The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says he gave his “full approval” for last week’s meeting between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the former’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin.
“The defense minister spoke with me in advance and I didn’t see any reason to prohibit [the meeting], including the location,” the premier tells reporters during a press conference.
Bennett says Gantz and Abbas discussed security and economic matters — not political issues — and reiterates his opposition to personally meeting with the PA chief.
Bennett says travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus will soon likely be lifted.
“I closed the skies five weeks ago when everything was fine, and in the coming week, it is likely that we will reopen the skies,” he says during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office.
He acknowledges that such a move may seem counterintuitive, but explains that when there are fewer active infections, the spread of the virus from abroad has a much more significant effect on morbidity in the country. However, when there are already tens of thousands of cases in Israel, the premier says another 50 infections among travelers from overseas are “meaningless.”
Bennett also defends the government’s handling of the current COVID-19 outbreak, in the face of criticism that the frequently updated restrictions are confusing the public.
“No one asked or invited another wave [of morbidity],” he says.
The premier urges Israelis to get vaccinated, wear masks, and to take steps to protect those most at risk from COVID.
“The vaccination protects you from serious illness… and from quarantine,” he says.
Bennett adds that the government is preparing to change its guidelines on who needs to get tested, in light of long lines at coronavirus testing facilities.
“There is a huge amount of verified [coronavirus cases] at the same time, above and beyond the reasonable capacity of the system,” he says.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says the director-general of the Health Ministry has approved granting a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine to Israelis over 60 and medical workers.
Bennett makes the announcement during a press conference on the current COVID-19 outbreak being fueled by the Omicron variant.
He also predicts new infections could peak at over 50,000 a day during the current wave of morbidity.
The Israeli military issues a demolition order for the home of a Palestinian terrorist behind a deadly terror attack in November in Jerusalem’s Old City.
On November 21, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam opened fire at a number of Israeli men in the alleyways of the Old City, killing one man, Eliyahu Kay, and injuring four others, two of them seriously. Border Police officers returned fire, killing Abu Shkhaydam.
The military initiated the process of demolishing Abu Shkaydam’s home in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp shortly after the attack. His family appealed the decision in court, but their requests were rejected.
The head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, signed the seizure and demolition order for Abu Shkaydam’s home, the military says.
The ministerial forum guiding the government’s COVID-19 response approves granting a temporary Green Pass to anyone who gets a vaccine shot.
The temporary certificates will be valid for 30 days after someone gets a first vaccine dose and will allow entry to all venues and events that require proof of immunization.
The passes will begin to be issued on January 6.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh says that if Israel does not come to a prisoner accord with the terror group, it will kidnap more Israelis.
“We have four prisoners, and if Israel is not convinced by that, then we will add to our stash,” Haniyeh says in comments circulated in official Hamas media.
Israel and Hamas have held indirect talks in an attempt to reach a prisoner exchange for years. The terror group holds two live Israeli captives and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. Repeated negotiation attempts have failed to bear fruit.
According to Hamas-affiliated websites, Haniyeh’s remarks were made during an interview with the Qatari state-backed Al Jazeera news network that is set to air later tonight.
SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter bans the personal account of Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia for multiple violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policy, according to a statement from the company.
Greene’s account is permanently suspended under the “strike” system Twitter launched in March, which uses artificial intelligence to identify posts about the coronavirus that are misleading enough to cause harm to people. Two or three strikes earn a 12-hour account lock; four strikes prompt a week-long suspension, and five or more strikes can get someone permanently removed from Twitter.
Her office is not immediately responding to a request for comment.
Twitter had previously suspended the account for periods ranging from 12 hours to a full week.
The ban applies to Greene’s personal account, @mtgreenee, but does not affect her official Twitter account, @RepMTG.
A Greene tweet posted shortly before her weeklong suspension in July claimed that the virus “is not dangerous for non-obese people and those under 65.” According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people under 65 account for nearly 250,000 of the US deaths involving COVID-19.
Greene previously blasted a weeklong suspension as a “Communist-style attack on free speech.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid dresses down his deputy Idan Roll after the latter was filmed dancing without a mask at a New Year’s Eve party.
According to Lapid’s office, Roll says he didn’t break any rules. Lapid tells Roll, a member of his Yesh Atid party, that public officials must be particularly fastidious about adhering to COVID-19 guidelines to serve as an example to the public.
סגן שר החוץ עידן רול תועד אמש מבלה במסיבה ללא מסכה. מלשכתו נמסר כי מדובר באירוע פרטי שנערך על פי נהלי והנחיות הקורונה, וכל המשתתפים בו נדרשו להציג בדיקת קורונה שלילית מיום האירוע ליתר ביטחון@yaara_shapira pic.twitter.com/IJMPjZSrbs
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 1, 2022
KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudanese security forces killed two protesters in Omdurman, twin city of the capital Khartoum, medics says, as thousands rallied against the military.
The pro-democracy Doctors’ Committee says one of the protesters was shot in the chest while the second suffered a “severe head wound.”
Today’s deaths bring the total number of protesters killed in a violent crackdown since a military takeover in October to 56, while hundreds have been wounded.
Sudan has been plunged into turmoil since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — the country’s de facto leader following the 2019 ouster of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir — launched a coup and detained the prime minister.
Premier Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated on November 21, but mass protests have continued as demonstrators distrust veteran general Burhan and his promises of seeking to guide the country toward full democracy.
The Health Ministry is considering only requiring people over 60 who display COVID-19 symptoms to be tested for coronavirus, the Walla news site reports.
LONDON — The UK government has been making contingency plans in case hospitals, schools and other workplaces are hit by major staff shortages amid the country’s record-breaking spike in coronavirus infections.
Public sector workplaces have been preparing for staff absences ranging from 10% to 25% as COVID-19 sickens more people or forces them to isolate, the Cabinet Office says.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has caused Britain’s daily new caseload to soar over Christmas and the New Year, with a new daily high of 189,000 on December 31. About 1 in 25 people in England — or about 2 million people — had COVID-19 in the week before Christmas, the Office of National Statistics estimated. In London, the figure was 1 in 15.
Cabinet Office Minister Stephen Barclay says there have already been “significant” absences and the government is preparing for “every eventuality.”
“It’s important that those contingency plans are refreshed and that we take measures to mitigate those impacts,” Barclay says.
He cites increased support for virus testing in schools and warehouses, and perhaps better ventilation, as an example of how to prevent disruptions.
Devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have imposed limits on events and social gatherings in the face of the fast-spreading omicron. But Health Secretary Sajid Javid says adding new restrictions is a “last resort” for England, despite the climbing daily infection rate.
WASHINGTON — The United States is experiencing “almost a vertical increase” in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant sweeps the country, but the peak may be only weeks away, top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci says.
“We are definitely in the middle of a very severe surge and uptick in cases,” Fauci says on ABC’s “This Week,” calling the soaring infection rate “really unprecedented.”
With the Omicron variant of the virus sweeping around the world, more than 440,000 new cases were reported in the US on Friday, almost exactly 200,000 more than during a peak last February.
But Fauci says the experience of South Africa — where the strain was first detected in late November and peaked quickly, then subsided almost as quickly — offered some hope.
Evidence is mounting, he adds, that Omicron is milder than previous variants. The US rates of deaths and hospitalizations have been far lower in recent weeks than during previous COVID surges.
The United States, like other countries, has been struggling to find a balance that will protect public health without gravely damaging the economy or slamming key services like policing and air travel.
With children set to return to school Monday following the year-end break, both Fauci and the US education secretary said they thought in-person instruction can be conducted safely if proper precautions are taken.
Fauci again pleads with parents to be sure their children are vaccinated, wear masks and get tested if need be.
“I think all those things put together, it’s safe enough to get those kids back to school, balanced against the deleterious effects of keeping them out,” Fauci says.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will hold a press conference at 8 p.m. this evening on the current COVID-19 outbreak being fueled by the Omicron variant.
Health Ministry officials convene to deliberate approving a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for Israelis over 60 and medical workers, after making them available to the immunocompromised.
Ministry sources tell Hebrew media that “the direction is positive” on approval.
An advisory panel has already back additional booster shots for older Israelis and medical workers, but Health Minister Director-General Nachman Ash has yet to authorize the recommendation.
BEIRUT — The head of Lebanon’s largest Christian party says that a 15-year-old alliance with the country’s powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah was no longer working and must evolve.
The televised speech today by Gebran Bassil, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement, signals an unprecedented level of frustration with Hezbollah and suggests the 2006 alliance credited with helping maintain peace in the small country was in jeopardy.
Bassil’s comments come amid a devastating economic crisis and also ahead of critical parliamentary elections in which his party is expecting tough competition. Undoing the alliance with Hezbollah would cost him more votes in the May elections.
But Bassil, a former foreign minister, says the alliance is costing him credibility with supporters. Bassil is also the son-in-law of Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun. He has positioned himself as a reformer and is believed to have ambitions to run for president himself.
Bassil pins his frustration on Hezbollah’s other ally, the powerful Shiite Amal Movement, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. He says in recent months Hezbollah has backed Berri’s Amal at the expense of their own alliance.
“We reached an understanding with Hezbollah (in 2006) not with Amal,” Bassil says in an hour-long speech. “When we discover that the one making decisions in (this alliance) is Amal, it is our right to reconsider.”
Bassil also criticizes Hezbollah for not backing his party on reform laws that he says aim to weed out corruption and ensure decentralized financial policies, or in efforts to protect constitutional powers of the president. Such choices have left Bassil unable to justify to his supporters Hezbollah’s decisions, he adds, openly blaming Berri for the rift.
“It is understandable why the Americans want to corner Hezbollah, but it is not understandable why (Hezbollah) wants to corner themselves,” Bassil says of Hezbollah’s alliance with Berri.
Hezbollah is designated a terrorist group by the United States. Bassil has been placed on a US sanctions list for corruption. He claims the sanctions are to pressure him to undo his alliance with Hezbollah.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai says Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz pledged that COVID-19 restrictions on entering Israel will be eased this week.
“In the cabinet meeting today I raised the urgent need to open the skies for world Jewry,” Shai tweets.
In the cabinet meeting today I raised the urgent need to open the skies for world Jewry.
PM Bennett & health min. both committed to me that there will be a substantial easing of policies 4 entrance into Israel this week.
I will continue to be your voice and advocate in the Gov.
— נחמן שי- Nachman Shai (@DrNachmanShai) January 2, 2022
The Health Ministry announces that it has approved use of Merck’s anti-COVID pill, after authorizing Pfizer’s medication for treating coronavirus infections at home.
The ministry says it inked a deal with Merck to purchase molnupiravir, which is being sold under the name Lagevrio, with the first shipment expected to arrive in the coming days. It doesn’t specify how many pills it agreed to buy.
The pill is less effective at treating COVID than Pfizer’s. The full results of a clinical trial released by Merck showed the drug reduced the rate of hospitalization and death for at-risk patients who took it shortly after infection by 30 percent — not 50 percent as previous results showed.
The Israel Defense Forces’ top medical officer has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the military says.
The officer, Brig. Gen. Elon Glasberg, apparently caught the virus from one of his children, who had received three doses of the vaccine, the IDF says.
“He feels well and will continue to work from his home until the end of his convalescence,” the military says, stressing that his illness will not affect the day-to-day functioning of the IDF Medical Corps.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev tells fellow ministers that the government needs to decide on a policy response to the current COVID-19 outbreak and stick with it, decrying the frequently changing restrictions.
“We are confusing the public,” he is quoted as saying by Hebrew media during the weekly cabinet meeting. “We need to make a decision and not change it.”
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz defends the government response to the Omicron variant.
“The guidelines are changing because the reality is changing,” he says, according to Channel 13 news.
AMSTERDAM — Thousands of people in the Netherlands defy a ban on assembling and demonstrate against the Dutch government’s coronavirus lockdown measures, gathering on a central square before marching toward a park in Amsterdam.
A small group of demonstrators briefly clash with riot police as officers work to clear the crowd from Museum Square based on an order from Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema. Reporters at the scene see at least one person being detained.
The local government had outlawed the protest, saying police had indications some demonstrators might be planning to attend “prepared for violence.” The municipality later issued an emergency order for people to leave the square, and riot police march across the grass to clear the area, sending the demonstrators into nearby streets.
Before officers moved in, some participants unfurled a banner that read, “Less repression, more care” near the Van Gogh Museum. A group of people in white overalls and white masks held up signs, including one that said: “It’s not about a virus, it’s about control” on one side and “Freedom” on the other. One person walked through the crowd carrying a “Trump 2024” flag.
There was a heavy police presence on the square and in nearby streets. The municipality designated the area as a security risk region, giving police the authority to frisk people preventatively.
After marching through the city, demonstrators began gathering at a western Amsterdam park for a rally of the populist Forum for Democracy party.
The demonstration came on the same day Dutch police said they would take action to protest the increasing demands of their work. Union representatives have said riot police would continue to work, if necessary.
Coronavirus infection rates have been gradually decreasing for weeks in the Netherlands, which re-introduced lockdown measures in November and tightened them further during the holiday season.
The Zionist Federation of Australia urges Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to lift the entry ban on non-Israeli nationals, expressing concern over the impact of the travel restrictions on ties between Israel and Jews Down Under.
“On behalf of the Australian Jewish community, I urge you to find a solution that appropriately protects the health and wellbeing of Israeli citizens but allows Diaspora Jewry to visit Israel under whatever necessary safeguards or conditions are required,” Jeremy Leibler, the group’s president, writes in an open letter to Bennett.
He adds: “Israel has been a leader in fighting COVID-19 and protecting its citizens. I am certain it can continue to do so while ensuring that the bond between Israel and the Diaspora remains strong.”
Bar-Ilan University announces a return to online classes until the end of the semester due to rising COVID-19 cases.
The university says the move is aimed “at reducing contact as much as possible and helping stop the infection chain.”
A Palestinian man is seriously injured during a brawl in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood, according to Hebrew media reports.
Police are looking for suspects who fled the scene.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says paramedics took the 26-year-old to Shaare Zedek Medical Center to be treated for a head wound.
The man, who was reportedly struck with a metal pipe, is a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett suggests the government may tighten the criteria to receive a COVID-19 test amid concerns of a shortage as the Omicron variant fuels a surge in new coronavirus cases.
“We will need to raise the threshold for who can get tested, because the testing system doesn’t have enough capacity — no country does,” Bennett says during the weekly cabinet meeting, according to Channel 12 news.
His remarks come as long lines at testing sites are reported around the country.
“We are doing the most tests in the world relatively, so there are lines,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz is quoted as saying during the meeting.
He also reportedly warns: “This will be an extreme but short wave.”
Also during the meeting, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov calls for ending quarantine rules for vaccinated Israelis returning from abroad.
“I hope that at the same time we will allow the return of vaccinated foreigners to Israel. The tourism industry and the economy can’t continue to bear the burden,” he says, according to Army Radio.
Bennett responds: “That will probably happen this week.”
PARIS — Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi is among four players in the Paris Saint-Germain squad to have tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of the team’s French Cup game tomorrow night.
PSG added that one staff member also had COVID-19, in a statement last night. None of them were named at that point, but in a further statement on the team’s medical news today the club names Messi, left back Juan Bernat, backup goalie Sergio Rico and 19-year-old midfielder Nathan Bitumazala.
PSG is playing at third-tier Vannes.
Last year’s runner-up Monaco was in action later Sunday at second-tier Quevilly-Rouen in one of 13 games scheduled for the day as sides bid to reach the last 16.
Monaco said yesterday that seven players had COVID-19 but none showed any worrying signs and are isolating.
Police arrest two migrant workers living in Tel Aviv on suspicion of raping a woman with special needs.
The woman, 22, had been reported missing from the supportive housing facility in the Sharon region where she lives.
The cabinet approves the decision by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev to designate the Israel Police’s Special Police Unit the country’s national counterterrorism unit.
The move will see additional funds allocated to the unit, known by its Hebrew acronym Yamam, to boost its capabilities.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett recalls a recent visit to the Special Police Unit.
“I saw the unit members in action, practicing what they know how to do very well – taking control of a terrorist event with determination, efficiency and professionalism. Do not mess with them,” he says.
The Agriculture Ministry announces that two more avian flu outbreaks have been detected in the north.
A ministry statement says the flu cases were detected in turkey and chicken coops at Moshav Dvora and Givat Yoav, which together house some 48,000 birds.
Agricultural Minister Oded Forer calls for boosting “biological safety” at bird coops “so there won’t be another developing and continued event like this next year.”
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