The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
New Health Ministry figures show over 50,000 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed this weekend.
The ministry says 39,015 people tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday and that another 11,351 Israelis have been diagnosed today, bringing active infections to 267,734.
The number of serious cases jumps to 387, including 93 people on ventilators.
The death toll stands at 8,303, up five from yesterday.
The positive test rate continues to rise, hitting 14.02 percent yesterday, while the R-rate — which measures how many people each COVID carrier infects — dips to 1.71.
Poor countries refused to take around 100 million donated COVID-19 vaccine doses in December alone, chiefly due to their short shelf life, the United Nations says.
The World Health Organization has slammed the deadly “moral shame” of high-income countries hogging vaccine supplies then offloading near-expired doses to shot-starved poorer nations.
Stark images last month of Nigeria disposing of more than a million AstraZeneca doses that had gone bad highlighted the issue.
UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, uses its vaccine logistics expertise to handle delivery flights for Covax, the global plan set up to ensure a flow of doses to poorer nations.
In December, “we had almost more than 100 million doses that have been refused because of countries’ capacities,” UNICEF’s supply division director Etleva Kadilli tells a European Parliament committee. “The majority of refusals are due to product shelf life.”
Kan news reports that 20 cases of a sub-variant of Omicron have been found in Israel.
BA2 has already been identified in several countries and carries additional mutations beyond those possessed by Omicron.
It is not currently known whether BA2 is more dangerous than Omicron.
Former US president Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel David Friedman is joining the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board of directors.
“I am honored to join the outstanding leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group that has done so much to advance the values and interests of the American Jewish community,” Friedman says in a statement released by the RJC.
“The RJC is a respected and prominent voice against antisemitism and has a long track record of holding elected officials, from both sides of the aisle, accountable for their words and actions,” he says.
“The rise in antisemitism from the anti-Israel left, with people like the ‘Squad’ in Congress openly supporting BDS and defaming Israel, means that the RJC’s efforts are needed now more than ever. I look forward to being part of their important work.”
Friedman was an influential voice in the Trump administration, credited for playing a role in the president’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and withdraw a State Department legal position deeming Israeli settlements to be illegal.
However, he was also part of a more hawkish camp in the administration that clashed with senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, particularly when it came to Trump’s peace plan. Friedman hoped to use the proposal as a means to move forward with Israeli annexation of large parts of the West Bank — something Trump and Kushner both opposed and prevented from moving forward.
At least four rockets target the US Embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, two Iraqi security officials say. The area is home to diplomatic missions and the seat of Iraq’s government.
Three of the missiles struck within the perimeter of the American Embassy, the officials say. Another hit a school located in a nearby residential complex.
An Iraqi military statement says a girl and a woman were injured in the attack, without providing more details. The statement says the rockets were launched from the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad.
Witnesses say they heard the embassy’s C-RAM defense system — supposed to detect and destroy incoming rockets, artillery and mortar shells — during the attack.
The attack is the latest in a series of rocket and drone attacks that have targeted the American presence in Iraq since the start of the year, following the second anniversary of the US strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Channel 13 reports that top state prosecution officials were not aware of the negotiations for a plea deal with Benjamin Netanyahu until yesterday.
The report says Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit held the talks secretly and only notified top figures tied to the case yesterday. Officials were outraged by the matter, it adds.
Some officials in the prosecution do not want to agree to close Case 2000 against the premier, the network says — closing the case has been reported as one of the offers under the proposed deal.
Channel 13 says prosecutors will only agree to a deal that includes an admission of moral turpitude and community service for Netanyahu. If his actions are found to have carried moral turpitude, it would mean Netanyahu would be barred from public life for seven years, likely ending the 72-year-old’s political career.
According to the network, Netanyahu started considering a plea deal after receiving a legal assessment that the testimony of key state’s witness Nir Hefetz’s recent testimony was effective for the prosecution’s case, and amid concerns that the upcoming testimony of another state’s witness, Shlomo Filber, could also be damaging.
Channel 12’s Guy Peleg notes that Netanyahu may not be interested in a plea deal at all, and may simply be trying to depict the cases publicly as weak, hence the prosecution’s readiness to compromise.
He also notes that courts are not a rubber stamp for plea bargains, and could feasibly reject one even if the sides agree to it.
Channel 13 also cites an unnamed senior official in the government saying that if a deal is signed, it will present “an immediate danger to the stability of the coalition.” This is because if Netanyahu departs politics as part of a plea deal, it will be much easier for the right to form a coalition with Likud.
Police say a bus had been pelted with rocks on a road between Beersheba and Dimona in the south.
No one was hurt in the incident, which comes amid violent Bedouin protests against tree-planting in the desert that they say encroaches on their land.
Police are searching the area for the assailants.
Hundreds of settlers are protesting in Jerusalem near the Prime Minister’s Residence, demonstrating against the government’s policies in the West Bank.
They are protesting the government’s attitude toward illegal outposts, claiming it is delegitimizing the settler movement. They are calling against the dismantlement of the Homesh outpost and against any compromises with Bedouin demonstrators in the south.
— ????????שלמה קרעי – Shlomo Karhi (@shlomo_karhi) January 13, 2022
At the rally, the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party says the current government constitutes “a tailwind for terror through and through.”
Buckingham Palace says that Prince Andrew’s military affiliations and royal patronages have been returned to Queen Elizabeth II with her “approval and agreement.”
The palace statement comes after more than 150 navy and army veterans wrote to the queen asking her to strip Andrew of all his military ranks and titles amid continued legal trouble for the prince, who is embroiled in a sex assault lawsuit in the US.
“With the queen’s approval and agreement, the Duke of York’s military affiliations and royal patronages have been returned to the queen,” Buckingham Palace says in a statement. “The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”
A US district judge yesterday refused to dismiss a civil case against Andrew by an American woman, Virginia Giuffre, who alleges the royal sexually abused her when she was 17.
District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan rejected an argument by Andrew’s lawyers that Giuffre’s lawsuit should be thrown out at an early stage because of an old legal settlement she had with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier she claims set up sexual encounters with the prince.
A deadly helicopter crash last Monday was caused by a fire in the left motor, but the underlying issue that prompted the malfunction remains unclear, according to an interim report on the investigation into the accident.
The probe is also unable to determine why the pilots — Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Major Chen Fogel — were unable to escape the aircraft, but determines that the rescue teams who arrived at the scene shortly after the crash would not have been able to pull them out in time to save them.
In light of the lingering questions about the cause of the crash, Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin ordered the fleet of Eurocopter AS565 Panther helicopters to remain grounded, the military says.
“Every accident is preventable. We will turn over every stone in order to perform an accurate and professional investigation, using all of the resources needed, to understand the cause of this accident,” Norkin says in a statement.
According to the interim report, the initial malfunction in the left motor occurred when the aircraft was 700 to 800 meters (2,297 to 2,625 feet) above the Mediterranean Sea. The fire caused the cabin to fill with smoke, and it quickly spread to the right motor as well.
Over the course of roughly two minutes, from the fire first starting to the helicopter hitting the water, the pilots activated the aircraft’s fire suppression systems, shut down some electrical systems to prevent the blaze from spreading further and activated the naval helicopter’s flotation system, according to the report.
The investigators credited the pilots’ quick actions and their “relatively balanced” landing of the aircraft on the water with saving the life of a naval officer who was on board the helicopter at the time.
The officer, Capt. Ron Birman, was pulled from the water shortly after the crash with a broken vertebra and mild hypothermia, after trying in vain to rescue the pilots.
A Moroccan imam who called for the “burning of Jews” in a 2009 video was banned from Belgium in October as a national security threat, the government says.
First revealed by Belgian broadcaster VRT, the expulsion is confirmed by the Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi.
“This man was probably the most influential preacher in Belgium,” Mahdi tells a session of Belgian parliament.
Mohamed Toujgani preached until last year at the Al-Khalil mosque in Molenbeek, one of the largest places of worship for Muslims in Belgium.
A statement says his residence permit was withdrawn on October 12.
Toujgani “has been controversial for some time. In 2009, he again called for the burning of Jews,” the statement adds.
Israel has extended for four more months the detention, without charge or trial, of a chronically-ill Palestinian teenager already held for a year, his father says.
Amal Nakhleh, 17, is one of the few minors held under what is known as administrative detention. The controversial practice allows for suspects to be detained without charge for renewable six-month terms while investigations continue.
Nakhleh has myasthenia, a rare neuromuscular disease.
His father, Moammar Nakhleh, says after the latest hearing: “The occupation tribunal renewed my son’s administrative detention for the fourth time despite his illness.”
The Shin Bet domestic security agency declines to comment to AFP on the reasons for Amal Nakhleh’s detention. It has previously been quoted as saying he was “suspected of having taken part in terrorist activity.”
Israeli authorities in the West Bank first arrested him in November 2020.
The UK’s Charity Commission is investigating comments by the head of Jewish National Fund UK after comments he made about Jews’ future in the country, Jewish News reports.
Samuel Hayek told Jewish News last month that Muslim immigration to the country is leading to a situtation where “maybe in 10 years, maybe less, who knows, Jews will not be able to live in the UK. I don’t think anybody can stop it.”
He said that in “Islam there is not a term for ‘peace’” and that Muslims who come to the UK “create their own ghettos, their own education, their own process of thinking.”
The Charity Commission says it has “opened a regulatory case into the Charity” over complaints it received.
“The Commission has contacted the Charity’s trustees requesting information; once received the Commission will consider whether any regulatory action is required. We cannot comment further whilst our case is ongoing.”
Two brand-new COVID-19 pills that are supposed to be an important weapon against the pandemic in the US are in short supply and have played little role in the fight against the Omicron wave of infections.
The problem is that production is not yet at full strength and that the pill considered to be far superior, Pfizer’s, takes six to eight months to manufacture.
While the supply is expected to improve dramatically in the coming months, doctors are clamoring for the pills now, not just because Omicron is causing an explosion of cases but because two antibody drugs that were once the go-to treatments don’t work as well against the variant.
“This should be a really joyous time because we now have highly effective antiviral pills,” says Erin McCreary, a pharmacist and administrator at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Instead, this feels like the hardest and most chaotic stretch of the pandemic.”
The pills — and other COVID-19 drugs, for that matter — are being carefully rationed, reserved for the highest-risk patients.
A group of independent United Nations rights experts urge Tehran to halt the imminent execution of a man convicted of killing a classmate when he was a minor.
“We urge the Iranian authorities to immediately and permanently halt the execution of Hossein Shahbazi and annul his death sentence, in line with international human rights law,” the experts say in a statement.
Shahbazi, now 20, was just 17 when he was arrested in 2018 for fatally stabbing a classmate during a fight between four individuals.
The four UN experts — on child rights, extrajudicial executions, torture, and the rights situation in Iran — point out that the court had relied partially on confessions reportedly obtained under torture.
The experts, who are appointed by the UN but do not speak on its behalf, highlight that Shahbazi was denied access to a lawyer and to his family during the 11 days of police interrogation.
Shahbazi’s execution had been scheduled for January 5, but was temporarily halted, the experts say, warning that he “remains at risk of imminent execution.”
Maj. Ofek Aharon and Maj. Itamar Elharar, killed in the night’s friendly fire incident, have been laid to rest.
According to Channel 13, Aharon’s father Eli said he demands answers from the chief of staff on how the incident was allowed to happen.
Aharon’s sister Daniel said: “You had so many plans. You didn’t want to die, I know. You kept everybody safe, but they didn’t keep you safe.”
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard last week launched a solid-fuel satellite carrier rocket into space, the country’s official IRNA news agency reports.
The report quotes Gen. Amirali Hajizadeh, chief of the Guard’s aerospace unit, as saying the test was successful. He says it marked the first time Iran used a solid-fuel rocket rather than a liquid-fuel one. He says Iran will produce lighter rocket engines in further space projects.
According to the general, the satellite carrier was made of a composite material instead of metal — something he claims was “cost-efficient.” Hajizadeh says Iran strongly pursues its goals in the aerospace and satellite industry.
Satellite carriers usually use liquid fuel but solid-fuel rockets can be adapted for mobile launchers that can be driven anywhere on a major road or rail system. Pure solid-fuel rockets are mostly associated with ballistic missile systems.
Eight tiny satellites built by Israeli students were launched into space a short time ago aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Eight teams from junior high schools across the country took part in the effort in collaboration with the Israel Space Agency and the Science and Technology Ministry
The satellites will fulfill various tasks and experiments and control of them will be possible through communication stations in several locations in Israel.
Earth simmered to the sixth hottest year on record in 2021, according to several newly released temperature measurements.
And scientists say the exceptionally hot year is part of a long-term warming trend that shows hints of accelerating.
Two US science agencies — NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and a private measuring group release their calculations for last year’s global temperature today, and all say it wasn’t far behind ultra-hot 2016 and 2020.
Six different calculations found 2021 was between the fifth and seventh hottest year since the late 1800s. NASA says 2021 tied with 2018 for sixth warmest, while NOAA puts last year in sixth place by itself, ahead of 2018.
Scientists say a La Nina — natural cooling of parts of the central Pacific that changes weather patterns globally and brings chilly deep ocean water to the surface — dampened global temperatures just as its flip side, El Nino, boosted them in 2016.
Clashes are ongoing between police and protesters in the Beersheba area.
Cops say 13 people have been arrested so far.
Police say they are making preparations for extreme winter weather in the coming days that could lead to flooding, particularly in coastal cities.
They will be putting rescue units on high alert and providing updates on road blockages as a result of the weather.
Authorities recommend that between now and Monday, the public not engage in unnecessary travel, and to avoid hikes in areas that could experience floods.
They also warn against entering underground locations during heavy rain and swimming in the sea.
The government coronavirus czar, Prof. Salman Zarka, says most COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization are people over age 60 whose vaccination is out of date.
He says there are over 100,000 people over age 60 who have yet to get a third shot of vaccine, and calls on them “to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
He also advises people at risk to avoid events and gatherings.
“People who feel unwell and have signs of respiratory illness — stay home,” Zarka says.
He says the number of infected people in the country is likely significantly higher than those diagnosed by tests.
He notes that thousands of health workers are currently quarantined, and that this is causing “stress on the health system. It’s growing and we’re considering closing down non-urgent services as needed.”
Police say seven people have been arrested so far in the clashes with Arab protesters in the south.
They also say they’ve had reports that three residents of the area went to a hospital with mild injuries.
A senior Sudanese police officer has been killed during protests by thousands against a military coup, the police media office says, reporting the first security forces fatality since the takeover.
Ali Bareema Hamad “fell martyr while doing his duties and securing protests” in the capital Khartoum, the police statement says on Facebook.
State prosecutors are willing to massively reduce the charges against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the sides discuss a possible plea deal, Channel 12 reports.
According to the network, the prosecution is willing to close one of the cases against Netanyahu — Case 2000, in which he is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage.
They are also said willing to remove the bribery charge in Case 4000 — the most serious charge Netanyahu faces. In the case, he is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of controlling shareholder of the Bezeq media company Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site owned by Elovitch.
And they are also reportedly willing to soften the charges in Case 1000 to remove allegations of fraud and leave only breach of trust charges.
The network says the gaps between the sides are very narrow, with the central question being Netanyahu’s future in politics — whether he will immediately quit the Knesset or do so after a verdict is given.
It also says it is a distinct possibility that a plea deal will be signed within days, before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit leaves office at the end of the month.
Fresh unrest is reported in the Negev, as Arab protesters against forestation work block roads near Beersheba and throw rocks at police officers.
Cops respond with riot dispersal measures.
— المقدسي للإعلام (@AlmakdesyMedia) January 13, 2022
Hundreds of teachers rally in cities across Iran to protest the slow implementation of salary and pension reforms, state media reports.
The protesters are demanding that the government move more quickly on a planned grading system for teachers based on experience and performance. They also want their pensions to be aligned with the salaries of working teachers as soon as possible.
In Gilan province on the Caspian Sea coast, around 150 teachers march in the city of Rasht, while another 70 do so in Lahijan, the state broadcaster reports.
Protesters chant slogans such as “if embezzlement is reduced, our problems will be solved,” and “we only heard promises, we didn’t see justice,” it says.
In Iran’s third-largest city, Isfahan, around 300 teachers demonstrate, the Mehr news agency reports, adding that another protest is held in Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari province in the southwest.
Hit by severe economic sanctions imposed since 2018 by the United States, Iran has seen inflation soar to close to 60 percent, exacting a heavy toll on the standard of living of public sector staff and others on fixed incomes.
The website of Iran’s supreme leader has showcased an animated video that shows a robotic vehicle targeting former US president Donald Trump for assassination.
The animated video was made as part of a contest to mark the Jan. 3, 2020, killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was slain in an American drone strike in Baghdad.
The video, posted yesterday on the website of Khamenei’s office, shows Trump, on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida home, being targeted by an Iranian drone.
The video mirrors a propaganda poster last year also showing Trump on a golf course, calling for revenge for Soleimani’s slaying.
Earlier this month, Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi demanded Trump be “prosecuted and killed.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has shared a video that appears to call for the assassination of Donald Trump in revenge for last year’s killing of its top military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/bk1faSkdbk
— Hami Hamedi (@HamediHami) January 13, 2022
Schools, universities and many shops are closed in Lebanon today as a general strike by public transportation and labor unions paralyzes the crisis-hit Mideast nation.
Protesters closed the country’s major highways as well as roads inside cities and towns, starting at 5 a.m., to protest fuel prices that have increased at an alarming rate after the government lifted subsidies. Taxi and truck drivers used their vehicles to block roads. In the capital of Beirut, many roads are blocked by giant trash bins and vehicles.
The nationwide protests, dubbed a “day of rage,” were scheduled to last 12 hours but appear to have petered out by early afternoon. The number of protesters is small.
The protest action comes as the Lebanese pound has continued to tumble against the dollar. About 80% of people in Lebanon live in poverty after the Lebanese pound lost more than 90% of its value in the past two years. Filling up a gasoline tank now costs more than the monthly minimum wage.
The ruling class, which has run Lebanon into the ground, has proved unwilling to reform and has done almost nothing to try to pull the country out of its meltdown, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog to extend his condolences for the death of Herzog’s mother, former first lady Aura Herzog.
Erdogan says he understands the pain of losing a mother. He adds that he had heard wonderful things about the late Aura Herzog’s work and the important social initiatives she promoted and led.
“I believe that you gave her pride in your service to the citizens of Israel,” he says.
Relations between Herzog and Erdogan have been amicable, despite the strained ties between the countries.
In a phone call, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tells Russian President Vladimir Putin that countries negotiating with Iran in Vienna must stand firmly against progress in Tehran’s nuclear program.
According to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office, the two discuss regional security and agree on “continued cooperation in the region” — a likely reference to Israeli Air Force activity in Syria, where Moscow has troops stationed.
Putin invites Bennett and his wife for a visit to Saint Petersburg, and the Israeli leader says he would be happy to come.
During a global pandemic, one tiny country is producing research that's helping to guide health policy across the world. How effective are COVID-19 vaccines? After the initial two shots, does a third dose help? What about a fourth?
When The Times of Israel began covering COVID-19, we had no idea that our small beat would become such a central part of the global story. Who could have known that Israel would be first at nearly every juncture of the vaccination story - and generate the research that's so urgently needed today?
Our team has covered this story with the rigor and accuracy that characterizes Times of Israel reporting across topics. If it’s important to you that this kind of media organization exists and thrives, I urge you to support our work. Will you join The Times of Israel Community today?
Nathan Jeffay, Health & Science Correspondent
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.