The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
Iran fires cruise missiles as part of a naval drill in the Gulf of Oman, state media reports, amid heightened tensions with the US.
State TV shows footage of missiles being launched from both land units and ships at sea but doesn’t elaborate on their range or other details. In July, Iran said it test-fired cruise missiles with a range of some 280 kilometers (some 175 miles).
“Enemies should know that any violation and invasion of Iranian marine borders will be targeted by the cruise missiles from both coast and sea,” says Adm. Hamzeh Ali Kaviani, spokesman for the exercise.
The two-day drill began Wednesday when the country’s navy inaugurated its largest military vessel. The exercise takes place amid heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and a US pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic.
In recent weeks, Iran has increased its military drills. On Saturday, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard held a naval parade in the Persian Gulf and a week earlier Iran held a massive drone maneuver across half the country.
A 67-year-old woman is under observation at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center after accidentally receiving five doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
She is the second person in Israel to receive five times the dose, after a pharmacist in central Israel. He suffered no major side effects as a result of the mistake.
Both Pope Francis and his predecessor, former pope Benedict XVI, have received the coronavirus vaccine, the Vatican says.
“I can confirm that as part of the Vatican City State vaccination program to date, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus,” spokesman Matteo Bruni says.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu courts the Arab vote, his Likud party clarifies that the prime minister has no intention of forming a government with Arab parties after the March elections. He also rules out forming a minority government propped up by Arab lawmakers from the opposition.
“We won’t form a government with Mansour Abbas or the Joint List, and we won’t rely on them, after they opposed the peace deals that bring Jews and Arabs closer,” Likud says. “Israel’s Arab citizens support Likud led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because they’re sick of wasting their vote on the Joint List, which sits in the opposition and does nothing for them. They are joining Likud to ensure integration, prosperity and security in their towns.”
An Iranian Revolutionary Guards official denies that recent Israeli strikes on eastern Syria led to any deaths, the Fars news agency reports.
“This attack caused no human losses,” Ahad Karimkhani, deputy political head of the Guards’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, is quoted as saying.
The “attacks that (Israeli forces) carry out under different pretexts are blind and with no strategic goals,” Karimkhani says.
He vows that attacks on “resistance axis positions in Syria will certainly face a serious and severe response.”
The Supreme Court orders the state to hand over additional evidence to the defense attorneys of Shaul and Iris Elovitch.
The top court partially accepts their appeal.
Elovitch and his wife face bribery charges in the so-called Case 4000, over which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also on trial.
Netanyahu faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors benefitting Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.
A woman in her thirties has been found dead in an Airbnb rental apartment in Tel Aviv, according to Hebrew media reports.
Her body is found wrapped in a blanket.
Police are investigating.
The woman is not immediately identified.
According to Army Radio, police believe there is no suspicion of foul play.
The United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency confirms that Iran has informed it that the country has begun installing equipment for the production of uranium metal, which would be another violation of the landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran maintains its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production are part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel,” the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency says. Uranium metal can also be used for a nuclear bomb, however, and research on its production is specifically prohibited in the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed with world powers in 2015.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
IAEA inspectors visited the Isfahan plant where Iran has said it plans to conduct the research on January 10, and officials were informed by Tehran on January 13 that “modification and installation of the relevant equipment for the mentioned R&D activities have been already started,” the agency says.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, repeated that in a tweet on Wednesday, adding that “natural uranium will be used to produce uranium metal in the first stage.”
He told Iran’s official news agency IRNA that the move will elevate Iran to the level of “progressive nations in production of new fuels.”
It was the latest in a string of violations of the JCPOA that Iran has undertaken since President Donald Trump pulled the United States unilaterally out of the deal in 2018, saying it needed to be re-negotiated.
China is seeing a new surge in coronavirus cases in its frozen northeast, and has reported its first death attributed to COVID-19 in months.
Officials say that Heilongjiang province in the region traditionally known as Manchuria recorded 43 new virus cases, most of them centered on the city of Suihua. The northern province of Hebei just outside Beijing has seen China’s most serious recent outbreak and reported 81 more cases.
The new death raises the official toll for the pandemic to 4,635.
The relatively low figure is shown as evidence to the effectiveness of China’s strict health measures, but has also raised questions about the tight hold the government maintains on all information related to the outbreak.
Only 8 percent of Arab Israelis have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, as opposed to 22% in the general population, the Arab Emergency Committee reports in a new update.
Public health advocates differ over the causes of the low coronavirus vaccination rate. Some suggest that fake news and vaccine denialism has played a role in depressing turnout. Others say that vaccine accessibility is the main problem, charging that relatively few vaccination stations have been opened in Arab towns and cities.
The Committee — which receives its numbers from the Health Ministry — finds that 45.6% of Arab Israelis over the age of 60 have received a shot, in contrast to 72% in the country as a whole.
The Israel Defense Forces is drawing up plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, the Israel Hayom daily reports in a front-page article.
The pro-Netanyahu newspaper says IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi has asked for three alternate plans to derail Tehran’s program, without elaborating on the proposals.
The unsourced report, however, indicates one of the proposals is a military strike, noting that such a plan would require a budgetary boost for the Israeli army.
The Israeli Medical Association warns that Israelis who developed Bell’s palsy after receiving the first coronavirus vaccine dose should hold off on the second shot.
The IMA is also demanding information on how many Israelis suffered the facial paralysis from the vaccine.
“For those who develop facial paralysis after receiving the first vaccine dose, we are concerned about administering the second shot since there isn’t enough information worldwide on the issue,” Prof. Zion Hagay tells Channel 12, warning that steroid treatments for the condition could compromise the vaccine’s effectiveness.
At least one woman in Israel has suffered the side effect, according to Channel 12.
Israel is weighing forcing those returning from Brazil to self-isolate in state-run hotels over fears of the coronavirus variant in the South American country, according to Hebrew media reports.
The Brazilian strain is the third variant to raise concern in Israel, following the British and South African mutations.
Prosecutors are reportedly dropping a softened plea deal for a sex offender rabbi who has been accused of defrauding his sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels, following complaints from his accusers.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, the change came after the alleged victims, who have said they’ll take the case to the High Court of Justice, pleaded with the deputy state prosecutor for a harsher punishment for Eliezer Berland.
The details of the negotiations on the plea bargain had not been confirmed by the authorities. The alleged victims’ lawyers said that to the best of their knowledge, it would include 14 months of imprisonment, compensation of NIS 5,000-10,000 ($1,500-$3,000) per victim and a fine to be paid to the state.
Berland was arrested for fraud in February after hundreds of people complained to police that he had sold prayers and “wonder drugs” to desperate members of his community, and promised families of individuals with disabilities that their loved ones would be able to walk and families of convicted felons that their loved ones would be freed from prison. In the arrest raid, dozens of boxes of powders and pills were found at Berland’s home that were given to supplicants as “wonder drugs.” Initial laboratory checks revealed them to be over-the-counter pain medication and candy, including Mentos, officials said. He was charged in that case in March.
Berland has denied the charges, saying he only offered blessings and healing services when asked, and at sums far lower than those alleged by police.
In May, he was further charged with tax evasion, violations of money laundering laws and other offenses for failing to report and even concealing income generated through his activities with the Shuvu Bonim sect.
The High Court of Justice rules that the Labor party must hold internal party primaries in 10 days, in a win for party member Merav Michaeli.
The justices say the vote will be held on January 24, according to reports.
The center-left party’s current leader, Amir Peretz, has announced he won’t run for the Knesset in the upcoming election and will step aside as head of Labor.
The Israel Police will significantly expand its enforcement of the nationwide lockdown over the weekend, setting up checkpoints that will operate 24 hours a day.
Dozens of checkpoints will be set up along main highways, and over 300 within cities and towns, according to Hebrew media reports.
The lockdown rules prevent Israelis from traveling beyond a kilometer from their homes, except for essential reasons.
The Bank of Israel announces it will purchase $30 billion in 2021.
“After a series of discussions held over recent days, and in order to increase the certainty regarding the Bank of Israel’s intervention in the foreign exchange market in the coming year, the Monetary Committee decided to change its foreign exchange market policy. The Committee announces that in 2021 the Bank of Israel will purchase $30 billion in the foreign exchange market.”
It adds: “This amount is markedly larger than the Bank’s intervention in the past and its assessments regarding the expected current account surplus this year, so that it will also moderate the forces for appreciation deriving from financial factors. The purchases will continue so long as they do not lead to a depreciation at an extent that is not consistent with the achievement of the Bank’s price stability and financial stability objectives.”
The World Health Organization’s European branch says 95 percent of vaccine doses so far administered worldwide were limited to 10 countries and called for a more equitable distribution.
In terms of total doses the top countries are the US, China, the UK, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Russia, Germany, Spain and Canada.
“Collectively, we simply cannot afford to leave any country, any community behind,” WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, says at an online press conference.
Kluge says the WHO was working to get the vaccine to every country but “it needs every country capable of contributing, donating and supporting equitable access and deployment of the vaccines to do so.”
According to website Our World in Data, over 32 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered so far. Israel is far ahead of any other country, having vaccinated over 23% of its population.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
“The decision of US internet platforms to block the head of state can be compared to a nuclear blast in cyber space,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says on Facebook.
“It’s not the destruction that’s scary but the consequences,” she adds.
“A blow has been dealt against democratic values proclaimed by the West.”
Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts were suspended last week following the violent invasion of the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters, which disrupted the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
Twitter went a step further by deleting Trump’s account, depriving him of his favorite megaphone.
Zakharova points to a chorus of critics in the West including German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling the Twitter ban “problematic.”
The social media ban, says Zakharova, was one more reason for US authorities to “take care” of their own country instead of criticizing Moscow.
She makes the statement after Washington expressed concern over a crackdown on independent media in Russia, among other issues.
The Education Ministry says 22,275 students and 3,435 teaching staff are sick with COVID-19.
With some 79,000 active cases nationwide, the teachers and students account for nearly one-third of all infections.
It remains unclear where they contracted the virus.
US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial could begin at 1 p.m. on Inauguration Day next Wednesday as President-elect Joe Biden is being sworn into office. That’s according to a timeline of Senate procedure obtained by The Associated Press.
It’s the possible schedule if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends the articles of impeachment to the Senate soon.
Trump was impeached by the House on Wednesday on a single charge of incitement to insurrection after the deadly Capitol siege last week by a pro-Trump mob. Trump is the only president ever to be impeached twice.
Pelosi, a California Democrat, hasn’t said when she’ll send the impeachment charge to the Senate. Some Democrats have suggested holding back to allow Biden time to be inaugurated and to start working on his priorities first.
Biden has suggested the Senate could divide its time between the impeachment trial and confirming his Cabinet nominees and working on COVID-19 relief and other issues.
Seven people have been arrested in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, as police carry out raids to enforce the lockdown rules.
Police say clashes have broken out in the area, with local residents throwing stones and garbage bags at officers.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 14, 2021
The United States must cancel its decision to classify Yemen’s Houthi rebels as “terrorists” to avoid the risk of a famine not seen for decades, a senior United Nations official tells the Security Council.
“What is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years,” says Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.
“Would licenses and exemptions for aid agencies prevent that? The answer is no. What would prevent it? A reversal of the decision.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says Israel will start vaccinating Palestinian security prisoners next week.
A kindergarten teacher from Ramle becomes the 2 millionth Israeli to receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein are on hand at the Ramle clinic.
Both Netanyahu and Edelstein have received the second dose.
“It’s already become routine… It’s something we’re happy to grow accustomed to, but mostly we want to finish this,” says Netanyahu.
“We’ll continue — until the next million,” he says.
The prime minister says the government is working on the “green passport[s]” for the vaccinated.
He says Europe is planning lockdowns into March and April, “but not here.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah II receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot, a day after the country launched its inoculation campaign.
Abdullah is vaccinated alongside his son Crown Prince Hussein and his uncle Prince Hassan, the royal palace says in Twitter posts accompanied by pictures of them getting a shot in the arm.
Jordan kicked off its COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday with injections for healthcare workers, people with chronic illnesses and those over the age of 60.
Last week the kingdom announced it had approved China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use after giving the green light to the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York says he has the coronavirus. He’s the latest House member to report testing positive since dozens of lawmakers huddled together for protection during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
Espaillat says in a statement that he’s quarantining at home and will keep up his work representing his Upper Manhattan district.
At least three other House members have tested positive after a group of representatives fled to a secure location on Capitol Hill when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the Capitol.
It’s not clear where and when lawmakers caught the virus. But the Capitol’s attending physician has told House members they might have been exposed to someone in the room who had the virus.
A French court sentences a 19-year-old Deliveroo courier to four months in prison on discrimination charges after he refused to deliver meals from Jewish restaurants.
Two restaurant owners in the eastern city of Strasbourg filed complaints last week after alleging the courier canceled delivery orders after learning they were for “Israeli food.”
One of the owners told the court that the man said “I don’t deliver to Jews.”
“French law prohibits discrimination of any kind. You have to respect everyone in this country,” Judge Bertrand Gautier says at the trial.
He adds that the courier, an Algerian who entered France on a tourist visa that has since expired, fraudulently used an associate’s Deliveroo codes and had his proceeds transferred to the account of a third person.
The suspect was also ordered to leave the country after serving his sentence, according to a tweet by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.
Speaking via an interpreter, the courier admits to canceling the orders but denied saying he would not deliver to Jews.
The Israelite Consistory of the Bas-Rhin department had also filed a complaint against Deliveroo, which vowed to take immediate action if the allegations were confirmed.
“We are relieved by the conclusion of this inquiry, which allowed the identification of the person who carried out these hateful acts, thanks to close cooperation between Deliveroo and the police,” Melvina Sarfati El Grably, the company’s general manager for France, says in a statement.
Harold Bornstein, the New York Jewish physician whose 2016 letter declaring Donald Trump “unequivocally the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency” turned out to have been written by Trump, is dead at 73.
His death notice appears Thursday in The New York Times. No cause of death was given.
The letter released during the 2016 campaign was prompted by media demands for Trump’s health records after Trump accused his rival, Hillary Clinton, of obscuring health problems. Clinton had released a letter from a physician declaring her to be in good health.
The hyperbole in Bornstein’s letter — Trump’s blood pressure was “astonishingly excellent,” it said — raised eyebrows. Bornstein vigorously insisted he had penned the letter, but in 2018 revealed that Trump indeed was one who had dictated it.
Bornstein and Trump had fallen out; the Trump campaign supposedly cut him off because he had spoken to the media. The doctor said campaign officials bullied him and demanded he remove from his office a picture with Trump. Bornstein had ambitions of becoming the White House physician and was upset by the poor seats he got at Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
Bornstein had inherited Trump as a patient from his father Jacob’s practice.
Bornstein had an eccentric affection for Italian: He communicated with journalists; flirted online with women journalists; demanded payment for interviews and delivered a speech at his son’s bar mitzvah in the language, although there was little evidence anyone at the event understood what he was saying.
He is survived by his wife, Melissa, four sons and a daughter.
Mexico says a fugitive former top investigator wanted in connection with the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 was seeking asylum in Israel, complicating extradition efforts.
Mexico has asked Israel to arrest Tomas Zeron, who headed the Criminal Investigation Agency, over allegations of serious irregularities in the probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies.
Zeron “is trying to obtain asylum in Israel. That’s the legal strategy that they have, arguing that he is being persecuted,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard tells reporters.
The move means the extradition process will take longer, he adds, but voices confidence that Mexico would be successful.
Zeron is accused of using torture to extract supposed confessions from suspects, enforced disappearance and embezzling around $55 million of public funds.
An international media investigation called “The Cartel Project” reported last month that he had fled to Israel with help from his contacts in the country’s cyber-surveillance industry.
The disappearance of the teaching students shocked Mexico and sparked mass protests against then-president Enrique Pena Nieto’s government.
The Health Ministry says another 6,260 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 78,169.
There are currently 1,117 people in serious condition, including 280 on ventilators.
The death toll climbs to 3,860, an increase of 34 since this morning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to pay his respects to Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Adelson, whose remains are arriving in Israel this evening ahead of his burial in Jerusalem tomorrow, according to Channel 12.
Netanyahu will welcome Adelson’s plane at Ben Gurion Airport, but won’t attend the funeral due to the lockdown restrictions, the network says.
Adelson was a strong supporter of Netanyahu, as well as US President Donald Trump.
Israel is expected to begin vaccinating those over 40 against the coronavirus starting next week, according to Channel 13.
The government is also considering allowing high school students and women undergoing fertility treatments to receive the shot.
The Palestinian Authority announces that some students will return to school beginning on Sunday, as coronavirus restrictions in the West Bank are relaxed.
Students between 7th and 11th grades will be allowed to head back for in-person instruction, government spokesperson Ibrahim Melhem says in a statement.
But most other lockdown restrictions will remain in place, Melhem says, including a nightly curfew and a ban on travel between West Bank provinces.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reports 12,593 active coronavirus cases; 7,000 are in the Gaza Strip, and 5,593 in the West Bank.
According to the ministry, 1,665 Palestinians have died from the coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza.
In video from a meeting last night with independent business owners aired by Channel 12 News, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen saying his political fate is tied to the coronavirus crisis, and expressing the belief he’ll win 40 Knesset seats in the March election due to his perceived success in tackling the pandemic.
He proposes he’ll get “forty, forty-two seats. How? With one factor — the coronavirus. The coronavirus lowers [me] when it rises and the coronavirus brings me up when it goes down.”
“We’ll pass 60 seats” this time, he says of his next coalition.
New York state’s attorney general sues the NYPD, accusing America’s largest police force of using “brutal” force during last year’s massive Black Lives Matter protests.
Letitia James says New York City police officers falsely arrested peaceful demonstrators, unlawfully detained legal observers and deployed “indiscriminate, unjustified” repeated use of batons and pepper spray.
James, a Democrat, adds that the actions “led to significant injuries and violated individuals’ basic right to peacefully protest.”
Tens of thousands of people marched in New York in May and June as part of protests that swept America for days following the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
The NYPD was criticized for its heavy-handed response, with numerous videos circulating online showing officers charging at peaceful demonstrators and deploying a controversial crowd-control tactic known as “kettling.”
“There is no question that the NYPD engaged in a pattern of excessive, brutal, and unlawful force against peaceful protesters,” James says in a statement.
In her complaint, the civilian prosecutor calls for an external monitor to be set up to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics at future protests.
The lawsuit filed in Manhattan also specifically charges Commissioner Dermot Shea, Chief of Department Terence Monahan and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who as head of the city government is effectively their boss.
De Blasio largely defended the police response, while promising a review of alleged abuses and the imposition of penalties if necessary.
Looting on the sidelines of the protests led to de Blasio imposing a week-long nighttime curfew on the city.
A court in eastern France convicts a delivery driver of anti-Semitic discrimination for refusing to take orders for kosher food, and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says the Algerian man would be deported after he completes his prison sentence.
The conviction in the city of Strasbourg came two days after a regional Jewish institution, the Israelite Consistory of the Bas-Rhin region, said two kosher restaurants had reported that drivers working for Deliveroo refused to handle their food because they didn’t want to deliver to Jews.
The group and restaurants filed a legal complaint, the consistory said Tuesday, denouncing what it called “openly anti-Semitic discrimination.” Only one deliverer was ultimately involved in the court action.
The interior minister tweets that the Algerian man, who was in France illegally, had been convicted and handed a four-month prison sentence.
“I decided to expel from the national territory the food ‘deliverer’…who said he did not want to handle deliveries to Jewish clients,” Darmanin writes.
The Strasbourg prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation into “discrimination based on ethnic origin in the framework of providing a service,” according to a prosecutor’s aide.
Deliveroo spokesman Damien Steffan said Tuesday on local broadcaster France Bleu that the company thinks “anti-Semitic acts, like all racist or discriminatory acts of all kinds, are unacceptable.” Deliveroo has around 14,000 drivers in France and has seen business grow considerably during the coronavirus pandemic.
The case drew the national government’s attention amid long-running efforts to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. France’s minister for citizenship issues, Marlene Schiappa, met Tuesday with the management of Deliveroo France.
US officials say the number of National Guard troops pouring into the nation’s capital to assist law enforcement with security surrounding the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden has grown to about 26,000.
Officials say Guard members from all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, are deploying to the city. Officials had initially said up to 20,000 would be needed, but said the final number has grown based on additional requests from law enforcement officials.
The US officials aren’t authorized to discuss security details publicly, and speak on condition of anonymity.
As of Thursday, there are roughly 7,000 Guard members in Washington, with thousands more on the way. Officials say at this point, between 3,000 to 4,000 of those Guard members are armed.
The length of the missions may vary, but Defense Department officials were authorized to deploy the Guard for up to 30 days for the inauguration and surrounding protests.
Pentagon officials approved requests to have some Guard members armed with either long guns or handguns, particularly those Guard members assigned near the US Capitol.
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