election results. They acknowledge they are unlikely to change the results of the election.

“We intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed,” they write in the statement.

“We do not take this action lightly,” they add.

In response to Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud, bipartisan election officials and Trump’s then-Attorney General William Barr have said there was no evidence of widespread fraud and the election ran smoothly.

The days ahead are expected to do little to change the outcome. Biden is set to be inaugurated January 20 after winning the Electoral College vote 306-232.

— AP

Police arrest 2 teens for throwing rocks at anti-Netanyahu protesters in north

Police arrest two teenagers on suspicion of throwing rocks at protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Netanyahu in the northern community of Yavne’el.

The 14- and 15-year-old were arrested after police received a report that rocks were thrown toward protesters, injuring one of them.

A police statement says officers gathered evidence from the scene and arrested the two after launching an investigation.

Clashes in Jerusalem between cops, protesters over settler teen’s death

Clashes break out in Jerusalem between cops and hundreds of protesters demonstrating over the death of a teenage settler in a car crash while running from police after allegedly throwing rocks at Palestinians.

Police say seven officers were injured by rocks and other objects thrown at them. Damage was caused to public property in the area and to a police cruiser, while the windows of a vehicle for transporting detainees was smashed, according to a police statement.

Officers detain 20 protesters for disturbing public order.

Netanyahu says Likud working to pick up Arab Israeli voters

Prime Minister Netanyahu insists during a meeting this evening of the Likud secretariat that he can turn out Arab Israelis to vote for the party in the March 23 Knesset elections, according to Hebrew media reports.

“I believe in Jabotinsky’s doctrine that all rights need to be given to every citizen in the State of Israel. We’re reaching out to Arab voters — vote for us. I’ll sit tomorrow with [Public Security] Minister Ohana to bring [about] a plan against crime and violence in Arab society,” Netanyahu is quoted saying by the Walla news site.

The comments came after Netanyahu visited a pair of Arab cities to tout Israel’s vaccine drive and a TV report said the premier was looking to both gain seats with the backing of Arab voters and dent support for the Joint List.

The new messaging marks a shift in tone by Netanyahu, whose Likud has campaigned in the past on unfounded claims of electoral fraud in Arab communities. He has repeatedly demonized Arab lawmakers in the Knesset and gained global notoriety for warning his supporters on election day 2015 that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

“I’m not moved by the criticism about this. We’re not reaching out to politicians but the public,” he told Likud officials this weekend, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

A number of Netanyahu’s political rivals hit out at him following the leaks of his comments to the Likud secretariat.

“After years of inaction the prime minister remembered this evening to talk about putting together a plan to eradicate crime in Arab society,” New Hope chief Gideon Sa’ar tweets.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid shares a video clip of Netanyahu’s “Arab voters… in droves” comments.

“If you’re a liar, think carefully before you lie. If you’re a liar, you need to have a good memory, so they won’t expose your lie,” Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid-Telem party, writes on Twitter.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh accuses Netanyahu of insulting Arab voters’ intelligence.

“We already knew that Netanyahu doesn’t believe we’re equal, but his new effort to garner votes also proves that he disparages the intelligence of Arab society. A decade of indifference to crime, inciting violence, fanning hate won’t be erased in an election campaign,” Odeh tweets.

Netanyahu hints at trips to Arab states: ‘I recently visited other countries’

Prime Minister Netanyahu hints thats he’s recently visited several Arab countries, in apparent reference to his trip last month to Saudi Arabia.

“I recently visited other countries and like I couldn’t say then about the Emirates, I can’t specify right now,” he tells officials from his Likud party, according to leaks from the meeting.

Health minister calls for tightening virus lockdown for 2 weeks

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says he’ll push the government to tighten lockdown measures for a two-week period, citing rising morbidity and concerns over the coronavirus variation from the UK.

Edelstein is expected to request closing schools and imposing further limitations on businesses, but it is unclear if a majority of ministers will be back these measures.

Likud secretariat approves cancellation of party primaries

The Likud secretariat approves Netanyahu’s proposal to cancel the party’s primaries for the March 23 Knesset elections.

The party’s rules require that primaries for Likud’s electoral slate be held before every election. While there were primaries before the April 2019 elections, none were held ahead of the elections in September 2019 and March 2020, though there was a leadership primary before the latter.

The secretariat’s decision can be appealed to the party’s internal court.

The secretariat also grants six reserved spots on the electoral list for Netanyahu to pick candidates of his choosing.

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