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Nationalist tree planting in the south sparks coalition infighting, violent protests

Bedouin protesters see KKL planting program as a land grab; Ra’am threatens to boycott coalition; 2 police injured in riot

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Ra'am party, speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Ra'am party, speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Labor lawmaker becomes 10th MK infected with COVID in recent days

Labor lawmaker Emilie Moatti says she has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Friends, I just informed the party that I also, like many of us, tested positive for coronavirus. I feel reasonably well, I had some fever. I think it’s going to be okay,” Moatti writes on Twitter.

Her announcement comes shortly after Yamina’s Yomtob Kalfon also tests positive.

At least 10 Knesset members have come down with the virus in recent days, including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

Rahat mayor demands end to tree planting

The mayor of Rahat, an Arab-majority city in southern Israel, demands the government end tree planting in the south, amid violent protests and government infighting over the KKL-JNF program.

“The government must stop the planting in the Negev immediately. Residential areas are more important than planting trees,” Fayez Abu Sahiban tells Army Radio.

“The Bedouins are the ones that caused Ra’am to be part of the Bennett government, and if the government doesn’t solve this issue, the Bedouin won’t have oxygen to keep going.”

Lapid, Netanyahu spar over KKL tree planting as crisis widens

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid exchange barbs over a KKL-JNF tree planting program in southern Israel, as Bedouin protesters scrapped with police and held up traffic in the Negev over the program.

The protesters see the tree planting program as claiming Bedouin land. The coalition’s Ra’am party, whose support is based in Arab communities in the Negev, has threatened to boycott the coalition over the planting.

Members of Netanyahu’s Likud party attended a planting ceremony in the south earlier today.

“No one will stop the planting of trees in the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu tweets. “I give full backing to the security forces and demand [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett immediately condemn the incitement by Ra’am.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Bennett’s chief political partner, hits back at Netanyahu, railing at “12 years of the abandonment of the Negev and neglect of the Bedouin problem” during the former premier’s tenure.

Lapid also voices support for halting the tree plantings.

“Just as the Netanyahu government stopped the plantings in 2020, it’s possible to stop now to reorganize,” he says in a statement.

“Politicians on both sides need to calm the area instead of fanning the flames,” Lapid adds.

He also condemned the rioting and voiced backing for police.

Protesting Negev Bedouin throw stones, block train near Segev Shalom

Police in southern Israel say they are dealing with protests by Bedouin, who are apparently angered over tree plantings by the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth L’Yisrael, including a ceremony in the JNF-controlled Yatir forest attended by MKs earlier in the day.

Two officers are injured while trying to quell the demonstrations near Segev Shalom in the northern part of the Negev desert, a statement says.

“Police at Segev Shalom junction have gained control over the incident,” a police statement says, but notes that police activity is continuing.

Police earlier closed Route 25 from Segev Shalom to Nevatim, just outside Beersheba, due to the protests. According to authorities, protesters hurled stones at a car and a bus on the road and blocked a nearby passenger train by piling rocks on the tracks. The stones were later removed so the train could continue.

Videos and pictures show tires and garbage bins on fire in the road.

“Officers will allow freedom of protest so long as it is within the confines of the law and with no tolerance for those who break it,” police say in a statement.

Yamina MK tests positive for COVID

Yomtob Kalfon speaks at a protest in Jerusalem, on July 17, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Yomtob Kalfon speaks at a protest in Jerusalem, on July 17, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Yamina MK Yomtob Kalfon tests positive for COVID-19, joining a long line of officials who have been infected over the past week.

Yesterday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tested positive for COVID, and at least half a dozen other MKs also have the virus. Public Security Minister Omer Barlev also recently tested positive.

So far, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — who has been vaccinated three times — has continued to test negative despite his exposure to several COVID patients.

Ra’am chief said to threaten boycott of coalition votes over tree planting in south

MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Ra'am party, speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist Ra'am party, speaks during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am chief MK Mansour Abbas is reportedly vowing to not vote with the coalition moving forward due to anger over ongoing plantings of trees in the south by Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael-Jewish National Fund.

In comments cited by Channel 12 news, Abbas says “we will not vote with the coalition under the plantings in the south are stopped.” Such plantings are seen as an attempt by the KKL and Jewish groups to mark territory in the south that Bedouin groups claim belongs to them.

“I can’t continue to live with this,” Abbas is quoted as saying. “I can’t continue like this, I have absorbed more difficult things in the past, but when they shoot straight in my chest I can’t stand it anymore. The south is Ra’am.” He reportedly vowed to cease voting with the coalition until the issue is solved.

Earlier today, a delegation of Likud MKs took part in a tree-planting ceremony in the KKL-controlled Yatir Forest in the south. Separately, the MKs faced criticism for planting trees during the shmita sabbatical year.

With an extremely narrow 61-seat coalition, every vote in the Knesset can come down to a single vote, and the opposition has in the past voted against bills it supports just to embarrass the current government.

Health Ministry revises figures, says Monday COVID cases topped 40,000

People stand in line to be PCR tested for the coronavirus at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People stand in line to be PCR tested for the coronavirus at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry revises its COVID data for yesterday, now saying that 41,154 people were confirmed positive for coronavirus Monday, several thousand higher than reported this morning.

The ministry has only recently begun counting both PCR and antigen positive tests in its official data, after a new testing policy went into effect this week prioritizing PCR tests for those over 60.

According to the new data, there are currently 194,523 active COVID cases in the country, with 703 hospitalized and 253 of those in serious condition.

So far, 413,576 people in Israel have received a 4th dose of the COVID vaccine.

US Justice Department creating unit focused on domestic terrorism

In this September 7, 2020, file photo, a protester carries a Proud Boys banner, a right-wing group, while other members start to unfurl a large US flag in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)
In this September 7, 2020, file photo, a protester carries a Proud Boys banner, a right-wing group, while other members start to unfurl a large US flag in front of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Oregon. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

The Justice Department is establishing a specialized unit focused on domestic terrorism, the department’s top national security official tells lawmakers, as he describes an “elevated” threat from violent extremists in the United States.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, testifying just days after the nation observed the one-year anniversary of the violent insurrection at the US Capitol, says the number of FBI investigations into suspected domestic violent extremists has more than doubled since the spring of 2020.

“We have seen a growing threat from those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and anti-authority ideologies,” Olsen says.

Jill Sanborn, the executive assistant director in charge of the FBI’s national security branch who testified alongside Olsen, says the greatest threat comes from lone extremists who radicalize online and look to carry out violence at so-called “soft targets.”

COVID cabinet meets, hears from experts on Omicron predictions

Hospital workers wear safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hospital workers wear safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A meeting of the COVID cabinet is underway this evening, as experts warn that the Omicron wave will not peak for several weeks.

According to reports, health experts will tell the cabinet ministers that the current infections will double once again and reach hundreds of thousands of new daily cases sometime in the next 2-3 weeks.

Experts believe that serious cases in the current wave — which stand at around 250 now — will continue to rise, but won’t surpass the rates seen during the Delta wave last year, which saw a peak of around 1,200 serious cases at one time.

However, due to the great uncertainty around the Omicron variant, hospitals are being warned to prepare for up to 2,500 serious cases at one time, in order to be ready for the worst case scenario.

Jewish groups urge Senate to approve supplemental Iron Dome funding

The Iron dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile at rockets shot from the Gaza Strip toward Ashkelon, on May 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
The Iron dome anti-missile system fires an interceptor missile at rockets shot from the Gaza Strip toward Ashkelon, on May 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Eight Jewish and pro-Israel groups pen a letter to the US Senate urging it to move forward with supplemental funding to replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system.

“Withholding funding for our closest ally while terrorists continue to threaten their people puts Israel in grave danger, increases the likelihood of innocent Palestinian and Israelis being harmed in another round of conflict and hurts American standing and national security interests,” the groups write in the letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the measure, Republican Senator Rand Paul has repeatedly blocked the vote from moving forward.

“One person’s objection should not undermine the overwhelming bipartisan will of the Senate nor stand in the way of ensuring Israel has the tools necessary to keep its people safe,” they write.

“While we understand the supplemental Iron Dome funding would likely be included in a final omnibus spending package, the delay and even the prospects of a second continuing resolution undermine Israel’s security when the need to replenish this defensive system is urgent.”

The letter is signed by Christians United for Israel; The Jewish Federations of North America; Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; the Union for Reform Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League.

WHO says repeated COVID boosters not a viable strategy

A man receives a fourth Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a private nursing home, in Netanya, on January 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A man receives a fourth Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a private nursing home, in Netanya, on January 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

World Health Organization experts warn that repeating booster doses of the original COVID vaccines is not a viable strategy against emerging variants and call for new jabs that better protect against transmission.

An expert group created by the WHO to assess the performance of COVID-19 vaccines says simply providing fresh jabs of existing vaccines as new strains of the virus emerge is not the best way to fight the pandemic.

“A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” the WHO Technical Advisory Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Composition (TAG-Co-VAC) says in a statement.

The group says there may be a need to update the existing vaccines to better target emerging COVID variants, like Omicron, which has spread rapidly and has been detected in 149 countries so far.

Earlier this month, Israel became one of the first countries in the world to provide a 4th dose of the COVID vaccine when it rolled out such shots to Israelis over 60 and medical workers. Multiple countries are weighing or planning on following suit.

North Korea fires possible ballistic missile into sea amid stalled talks

People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

North Korea fires what appeared to be a ballistic missile into its eastern sea, its second launch in a week, following leader Kim Jong Un’s calls to expand its nuclear weapons program in defiance of international opposition.

The launches follow a series of weapons tests in 2021 that underscored how North Korea is continuing to expand its military capabilities during a self-imposed pandemic lockdown and deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff say North Korea fired what likely was a ballistic missile from the area of its northern Jagang province. It says the weapon flew 700 kilometers (434 miles) at a maximum speed of around Mach 10 before landing in waters off its eastern coast, demonstrating a more advanced capability than North Korea’s launch last week.

Japan’s Defense Ministry says the suspected ballistic missile landed outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says officials are checking the safety of ships and aircraft around Japan, but there were no immediate reports of disruptions or damage.

Egypt’s Sissi criticizes Europe’s handling of migrant crisis

In this photo provided by Egypt's presidency media office, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, speaks at an international youth conference, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Monday, January 10, 2022. (Egyptian Presidency Media Office via AP)
In this photo provided by Egypt's presidency media office, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, speaks at an international youth conference, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Monday, January 10, 2022. (Egyptian Presidency Media Office via AP)

Egypt’s leader criticizes Europe’s handling of the migration crisis and its refusal to receive refugees arriving at its borders, saying his own country has taken in millions of people who left their home countries.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi says Egypt hosts at least 6 million people who fled conflict and poverty at home. He says his government, unlike some other countries, doesn’t hold migrants in refugee camps but allows them to live freely in the community.

“I’m talking about huge numbers, not about five or ten thousand, [that] our friends in Europe refuse to receive,” Sissi says.

Sissi says his government has in recent years tightened border security and managed to prevent Egypt from becoming a departure point for migrants fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.

“We didn’t allow people to use Egypt as a crossing point where people cross into the unknown and face a very harsh destiny in the Mediterranean while migrating to Europe,” he says.

Bennett: Economy will stay open as much as possible in Omicron wave

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 2, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 2, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that despite skyrocketing COVID cases in the country, he is working to ensure the economy stays open.

“Omicron is a variant that infects more than all the other variants put together,” says Bennett in a live press conference ahead of a scheduled meeting of the COVID cabinet this evening.

But Bennett vows that his goal is that “the market will stay open as much as possible and the economy will still be working.”

“I don’t want to see people losing their jobs, closing their businesses,” he says. He calls on people to work from home as much as possible, and also notes that the state will fund quarantine days, including for the self-employed, as part of a new initiative agreed to by the Finance Ministry.

“Lockdowns don’t work,” he says, pointing to other countries with lockdowns that also have skyrocketing cases.

Alongside that goal, the prime minister says, are the goals of protecting the elderly and most at-risk populations as well as children. Bennett says the rules for schools will be the same as for adults, and therefore many children will enter quarantine because many are not vaccinated.

Israel is providing “the best protection in the world for those who are vulnerable,” he says — including with booster vaccines and pills.

He says he instructed hospital chiefs to prepare for up to 4,000 serious cases at the height of the Omicron wave, even though the experts predict 1,500-2,500.

He also addresses the hours-long lines at testing stations around the country. “The lines are long, I understand, I hate standing in line myself, I know how frustrating it is,” says Bennett, calling on people not to do PCR tests if they are not over 60.

He insists the government is providing “an answer” for those businesses affected, but says these are “specific” businesses, not all. Unlike the last government, he says, he’s not going “to mortgage our children’s future” by giving out money indiscriminately.

Bennett accuses former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of acting “unpatriotically” in his criticisms of the government, referencing a recent video of the opposition leader mocking the reliability of antigen tests.

“It’s going to be unpleasant here [in the next few weeks],” Bennett says. “We’re in a situation that happens once in an era… the opposition is trying to create chaos and hysteria. It’s unjustified. We’re managing this better than almost anywhere in the world.”

Soldier wounded in suspected West Bank ramming attack

The scene of a suspected ramming attack near Halamish, on January 11, 2022. (Courtesy)
The scene of a suspected ramming attack near Halamish, on January 11, 2022. (Courtesy)

The IDF says that a suspected ramming attack was reported near the West Bank settlement of Halamish, also known as Neve Tzuf.

A 19-year-old IDF soldier was moderately wounded in the incident, and is receiving medical treatment.

Magen David Adom says the man is wounded on his lower limbs and will be airlifted to a hospital in an IDF helicopter.

The vehicle and the driver have been caught, according to the local council.

The details of the incident are not immediately clear.

Catholic Church condemns swastika-draped casket at Rome funeral

A picture made available by the Italian online news portal Open, showing people gathered around a swastika-covered casket outside the St. Lucia church, in Rome, on Monday, January 10, 2022. (Open Via AP)
A picture made available by the Italian online news portal Open, showing people gathered around a swastika-covered casket outside the St. Lucia church, in Rome, on Monday, January 10, 2022. (Open Via AP)

The Catholic Church in Rome strongly condemns as “offensive and unacceptable” a funeral procession outside a local church in which the casket was draped in a Nazi flag and mourners gave the fascist salute.

Photos and video of the scene outside St. Lucia church following the funeral service yesterday were published by the Italian online news portal Open. They show around two dozen people gathered outside the church as the swastika-draped casket emerges, shouting “Presente!” (“Present!”) with their right arm extended in the fascist salute.

In a statement, the Vicariate of Rome strongly condemns the scene and stresses that neither the parish priest, nor the priest who officiated the funeral, knew what was going to transpire outside after the funeral Mass ended.

It calls the swastika-emblazoned Nazi flag “a horrendous symbol irreconcilable with Christianity.”

“This ideological and violent exploitation, especially following an act of worship near a sacred place, remains serious, offensive and unacceptable for the church community of Rome and for all people of good will in our city,” it says.

Israel Railways announces train route cuts due to COVID staff shortage

Seats on the train to Haifa, on March 17, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Seats on the train to Haifa, on March 17, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel Railways announces that train service will be cut today due to a staff shortage as many employees have tested positive for COVID.

According to the announcement, trains on the Ashkelon to Beersheba route will operate once an hour instead of twice an hour. In addition, train service along that route will end earlier than usual.

Also today, the train station at Ben Gurion International Airport returns to normal service following more than a month where passengers were not allowed to board at that station due to quarantine measures for travelers.

Israel donates $500,000 to Afghan refugees in Tajikistan

Afghan refugees prepare to board a plane at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, August 22, 2021. (Airman 1st Class Kylie Barrow/U.S. Air Force via AP)
Afghan refugees prepare to board a plane at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, August 22, 2021. (Airman 1st Class Kylie Barrow/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Israel has donated $500,000 to the United Nations for food, medical aid and other assistance for Afghan refugees in Tajikistan, the Foreign Ministry announces.

Alon Ushpiz, director general of the ministry, says Israel is proud to be part of the international effort to help Afghans who fled from the Taliban takeover of the country in August. Ushpiz says the aid is part of Israel’s commitment to the international community.

The donation came the same day the UN made what it called a record $5 billion appeal to help Afghanistan and its neighboring countries.

The appeal seeks $4.4 billion for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its partners, plus $623 million for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, to help more than 6 million Afghans who have fled. That’s about 15% of Afghanistan’s total population.

Others continue to trickle across the border, UNHCR said, while noting that an estimated 175,000 have returned to the country since the Taliban takeover.

Health Ministry announces drop to 7-day quarantine for asymptomatic COVID patients

A paramedic collects a swab sample at the Magen David Adom COVID-19 rapid coronavirus testing center in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on January 10, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)
A paramedic collects a swab sample at the Magen David Adom COVID-19 rapid coronavirus testing center in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on January 10, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Health Ministry director-general Prof. Nachman Ash announces that Israelis who test positive for COVID will only have to quarantine for seven days, down from 10, providing that the last three of those seven days are asymptomatic.

Ash says that in testing the ministry has carried out in recent weeks on Omicron patients, just 6% showed signs of the live virus seven days after they were infected.

If symptoms persist throughout the week, however, then patients must complete a full 10 days of quarantine.

The change in policy is slated to take effect at midnight between Wednesday and Thursday.

“We won’t mandate people stay in quarantine longer than necessary, in order to protect their health as well as the economy, education, culture and to continue normal life as much as possible alongside COVID,” says Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz.

17 said killed in drone strike in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

A group from the Tigrayan diaspora in North America protest about the conflict in Ethiopia, near the State Department, on Dec. 22, 2021, in Washington (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A group from the Tigrayan diaspora in North America protest about the conflict in Ethiopia, near the State Department, on Dec. 22, 2021, in Washington (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Seventeen civilians have been killed in a drone strike in the town of Mai Tsebri in Ethiopia’s war-hit Tigray region, aid workers tell AFP.

“Yesterday [Monday] the strike at Mai Tsebri occurred in the afternoon and killed 17 civilians working at the flour mill,” one aid worker says, citing witness accounts.

Health experts tell government: Don’t close schools, do limit gatherings

A paramedic collects a swab sample at the Magen David Adom COVID-19 rapid coronavirus testing center in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on January 10, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)
A paramedic collects a swab sample at the Magen David Adom COVID-19 rapid coronavirus testing center in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, on January 10, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Ahead of a meeting of the COVID cabinet this evening, a forum of experts tells the government that the course of the ongoing Omicron-fueled wave of COVID cannot be predicted.

Experts say the current wave cannot be stopped, even with a lockdown, and they advise against closing schools, but urge “hybrid solutions” when students test positive. They warn those who are elderly and at high risk of COVID complications to avoid contact with crowds or large groups as much as possible.

The advisers say that in the coming weeks the COVID wave will put very high pressure on the medical system and prevent people from receiving life-saving treatments.

They also recommend that the government limit large gatherings and institute restrictions on occupancy for most businesses.

‘Fauda’ creators sell production company to ex-Disney execs

In this May 30, 2019 photo, co-creators of Israel's hit TV show 'Fauda' Avi Issacharoff (left), who is also The Times of Israel's Arab affairs analyst, and Lior Raz pose for a photo in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
In this May 30, 2019 photo, co-creators of Israel's hit TV show 'Fauda' Avi Issacharoff (left), who is also The Times of Israel's Arab affairs analyst, and Lior Raz pose for a photo in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, the co-creators of the hit TV show “Fauda,” have sold their production company to two former Disney executives who have set up their own company, according to reports.

According to Variety, the deal inked between Raz and Issacharoff’s Faraway Road and Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer has come in under $50 million.

In addition to “Fauda,” which is slated to soon premiere its fourth season, the duo produced “Hit and Run” for Netflix, which was canceled after one season due to its high production costs. The pair still maintain a production deal with the streaming giant.

Suicide the leading cause of death among IDF soldiers last year

IDF soldiers stand near the site where a Israeli civilian was injured by gunfire from the Gaza Strip on December 29, 2021. (Flash90)
IDF soldiers stand near the site where a Israeli civilian was injured by gunfire from the Gaza Strip on December 29, 2021. (Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces saw a slight increase in the number of soldiers killed in uniform over the past year — 31 compared to the previous year’s 28 — as well as a small rise in the number of suicides, according to fresh statistics released by the military.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death, with at least 11 soldiers believed to have taken their own lives in 2021 and another two whose deaths are currently designated as accidents but which may also have been suicide, Brig. Gen. Yoram Knafo, chief of staff of the IDF Manpower Directorate, tells reporters.

Of the 11 soldiers believed to have taken their own lives, three were members of the Ethiopian community, far above the number than would be expected based on their representation in the population. One of the two additional possible suicides was also Ethiopian, further inflating the already disproportionate number. Knafo says the military is aware of this issue and is working to better address it, while trying to not stigmatize the Ethiopian population.

This is an increase from 2020, when nine soldiers were suspected of having died by suicide, though Knafo says that overall the number of suicides in the military has held steady at roughly 10 each year.

Only one IDF soldier was killed in combat over the past year, Omer Tabib, who was hit by an anti-tank guided missile on the Gaza border during May’s conflict with terror groups in the Strip. Another soldier, Yonatan Granot, was killed when he was shot in the head by another soldier who had allegedly fired a weapon on their base in violation of orders and is currently on trial for manslaughter.

The death of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was shot in the head by a Palestinian gunman during a riot along the Gaza border, was not included in the figures since he served in the Border Police.

Ten soldiers were killed in car accidents while on leave and six soldiers died of illnesses in 2021, none of them from the coronavirus, Knafo says.

Last year, no soldiers were killed in work or training accidents, he says.

Bennett to give live address to nation as Omicron surges

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 2, 2022. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 2, 2022. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will hold a live press conference this evening.

He is slated to speak to the public from the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv at 6:15 p.m. local time, and address “the continued effort to combat Omicron.”

Close to 38,000 new cases of COVID were confirmed in Israel yesterday, as each day over the past week has seen a new daily record set in transmission of the virus.

Bennett has faced a wave of criticism for sticking by his promise to not institute a national lockdown in order to minimize damage to the economy.

IDF vet who self-immolated heard speaking for the first time since incident

IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan. (Facebook)
IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan. (Facebook)

An IDF veteran with PTSD who has been hospitalized since April after self-immolating in an act of protest was publicly heard speaking for the first time, as the hospital releases a recorded blessing for Israel’s doctors.

Itzik Saidyan’s condition has improved significantly in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, he left his hospital room for the first time in a wheelchair and went outdoors.

Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv — where he is hospitalized — publishes a recording of Saidyan making remarks in honor of Israel’s national Doctor’s Day.

“Hello dear doctors. I, Itzik Saidyan, want to wish you a happy and joyful day and to thank Sheba hospital, the Burn Unit and all the doctors, Prof. [Yosef] Hayek and Dr. [Moti] Haratz, and all the nurses,” Saidyan can be heard saying, sounding slightly out of breath.

High Court to Shaked: Stop enforcing expired ‘Citizenship Law’ on Palestinian spouses

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court orders Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to cease her implicit ban on Palestinian spouses receiving residency in Israel, saying that she is attempting to enforce a law that expired in July.

“The basic rules of administrative law do not allow the enforcement of a law that is no longer on the books,” Justice Dafna Barak-Erez writes in a ruling issuing a temporary injunction to Shaked to lift the ban.

In July, the Citizenship Law expired following a dramatic predawn vote. The right-wing opposition, led by Likud, voted against renewing the law in an attempt to embarrass the coalition. Two Ra’am coalition parliamentarians also abstained.

After the law expired, Shaked instructed ministry staff to continue as though the ban were still valid until further notice. Shaked has pushed for even stricter controls on Palestinian immigration to Israel in the past, and has vowed to pass the law again in the coming weeks.

Civil rights groups appealed what they decried as a violation of the rule of law. Their case is currently pending in the Jerusalem District Court; Barak-Erez’s ruling today serves a temporary injunction until the end of those proceedings.

An official close to Shaked says: “The minister intends in the coming weeks to re-enact the law. Hopefully the opposition that toppled the law before will not act against the state.”

Barak-Erez scoffs at that claim in her ruling, quoting a previous Supreme Court filing: “No government office can base [its actions] on predicted legislation. They must act under the law as it is.”

The Citizenship Law has been wildly controversial since its inception. Israeli politicians initially justified it on security grounds, while rights groups charge it discriminates against Palestinians and Arab Israelis. The Supreme Court upheld the law in a 6-5 decision in 2012 after a protracted legal battle.

Suspect in South African parliament fire charged with terrorism

A general view of a building on fire at the South African Parliament precinct in Cape Town on January 2, 2022. (Obed Zilwa / AFP)
A general view of a building on fire at the South African Parliament precinct in Cape Town on January 2, 2022. (Obed Zilwa / AFP)

A man suspected of starting a fire that gutted South Africa’s parliament appears in court to face a new charge of terrorism, in addition to robbery and arson accusations.

Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, was arrested around the parliament complex in Cape Town after the fire broke out on January 2, and appeared in court three days later.

Mafe was initially charged with breaking into parliament, arson and intention to steal property, including laptops, crockery and documents, before the terrorism charge was added.

Prosecutors say the additional charge was introduced after investigators viewed CCTV footage from parliament on Monday.

A new charge reads that the “accused is guilty of the offence of contravening the provisions of… the protection of constitutional democracy against terrorist and related activities,” according to a court document.

“The accused did unlawfully and intentionally deliver, place, discharge or detonate an explosive, or other lethal device in… parliament building with the purpose… of causing extensive damage,” it says, without giving further details.

National Library board chief resigns after report he paid to silence harassment claim

David Blumberg, head of Israel's National Library. (Screenshot/YouTube)
David Blumberg, head of Israel's National Library. (Screenshot/YouTube)

David Blumberg, the chairman of the National Library of Israel’s board of directors, resigns from his position days after he was accused of paying a former employee to silence her following accusations of sexual harassment.

In Blumberg’s resignation letter, reports Haaretz, the library chief claims he “fell victim to a fierce and vicious attack… motivated by political and personal revenge.”

Last week, Channel 13 news reported that Blumberg agreed to pay his accuser NIS 240,000 ($77,000), and in exchange, she signed a deal barring her from revealing that he sexually harassed her.

The two signed the secret agreement with the help of a lawyer in December 2020. The deal stipulated that if the woman spoke of the harassment, the money would be confiscated, the report said.

2 die in Egypt after truck slides off ferry, plunges into Nile

In this April 17, 2017 file photo, holiday makers enjoy Nile cruises during Sham el-Nessim, or "smelling the breeze," in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
In this April 17, 2017 file photo, holiday makers enjoy Nile cruises during Sham el-Nessim, or "smelling the breeze," in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

At least two people have died and eight are still missing after a small truck they were riding in slid off a ferry and plunged into the Nile River, say authorities in Egypt.

The accident happened just outside of Cairo yesterday, in the town of Monshat el-Kanater in Giza province, the office of the public prosecutor says in a statement.

The statement says the driver lost control of the truck while the unlicensed, rickety ferry was transporting it across the river. The truck was carrying 24 workers, including children, returning home from a farm where they worked, it says.

Fourteen people were rescued, and rescue workers were still searching for the missing, it says.

Authorities have arrested the truck diver and three ferry workers, and were searching for the ferry’s owner, the statement says.

Ferry, railway and road accidents are common in Egypt mainly because of poor maintenance and the lack of regulations.

IDF cancels reservist exercises, limits leave as military COVID cases soar

Israeli soldiers wear face masks at a police roadblock in Tel Aviv during the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, September 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers wear face masks at a police roadblock in Tel Aviv during the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, September 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Israel Defense Forces cancels all exercises for reservists through the end of the month as it rolls out a number of fresh restrictions as coronavirus cases in the military have skyrocketed in recent days and are expected to continue to do so in the coming weeks, a senior IDF officer says.

As of today, there are currently more than 6,000 soldiers, officers and civilian employees of the military who have been diagnosed with the disease, an increase of more than 1,000 cases in 24 hours.

In addition to the canceled exercises for reservists, the military is limiting leave time for combat soldiers over the next two weeks in order to ensure that it has sufficient troops at its disposal, the senior officer tells reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The IDF is also tightening its restrictions on gatherings, he says.

The officer says the military anticipates the meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases to continue in the coming weeks. The IDF is now working to “lower the flames” of the outbreak and ensure the military can continue functioning as needed, he says.

The officer adds that the IDF has purchased hundreds of thousands of testing kits in order to better track the disease’s spread through the military.

Zelensky calls for international summit to end war in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures while speaking to the media during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, November 26, 2021. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures while speaking to the media during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday, November 26, 2021. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calls for a new summit with France, Germany and Russia to resolve the conflict in his country, at the center of intensive talks between the West and Russia this week.

“It is time to agree in a substantive manner on an end to the conflict and we are ready to take the necessary decisions during a new summit of the leaders of the four countries,” Zelensky says in a statement following a meeting with European diplomats.

High school principals group head: Half of students are no-shows

Yehud Comprehensive High School students take their matriculation exams in Yehud on July 8, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)
Yehud Comprehensive High School students take their matriculation exams in Yehud on July 8, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)

The head of the high school principals’ union says close to half of all high school students are absent from class due to the current COVID wave.

Menashe Levi, chairman of the School Administrators Association, says about 50% of high school students are showing up: “Everyone is either getting, tested, in quarantine or decided not to come,” he tells Army Radio. “We don’t need to close every school, but we need to do it in a differential manner.”

Levi refutes a statement made earlier in the day cited by the director of the Education Ministry, who claimed that “the vast majority of students are learning as normal.”

“She is mistaken in her figures,” says Levi. “Some schools need to move to Zoom.”

As of yesterday, more than 42,000 schoolkids had COVID and another 85,000 were in quarantine due to exposure.

Minister: Figures show Israel is heading toward ‘herd immunity’

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej says that the latest figures show Israel is heading toward “herd immunity.”

“According to the figures we have, 2-4 million people in the next three weeks are expected to test positive,” Frej tells Ynet. “This is the direction. Why should we bury our heads in the ground like an ostrich? The pandemic is reaching everyone.”

Frej admits that the government “is not able to do all the tests needed, we don’t have enough PCR tests, we have a problem with labs.” But he defends the government, saying it is making decisions “to do the maximum to protect public health” with vaccines and antiviral medications.

The minister says a lockdown will do more damage than good, and calls for adherence to the current guidelines: “The behavior of the public is more important than anything we do… everyone’s behavior is what will determine our direction.”

Yesterday, 37,887 Israelis tested positive via PCR or antigen tests, with more than 185,000 active cases. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier in the week that 2-4 million Israelis are likely to be infected in the current Omicron-fueled wave.

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