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After delay, cabinet to vote on establishing state inquiry into submarine affair

After ministerial vote pushed back a week amid negotiations with Germany to purchase more submarines, cabinet now expected to approve long-promised probe of scandal-ridden deal

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

A man rides in a mock submarine during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, on October 14, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)
A man rides in a mock submarine during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, on October 14, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

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

Cabinet slated to vote next week on establishing inquiry into submarine scandal

Israelis protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside a court hearing on the submarine affair, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis protest against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside a court hearing on the submarine affair, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Cabinet ministers are expected to vote on Sunday on the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the so-called “Submarine Affair,” according to a release of the cabinet meeting’s schedule.

The vote was originally slated to be held this past Sunday, but was removed from the agenda at the last minute.

Several ministers have long promised to investigate a murky deal between Israel and a German shipbuilder for naval vessels. The scandal revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels — submarines and large missile ships — from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.

Several of those involved in the agreement have been indicted over the affair, including close confidants of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called for the procurement, though not the ex-premier himself.

Reports indicated that the vote this week was delayed due to the government’s ongoing negotiations to purchase submarines from Germany, in a deal that advanced earlier this week. Other reports suggested the delay was tied to the ongoing plea deal talks between Netanyahu and state prosecutors.

Taliban calls on Muslim countries to recognize its Afghan government

Taliban fighters in vehicles take part in a military street parade in Maymana, capital of Faryab province, Afghanistan, on January 16, 2022. (Elise Blanchard/AFP)
Taliban fighters in vehicles take part in a military street parade in Maymana, capital of Faryab province, Afghanistan, on January 16, 2022. (Elise Blanchard/AFP)

The Taliban prime minister calls on Muslim nations to be the first to officially recognize its government, as aid-dependent Afghanistan faces economic collapse.

No country has yet recognized the Taliban, with most watching to see how the hardline Islamists — notorious for human rights abuses during their first stint in power — restrict freedoms.

Although the group has promised a softer rule in line with their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are largely excluded from government employment and secondary schools for girls are mostly shuttered.

“I call on Muslim countries to take the lead and recognize us officially. Then I hope we will be able to develop quickly,” Mohammad Hassan Akhund tells a conference in Kabul called to address the country’s massive economic woes.

“We don’t want it for the officials. We want it for our public,” he says, adding that the Taliban has fulfilled all necessary conditions by restoring peace and security.

But Taliban Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi tells the conference that the government “would not sacrifice the independence of the country’s economy by bending to the conditions of donors.”

Light snow begins to fall in parts of Jerusalem; schools to open late

Jerusalem Municipality maintenance department prepare tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem, on January 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem Municipality maintenance department prepare tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem, on January 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Snow begins falling in some neighborhoods in Jerusalem as Israelis across the country dig in for chilly overnight temperatures.

Snow coated parts of the Golan Heights early this morning, causing school cancellations in some northern areas.

There is not expected to be any real snow accumulation in the capital, although heavier snowfall is expected in some of the areas surrounding Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon — who tested positive for COVID earlier today — says that schools tomorrow will have a delayed opening, at 9 a.m., to deal with any potential snow-related traffic or cleanup.

Earlier today, Israel broke an all-time winter record for electricity usage, as residents crank up their heaters to stay warm in the frigid temperatures.

US envoy to UN calls on Israel to refrain from evictions ‘like Sheikh Jarrah’

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a news conference at United Nations headquarters, on March 1, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a news conference at United Nations headquarters, on March 1, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield references the eviction and demolition this morning in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem in comments to the UN Security Council.

“To make progress, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority must refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” Thomas-Greenfield says. “That includes annexations of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, and evictions – like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah – incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”

Her statement marks the first public comments from the US on the eviction, which was the first in that neighborhood since 2017.

In response, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan tells the council that the family evicted is “a family that stole public lands for their own private use… This is a municipal issue that has gone through all the respective channels of the independent Israeli legal system.”

Thomas-Greenfield also references the synagogue hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, over the weekend.

“The harrowing events in Colleyville, Texas, this past weekend… reminds us that we all must work together to stand against antisemitism and extremism,” she says. “The United States will continue to champion justice for victims of antisemitism, and for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”

She also references the new makeup of the UN Security Council, after Tunisia and others finished their terms earlier this month, and the United Arab Emirates, among others, joined.

“For the first time in many years, all members of this Council have diplomatic relations with the State of Israel,” says Thomas-Greenfield. “This is a testament to the important shifts underway in the Middle East, and indicative of Israel’s contributions on the world stage. Let us avail ourselves of this opportunity to move beyond our standard talking points and identify ways to support the parties in pursuit of a sustainable and lasting peace for all of their people.”

Health Ministry: Recently vaccinated kids, teens, more protected against Omicron

COVID-19 vaccinations in Rehovot, on January 10, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
COVID-19 vaccinations in Rehovot, on January 10, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Data released by the Health Ministry shows that children and teenagers vaccinated against COVID-19 are more protected against the Omicron variant than their unvaccinated peers.

The study, carried out in conjunction with the Weizmann Institute, the Hebrew University and the Gertner Institute at Sheba Medical Center, purports to show that vaccines given in the past few months are effective against the ultra-contagious variant.

Children ages 5-11 who received two doses of the COVID vaccine are 2x less likely to be infected with Omicron than their unvaccinated counterparts, the study claims. And those ages 12-15 who received a booster dose in the past two months are 4x less likely to be infected than their unvaccinated peers.

Overall, only about 12% of 5-11 year olds in Israel have received two vaccine doses, and less than 12% of 12-15 year olds have received three doses of the shot.

Meretz seeks to put brakes on renewing ‘Citizenship Law’

Palestinians and Arab Israelis protest against the 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law into Israel, on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Palestinians and Arab Israelis protest against the 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law into Israel, on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The left-wing Meretz party submits an appeal to Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo against the controversial “Citizenship Law.”

Such a move is intended to block the bill from coming to a vote in the Knesset floor without the approval of Meretz and the Ra’am party.

The legislation, which bars Palestinians who marry Israelis from receiving permits to live with their spouses in Israel, has been on the books for years, but expired last year after the coalition failed to win a dramatic vote on extending it.

On Sunday, cabinet ministers gave first-stage approval to bringing the legislation back to the Knesset for a vote, in hopes of gaining the support of right-wing opposition MKs — who only voted against it last year in order to embarrass the coalition.

6 arrested in rally against Sheikh Jarrah eviction outside Jerusalem mayor’s home

Left-wing activists protest outside Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon's home, on January 19, 2022, against evictions in Sheikh Jarrah earlier in the day. (Yahel Gazit)
Left-wing activists protest outside Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon's home, on January 19, 2022, against evictions in Sheikh Jarrah earlier in the day. (Yahel Gazit)

Six people are arrested during a protest outside Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon’s home against an eviction and home demolition in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem earlier today.

More than 100 left-wing protesters, including Meretz MK Mossi Raz, gathered outside Leon’s home to protest the eviction.

Activists say that similar protests are taking place around the country, including outside the home of Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz. Attendees, including Raz, complain of police pushing and shoving them during the protest.

“I came with dozens of protesters to protest outside the home of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon in Rehavia about the terrible eviction of the Salihya family,” Raz tweets. “The police are acting with violence, detaining non-violent protesters and they shoved me.”

A spokeswoman for Raz says he intends to appeal to Public Security Minister Omer Barlev about the alleged police violence.

Around 3 a.m. this morning, the Salihya family was evicted by police from the home that the state says was built illegally, following a protracted legal battle and several-day standoff.

Angela Merkel turns down UN job after retiring as German chancellor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a bouquet from Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf, Scholz prior to the cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a bouquet from Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf, Scholz prior to the cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool)

German ex-chancellor Angela Merkel has said no thanks to an offer of a job with the United Nations, her office says.

UN sources confirmed that Secretary General Antonio Guterres had asked Merkel to lead an advisory panel on a “common agenda” for governance after the pandemic that he set out late last year.

Merkel “spoke with the UN secretary general last week, thanked him and told him she would not be accepting the offer,” her office says in a statement, confirming media reports.

The 67-year-old Merkel left office last month and was succeeded by Social Democrat Olaf Scholz at the helm of a three-way coalition with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats. Despite feverish speculation as to what she might do next, Merkel remained tight-lipped, hinting only at a quiet life of books and sleep.

Data shows Omicron beginning to recede in the United States

People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site in Times Square, New York, on December 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site in Times Square, New York, on December 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The United States appears to be emerging from its latest coronavirus wave driven by the Omicron variant, data shows, though cases remain far higher than during any previous surge and COVID hospitalizations are at a peak.

A seven-day-average of new daily cases peaked at around 795,000 on January 13, an official tracker maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

Though figures over the weekend and public holidays, such as Monday, January 17, are impacted by lower reporting rates and should be treated with caution, numbers were already falling by Friday.

The declines were most pronounced in states that were hit first by the wave, particularly in the northeast, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland. On the other hand, cases were still rising fast in parts of the west, including New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Swath of Mount Hermon to be recognized as nature reserve

A jackal seen on Mount Hermon in 2021. (Dafna Ben Nun)
A jackal seen on Mount Hermon in 2021. (Dafna Ben Nun)

An 85,000-dunam (21,000-acre) area of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights is officially recognized as a nature reserve after the IDF withdraws years of opposition.

Reaching 2,814 meters (9,232 feet), this highest point in the country is characterized by alpine meadows and montane valleys, and is covered in snow, some of which only disappears in the summer.

The Hermon is home to large mammals such as wolves, jackals and wild pigs and to species that are rare in Israel, such as the European snow vole. It also has many species of plants, among them trees and orchids found nowhere else in the country.

Shas MK backs call for state inquiry into NSO spyware affair

Shas MK Moshe Arbel at a campaign event in Jerusalem, on July 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin FentonFlash90)
Shas MK Moshe Arbel at a campaign event in Jerusalem, on July 22, 2019. (Noam Revkin FentonFlash90)

Shas MK Moshe Arbel says he would back forming a state commission of inquiry into allegations that Israel Police used spyware to spy on Israeli citizens, including protesters and activists.

“Even if Meretz were to submit a suggestion to establish a state commission of inquiry into the police use of NSO, I would support it,” Arbel tells Army Radio, referencing the gaps between the left-wing party and his own ultra-Orthodox faction.

When it comes to this issue, Arbel says, “there is no coalition and opposition. If even half of this report is true, it’s a national tragedy.”

A bombshell Calcalist report yesterday claimed that police used the NSO spyware Pegasus to surveil leaders of protests against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It said police in recent years also hacked the phones of two sitting mayors suspected of corruption and numerous other Israeli citizens, all without a court order or a judge’s oversight.

In response, Israel Police has claimed that any usage of electronic tracking or phone hacking was done with full judicial oversight, and never included protesters or activists.

Putin, Raisi meet, hail ties at decisive moment for Iran nuclear deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (R) during their meeting in Moscow on January 19, 2022. (Pavel BEDNYAKOV / SPUTNIK / AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) speaks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (R) during their meeting in Moscow on January 19, 2022. (Pavel BEDNYAKOV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi hail their bilateral ties during a meeting in Moscow, as pressure mounts for a decision on the Iran nuclear deal.

Raisi says he presented Moscow with draft documents on strategic cooperation that would cement joint collaboration for the next two decades.

“We in Iran have no limits for expanding ties with Russia,” the Iranian leader says on his first state visit since taking office in August. He says Tehran wants to develop relations with Moscow that would “not be temporary, but permanent and strategic.”

“Today’s exceptional circumstances require significant synergy between our two countries against US unilateralism,” he says in televised remarks.

Putin praises the countries’ “close cooperation” on the international stage and says “it is very important for me to known your opinion on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

This is the ultraconservative Iranian president’s most significant visit abroad since he took over in August from moderate Hassan Rouhani, who was the last Iranian president to visit Russia in March 2017.

Defense Minister Gantz to host his Greek counterpart in Tel Aviv tomorrow

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, Cyprus Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides, center, and Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, right, ahead of a meeting in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, Nov. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, Cyprus Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides, center, and Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, right, ahead of a meeting in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, Nov. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will host Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos tomorrow at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The pair will offer a joint statement to the press, without taking questions, before holding a meeting behind closed doors.

Gantz previously met Panagiotopoulos in Cyprus in November 2020, alongside his Cypriot counterpart.

French Senate votes to ban headscarves in sporting competitions

Members of Iran's Olympic team pose for selfies with two performers prior to a welcoming ceremony held at the athletes village of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 1, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/ED JONES)
Members of Iran's Olympic team pose for selfies with two performers prior to a welcoming ceremony held at the athletes village of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 1, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/ED JONES)

The French Senate votes in favor of banning the wearing of headscarves in sports competitions, arguing that neutrality is a requirement on the field of play.

The French upper legislative house votes in favor of amending a proposed law stipulating that the wearing “of conspicuous religious symbols is prohibited” in events and competitions organized by sports federations.

In their text, senators say the amendment aims at banning “the wearing of the veil in sports competitions.” They add that headscarves can put at risk the safety of athletes wearing it when they practice their discipline.

The amendment proposed by right-wing group Les Republicains and opposed by the French government is adopted with 160 votes in favor, and 143 against. A commission composed of members from the Senate and the lower house should now gather to find a compromise on the text before it is published, meaning the amendment can still be erased.

It is unclear whether the ban would be implemented for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Court orders those arrested amid Sheikh Jarrah demolition released

Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Palestinians with gas cylinders stand on a rooftop of a house being evacuated by Israeli special forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, January 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem courts have ordered the release of 13 Palestinians and five Israelis arrested last night in Sheikh Jarrah, their attorneys say.

Israeli forces demolished a Palestinian home in the flashpoint neighborhood before dawn this morning. The municipality expropriated the land and plans to build a school on top of it.

On Monday, Israeli police arrived at the scene and sought to evict the family. The family patriarch, Mahmoud Salihiya, threatened to set himself and his house ablaze if they were evicted, leading the cops to delay the eviction until 3 a.m. this morning.

Five Israelis were arrested during the police raid; all were released on bail this morning, their lawyer Leah Tsemel says.

Palestinian attorney Anwar Bashir tells The Times of Israel that the Jerusalem District Court ordered the 13 arrested Palestinians — including Mahmoud and his immediate family — to be released as well.

The police have appealed the release of five of the detainees and their case will be heard tomorrow before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s court, Bashir says.

Report: Netanyahu fears ending up with prison term amid plea deal talks

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned that even signing a plea deal in his ongoing corruption trial could land him in prison, according to a Channel 12 report.

Talks between Netanyahu and state prosecutors reportedly picked up again today, but the opposition leader is said to fear that signing a plea deal admitting to fraud and breach of trust could result in a prison term, instead of just community service, if judges decide to impose one.

Former minister Stas Misezhnikov was sentenced to 15 months in prison after signing a plea deal admitting to fraud and breach of trust, the TV station notes.

Any plea bargain signed between Netanyahu and state prosecutors would still need to be approved by the court, which could seek to alter some of its terms.

Serious COVID cases surge past 500 as total infections pass 2 million mark

Workers at a drive-through testing complex in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Workers at a drive-through testing complex in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In its first full set of data in several days, the Health Ministry updates that there are currently 533 patients with COVID hospitalized in serious condition.

Among those, 104 are on ventilators. Overall, 1,608 patients with COVID are hospitalized, with most in light or moderate condition.

More than 72,000 people tested positive for COVID yesterday, a new daily record, with over 393,000 current active infections, and more than 2 million infected since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

More than 146,000 school-age children are currently out due to infection, and a further 142,000 are in quarantine due to exposure.

Close to 8,900 medical staff are absent from work due to infection or exposure, including 1,209 doctors and 2,540 nurses.

Netanyahu plea bargain talks reportedly restart following impasse

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (right). (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (right). (Flash90)

Negotiations for a plea deal between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and state prosecutor have restarted, a day after reports that they had stalled, according to Channel 13 news.

The report claims that the latest state offer for a deal includes a “moral turpitude” clause, which would bar the former premier from political life for seven years, and requires Netanyahu to serve 7-9 months of community service.

According to the report, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has apparently rejected allowing the trial judges to rule on the moral turpitude clause and is insisting that it be included in the initial deal — the sharpest point of contention between the sides.

UK’s Johnson vows not to resign as his support wanes amid ‘partygate’ scandal

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on January 12, 2022. (Tolga Akmen / AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on January 12, 2022. (Tolga Akmen / AFP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defies calls to resign in a feisty performance in Parliament — but it may be too little to prevent his Conservative Party’s lawmakers from trying to oust him over a string of lockdown-flouting government parties.

Pressure on the prime minister grew as one Conservative lawmaker defects to the opposition Labour Party and a former member of Johnson’s Cabinet tells him: “In the name of God, go!”

Johnson brushes aside calls to quit, but his defiant performance is met by muted cheers on the Conservative side of the House of Commons.

Conservative legislators are judging whether to trigger a no-confidence vote in Johnson amid public anger over the “partygate” scandal. It’s a stunning reversal of fortune for a politician who just over two years ago led the Conservatives to their biggest election victory in almost 40 years.

3 more lawmakers test positive for COVID as surge of cases continues

Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the government in Tel Aviv, November 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the government in Tel Aviv, November 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Three more members of Knesset test positive for COVID-19.

Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich, Likud’s Gila Gamliel and Yisrael Beytenu’s Yulia Malinovsky have been infected, the Knesset spokesperson says.

Over the past two weeks, more than 20% of the entire Knesset has tested positive for the virus, although many have already recovered.

In addition, an adviser to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (who tested positive himself last week), as well as a security guard and another Knesset employee have tested positive.

The Health Ministry director-general said earlier today that 71,000 Israelis tested positive for COVID yesterday, setting yet another new daily record as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.

Health minister says revoking vaccine ‘Green Pass’ not on the agenda

Illustrative. The 'Green Pass' seen in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative. The 'Green Pass' seen in Jerusalem, October 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz says that cancellation of the widespread requirement of a COVID vaccination “Green Pass” to enter certain locations is not currently up for discussion.

“At the moment it’s not on the agenda,” Horowitz tells Army Radio. “But we’re always looking at the pros and cons. We have our fingers on the pulse — when necessary we adjust the regulations to the changing reality.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said yesterday that he believes Green Pass usage should be canceled, saying there was “no medical or epidemiological logic” to continue its use.

UNRWA appeals for $90 million to aid Palestinians in crisis-hit Lebanon

A Palestinian worker from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and works Agency) sprays a van, carrying bread, as a precaution against the coronavirus, at the closed entrance of Jalil, or Galilee Palestinian refugee camp, in Baalbek, Lebanon, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Palestinian worker from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and works Agency) sprays a van, carrying bread, as a precaution against the coronavirus, at the closed entrance of Jalil, or Galilee Palestinian refugee camp, in Baalbek, Lebanon, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

A UN agency appeals to the international community to donate tens of millions of dollars to help improve living conditions for Palestinians in crisis-hit Lebanon.

The appeal by the agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, is asking for an additional $87.5 million to provide Palestinian refugees with cash assistance to the poorest, cover hospital expenses, as well as transportation for children so that they can go to school.

UNRWA says more than 210,000 Palestinian refugees are among the most vulnerable and that some basic commodities have become out of reach for many as Lebanon sinks deeper into the economic meltdown. It adds that more than 58% of Palestinian refugees here have reduced the numbers of meals they eat every day.

About 400,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants mostly live in a dozen refugee camps in Lebanon, and an additional 27,000 fled from Syria over the past decade during its deadly civil war.

Palestinians in Lebanon are prohibited from working in professional jobs, have few legal protections and cannot own property.

UNRWA has faced repeated scandals and allegations of mismanagement by both Israel and other world bodies.

Israel poised to break wintertime electricity use record as chill sets in

Jerusalem Municipality maintenance department prepare tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem, on January 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem Municipality maintenance department prepare tractors for clearing the snow which is expected to fall in Jerusalem, on January 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As frigid temperatures sink in across the country, Israel is expected to break an all-time record of wintertime electricity usage, says the Israel Electric Corporation.

Yesterday, the IEC says, a record of 14,039 megawatts was recorded, and this evening that figure is expected to hit 14,300 megawatts, as Israelis crank up the heat to stay warm.

The IEC warns that power disruptions amid the heavy usage as well as inclement weather are likely.

In Jerusalem, the overnight low is expected to sink to 36°F (2°C), and some light snowfall is predicted. Even in Tel Aviv, temperatures are predicted to sink to 43°F (6°C). Snow has already been falling in the Golan.

Turkey restarts oil flow through Iraq following pipe explosion

In this screenshot taken from a video, smoke rises from an oil pipeline near the town of Pazarcik in the Kahramanmaras province, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (IHA agency via AP)
In this screenshot taken from a video, smoke rises from an oil pipeline near the town of Pazarcik in the Kahramanmaras province, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. (IHA agency via AP)

Turkey’s state oil operator says it has resumed crude flows through a ruptured pipeline linking Iraqi energy fields with international markets.

Yesterday’s blast along the Kirkuk-Ceyhan link in southern Turkey contributed to a rise in international crude oil prices to a seven-year high. The pipeline normally carries more than 450,000 barrels a day from oil fields in northern Iraq to a Turkish port on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Iraqi oil ministry says that the halt should not affect its overall volume of exports. The Iraqi federal government pumps about 75,000 barrels a day through the oil link. The pipeline then passes through an autonomous Kurdish region that adds the remaining oil.

Turkish officials near the site of the explosion in the city of Kahramanmaras said the rupture and subsequent blast appeared to have been caused by “an electricity pole that overturned in adverse weather conditions.” The incident occurred during heavy snowfall in a sparsely populated region of southern Turkey.

Turkey, UAE ink deal to build foreign exchange reserves

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates attend a signing ceremony at the presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, left, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates attend a signing ceremony at the presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to a currency swap deal equivalent to $4.74 billion to boost Turkey’s depleted foreign exchange reserves, the Turkish central bank announces.

Under the agreement reached between their central banks, Turkey and the UAE agreed to swap 65 billion Turkish lira and 18 billion UAE dirham for a period of three years, with the possibility of extending the deal further.

The agreement aims to help Turkey’s reserves following a series of interventions by the central bank, which sold foreign currency to prop up the lira amid a currency crisis.

It comes as Turkey and the UAE have taken steps to improve relations following years of tensions. Turkey and the UAE found themselves on opposing sides of regional conflicts, including a proxy conflict in Libya and disputes in the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean.

Report: Israeli delegation lands in Sudan, will meet ruling general

People set up a barricades and close shops as part of a civil disobedience campaign following killing of 7 anti-coup demonstrators in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, Jan.18, 2022. (AP)
People set up a barricades and close shops as part of a civil disobedience campaign following killing of 7 anti-coup demonstrators in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, Jan.18, 2022. (AP)

A plane carrying a delegation of Israelis lands in Khartoum, Sudan, according to a report from the Kan public broadcaster.

According to the news outlet, the plane departed this morning, making a brief stop in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt before arriving in Khartoum. Kan cites the Saudi Al-Arabiya news outlet as reporting that the delegation is slated to meeting with Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who seized power in a coup last year.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report.

An Israeli delegation was last reported to visit Sudan in November. Sudan and Israel agreed to normalized ties last year, although progress has been slow amid government instability and anti-Israel sentiment among the public.

Sudan has been beset by anti-coup demonstrations, and security forces have responded with deadly force. More than 70 people have been killed and hundreds of others have been wounded in mass protests since the military took over on October 25, removing the country’s civilian-led government.

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