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

At Swiss graft trial, Israeli diamond magnate accused of ‘telling tall tales’

Diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz is accused of telling tales at his trial in Geneva, where he is accused of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea.

Steinmetz repeatedly insists that he was an adviser rather than the man at the top of the firm making all the decisions and aware of all the financial details.

The French-Israeli businessman, 64, insists that “never in my life” had he asked anyone to pay money to Mamadie Toure, whom prosecutors say was the fourth wife of former Guinean president Lansana Conte, and a key figure in the case.

Prosecutor Yves Bertossa accuses him of “telling tall tales.”

French-Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz comes back to Geneva’s courthouse during his trial over allegations of corruption linked to mining deals in Guinea, on January 11, 2021 in Geneva. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“You are a simple adviser who meets hundreds of ministers? In every company, it’s normally the big boss who does that!” he says.

Toure has admitted to having received payments and has protected status in the United States as a state witness.

She is scheduled to give evidence on Wednesday as a witness but it is doubtful whether she will appear at the Geneva Criminal Court.

“She told a lot of lies,” Steinmetz says, and “regarding the payments she received — I don’t know. I was only a consultant”.

“All the people who mention my name in connection with Mrs. Toure are saying false things. I have nothing to do with Mamadie Toure.”

Steinmetz says he had never knowingly met Toure.

Mamadie Toure (2006 screenshot)

“I met Lansana Conte in March 2008, under a tree in front of his bombed-out palace,” he says.

“After this meeting, someone told me that perhaps one of the women present was Mamadie Toure.”

Steinmetz’s lawyers demanded Monday the withdrawal of Toure’s testimony, arguing that her status in the United States was not valid in Switzerland, but the motion was overruled.

Steinmetz is accused of having set up a complex financial web, including a system of front companies, in order to pay bribes — partly through Swiss accounts — so that Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) could obtain mining permits in Guinea’s southeastern Simandou region.

The area is estimated to contain the world’s biggest untapped iron ore deposits.

The case continues on Wednesday.

Gantz again calls for center-left unity, says he won’t quit

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is pressing ahead with his attempts to merge with other centrist parties, a day after his advances were rejected.

In an interview with Channel 13, Gantz says the center-left needs a “critical mass” to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud from power. He again apologizes to his former ally Yair Lapid for saying he “hates people” and rules out dropping out of the race.

He claims Blue and White, which polls have shown hovering just above the electoral threshold, is “a stable and growing party with a strong base” and says “there’s no reason I would quit” before the March elections.

Sources in Yesh Atid tell the station that Gantz is “engaged in PR stunts.”

“If he really wants to talk about unity, he knows how to call Yair, he has the secret code to his cellphone,” the source says.

Yair Lapid (left) and Benny Gantz speak to supporters in Tel Aviv, on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Gantz, who entered politics two years ago vowing to replace Netanyahu, merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White under his leadership, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud. While he campaigned on the promise that he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, Gantz agreed to do just that in late March, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May.

Furious, Yesh Atid and a second minor faction (Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem) broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition. Blue and White has watched its popularity plummet since, leading to a hemorrhaging of lawmakers who have left the party since elections were called last month.

On Monday, Gantz pleaded for an alliance of all who oppose the premier in order to boot him from office.

He urged Lapid, Ron Huldai (The Israelis), Ya’alon, Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Itzik Shmuli (Labor), and Yaron Zelekha (New Economic Party) to come to a meeting in order to “search for and find the way.”

Responding to the Monday announcement, Yesh Atid said it would “make every effort to form alliances that will lead to a sane, liberal government that will change the country.”

Lapid has in the past said he would be open to a possible union with Gantz once more, but only if he himself leads the slate.

Poll predicts 7 small parties would fail to clear electoral threshold

A Channel 12 survey indicates that multiple small political parties would not cross the electoral threshold if elections were held today.

This includes the center-left Labor party, Moshe Ya’alon’s center-right Telem, Bezalel Smotrich’s right-wing Jewish Home, Orly Levy-Abekasis’ centrist Gesher, Ofer Shelah’s center-left Tnufa, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit, and Yaron Zelekha’s New Economic party.

Some of those parties are expected to merge with others ahead of a February 4 deadline.

The survey gives Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud the most seats (29), followed by Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope (16), Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (13), Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (13), the Joint List (10), Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (8), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Ron Huldai’s The Israelis (6), Meretz (5), and Blue and White (5). The figures indicate a majority coalition is likely out of reach for both Netanyahu and his rivals.

An ultra-orthodox man votes during elections in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The survey also tests how many seats Yamina and New Hope would win if they ran on a joint ticket. It gives the hypothetical combined party 25 seats, four fewer than if they ran independently.

It also finds that if all center-left parties merged, their party would win 28 seats, compared to 30 for Likud.

FBI warned of attack on Congress day before riot — US media

According to a report in The Washington Post, the FBI had warned that extremists were preparing to come to Washington, attack Congress and engage in “war.”

The report says the warning was issued internally by the FBI’s field office in Norfolk, Virginia, a day before the violent riot at the US Capitol.

The warning directly contradicts statements from the Justice Department and FBI officials that they had no intelligence to suggest a storming of the Capitol.

The Post says the memo described how people had been sharing maps of the Capitol’s tunnels and discussing rallying points to meet up to travel to Washington. The newspaper reported that the document detailed posts calling for violence, including that “Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Antifa slave soldiers being spilled.”

It also said to “go there ready for war.”

A US Capitol Police car drives past on patrol in front of security fencing near the West Front of the US Capitol, on January 9, 2021 in Washington, DC (Al Drago/Getty Images/AFP)

Hamas, Islamic Jihad leaders meet, seek Palestinian unity

Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh meets with Islamic Jihad terror group chief Ziyad al-Nakhaleh in Doha to “discuss renewing Palestinian unity,” the groups say in a joint statement.

“The two sides agreed on the necessity of restoring Palestinian unity so as to achieve a national unified strategy based on total resistance,” the terror groups say.

Both terror organizations, which avowedly seek to destroy Israel, have fought successive wars against the Jewish state from Gaza over the last decade.

Talk of Palestinian reconciliation has come back to the forefront in recent days as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has again declared his intention to hold pan-Palestinian elections. Several previous such announcements have flopped before, however, most recently this past September.

2nd study also shows significant drop in virus cases among newly vaccinated

A study by the Maccabi health provider finds a steep drop in coronavirus infections among those who received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, from 13 days onward.

The survey of over 400,000 Maccabi members finds the number of cases dips by 60 percent, from 13 days after the administration of the first dose, according to Channel 12.

The study comes as another health provider, Clalit, records a 33% drop from the 14th day.

Illustrative: A Sheba Medical Center staff member receives the second round of a COVID-19 vaccine, at the hospital in Ramat Gan, on January 10, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Study: Virus cases down by 33% among vaccinated, from 14 days after 1st shot

A study on 400,000 Israelis who received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine finds a 33 percent drop in coronavirus infections among the partially inoculated population 14 days after they received the shot, Channel 13 reports.

The study is conducted by the Clalit HMO.

It appears to mark the first time the vaccines have proven to make a dent in Israel’s infection rates.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses, three weeks apart, with its 94 percent effectiveness only kicking in about two weeks after the second shot.

Qatar will provide aid to Gaza for another year, senior Hamas official says

Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk announces that Qatar will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip for another year.

The Qatari aid is meant to both help poor Gazan families and to keep tensions in the beleaguered Strip from boiling over.

Demands for Qatar to renew its aid have reportedly been the cause of several rounds of escalation between Israel and the Hamas terror group, with Hamas hoping that Israel will pressure Doha into increasing the sum it sends to the coastal enclave.

Marzouk says that $30 million will be sent to the Gaza Strip in 2021 by Qatar.

Marzouk says that Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi will arrive in the Gaza Strip at the end of the month as part of the aid’s renewal.

Palestinians receive financial aid from Qatar at a post office in Gaza City, June 20, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Pompeo cancels last foreign trip amid Trump impeachment moves

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday cancels his final foreign trip scheduled this week as President Donald Trump faces a second impeachment vote.

Pompeo will no longer travel to Belgium on Wednesday, and will stay in the US to assist “a smooth and orderly transition process,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus says.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and US President Donald Trump whisper during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in Washington, July 16, 2019. (Alex Brandon/AP)

52 died of COVID since this morning; another 5,399 cases recorded since midnight

The Health Ministry says another 5,399 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 75,408.

The ministry says a record 9,665 infections were recorded on Monday, with 7.6% of tests returning positive.

According to the ministry, 1,027 are in serious condition, 269 of them on ventilators.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic stands at 3,756, an increase of 52 fatalities since this morning.

Trump: Adelson ‘tirelessly advocated’ for embassy move to Jerusalem

US President Donald Trump pays condolences to the family of Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who supported his campaigns.

“Sheldon lived the true American dream. His ingenuity, genius, and creativity earned him immense wealth, but his character and philanthropic generosity his great name,” says Trump in a statement.

“Sheldon was also a staunch supporter of our great ally the State of Israel. He tirelessly advocated for the relocation of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the pursuit of peace between Israel and its neighbors.”

Adds Trump: “The world has lost a great man. He will be missed.”

US President Donald Trump, right, pats Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson on the arm, before speaking at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida, December 7, 2019. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

15,000 National Guard troops to deploy to DC ahead of inauguration

A total of 15,000 National Guard members have now been activated and will deploy to Washington, DC, to help provide security in the run-up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The number of Guard members coming in from other states has been growing, amid escalating fears of more violent protests in the wake of the deadly riot at the US Capitol last week.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, was given the authority to tap up to 15,000 Guard, but he has said that requests for assistance from the Secret Service, the US Park Police and the Capitol Police have been increasing this week.

The Army also says that officials are working with the Secret Service to determine which Guard members may need additional background screening. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Co., had asked Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to have the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command screen Guard members coming in to ensure they were not “sympathetic to domestic terrorists.”

The Army says CID will not be reviewing all the Guard, but some members may be subject to additional background screening. Traditionally, those who get within close proximity to the president — or in this case the president-elect — are checked more closely.

So far, officials say they have not yet identified any Guard members who participated in the protests, but investigations are ongoing.

In a statement, the Army says the DC National Guard is also giving troops additional training as they arrive in the city, so they know to identify and report any extremist behavior to their commanders.

The Army also says it is working with the FBI to identify people who participated in the Capitol attack, adding, “any type of activity that involves violence, civil disobedience, or a breach of peace may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or under state or federal law.”

3rd Democrat lawmaker gets coronavirus after sheltering in US Capitol

A third Democratic member of the US Congress tests positive for the coronavirus and lashes out at Republicans who refused to wear masks while lawmakers were sheltering from a pro-Trump mob that rampaged through the Capitol last week.

“After narrowly escaping a violent mob incited by (President Donald Trump) to attack the Capitol and its occupants, I was forced to spend several hours in a secure but confined location with dozens of other Members of Congress,” Representative Brad Schneider of Illinois says in a statement.

“Several Republican lawmakers in the room adamantly refused to wear a mask… even when politely asked by their colleagues,” Schneider says.

“I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff.”

Schneider warns against turning mask-wearing into a political rather than public health issue, adding that it was a gesture of “common courtesy” to put one on.

Two other Democratic representatives who were in the secure room — Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Bonnie Watson Coleman, a 75-year-old cancer survivor from New Jersey — have also tested positive for the coronavirus.

Initial reports of stabbing attempt at checkpoint near Jerusalem

Preliminary reports indicate that a Palestinian man attempted to stab an Israeli security guard at the Qalandiya checkpoint near Jerusalem.

The attacker has been disarmed, unconfirmed reports say.

Nazareth mayor appears to back Netanyahu in upcoming election

Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam says he is “with Bibi!” in a video appearing to show him expressing support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in the coming elections.

Netanyahu has been conducting something of a campaign among Arab Israelis in recent days, making rare visits to Arab cities and towns. He is also said to have picked Na’il Zoabi, a teacher from close to Nazareth, to be on the Likud list.

“I support Na’il Zoabi, I’ve known him for many years, he is also a relative. We are going to support him so he gets into the Knesset,” Salam says.

Im Bibi — With Bibi!” Salam concludes, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Top health official: 17% of new serious COVID cases got first vaccine shot

Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, says nearly one-fifth of recent serious coronavirus cases in Israel have received the first dose of the vaccine.

“17% of the new serious cases today are after the first dose,” she tells reporters.

Alroy-Preis also expresses alarm at the sky-high infection rates, which yesterday climbed to nearly 10,000 new cases.

She says Israel will likely have to extend its nationwide lockdown.

A medical worker receives a coroavirus vaccine at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem on December 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

IDF arrests shepherd who entered Israel from Lebanon

The Israel Defense Forces say troops arrested a shepherd who crossed into Israeli territory from Lebanon.

An IDF statement says the shepherd was taken for questioning after he was nabbed near Har Dov, a contested area claimed by Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

“The IDF won’t allow any attempt to violate the sovereignty of the State of Israel,” it says.

The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has been reported to use shepherds to gather intelligence on Israeli military operations along the border.

Iran’s top diplomat says Pompeo spreading ‘warmongering lies’

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies the Islamic Republic is harboring al-Qaeda terrorists.

Zarif tweets: “From designating Cuba to fictitious Iran ‘declassifications’ and AQ claims, Mr. ‘we lie, cheat, steal’ is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies. No one is fooled. All 9/11 terrorists came from
Pompeo’s favorite ME destinations; NONE from Iran.”

Trump says social media clampdown a ‘catastrophic mistake’

US President Donald Trump says that social media giants like Twitter and Facebook have made a “catastrophic mistake” in banning him after his incendiary comments to a crowd before it invaded Congress.

“They are making a catastrophic mistake… They’re dividing and divisive and they’re showing something that I’ve been predicting for a long time,” Trump tells reporters before leaving on a trip to Texas.

He denies that his speech last week to thousands of supporters, encouraging them to march on Congress, had anything to do with violence that broke out shortly after.

“They’ve analyzed my speech in my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence, and everybody to the tee just thought it was totally appropriate,” Trump says.

On January 6 he told a large crowd in Washington that the presidential election was stolen and that they should march on Congress and show “strength.” The crowd broke into Congress and forced frightened lawmakers to abandon a ceremony putting the legal stamp on Democrat Joe Biden’s election win.

Pompeo: World must act to break up alliance between al-Qaeda, Iran

Pompeo also warns the new alliance between Iran and al-Qaeda raises the risk of terror attacks around the world.

He says Western nations could be targeted and the Syrian civil war could yet be exacerbated by al-Qaeda fighters.

“This is a terror organization buried deep inside a nation-state with advanced capabilities,” he says of Iran’s alleged support for the terror group.

“Imagine the threat to America, imagine the threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia.”

He calls it a “massive force for evil all across the world.”

“Let’s not tolerate Iran giving al-Qaeda a second wind,” adds Pompeo, calling for global action.

Pompeo announces sanctions on al-Qaeda leaders based in Iran and others based in the Kurdish region, along with a $7 million award for Abd Al-Rahman Al-Maghrebi.

Pompeo: In 2015, Iran allowed al-Qaeda to set up ‘operational HQ’ in country

Pompeo says that in 2015, during the finalization of the Iran nuclear deal, “a sea change was happening within the Iran-Al-Qaeda axis.”

Citing “brand new” information, Pompeo says: “Iran decided to allow al-Qaeda to establish a new operational headquarters, on the condition that al-Qaeda abides by the regime’s rules governing al-Qaeda’s stay inside of the country, agency and control.”

Iran also gives al-Qaeda leaders “greater freedom of movement” under their supervision.

Pompeo says an Iranian ministry and the Revolutionary Guards gave travel documents and ID cards “that enabled al-Qaeda activity.”

He says al-Qaeda “has centralized its leadership” in Iran.

“Tehran has allowed al-Qaeda to fundraise, to freely communicate with al-Qaeda members around the world, and to perform many other functions” previously directed from other countries.

Iran and al-Qaeda are now “partners in terrorism, partners in hate,” says Pompeo.

“Iran is indeed the new Afghanistan,” he says, adding that it’s “actually worse” since the US has less intelligence and fewer options to attack them.

Pompeo also says the Iran-al-Qaeda axis “threatens the progress of the Abraham Accords as well.”

“If al-Qaeda can use terror attacks in the region to blackmail nations from joining the warm peace with Israel, then we risk grinding generational momentum for peace in the Middle East to a halt.”

Pompeo: Al-Qaeda has a new home base — Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirms the assasssination Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 on August 7 in Tehran.

The New York Times reported in November that Israeli agents carried out the hit on Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah at the behest of the US. Abdullah, who used the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was accused of being one of the chief planners of devastating attacks on two US embassies in Africa in 1998 and a 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya.

Iran denied the report of the Israeli assassination. Pompeo did not say who was behind the targeted killing.

The New York Times, says Pompeo, said it was surprising Al-Masri was in Tehran, as Iran and Al-Qaeda are “bitter enemies.”

“It could not be more wrong. It wasn’t surprising at all. And more importantly, they’re not enemies. Al-Masri’s presence inside Iran points to the reason we’re here today.”

“Al-Qaeda has a new home base. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result, Bin Laden’s wicked creation is poised to gain strength and capabilities. We ignore this Iran-Al-Qaeda nexus at our own peril,” says Pompeo.

American efforts to stamp out al-Qaeda after 9/11 prompted the terror group to “search for a safer haven. And they found one.”

Iran “was the perfect choice,” he says.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks on ‘China challenge to US national security and academic freedom,’ in Atlanta, Georgia December 9, 2020. (Tami Chappell / AFP)

Trump calls efforts to impeach him ‘absolutely ridiculous’

US President Donald Trump calls preparations to impeach him in US Congress “absolutely ridiculous” and says they are causing “tremendous anger.”

Trump, speaking as he boarded Marine One at the White House for a trip to Texas, calls his likely impeachment in the House of Representatives on Wednesday a “continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics.”

US President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally, January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Iran wants to erase snapback clause in nuclear deal

Iran wants to remove a clause from a 2015 nuclear deal that allows for UN sanctions against it to be reinstated, a senior official has said, hinting Tehran would be open to negotiations on the issue.

The agreement between the Islamic Republic and six major powers had provided for the lifting of sanctions in exchange for stringent checks on Tehran’s nuclear program and guarantees that it could not seek to acquire a nuclear weapon.

The text also contains a “snapback” mechanism that could be triggered in case of “significant non-performance” of its commitments by Iran.

This would allow the United Nations Security Council to reimpose all the sanctions it had imposed between 2006 and 2015 over Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The administration of United States President Donald Trump last year attempted to trigger the mechanism, but the move was rejected, as the US had unilaterally withdrawn from the nuclear deal in 2018.

“From the outset, (Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei) was against this snapback mechanism, which was designed against his wishes,” says key Khamenei diplomatic advisor Ali Akbar Velayati in an interview published on Khamenei’s website.

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves before he addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei called to ban the import of American and British vaccines, claiming they are not to be trusted. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“In the coming negotiations, this mechanism will certainly need to be abandoned, because it’s absurd.”

The nuclear deal has come close to collapse since the withdrawal of the United States, which under Trump has adopted a hardline policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran, reimposing crushing US sanctions that have devastated the Iranian economy.

In response, Tehran has rolled back most of its key commitments under the accord, arguing that it is permitted to do so under the deal in light of US moves.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on January 20, says he wants to rejoin the pact.

But Khamenei insisted last week that “we are in no rush” to see the US rejoin the accord, demanding that the US first remove all the sanctions it had imposed or reinstated since 2018.

Tehran has ruled out a full overhaul of the deal, but says the US rejoining it must be the result of further negotiations.

Lebanon files urgent complaint to UN against Israel breaches of airspace

Lebanon will file an urgent complaint with the United Nations against Israel’s daily violations of its airspace amid intensifying drone reconnaissance and mock raids around the country, the president’s office says.

President Michel Aoun calls for a condemnation of Israel’s “aggression and violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty” and the UN resolution that brought about the cessation of hostilities between the two countries following their last all-out conflict in 2006.

The two countries remain technically at war and Lebanon has repeatedly complained of Israel’s violations of its airspace and waters.

In recent weeks, Israeli military jets have carried out several low-altitude flying flights over the capital and other major cities, causing jitters among civilians who are no strangers to conflict. Warplanes have appeared in Beirut skies, causing loud noise, including on Christmas Eve. The flights terrorized residents of the city who have recently survived a massive explosion in the port.

Reconnaissance drones sometimes remain in Lebanese airspace for 24 hours at a time, says a Lebanese military official who speaks on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Israel rarely comments on such missions, but Israeli officials have said the overflights are necessary because Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terror group is violating the 2006 UN resolution that bars it from building up its military capabilities and operating near the Israeli border. Many such raids are often to carry out strikes in neighboring Syria, where Israel has been targeting Iranian-backed militias and posts for Lebanon’s Hezbollah group fighting alongside Syrian troops in that country’s civil war.

Israel has expressed concern, and acted to thwart, increasing Iranian and Hezbollah presence near its borders, including a stockpile of precision-guided missiles.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in a year-end interview, said Israel’s efforts to curb his group’s ability to acquire those missiles have failed, adding that it now has twice as many as it had last year.

Gantz says he’ll push to reopen schools after teachers vaccinated

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he’ll encourage the government to reopen schools after teachers receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Teachers are being prioritized in the inoculation drive and are expected to receive the first shots on Wednesday. However, it would take another five weeks for the teaching staff to be fully immunized.

“As I demanded, from tomorrow, we will start vaccinating teachers… I hope that we can convene the coronavirus cabinet in the coming days and consider bringing the education system back into operation at the first possible moment, and we will try to see to it that it’s as soon as possible,” says Gantz, during a tour of coronavirus testing areas in the Golan Heights.

Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz visits at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The defense minister also issues a warning to Israel’s enemies during his tour of the northern border.

“We continue to be vigilant at our borders.  We have acted, and will continue to act, against anyone who tries to challenge us, from near or far. We aren’t sitting around and waiting,” he adds, saying Israel is engaged in security, diplomatic, and economic efforts to ensure its security.


Iran’s Press TV says it’s been booted from Facebook

Iran’s Press TV says its Facebook page has been removed.

Facebook’s No. 2 says ‘no plans’ to end Trump ban

Facebook does not intend to lift the suspension on outgoing US President Donald Trump, the platform’s second in command Sheryl Sandberg says.

“Our ban is indefinite. We have said at least through the transition. But we have no plans to lift it,” Facebook’s chief operating officer says at an online forum organized by Reuters.

The social network last week suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts in the aftermath of the violent invasion of the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters, which disrupted the certification of US President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.

Twitter went a step further on Friday by deleting Trump’s account, depriving him of his favorite megaphone.

US President Donald Trump looks at his phone during a roundtable with governors on the reopening of America’s small businesses, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump also was hit with suspensions from services like Snapchat and Twitch.

“Our policies are applied to everyone,” Sandberg says, noting that the platform has removed posts by the president’s son and “other world leaders.”

“This shows that even a president is not above the policies we have.”

Backtracking, Netanyahu says Gafni didn’t have heart attack

Moments after announcing that MK Moshe Gafni has been hospitalized with a heart attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that’s “fake news.”

“He just got a [coronavirus] vaccine,” says Netanyahu.

UTJ MK Gafni hospitalized after heart attack, says Netanyahu

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni has been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack, says Netanyahu, sending well-wishes to the lawmaker.

The head of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, Gafni underwent a catheterization treatment on August 2020, recovered and returned to work in the Knesset in late September 2020. Sources in UTJ said in recent weeks that he may retire, as family members are worried about his health.

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni arrives at a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020, a day after the general elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

with Tal Schneider

Netanyahu says he’s heartbroken by Adelson’s death

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he received the news of Adelson’s death with “deep sorrow and heartbreak.”

“Sheldon’s tremendous efforts to strengthen Israel’s position in the United States and to strengthen the connection between Israel and the Diaspora will be remembered for generations,” says Netanyahu.

“Along with his wife Miri, Sheldon was one of the greatest contributors in history to the Jewish people, Zionism, settlements and the State of Israel,” he says, listing his support for Taglit-Birthright and Ariel University among those causes.

“We will forever remember Sheldon and his tremendous contribution to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

American businessman and investor Sheldon Adelson, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cornerstone laying ceremony for the Medicine Faculty buildings at the Ariel University in the West Bank, June 28, 2017. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

Finance minister announces candidate for director-general

Finance Minister Israel Katz announces the nomination of Oded Shamir as the new director-general of the treasury.

The nomination requires a cabinet vote.

Shamir is a former head of Israel Railways.

The former director-general of the ministry, Keren Terner Eyal, stepped down in October over the government’s handling of the economic aspects of the pandemic.

Republican Jewish Coalition pays tribute to Adelson: ‘Dear mentor and friend’

The Republican Jewish Coalition pays tribute to Sheldon Adelson, who was on its board, mourning a “dear mentor and friend.”

“We have lost one of the most consequential figures in American Jewish history: an American patriot, a dedicated defender of Israel, an extraordinary philanthropist, and a dear mentor and friend,” say Republican Jewish Coalition national chairman Senator Norm Coleman and executive director Matt Brooks in a joint statement.

“Mr. Adelson, together with his beloved wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, gave generously of their wealth, knowledge, and time to support causes they were passionate about, including education, addiction recovery, and medical research, as well as supporting pro-free market and pro-Israel candidates and organizations. A strong defender of Israel, Jewish life, and American opportunity and freedom has departed the Jewish community and the American political scene.

“The Republican Jewish Coalition benefited not only from Mr. Adelson’s generous financial support, but very significantly from his leadership and his counsel. His friendship, encouragement, and wisdom will be sorely missed. His death leaves an empty place where a vibrant, committed, and caring man once stood. We are all diminished by his passing.”

George W. Bush: Adelson was an ‘American patriot, generous benefactor’

In a statement, former president George W. Bush, a Republican, calls Adelson an “American patriot, a generous benefactor of charitable causes, and a strong supporter of Israel.”

“Sheldon battled his way out of a tough Boston neighborhood to build a successful enterprise that loyally employed tens of thousands — and entertained millions,” Bush says.

Deri, Sa’ar mourn Adelson, praise his contributions to Israel, Jewish causes

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar praises the late Sheldon Adelson for his support for Israeli and Jewish causes and for “speaking up” for the Jewish state.

“Sheldon Adelson was one of the greatest supporters of Jewish organizations in Israel and around the world. Over the past decades, he contributed to many causes, including strengthening Jewish education, commemorating the Holocaust, building bridges between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel, and strengthening Israel,” he says in a statement.

“In addition to his philanthropic activities, Adelson devoted his time and energy to speaking up for Israel, making Israel’s case to US decision-makers, and strengthening ties between Israel and the United States,” says Sa’ar. “My deepest condolences go to his wife Miriam and to all his family.”

Shas leader Aryeh Deri says Adelson will be remembered for his “warm heart” and dedication to the Jewish state.

Pompeo: The world, Israel, US safer because of Adelson’s contributions

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mourns Sheldon Adelson.

“The world, Israel and the United States are safer because of his work,” writes Pompeo in a tribute.

Sheldon Adelson to be buried in Israel — report

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson will be buried in Israel, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Opposition leader Lapid sends condolences over Adelson’s death

Opposition leader Yair Lapid extends “warm condolences” to the family of Sheldon Adelson.

“His involvement and contribution to Yad Vashem, Taglit and numerous other projects that have strengthened Jewish heritage will accompany us for many years to come,” says Lapid.

Right-wing leaders mourn Sheldon Adelson: ‘A Jewish patriot’

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett eulogizes Sheldon Adelson as a “Jewish patriot,” hailing his contributions to Israel.

“Sheldon Adelson was a Jewish patriot, one of the greatest lovers of the Jewish people, and will forever be recorded in the annals in the State of Israel,” he writes.

“Israel will remember him forever,” adds Bennett.

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (C) with his wife Gilat greet Sheldon Adelson (R) and his wife Miriam at the cornerstone setting ceremony for the new school of medicine at Ariel University, June 28, 2017. (Courtesy)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman calls him a “true patriot with a deep connection to the State of Israel.”

“For many years, he worked to strengthen Israel and its ties with the Jews and leaders of the United States,” says Liberman.

Sheldon Adelson dies at 87; casino mogul and philanthropist was key supporter of Trump, Netanyahu

Las Vegas mogul and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, known for his patronage of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has died at the age of 87, his wife says.

Miriam Adelson says: “It is with unbearable pain that I announce the death of my husband, Sheldon G. Adelson, of complications from a long illness.”

“He was the proudest of Jews, who saw in the State of Israel not only the realization of an historical promise to a unique and deserving people, but also a gift from the Almighty to all of humanity,” she says.

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, backed Trump to the tune of $30 million in 2016. They followed that by contributing $100 million to the Republican Party for the 2018 midterm elections.

US President Donald Trump, right, pats Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson on the arm, before speaking at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida, December 7, 2019. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

In all, Adelson donated over $250 million to GOP candidates and super PACs since 2015. That includes $10 million they gave to America First Action in 2018, FEC records show. During the 2020 elections, the Adelsons also gave $75 million to a new super PAC that attacked Joe Biden.

The Adelsons had almost single-handedly bankrolled the group behind Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid in 2012 before shifting their personal fortune toward Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Adelson was a supporter of Netanyahu and funder of the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom paper.

American billionaire businessman and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson (R) and his wife Miriam, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend the Israeli Presidential Conference at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem May 13, 2008. (Anna Kaplan /FLASH90)

Born in Boston in 1933, the son of a cab driver saw stunning success in the business world before becoming one of the Republican Party’s most influential benefactors and a key figure in Israeli philanthropy and politics.

The super donor rarely spoke publicly but in a 2016 Washington Post column endorsing Trump, he defended his right to opine. “Despite being the grandson of a Welsh coal miner and the son of a Boston cab driver, I’ve had the remarkable experience of being part of almost 50 different businesses in my more than 70-year business career,” he wrote.

“So, tell me I’m not a conservative-enough Republican or I’m too hawkish on Israel or whatever else you may think, but I think I’ve earned the right to talk about success and leadership.”

US asking states to speed vaccine to over 65s

The Trump administration is asking states to speed delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to people older than 65 and others at high risk by no longer holding back the second dose of the two-dose shots, officials say.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says that “the administration in the states has been too narrowly focused.”

As a result, he says, the Trump administration is now asking states to vaccinate people aged 65 and over and those under 65 with underlying health conditions. He says the vaccine production is such that the second dose of the two-shot vaccine can be released without jeopardizing immunization for those who got the first shot.

“We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production, Azar tells ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.”

The Trump administration also is pushing to expand the number of places where people can be vaccinated by adding community health centers and additional drug stores.

US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to give a speech Thursday outlining his plan to speed vaccines to more people in the first part of his administration. His transition team has vowed to release as many vaccine doses as possible, rather than continuing the Trump administration policy of holding back millions of doses to ensure there would be enough supply to allow those getting the first shot to get a second one.

Egypt reopens airspace to Qatar after Gulf reconciliation

Egypt has reopened its airspace to Qatari flights, Cairo’s civil aviation chief says, following a thaw in relations between Doha and a Saudi-led bloc.

“The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority at dawn on Tuesday approved requests by Qatari authorities to allow Qatari airlines to pass through Egyptian airspace,” Ashraf Noweir tells AFP.

“This decision allows EgyptAir and Qatar Airways to resume flights.”

Egypt in June 2017 joined Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar, accusing it of being too close to Iran and backing the Muslim Brotherhood, seen by Cairo and its Gulf allies as a terror group.

Qatar has denied the charges.

The four countries imposed a three-and-a-half-year blockade, closing their airspace to Qatari flights.

But a Gulf Cooperation Council summit last week, attended by Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, saw the two sides reconcile their differences and pledge to lift sanctions.

Health Ministry says over 50s can get vaccine from Wednesday

The Health Ministry announces it’s expanding the vaccine drive, with Israelis over 50 eligible to receive the shot from Wednesday.

The ministry instructs Israelis to contact their health providers to set up an appointment.

Over 1.8 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine.

A Hadassah Medical Center staff member receives the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, January 11, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Terror victim’s widow says prisoners, including terrorists, should be vaccinated

The widow of a terror victim urges the Israeli government to vaccinate prisoners, including convicted Palestinian terrorists.

Yael Shevach’s husband, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, was killed in a drive-by shooting terror attack in the West Bank in 2018.

In a series of tweets, Shevach writes: “For all of my hatred for terrorist prisoners, I think we must give them vaccines.”

Yael Shevach (L), the wife of Raziel Shevach who was gunned-down in a January 9 terror attack near the Havat Gilad outpost consoles Miriam Ben-Gal, the wife of Itamar Ben-Gal, who was stabbed to death in a February 5 terror attack. Photo taken at Ben-Gal home on February 6, 2018. In the middle is Miriam’s grandmother Esther. (Courtesy)

“This doesn’t stem from compassion but rather common sense. We are trying to eradicate a pandemic, to prevent overload in hospitals, to prevent unnecessary death. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me that we should leave a group of people, who we decided… to keep under our auspices, and make them a danger to other populations in the worst case scenario, or, less seriously, an unnecessary burden on the hospitals.”

“This is not a position of compassion or mercy. The opposite. We decided not to assassinate them, there is no need to cause them harm as prisoners.”

Rabbi Raziel Shevach (c) with his family, in an undated photo (Courtesy of the family)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday called on Public Security Minister Amir Ohana to reverse his order not to vaccinate prisoners over the age of 60, saying the ban was illegal and made the fight against the coronavirus pandemic more difficult. Gantz voiced his concerns in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking the premier to intervene in the matter and order Ohana to rescind his decision.

Last month, Ohana instructed prison officials to refrain from vaccinating inmates against COVID-19 until further notice, after a Palestinian official said that security prisoners were expected to soon begin getting shots. Ohana’s ban included not only security prisoners, but all inmates.

This decision contradicted the orders of the Health Ministry — tasked with setting national policy on who should be vaccinated — which called for everyone age 60 and up, including prisoners, to receive the injection. A number of vaccinations were specifically set aside for that purpose.

Indonesia recovers black box from crashed plane

A black box from the crashed Indonesian passenger jet has been recovered, officials say, a discovery that could offer critical clues to explaining why the plane with 62 people aboard slammed into the sea.

Divers just off the coast of the capital Jakarta haul the jet’s flight data recorder to the surface, as the hunt continues for its cockpit voice recorder.

Indonesian transport minister Budi Karya Sumadi tells a live television briefing that the box had been found — after the Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 plunged about 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in less than a minute before slamming into the Java Sea Saturday.

Rescue workers inspect recovered debris at the port in Jakarta on January 10, 2021, during the search operation for Sriwijaya Air flight SJY182 which crashed after takeoff from Jakarta on January 9. (Dany Krisnadhi / AFP)

An AFP reporter on a navy ship says investigators started picking up strong signals from an area where they were searching, with divers able to retrieve the box in about an hour from the wreckage-littered seabed.

So far authorities have been unable to explain why the 26-year-old plane crashed just four minutes after takeoff.

Jordanian of Palestinian origin sentenced to death over 2019 stabbing spree

Jordan’s state security court sentences a man to death on Tuesday for the 2019 stabbing of eight people, four of them foreign tourists, at one of the kingdom’s ancient sites.

The victims, who included one Swiss and three Mexican tourists, all survived the November 2019 knife attack in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Jerash, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the capital Amman.

Mustafa Abu Ruwais, 24, was sentenced to “death by hanging for the terrorist knife attack on tourists,” the court says.

There is no right of appeal against the decisions of Jordan’s state security court.

Abu Ruwais, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, was at the time of the attack a resident of the Souf camp in Jerash, which houses some 20,000 Palestinian refugees.

Illustrative: Tourists walk through the main street, the South Cardo, in the well preserved Ancient Roman city of Gerasa, in the city of Jerash, Jordan, November 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

He was arrested immediately afterwards and charged with terrorism offences in January last year.

The charge sheet alleges that Abu Ruwais “follows the ideology of the Daesh terrorist gang”, a pejorative reference to the Islamic State jihadist group, and has been “in contact with one of the members of this organisation in Syria” who gave the green light for the attack.

But there was never any formal claim of responsibility for the attack.

Interpol issues wanted notices over Lebanon’s massive port blast

Interpol has issued a wanted notice for two Russians and a Portuguese man over explosive material that had been shipped to Beirut and stored at the city’s port for six years until it exploded in August, the state-run National News Agency reports.

The August 4 explosion killed 200 people, injured thousands and caused wide destruction in Beirut.

NNA says the Interpol-issued Red Notices were for the owner and captain of the Rhosus, the ship that carried the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate to Lebanon in 2013, as well as a Portuguese nitrate trader who visited the port’s warehouse in Beirut in 2014 where the material was stored.

The notice is a non-binding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive. It is not an arrest warrant and does not require authorities to arrest a wanted suspect.

Lebanon’s state prosecutor, Ghassan Khoury, had asked Interpol to issue the notices, NNA says. The agency does not give the names of the three but local media posted the notices identifying them as the vessel’s former captain Boris Prokoshev and Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman residing in Cyprus who had bought the cargo ship in 2012. The Portuguese man was identified as Jorge Manuel Mirra Neto Moreira.

The ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, was not even supposed to be in Lebanon. When the Rhosus set sail from the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi, it was bound for the Mozambican port of Beira.

Lebanese and Chilean rescuers search in the rubble of a collapsed building after getting signals there may be a survivor, early Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Beirut, Lebanon. A pulsing signal was detected Thursday from under the rubble of a Beirut building that collapsed during the horrific port explosion in the Lebanese capital last month, raising hopes there may be a survivor still buried there. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

World nears 2 million deaths from COVID-19

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,945,437 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally from official sources at 1100 GMT on Tuesday.

More than 90,807,760 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 55,908,500 are now considered recovered.

The figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organizations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

Over Monday, 9,287 new deaths and 612,963 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were United States with 1,884, followed by Germany with 891 and Mexico with 662.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 376,283 deaths from 22,619,030 cases. At least 6,298,082 people have been declared recovered.

Medical workers in protective clothing treat a COVID-19 patient at the intensive care unit in the public Oceanico hospital, in Niteroi, Brazil, December 11, 2020. (Lucas Dumphreys/AP)

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 203,580 deaths from 8,131,612 cases, India with 151,327 deaths from 10,479,179 cases, Mexico with 134,368 deaths from 1,541,633 cases, and the United Kingdom with 81,960 from 3,118,518.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to population is Belgium with 174 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Slovenia with 145, Bosnia-Herzegovina with 133, Italy 131, and Republic of North Macedonia 126.

Europe overall has 626,207 deaths from 29,194,418 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 532,730 deaths from 16,599,539 infections, and the United States and Canada 393,316 deaths from 23,284,378 cases.

Asia has reported 226,587 deaths from 14,373,300 cases, the Middle East 92,242 deaths from 4,242,670 cases, Africa 73,410 deaths from 3,082,084 cases, and Oceania 945 deaths from 31,378 cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of tests conducted has greatly increased while testing and reporting techniques have improved, leading to a rise in reported cases.

However the diagnosed cases are only a part of the real total number of infections as a significant numbers of less serious or asymptomatic cases always remain undetected.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.

2nd US lawmaker gets COVID after Capitol lockdown; blames maskless Republicans

A second Democratic member of the House who was forced to go into lockdown during last week’s siege at the US Capitol has tested positive for COVID-19.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat of Washington, says she has tested positive and criticized Republican members of Congress who declined to wear a mask when it was offered to them.

“Too many Republicans have refused to take this pandemic and virus seriously, and in doing so, they endanger everyone around them,” Jayapal says. “Only hours after President Trump incited a deadly assault on our Capitol, our country, and our democracy, many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic.”

Jayapal’s statement came after Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey said Monday that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

They were among dozens of lawmakers whisked to a secure location when pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol. A press release from her office on Monday noted that “a number of members within the space ignored instructions to wear masks.”

Some members of Congress huddled for hours in the large room, while others were there for a shorter period.

Both lawmakers are isolating. Jayapal calls for “serious fines to be immediately levied on every single member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol.”

“Additionally, any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be immediately removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms. This is not a joke,” she says. “Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy.”

Over the weekend, the Capitol’s attending physician notified all lawmakers of possible virus exposure and urged them to be tested.

Dr. Brian Moynihan wrote Sunday that “many members of the House community were in protective isolation in the large room — some for several hours” on Wednesday. He said “individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”

Trump supporters gesture to US Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2021. Doug Jensen, an Iowa man at center has been jailed on federal charges. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Cop fires in air during shutdown of school flouting lockdown rules

Clashes break out at an ultra-Orthodox elementary school in Beit Shemesh as police officers shut it down in accordance with the lockdown rules.

According to the Israel Police, a police officer who arrived at the school sought out the principal to fine him for flouting the closure. In the meantime, students surrounded the police car where another volunteer officer was stationed and began pelting him with stones.

“The volunteer fired in the air since he felt his life was endangered, with no injuries reported in the incident,” police say.

The school is an elementary school run by the Hasidic Belz sect, according to Hebrew media reports.

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