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Health Ministry said to oppose planned easing of lockdown due to high infections

Officials reportedly debating whether to recommend weeklong extension of all restrictions or support limited reopening

Police enforcing coronavirus lockdown measures at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, January 25, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Police enforcing coronavirus lockdown measures at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, January 25, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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

Chief rabbi condemns ‘delinquent’ Haredi rioters for ‘desecrating God’s name’

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef condemns the ultra-Orthodox rioters who have been violently resisting police efforts to enforce lockdown restrictions, calling them “young delinquents” and “rioters” who are “desecrating God’s name” and calling on the Haredi community to renounce them.

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attends the traditional selling of the the hametz (food containing leavening) of the state of Israel to a non-Jew before the upcoming Passover holiday, on March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“There is no justification for violent acts and that should stop immediately,” the Sephardi chief rabbi says, adding that the actions “aren’t in the name of the Torah.”

He calls on municipal and welfare authorities to step in and take care of the rioters, “who are after all part of us, and of course are a minority that doesn’t represent us. This minority is tarnishing the name of the entire Haredi public, whose vast majority is very far from such behavior.”

Yosef calls on security forces to show restraint, “because we are brothers.”

Austrian artist and Holocaust survivor Arik Brauer dies at 92

Austrian artist and Holocaust survivor Arik Brauer, renowned in his homeland for his painting and songwriting, has died at the age of 92, his family announces.

Brauer — whose prolific output included work as a painter, graphic designer and singer-songwriter — died last night surrounded by his family. According to a statement from his family, Brauer’s last words were: “I was happy with my wife, with my family, with my art and my Vienna Woods.”

Born in Vienna in 1929 into a Russian-Jewish family, his childhood was thrown into turmoil when the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. While his father was killed in a concentration camp, Brauer survived in Vienna, partly through hiding his mandatory Star of David badge.

During the November 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, he was hidden by the caretaker at his shoemaker father’s workshop. In Austria, the two days of anti-Jewish violence led to the deaths of at least 30 people, the imprisonment of 7,800 more, and the deportation of 4,000 to the Dachau concentration camp.

After the war, Brauer studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna before moving to Paris with his wife, Naomi, where the pair made a living as singers. Returning to Vienna in the mid-1960s, he became a prominent representative of the city’s Fantastic Realism art movement. In Austria, he was also a highly regarded musician, who wrote and sung in the Viennese dialect.

Apart from painting and singing, he also worked as an architect, a graphic designer, and as a stage designer for the Paris Opera.

Brauer resided in Austria and Israel, and received many awards and prizes, not just for his art, but also for his stance on democracy and his defense of human rights.

In one of his last interviews in November with German weekly Die Zeit, when asked if he could imagine not working as an artist, Brauer replied: “That I can only imagine when I don’t exist any longer, and then I’ll be working harder than ever.”

Russia protests US embassy, tech companies over Navalny rallies

Russia issues a protest to the US embassy for what Moscow says are social media posts promoting anti-Kremlin demonstrations and accuses American tech giants of interfering in Russian internal affairs.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tells state-run media that Moscow has complained to US diplomats for “supporting illegal rallies” in several cities and says Russia will probe American IT companies over “interference” in Russia’s domestic affairs.

World shed equivalent of 255 million jobs in 2020, 4 times worse than 2009 crisis: UN

The coronavirus pandemic took a “massive” toll on the global labor market last year, the United Nations says, with the equivalent of more than a quarter of a billion jobs lost.

In a fresh study, the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) finds that a full 8.8 percent of global working hours were lost in 2020, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019.

That is equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs, which is “approximately four times greater than the number lost during the 2009 global financial crisis,” the ILO says in a statement.

Virus czar says 2 plans being drafted to exit lockdown, depending on morbidity

Nachman Ash, the coordinator of the government’s pandemic response, tells reporters in a briefing that Israel is preparing two separate plans to exit the current lockdown, depending on morbidity levels.

“We will recommend a limited [reopening] plan if infection rates don’t go down,” Ash says at Ben Gurion Airport, which is set to close almost completely today.

“The second option is a more broad plan that will enable a bigger reopening of the economy.”

He adds that anywhere between 40% and 70% of new confirmed coronavirus cases are infected with the more contagious British COVID-19 strain.

Iran says no intention to expel IAEA inspectors

Iran’s foreign ministry says Tehran does not intend to expel the UN nuclear watchdog’s inspectors, clarifying the implications of a controversial law approved by parliament last month.

The law, passed by the conservative-dominated legislature despite opposition from a reformist government, mandates Iran to discontinue certain inspections by late February if key conditions are not met, stoking international concerns about a possible expulsion of inspectors.

However, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says that under the December law, “Iran’s cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy Agency] will not cease and it does not mean expelling the agency’s inspectors.”

The December law mandates the government to stop “the implementation of the additional protocol” to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on February 21, if the US does not lift unilateral sanctions or other key parties to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran do not help Tehran to bypass those sanctions.

The “additional protocol” is a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

At present, such inspections are carried out under this protocol, in addition to regular IAEA inspections under the 2015 deal, but the additional protocol has never been ratified by Iran’s parliament.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, slammed the December legislation — known as the “strategic action plan for the lifting of sanctions and the protection of the Iranian people’s interests” — as “detrimental to the course of diplomatic activities” when it was still before parliament.

Putin says Black Sea palace in Navalny report ‘doesn’t belong to me’

Russian President Vladimir Putin rejects a claim by Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny that a luxury Black Sea property belongs to him.

“Nothing that is listed there as my property belongs to me or my close relatives, and never did,” Putin says during a video call with students, in reference to an investigation Navalny’s team published last week.

Cops called to Mea Shearim for purported domestic violence case face mob ambush

Police officers who were called to Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, apparently to deal with a domestic violence case, immediately faced an ambush of dozens of rioters who greeted them with a shower of rocks and other objects, the Israel Police says.

One cop was injured in his hand and damage was caused to the police vehicle, police say.

The Kan public broadcaster reports that Border Police officers were called in to rescue the cops.

The statement says police are investigating the purported domestic violence case.

Settler attacked by Palestinians near Har Bracha — Magen David Adom

A resident of the Har Bracha settlement in the West Bank who was out jogging was attacked by Palestinians near the village of Burin, the Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance service says.

The man has been taken to Meir hospital in Kfar Saba suffering from mild injuries, according to MDA.

Extremist Haredi mob injures 3 cops in Beit Shemesh

Extremist ultra-Orthodox rioters are violently protesting lockdown enforcement in Beit Shemesh, with hundreds throwing rocks at cops, according to police.

Police say three officers have been injured and that additional forces have been called in.

Meanwhile, members of extreme Haredi factions are also blocking roads in Jerusalem in protest of works on the light rail, which is set to pass through their neighborhood despite their objections.

A mob shattered bus windshields, shouting: “You wanted a train to pass here — now no public transportation will pass at all.”

Top EU envoy to visit Russia as bloc weighs sanctions

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will visit Moscow early next month to press the Kremlin on the arrest of Alexei Navalny, with the bloc weighing fresh sanctions, European diplomats say.

“Borrell will go to Moscow in early February to deliver a clear message from the EU,” a senior diplomat tells AFP, despite earlier calls from several member states for the trip to be scrapped.

China’s Xi warns Davos World Economic Forum against ‘new Cold War’

Chinese President Xi Jinping warns global leaders at an all-virtual Davos forum against starting a “new Cold War,” and urges global unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

“To build small cliques or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others… will only push the world into division,” says Xi, adding that confrontation will lead to a “dead end.”

Virus czar says current lockdown may not be Israel’s last

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash says that in light of the various coronavirus mutations, the current lockdown could end up not being Israel’s last.

In a press briefing, Ash says the more infectious British strain and other strains originating in South Africa and California “requires us to use caution when exiting the lockdown.”

He says the immense strain on hospitals, which are struggling with an influx of serious COVID-19 patients, complicates the planned reopening of the economy.

Spike Lee says Trump ‘will go down in history with the likes of Hitler’

Film director Spike lee has likened former US President Donald Trump to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in an acceptance speech at a movie critic awards show, according to The Guardian.

Accepting a special award from the New York Film Critics Circle for his short film “New York, New York,” Lee comments on the January 6 Capitol riots in remarks he says were recorded on that day.

“We are living in a very serious time in America,” he says. “This president, President Agent Orange, will go down in history with the likes of Hitler … all his boys, they are going down on the wrong side of history.”

In first reading, Knesset passes bill doubling lockdown fines

The Knesset plenum gives a non-final okay to a law bill doubling fines for lockdown violations, which has been bitterly opposed by the ultra-Orthodox parties.

In a first reading, 52 MKs support the bill and 23 oppose it.

The Knesset House Committee will now determine which committee will discuss the bill before it goes up for the remaining second and third readings.

Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against UK, South Africa variants

US biotechnology firm Moderna says lab studies show its COVID-19 vaccine will provide protection against variants of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“The study showed no significant impact” on the level of neutralizing antibodies elicited against the UK variant, B.1.1.7.

A sixfold reduction in antibody levels was observed with the B.1.351 variant first seen in South Africa, but the levels are thought to remain above what is required for protection against COVID-19.

Netanyahu vows to deal with extreme Haredi rioters with ‘heavy hand’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says authorities will deal with ultra-Orthodox rioters with a “heavy hand.”

After the Knesset gave a non-final approval to a bill doubling fines for lockdown violations, the premier calls the rioters an “extremist marginal group.”

Fauci: Preparations underway for vaccine upgrade to deal with mutations

Dr. Anthony Fauci says scientists are already preparing to upgrade COVID-19 vaccines to address the variants of the coronavirus originating in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, says those variants are not only more infectious but they do not respond as well to the monoclonal antibodies that have been used in treating patients. He says he is especially concerned about the South African variant, which he describes as “different and more ominous than the one in the UK.”

”The data has not come out officially, but taking a look at the preliminary data that the UK scientists have analyzed, I’m pretty convinced that there is a degree of increase in the seriousness of the actual infection, which we really have to keep an eye on,” Fauci tells NBC’s “Today.”

Fauci says there is also “a very slight, modest diminution” of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against those variants but “there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the UK strain and the South Africa strain.”

“We really need to make sure that we begin, and we already have, to prepare if it’s necessary to upgrade the vaccines,” Fauci says. “We’re already taking steps in that direction despite the fact that the vaccines we have now do work.”

Amid riots, photo of Haredi man with his cop and soldier brothers becomes online hit

At a time when tensions are simmering between security forces and extremist ultra-Orthodox factions, a heart-warming photo of three brothers has been gaining online attention.

The photo shows Miki Haiat in a Haredi outfit, Yisrael Haiat who is a volunteer in the Israel Police, and Yehuda Haiat who serves in the Israel Defense Forces, hugging each other.

The photo was taken by Offer Gedanken several months ago and was re-posted now.

‏משפחת חייט מרחובות, שלושה אחים, חייל, אברך ושוטר.אם רוצים זה אפשרי.צילום: עפר גדנקן

Posted by ‎אריאל אלחרר‎ on Sunday, January 24, 2021

Police arrest 6 more suspects in Bnei Brak riots

Police say they have arrested six more suspects in last night’s riots in Bnei Brak, which included the torching of a bus.

The development comes after four suspects were held this morning.

Gantz praises Leifer extradition, hopes ‘healing can begin’

Justice Minister Benny Gantz, who recently replaced Avi Nissenkorn in that post, praises the extradition of alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer to Australia, expressing hope that the conclusion of the drawn-out process will enable “healing” to begin.

“The minister views the conclusion of this disturbing episode as a positive development and believes that commitment to the rule of law precludes allowing the law to be manipulated into a cover for criminals and dictates supporting prosecution to the full extent of the law, whenever possible,” a statement from Gantz’s office says.

“We are hopeful that the Australian Jewish community and the Australian nation at large will now see justice being served and that healing can begin,” it adds.

Edelstein: There’s an impression virus crisis is soon over; that’s not the case

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein slams complacency in Israel regarding the coronavirus pandemic, contradicting frequent recent remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implying the country is on its way out of the crisis.

“We will have to live in the shadow of the coronavirus for a long time,” Edelstein says in the Knesset plenum, during a discussion of fine hikes for lockdown violations.

“I have been taught not to lie, and I don’t want to tell you that in a month everything will be open, because that is not the case,” Edelstein says. “There is an atmosphere of ‘This is it, just one more push and it’s over.’ It must be truthfully said that is not the case.”

Edelstein does not mention Netanyahu’s role in creating that impression.

He says Israel will need to be “very careful” in exiting the lockdown.

Facebook deletes Netanyahu post, suspends chatbot over privacy violation

Facebook says is has deleted a post by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and suspended a chatbot operated by his official account for a week for violating the social media network’s privacy policy.

The chatbot has been sending private messages to followers, asking them to provide personal details of people over the age of 60 who haven’t yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus, adding that the premier will then persuade them to get the inoculation.

The request was also featured in the deleted post.

“In accordance with our privacy policy, we don’t allow content that shares or asks for people’s medical information,” Facebook Israel says in a statement.

Blue and White MK Ram Shefa to join revamped Labor Party

Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, who last month quit Benny Gantz’s party, says he will join the beleaguered Labor Party which yesterday elected Merav Michaeli as its new leader.

The Ynet news site cites unnamed sources saying the decision was made after the results of the party leadership primary came in.

Shefa will quit his position as the chairman of the Knesset’s Education Committee, where he frequently opposed government decisions despite being part of the coalition.

Both Blue and White and Labor are teetering on the brink of extinction in the March 23 elections, according to recent opinion polls.

US Supreme Court ends lawsuits on whether Trump illegally profited off his presidency

The US Supreme Court brings an end to lawsuits over whether Donald Trump illegally profited off his presidency.

The justices throw out Trump’s challenge to lower court rulings that had allowed lawsuits to go forward, alleging that he violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting payments from foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel.

The high court orders the lower court rulings thrown out as well, and directs appeals courts in New York and Richmond, Virginia, to dismiss the suits as moot now that Trump is no longer in office.

Interior Ministry says it doesn’t recognize Uganda’s Abayudaya community as Jews

The Interior Ministry has told the High Court of Justice that Uganda’s Abayudaya community, which practices Judaism and was recognized as Jewish by the Jewish Agency in 2016, are nevertheless ineligible to come to Israel under the Law of Return, the Haaretz daily reports.

The Law of Return enables any Jew and any person who has a Jewish parent or grandparent to make aliyah — move to Israel and become a citizen.

If Israel’s High Court of Justice endorses that opinion, in response to a petition filed by an Abayudaya member whose immigration request was refused, it could impact the legal status of similar Jewish-affiliated communities around the world.

Bank of Israel trashes Netanyahu’s stimulus plan, saying it lacks many details

The Bank of Israel criticizes the economic stimulus plan unveiled yesterday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz, saying it is “missing many details” and data.

The Bank of Israel says the lack of details makes it impossible to draft a professional assessment of its cost, necessity and effectiveness, and that it has asked the Treasury and other bodies for additional information.

The plan, which includes cash payments to all citizens, is opposed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and hasn’t been coordinated with professionals in the Finance Ministry.

It has been widely condemned as an election campaign stunt by Netanyahu’s Likud party ahead of the March 23 vote that has virtually no chance of passing.

US Supreme Court won’t take ex-Assembly Speaker Silver’s case

The US Supreme Court is declining to take up the case of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is serving a 6.5-year prison sentence after being convicted in a corruption case.

The high court declines to take up the Democrat’s appeal.

Once one of the three most powerful state officials, Silver was ousted as speaker in 2015 and was convicted later that year. His original conviction was overturned on appeal, but he was convicted again in 2018. Part of that conviction was then tossed out on another appeal, leading to yet another sentencing in July.

Silver, who is 76, began serving his sentence in August.

In the part of the case that survived the appeal process, Silver was convicted in a scheme that involved favors and business traded between two real estate developers and a law firm. Silver supported legislation that benefited the developers. The developers then referred certain tax business to a law firm that paid Silver fees.

Two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, say they would have heard Silver’s case.

Bnei Brak mayor, police commander say they’ve agreed on plan to restore calm

Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein and Deputy Police Commissioner David Bitan meet and say they have agreed on a plan to restore the calm in the city, which has seen widespread riots by extremist ultra-Orthodox protesters decrying the enforcement of lockdown rules.

“We will definitely not allow marginal factions to tarnish the city and harm our fabric of life,” Rubinstein says.

During the meeting, it was agreed that “anarchy” should be prevented but calm should be restored with “moderate actions,” according to a statement.

Biden plans direct dialogue with Iran in ‘new approach’ — report

Newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden’s administration will launch an initiative through European mediators to open a direct dialogue with Tehran, a source in Washington tells Sky News Arabia.

The anonymous official says that “there will be a new approach that seeks to reassert US deterrence in the region and create a solution to the conflict with Tehran.”

The official says the new approach will be accompanied by contacts with the allies of the United States in the region, specifically with Gulf countries and Israel.

The anonymous source cited by Sky News Arabia does not clarify how an initiative “through European mediators” could also be a “direct dialogue.”

Iraq hangs 3 convicted of terrorism – security source

Three Iraqis convicted of terrorism are hanged, days after a deadly double-tap suicide attack in a crowded Baghdad marketplace, a security source says.

“Three people convicted under Article 4 of the anti-terror law were executed on Monday at the Nasiriyah central prison,” the source tells AFP on condition of anonymity.

The reported hangings come after rights groups warned Iraq may give the green light to a spree of executions of convicted jihadists in a show of strength following the bombings on Thursday which killed at least 32 people.

Biden overturns Trump ban on transgender troops: White House

US President Joe Biden has overturned his predecessor Donald Trump’s ban on transgender personnel from serving in the US military, the White House says.

“Transgender servicemembers will no longer be subject to the possibility of discharge or separation on the basis of gender identity,” the White House says in a statement.

Biden taps his longtime physician as new White House doctor

US President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O’Connor as his physician, replacing former president Donald Trump’s doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president.

The White House confirms that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

O’Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden’s doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden’s request. He remained Biden’s physician while assuming a role on the faculty of George Washington University.

The White House says O’Connor is being commissioned by the president but is not rejoining the military. He is the first non-active duty doctor to serve as physician to the president in almost three decades.

Conley faced intense scrutiny over his lack of transparency during Trump’s illness with COVID-19. Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said at the time that Trump’s condition was worse than Conley had let on.

Champ and Major, Biden’s ‘First Dogs,’ arrive at White House

US President Joe Biden’s dogs Champ and Major have moved into the White House, reviving a longstanding tradition of presidential pets that was broken under Donald Trump.

The pooches can be seen trotting on the White House grounds in pictures retweeted by First Lady Jill Biden’s spokesman Michael LaRosa, with the pointed obelisk of the Washington Monument in the background.

“Champ is enjoying his new dog bed by the fireplace, and Major loved running around on the South Lawn,” LaRosa told CNN in a statement Monday.

The Bidens’ dogs, both German shepherds, follow the pawprints of presidential pets that included Barack Obama’s Bo, a black Portuguese water dog, and George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier, Barney.

Trump, a famously finicky germophobe, broke with that convention — as he did with many presidential traditions — and never had a pet in his White House.

“How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn,” Trump asked, with a grimace, in a video included in a Biden campaign ad.

Driver of bus torched by Bnei Brak mob says he feared for his life

The driver who was driving the bus torched last night by an extremist Haredi mob in Bnei Brak, Eyal Tzipori, tells Channel 12 that he feared for his life during the incident.

He says he called the police, but waited half-an-hour in vain for them to arrive. He then got off the bus, was attacked, took refuge back in the vehicle, and was ultimately extricated by two paramedics.

The bus was then set alight by the mob.

“I won’t drive that route anymore,” he says.

Caving to Haredim, Netanyahu said to agree to soften bill hiking lockdown fines

After the ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to nix the political alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a bill to double fines for lockdown violations, the premier has reportedly agreed to a move that will sabotage the legislation, which passed its first reading today, and replace it with a softened version.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu has agreed with the Haredi parties that the bill will now go to the Knesset’s Constitution Law and Justice Committee, headed by United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher, who will be able to hold it up.

Channel 12 reports that under a compromise being drafted, fines will be raised but not doubled, and lower-ranking cops will not be able to issue some of the fines.

The ultra-Orthodox news website Behadrei Haredim earlier published the content of an angry exchange between Netanyahu and United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, who said: “What would you do without the ultra-Orthodox? Are we your slaves? We have much to think about regarding this alliance.”

Netanyahu claims all those who rioted yesterday in Bnei Brak have been arrested

As three more suspects are arrested, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that “everyone who rioted yesterday has been arrested.”

“Police dealt with violators of health rules with a heavy hand, as they should, and we will continue to do so,” the premier says.

The claim comes even though only 13 people have been arrested, while many hundreds took part in the riots.

Gantz threatens to oppose lockdown extension if bill to hike fines isn’t passed

In response to reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a deal with the ultra-Orthodox parties to sabotage the existing bill to double lockdown fines and replace it with a toned-down version, Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he will not stand for that.

In a statement, Gantz’s Blue and White party tells Netanyahu’s Likud that if the existing bill does not pass all three readings and become law by tomorrow evening, his party will not support the extension of lockdown rules, currently set to expire on January 31.

“Likud continues to manipulate, and we are all paying the price with human lives. If there isn’t equal enforcement, there will be no lockdown. If Bnei Brak and Beitar Illit aren’t closed down, Rishon Lezion and Herzliya won’t either,” Blue and White sources are quoted as saying.

UK reports lowest daily new virus cases in weeks

The UK has reported its lowest number of new daily coronavirus cases since mid-December, further evidence that lockdown restrictions are working in reducing transmission rates.

Government figures show that another 22,195 new cases have been recorded, the lowest since December 15.

Monday’s figure represents a big decline from the previous day’s 30,004. Though cases can be volatile on a daily basis, it is clear that the country’s seven-day average has been falling over the past couple of weeks from near the 60,000 mark.

The UK saw a sharp uptick in new cases towards the end of 2020 and into the new year that was largely blamed on a new variant that first emerged around London and the southeast of England. All four nations of the UK have imposed lockdowns in order to address that sharp spike.

The government also says that another 592 people have been reported as dying after contracting the virus, taking the total to 98,531, Europe’s highest.

New Labor leader says party leaving coalition, orders its ministers to resign

The Labor Party’s new leader Merav Michaeli announces the party is departing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, telling the party’s previous leader Economy Minister Amir Peretz and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli that they both must immediately resign their ministerial posts.

“The Labor Party is restarting,” says Michaeli, who opposed Labor’s decision to join the coalition in the first place. “The party will leave the worst and most corrupt government in Israel’s history.”

HMO says 0.01% of those who got 2nd vaccine dose have contracted virus

Maccabi, Israel’s second-largest health provider, says that of the 128,000 people who received the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine through its clinics at least a week ago, only 20, or 0.01%, have contracted the coronavirus.

None of the patients were hospitalized and they mostly experienced a mild illness, according to Maccabi.

Meanwhile, Channel 12 news reports that two residents of an old-age home in Holon have tested positive 12 days after getting the second shot.

Health Ministry said to oppose planned easing of lockdown due to high infections

The Health Ministry and virus czar Nachman Ash say the continued high rate of infections will prevent planned steps to start exiting the lockdown and reopen the economy, Channel 12 news reports.

The ministry is reportedly debating whether to extend the lockdown for another week beyond its current expiration date of January 31, or allow very limited easing of restrictions.

Finance Minister Israel Katz will surely oppose that stance, the report notes.

Extending the lockdown would possibly cause a further delay in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, with a hearing attended by the defendants being postponed from January 13 to February 8.

Top Haredi rabbi said set to issue call to stop riots

Top ultra-Orthodox rabbi Chaim Kanievsky will tomorrow issue a call for extremist factions to stop their violent protests against the enforcement of lockdown rules, Channel 12 news reports.

The report says Kanievsky will call for calm and urge the public to avoid riots such as those seen in recent days in Haredi areas.

It adds that the driver of the bus that was torched yesterday by a mob in Bnei Brak has been invited to meet Rabbi Kanievsky and receive a blessing from him.

UAE delays Israel embassy opening due to lockdown

The United Arab Emirates has delayed the opening of its embassy in Israel due to the ongoing lockdown and high infections, according to the official WAM new agency.

“The opening of the embassy has been affected at the present time by current restrictions on movement in the State of Israel to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” WAM reports.

“We hope that the situation will improve and that the embassy opening process will be completed soon, with the continuation of Emirati and Israeli efforts to lead the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world.”

Iranian ayatollah tells Israeli media hostility between countries should end

A former senior Iranian cleric and current opposition figure speaks for the first time with Israeli media from Tehran, urging an end to hostilities between the countries.

Iranian cleric Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani speaks from Tehran with Ohad Hemo of Israel’s Channel 12 on January 25, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Speaking with Channel 12 news, Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani — who had the honor of the title revoked by Tehran due to disagreements with the regime — says he has “no problem” with the Jewish state.

“Iranians and Jews have many years of friendship,” he says. “I haven’t met Iranians who don’t have a positive opinion of Israel.”

He says he will come to Israel if his health allows it, adding that his longtime wish has been to go to Jerusalem and “pray at the Western Wall.”

Tehrani says he has been saying since the 1980s that Khamenei will “ruin” the country.

He says the Islamic Republic is a dictatorship that stifles dissenting opinions and freedom of speech. However, he said the Islamic Republic’s frequent talks about their intention to destroy Israel are not serious: “Don’t forget, these slogans were also said by [late former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein, and we know where he is today.”

“With God’s help, if I stay alive, I would love to meet you and witness the end of the illogical hostility between the Iranian and Israeli people,” he concludes.

Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani (R), a former top Iranian cleric, speaks with Israel’s Channel 12 from Tehran, January 25, 2021. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Record 68 Israelis die of COVID-19 in 24 hours

The Health Ministry says 68 people have died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.

The death toll is now 4,478.

The number of new confirmed infections yesterday was 4,915, and another 6,015 have been confirmed thus far today, with the positivity rate rising to 9.3% of just 54,408 tests conducted today.

The total cases are now 605,397, including 71,333 active cases. They include 1,174 serious cases, of them 420 in critical condition and 325 on ventilators.

Those who got the first vaccine dose number 2,637,279 of Israel’s 9.3 million. At least 1,189,813 have gotten both doses.

Italian prime minister to quit Tuesday, seeking new government

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announces he will resign tomorrow, in what media reports say is an attempt to build a new government, after weeks of turmoil.

He has called a cabinet meeting for tomorrow morning when he “will inform the ministers of his desire to go to the Quirinale (President Sergio Mattarella’s office) to resign,” his office says.

Media reports suggest he will seek a new mandate to form a new government to run Italy as it battles the coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 85,000 people dead in the country and crippled the economy.

The ruling coalition has been teetering on the edge of collapse since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his small Italia Viva party on January 13.

Conte survived a parliamentary vote of confidence last week, but failed to secure a majority in the Senate, the upper house, leaving his government severely weakened.

His resignation comes ahead of a key vote on judicial reforms later this week, which commentators suggest the government was on course to lose.

Shortly before the announcement, the largest party in parliament, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), said it would stand by Conte.

“We remain at Conte’s side,” said a statement from the party’s leaders in both parliamentary houses, Davide Crippa and Ettore Licheri.

US watchdog probes if Department of Justice officials tried to overturn election

The US Justice Department’s inspector general is launching an investigation to examine whether any former or current department officials “engaged in an improper attempt” to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz says the investigation will probe allegations concerning the conduct of former and current Justice Department officials, but it will not extend to other government officials.

The investigation comes after The New York Times reported that a former assistant attorney general, Jeffrey Clark, had been discussing a plan with then-president Donald Trump to oust the acting attorney general, try to challenge the results of the 2020 presidential race, and suggest falsely that there had been widespread election fraud.

The announcement of the investigation comes two days after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded the inspector general launch a probe “into this attempted sedition.” The New York Democrat said it was “unconscionable a Trump Justice Department leader would conspire to subvert the people’s will.”

Election officials across the country, along with Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have confirmed there was no widespread fraud in the election. Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, key battleground states won by Biden, also vouched for the integrity of the elections in their states. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, which includes three justices nominated by Trump.

White House to resume public COVID-19 briefings

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Biden administration will provide public briefings on the coronavirus pandemic starting Wednesday.

The briefings will feature public health officials. Psaki says they will occur three times a week and provide details on the government’s response to addressing the pandemic.

That is a stark contrast to the Trump administration, which kept Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-diseases expert, on a short leash, together with other top health officials, as the West Wing press shop tightly controlled Fauci’s media appearances and offered few public briefings, as the virus raged in recent months.

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