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Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers not expected to back extending tightened lockdown — TV

Report quotes ministers criticizing timing of Wednesday cabinet meeting, saying it is meant to reduce opposition to keeping measures in force beyond Thursday night

Police enforce lockdown restrictions by the beach  in Tel Aviv on January 16, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Police enforce lockdown restrictions by the beach in Tel Aviv on January 16, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.

10,620 new coronavirus infections, 44 more deaths in Israel over the weekend

The Health Ministry says 8,013 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday, as infections and fatalities continued to surge over the weekend while Israel remains in a third national lockdown.

Along with another 2,607 cases since midnight, the number of infections recorded since the pandemic began rises to 541,864. The number of active cases climbs to 82,551, with 1,082 people in serious condition, including 247 on ventilators.

The death toll stands at 3,943, with 34 fatalities yesterday and 10 so far today.

The ministry says 95,581 tests were performed yesterday, with 8.6 percent coming back positive.

According to the ministry, 2,027,835 have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 205,579 have received the second.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells Channel 12 news that “We’re at peak morbidity” and says the high number of serious patients is placing a burden on hospitals, but he doesn’t believe they face a risk of being overwhelmed.

Saudi FM says embassy in Qatar to reopen within days

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan says Riyadh will reopen its embassy in Qatar as part of a deal to normalize ties with its neighbor and end a three-year rift.

The kingdom will restore full diplomatic ties with Qatar as part of the deal struck earlier this month, and the Saudi embassy in Doha will reopen within days, the foreign minister says.

He adds, in remarks broadcast on official Al-Ekhbariyah television, that any delay is only due to logistics.

Saudi Arabia and its allies the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in June 2017 slapped a blockade on Qatar that included closing airspace to the country over claims it backed Islamist groups and was too close to Iran — charges Doha has always denied.

The quartet agreed to lift the restrictions at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit last week in the Saudi desert city of Al-Ula, after a flurry of diplomatic activity by outgoing US President Donald Trump’s administration.

As part of the deal, flights between the two countries resumed on Monday after the reopening of land borders.

Health Ministry reports 4 more cases of South African virus variant

The Health Ministry reports finding four more cases of the South African coronavirus variant, raising the total number detected in Israel to 12.

The new cases were found among travelers from the United Arab Emirates who were tested upon arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, according to the ministry.

Gantz hails Israel’s inclusion in US Central Command

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hails the Pentagon’s decision to move Israel to the military sphere led by Central Command, which includes the Middle East.

“This shift will further boost cooperation between the IDF and the US armed forces in confronting regional challenges, along with other friends with whom we share interests,” Gantz writes on Twitter.


COVID patient at Tel Aviv hospital dies after breathing tube detached

A 47-year-old coronavirus patient at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv dies after his breathing tube was detached.

The hospital says staff didn’t notice for several minutes, as they were dealing with other emergency situations in the intensive care unit.

Following the patient’s death, the hospital says it will cut back other operations to boost the medical teams treating those sick with COVID-19.

“We’re experiencing a heavy burden that is challenging the staff,” the hospital is quoted saying by the Ynet news site.

TV: Biden officials already holding talks with Iran on US return to nuclear deal

Illustrative: Then US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden with members of the national security team participate in a secure video teleconference from the Situation Room of the White House with Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and the US negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, March 31, 2015. (White House/Pete Souza)
Illustrative: Then US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden with members of the national security team participate in a secure video teleconference from the Situation Room of the White House with Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and the US negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, March 31, 2015. (White House/Pete Souza)

Officials in the incoming Biden administration have already began holding quiet talks with Iran on a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, and have updated Israel on those conversations, Channel 12 News reports.

The network gives no sourcing for the report, and no details on what was allegedly discussed.

Joe Biden has indicated his desire to return to the defunct accord, while Israel is pushing for any return to the deal to include fresh limitations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional destabilizing actions.

Anti-Netanyahu protests held for 30th week in a row

Protesters gather outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem for the 30th straight week of demonstrations against the premier over his indictment on graft charges and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of demonstrators march from the Chords Bridge at the entrance to the city down Jaffa Street on their way to Paris Square, adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Smaller protests are also held outside Netanyahu’s home in the coastal town of Caesarea and at highway overpasses and junctions across the country.


Belgian court postpones verdict in case of Iran diplomat accused of bomb plot

BRUSSELS — A Belgian court postpones until next month the verdict in the trial of an Iranian diplomat accused of plotting to bomb an exiled opposition group’s rally in France.

The case has caused tensions between Iran and several European countries, and shone an uncomfortable light on Tehran’s international activities.

Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of plotting to target the rally in Villepinte, outside Paris, on June 30, 2018.

The verdict was initially due on January 22 but the Antwerp court defers it to February 4, without giving any reason for the delay.

Assadi denies any involvement in the plot, which was foiled by security services.

He has refused to appear at Antwerp Criminal Court, where he is on trial with three alleged accomplices, all of whom say they are innocent.

Lawyers for Nasimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni — a Belgian-Iranian couple arrested in possession of a bomb in their car on their way to France — claimed the explosive was not powerful enough to kill.

The lawyer for the third alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, described by the prosecution as a relative of Assadi, has denied his involvement and also pleaded for his acquittal.

Several well-known international figures — including Rudy Giuliani, personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump — were at the event in Villepinte.

It was organized by the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), a group which includes the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK).

The MEK is considered a terrorist group in Iran, and has been banned there since 1981.

Prosecutors are seeking an 18-year jail term for the couple found with the explosives, and 15 for Arefani.

In October 2018, France accused Iran’s ministry of intelligence of being behind the plot. Tehran has strongly denied the charges.

— AFP

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers not expected to back extending tightened lockdown — TV

The Health Ministry is pushing to extend the tightened lockdown measures now in force, but opposition from Blue and White and ultra-Orthodox measures could lead to the lockdown measures expiring Thursday night as scheduled, Channel 12 news reports.

The network cites unnamed ministers criticizing the timing of an expected cabinet meeting on Wednesday, saying it is meant to reduce opposition to extending the lockdown. Sources close to Prime Minister Netanyahu deny such a motivation and say they want the most up-to-date figures possible.

The Health Ministry is set to argue that if the lockdown isn’t extended, the basic reproduction rate won’t drop below one, but the report says officials believe it will be hard to secure ultra-Orthodox support, as an extention would mean schools will be ordered to remain closed for longer.

MKs from Joint List, Likud attend mass ‘sulha’ ceremony in violation of lockdown

A mass “sulha” reconciliation ceremony between two feuding families was held today in the northern Arab-Israelli town of Kabul, in violation of lockdown restrictions.

The event was held inside in an enclosed space, in which gatherings are currently limited to five people.

Among those who attended the ceremony were Likud Deputy Minister Fateen Mulla and a number of MKs from the Joint List, including party leader Ayman Odeh.

The Haaretz daily quotes sources saying police knew about the event and want to reduce violence in the town, but that they didn’t approve it being held with dozens in attendance.


Far-right personality ‘Baked Alaska’ arrested for involvement in US Capitol riot

WASHINGTON — Far-right media personality Tim Gionet, who calls himself “Baked Alaska,” has been arrested by the FBI for his involvement in the riot at the US Capitol, a law enforcement official tells The Associated Press.

Gionet is arrested by federal agents in Houston, according to the official, who isn’t authorized to discuss the matter before the public release of a criminal complaint and speaks on condition of anonymity.

Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on January 6 as Congress was meeting to vote to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win. Five people died in the mayhem.

Gionet faces charges of violent and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority, according to the US Department of Justice.

Court documents don’t list an attorney for Gionet or say where he is being held. The jail in Harris County, which includes Houston, didn’t immediately reply to phone messages seeking further information.

FBI Special Agent Nicole Miller says in an affidavit filed in the case that Gionet streamed live for about 27 minutes from inside the Capitol and could be heard encouraging other protesters not to leave, cursing and saying “I’m staying,” “1776 baby,” and “I won’t leave guys, don’t worry.”

She writes that Gionet entered various offices and when told by law enforcement officers to move, identified himself as a member of the media. Miller writes that Gionet then asked officers where to go before cursing a law officer while alleging the officer shoved him, then leaving the building.

Gionet also posted video that showed Trump supporters in “Make America Great Again” and “God Bless Trump” hats milling around inside the Capitol and taking selfies with officers who calmly asked them to leave the premises. The Trump supporters talked among themselves, laughed, and told the officers and each other, “This is only the beginning.”

US state capitols boarded up, patrolled by troops ahead of expected protests

A double row of chain-link fencing circles the Arizona State Capitol. Windows on the Illinois and Ohio statehouses have been boarded up. National Guard troops in camouflage and flak jackets and heavily armed state troopers are stationed at state capitals across the US in advance of protests planned for tomorrow.

With the FBI warning of potential for violence at all state capitols, the ornate halls of government and symbols of democracy look more like heavily guarded US embassies in war-torn countries.

Governors have declared states of emergency, closed capitols to the public and called up troops ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.

They are trying to avoid a repeat of the mob rioting that occurred January 6, when supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol, leaving a Capitol Police officer and four others dead.

Details are vague, but demonstrations are expected at state capitols beginning tomorrow and leading up to Biden taking the oath of the office Wednesday.

Signs of ramped-up security are in abundance from Atlanta to Sacramento, California, throughout the week.

SWAT officers stand guard at the Georgia State Capitol. A bomb-detecting dog sniffs its way through the capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. State troopers are poised on the roof of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Sections of temporary fencing encircling many state capitols are locked together in Sacramento with handcuffs.

Missouri woman seen with Pelosi name plate charged in US Capitol riot

WASHINGTON — A Missouri woman has been charged with taking a splintered name plate belonging to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the riot at the US Capitol.

Emily Hernandez, of Sullivan, was charged yesterday with five counts, including disorderly conduct that impedes the conduct of government business and the stealing or disposing of government property. She had not been arrested as of early this afternoon, according to court documents. Her home phone number rang unanswered.

The FBI received online tips from at least three people saying Hernandez was the person seen in TV news footage holding up a broken engraved piece of wood bearing the words “House” and “Nancy” during the storming of the US Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump, an agent wrote in an affidavit.

The riot happened January 6 as Congress was meeting to vote to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win. Five people died in the mayhem.

Law enforcement officials across the country have been working to locate and arrest suspects who committed federal crimes and have brought dozens of cases in federal court and the District of Columbia Superior Court.

Sullivan is located about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of St. Louis.


Widow of Tel Aviv COVID patient whose breathing tube detached: ‘We’re demanding answers’

The coronavirus patient who died at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital after the breathing tube for his ventilator detached is identified as Moshe Harazi.

Harazi, a 47-year-old Tel Aviv resident, was a married father of five.

“We’re demanding answers,” his widow Tali tells the Ynet news site.

Ichilov has said medical staff failed to notice the tube was detached for several minutes, attributing the accident to the burden on hospitals as Israel faces its worst wave yet of the pandemic.


Ex-chief rabbi tests positive for coronavirus, days after getting 2nd vaccine dose

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center  on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has tested positive for coronavirus, days after he received the second dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Hebrew media reports.

It is not immediately clear when Lau, 83, was infected with the virus.

He is reportedly feeling well and doesn’t have any symptoms.

Heavily armed Virginia man arrested at checkpoint near US Capitol

WASHINGTON — A heavily armed man has been arrested in Washington at a security checkpoint near the US Capitol, where President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated next week, authorities say.

Wesley Allen Beeler, of Virginia, was taken into custody after police found him with a handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, shotgun shells and a magazine for the gun, according to a police report obtained by AFP.

He had tried to pass through the checkpoint using fake inaugural credentials, CNN reports, citing a law enforcement source.

Washington is under a high state of alert ahead of Biden’s Wednesday inauguration, after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6.

Five people died in the assault, including a police officer.

Security officials have warned that armed pro-Trump extremists, possibly carrying explosives, pose a threat to Washington as well as state capitals over the coming week.

Thousands of National Guard troops have been deployed in Washington and streets have been blocked off downtown with concrete barriers.

The National Mall, which is normally packed with people every four years for presidential inaugurations, has been declared off-limits at the request of the Secret Service, which ensures the security of the president.

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