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Hospitals said under record strain, nixing surgeries to open more COVID wards

‘The third wave is more severe than the second,’ hospital managers tell media, saying soaring infections have caused severe shortages of beds and manpower

Ichilov hospital staff members wearing protective gear as they work at the coronavirus ward, Tel Aviv, January 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ichilov hospital staff members wearing protective gear as they work at the coronavirus ward, Tel Aviv, January 1, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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

Commerce chiefs threaten to open stores unless ‘full-blown lockdown’ imposed

Commerse organizations have issued an ultimatum to the government, demanding that either a full-blown nationwide lockdown be imposed by tomorrow, or they will open stores, restaurants and shopping malls next week.

In a press conference, representatives of the business owners decry the fact that they are forced to close down while schools and workplaces remain open and people are in practice free to go outside, meaning they are suffering financial losses for no reason while infections are going up anyway.

The ultimatum includes a demand to completely close all schools and nonessential workplaces, while limiting food and drugstores to only being open until 7 p.m.

“The government doesn’t have the guts to do what the nation needs — they have no guts for a full-blown lockdown,” a representative says. “The education system is causing infections, people are returning from abroad and not quarantining — and only commerce is closed. In all lockdowns, only commerce is closed.

“Admit you failed, and impose a full-blown lockdown like during Yom Kippur, not a fake lockdown.”

In win for rebel MK Michaeli, court forces Labor to hold primaries

In a victory for rebel Labor MK Merav Michaeli, the Tel Aviv District Court rules that party primaries must be held despite a decision by its outgoing leader Amir Peretz to cancel them.

Labor party head MK Amir Peretz and party member MK Merav Michaeli at a press conference with party members at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, following the announcement of the Trump peace plan, on January 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Labor, Israel’s ruling left-wing party during its first 30 years and a dominant force in the country’s politics until several years ago, has lost virtually all of its support and no recent opinion poll has predicted it will enter the next Knesset.

Michaeli, who refused Peretz’s decision to enter the unity government alongside Prime Minister Netanyahu, welcomes the ruling and says it “defends the right of Labor Party members to elect those who represent them.”

Israeli woman seriously injured in West Bank by rocks hurled at her car

A woman in her 40s has been seriously injured near the West Bank settlement of Neve Tzuf after rocks were thrown at her car, the Magen David Adom ambulance service says.

The statement says medics are treating the driver — who is conscious — and taking her to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan with a head injury.

The military says the victim is an Israeli citizen, and that forces are pursuing the suspects. Some Hebrew-language media reports say the victim lives in the settlement of Shilo and that two of her kids were in the car but unharmed.

There is no immediate word about the identity of the assailants, but Hebrew-language media indicates it is an apparent terror attack by Palestinians.

US virus death toll hits 350,000; holiday surge feared

The COVID-19 death toll in the United States has surpassed 350,000 as experts anticipate another surge in coronavirus cases and deaths stemming from holiday gatherings over Christmas and New Year’s.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the US has passed the threshold. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected. The US has begun using two coronavirus vaccines to protect health care workers and nursing home residents and staff but the rollout of the inoculation program has been criticized as slow and chaotic.

Multiple states have reported a record number of cases over the past few days, including North Carolina and Arizona. Mortuary owners in hard-hit Southern California say they’re being inundated with bodies.

The US by far has reported the most deaths from COVID-19 in the world, followed by Brazil, which has reported more than 195,000 deaths.

— AP

Palestinian DJ who led techno party at Muslim holy site released on bail by PA

Prominent Palestinian DJ Sama Abd al-Hadi, who was arrested last week by the Palestinian Authority amid outrage over a techno party she hosted at the West Bank Muslim holy site of Nabi Musa, has been released on bail, Hebrew-language media reports.

She will reportedly not be allowed to leave the country until the investigation is completed, and will have to show up at a PA police station once a week.

Sama Abd al-Hadi (Screen capture: YouTube)

Woman injured in rock-throwing said to be wife of Jewish terrorist Jack Tytell

The woman seriously wounded in a rock-throwing terror attack near the West Bank settlement of Neve Tzuf is Rivka Tytell, the wife of Jewish terrorist Jack Tytell, Hebrew-language media reports.

Jack Tytell (right), convicted terrorist, is seen at the Jerusalem District Court on January 16, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tytell is serving two life sentences and an additional 30 years in prison for murdering two Palestinians, two other attempted murders, placing a bomb next to now-deceased far-left academic Zev Sternhell, and other offenses.

The Israel Defense Forces is encircling the adjacent Palestinian village of Deir Nidham in its attempt to apprehend the suspects, reports say.

Edelstein says Israel must dramatically step up lockdown restrictions

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expresses optimism about the vaccination campaign and says that any Israeli who wants to be inoculated will be able to by the end of March. However, he adds that with current infection numbers skyrocketing, “there is no avoiding a full-blown lockdown, including closing schools.”

A lockdown entered effect last week but has been slammed as ineffective and full of holes, such as the education system and workplaces remaining open and a lack of enforcement.

“We’re going through a very severe outbreak and are probably in a more dire situation than we were in at the beginning of September,” Edelstein says in Nazareth during a tour of vaccination centers in the country’s north.

“We will demand a full-blown lockdown for two weeks. We need to deal one strong blow to morbidity rates and embark on a new path together,” he says.

He says the Arab community is starting to catch up to the rest of the country in vaccination rates.

Edelstein claims that 10% of all vaccines given in the world thus far have been in Israel.

Daughter of West Bank rock attack victim: ‘Her whole face was covered in blood’

The young daughter of Rivka Tytell, who was seriously injured in a West Bank rock-throwing attack, tells Channel 13: “She lost consciousness while still in the car. My sister told me that her whole face was covered in blood.

“Arabs stood on the wall and started throwing rocks. The windshields and everything shattered,” she says.

Meanwhile, the Ynet news site reports that Honenu, a right-wing legal legal aid group, will file a request with the Israel Prisons Service to allow the victim’s husband, convicted Jewish terrorist Jack Tytell, to visit her in hospital.

Suicides down in IDF in 2020, but remain leading cause of death for troops

Twenty-eight Israel Defense Forces soldiers died over the course of 2020, the second-lowest number in the country’s history, the military says.

Suicide remained the leading cause of death for soldiers, with at least nine service members having taken their own lives, according to IDF Manpower Directorate commander Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz.

A tenth soldier may have also died by suicide, though the investigation into that case has not been completed, Almoz tells reporters.

Only last year had a smaller number of fatalities, with 27 deaths reported. That year’s count also included Zachary Baumel, who was killed in the 1982 First Lebanon War but had been officially deemed missing until his body was recovered in 2019.

Though 2020 was not the year with the lowest total fatalities in the IDF, the past year has seen the fewest Israelis, civilians or soldiers, killed in security-related incidents: 3. One IDF soldier — Amit Ben-Ygal — was killed during a raid in the West Bank village of Yabed in May 2020, the only service member killed during “operational activity” last year, according to the IDF.

The other two people — Rabbi Shay Ohayon and Esther Horgen — were killed in terror attacks in August and December, respectively.

After suicides, the next leading cause of death in the IDF in 2020 was car accidents, which claimed the lives of six soldiers, according to the military.

Five soldiers died from illness in 2020, though none from the coronavirus, Almoz says.

An Air Force officer and a cadet in the IDF’s Pilot’s Course were killed in a plane crash in November, the exact cause of which remains under investigation.

Two service members were killed in work accidents, and three were killed under other circumstances, including the one whose death is being investigated as a possible suicide, according to the military.

— Judah Ari Gross

Report: New Emirati owner of 50% of Israeli soccer club dramatically overstated his wealth

Israel’s soccer association has conducted an investigation into the financial situation of an Emirati royal who recently bought half of one of Israel’s most famous clubs, Beitar Jerusalem, and fears there is a “significant gap” between his declared capital and what he owns in reality, business news website The Marker reports (Hebrew link).

Beitar’s owner Moshe Hogeg is facing backlash from extreme factions of the club’s notoriously anti-Arab fanbase after he sold a 50% stake in the club to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family. Al Nahyan has pledged to pump $90 million into the team in the coming decade.

Beitar Jerusalem owner Moshe Hogeg (C) with UAE member of the royal family, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan (R), who bought half the team (Beitar Jerusalem)

The investigation, invited by the Israel Football Association and conducted by the Megiddo financial investigations company, is said to conclude that Al Nahyan owns dozens of inactive firms and is allegedly connected with businessmen involved in fraud and money laundering.

The main reported finding is that out of Al Nahyan’s stated wealth of $1.6 billion, $1.5 billion is non-tradable bonds belonging to the Venezuelan government, which economists estimate to be useless due to the South American country’s grave economic crisis.

Additionally, other assets declared by the businessman have allegedly turned out to be worth far less in reality.

Beitar and Hogeg are insisting that the deal is kosher. Al Nahyan and the Israel Football Association did not comment on the report.

Member of Likud court Kobi Matza becomes latest to defect to Sa’ar’s party

Kobi Matza, a lawyer in the ruling Likud party’s top judicial organ, announces his resignation from the party and becomes the latest official to leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party in favor of the breakaway New Hope party, founded recently by the premier’s internal rival MK Gideon Sa’ar.

Matza is the nephew of Yehoshua Matza, who was a lawmaker for Likud from 1984 to 2002 and died last week.

Amended indictment filed against Netanyahu, detailing over 200 coverage demands

Prosecutors file an amended indictment in the corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the Jerusalem District Court accepted a demand by the premier’s lawyers that the original indictment lacked important details.

The court had ordered the state to clearly distinguish Netanyahu from his wife and kids in the charge sheet, and detail a list of instances in which the premier allegedly made requests from tycoon Shaul Elovitch for favorable changes of coverage in the Elovitch-owned Walla news site, in an alleged bribery deal between the two that included regulatory benefits.

The detailed list includes 315 incidents related to 230 specific requests to change Walla’s coverage in favor of Netanyahu and his family.

Prosecutors say there are indications that the prime minister himself was personally involved in some 150 of the demands.

The alleged demands include changing the wording of articles to be more favorable toward Netanyahu, extending the airtime and prominence of positive stories, deleting or editing headlines that were unfavorable, publishing more negative stories about political rivals, and refraining from publishing an interview conducted with Netanyahu.

Egypt probes deaths of COVID-19 hospital patients due to alleged lack of oxygen

Egypt says it has opened an investigation into the deaths of four COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit allegedly due to lack of oxygen, which sparked a public outcry.

“The prosecutor’s office in Al-Husseiniya (in the northern Sharqiya province) summoned the director of Al-Husseiniya hospital to question him over the deaths of four people due to lack of oxygen,” a judicial source tells AFP, without specifying the dates of the deaths.

Since yesterday, numerous social media users have shared a video of patients in a hospital ward, with a voice heard saying “everyone is dead in intensive care.”

The prosecutor’s office confirms the video is of Al-Husseiniya hospital, which was also identified in comments on social media.

The 45-second video also shows hospital staff apparently trying to revive patients.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with around 100 million inhabitants, has reported more than 140,000 cases of the COVID-19 disease, including 7,800 deaths.

Authorities acknowledge, however, that the real number of cases is higher, as only positive tests from health ministry labs have been reported.

After a brief lull, the number of infections have risen dramatically in late 2020, from around 100 new cases confirmed per day in October, to some 1,400 daily cases currently.

— AFP

Meretz agrees to nix primaries, adds 2nd Arab candidate in party’s top 5

The left-wing Meretz party agrees to cancel its primaries ahead of the March elections, meaning its slate will mostly be a duplicate of the previous elections.

Nobody stepped up to challenge the leadership of current party leader Nitzan Horowitz.

The slate will see one change, however, as Nazareth-based political and social activist Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi will get the fourth slot. She is the second Arab member in Meretz’s top 5, alongside MK Issawi Freij.

IDF says it’s continuing search for terrorists who seriously injured woman

The IDF says it is continuing to search for the Palestinian terrorists who threw a rock at an Israeli woman’s car in the central West Bank earlier today, seriously injuring her.

The military says it is focusing its efforts around the West Bank village of Deir Nidham, near where the attack took place. IDF troops have set up checkpoints around the village and are checking vehicles going in and out.

— Judah Ari Gross

Likud said set to reserve electoral spot for Arab educator Nail Zoabi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party will likely reserve a spot on its electoral slate for Nail Zoabi, an Arab school principal from the village of Nein, as part of a push to attract Arab voters, according to Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.

Zoabi, who resigned several weeks ago from his educational post, is a supporter of Netanyahu and longtime Likud activist, and his Facebook profile features several pictures from a visit by the premier to his school several years ago.

Contacted by Zman Yisrael, Zoabi is not confirming nor denying the report.

Posted by ‎נאיל זועבי – Nael zoubi‎ on Friday, September 9, 2016

Hamas says ‘promising’ chances for deal on Palestinian elections

Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh says he has received a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcoming Hamas’s initiative to advance Palestinian national elections.

“We are on the brink of a new and promising stage for achieving an agreement,” Haniyeh says.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Palestinians have not held national elections since 2006. Many previous announcements of upcoming Palestinian elections have flopped due to differences between Abbas’s Fatah movement and its arch-rival Hamas.

Abbas’ office announced over the weekend that he had received a letter from Haniyeh regarding potential Palestinian elections, adding that he had decided to meet with Palestinian election commissioner Hanna Naser to discuss election logistics.

The two major Palestinian factions have been divided since 2007, when Fatah and Hamas fought a bitter struggle for control of the Gaza Strip.

— Aaron Boxerman

A year on, Hezbollah says Iran ‘doesn’t need help’ in avenging its top general

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group makes a speech marking a year since the US assassination of Iranian top general Qassem Soleimani and a pro-Iran Iraqi militia leader, and threatens that Iran “doesn’t need help” from its allies and will take revenge “when it decides so.”

Nasrallah says Tehran will not ask any other country or body to conduct the strike on its behalf.

“Iran is a strong country and it will decide when and how to react,” he says. “It doesn’t need to rely on others.”

However, he says that Hezbollah will help preserve an “atmosphere of tension” in the region following the assassinations, in addition to the more recent killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in a strike attributed to Israel.

An image published on Ali Khamenei’s official website on September 25, 2019, showing Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, left, alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, center, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. (Khamenei.ir)

Gideon Sa’ar says he won’t agree to power-sharing coalition with Netanyahu

New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar says he will not agree to join a power-sharing government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party he recently left to form the fledgling party.

Sa’ar, a longtime internal rival of the premier, has previously vowed not to enter a government headed by Netanyahu.

“I also won’t agree to a rotation [agreement] with Netanyahu,” he tells Channel 12.

Netanyahu has widely been accused of intentionally violating a power-sharing agreement with Benny Gantz, promising him the premiership after 1.5 years without any intention of keeping the promise.

Sa’ar also says he views the chances of him forming a coalition together with the left-wing Meretz party as “unlikely.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Minister of Internal Affairs Gideon Sa’ar, in the Knesset, July 9, 2013. (Flash 90)

Israel’s vaccination drive could be briefly halted next week — reports

Israel next week will slow down or even completely stop vaccinating people briefly with the first dose of the Pfizer inoculation, citing a shortage of vaccines that will take several weeks to meet, Hebrew-language media reports.

Channel 12 says new appointments are expected to be slowed down significantly, with hospitals stopping giving the shots, while the Kan public broadcaster reports that, from Saturday, there will be no new appointments at all.

Kan says that, combined, all health providers have only 170,000 remaining free appointments. Israel has been vaccinating more than 100,000 people every day.

Netanyahu said pushing for brief tightening of lockdown; Blue and White disagree

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports stepping up the lockdown restrictions for a week or two to curb rising coronavirus infections, Hebrew-language media reports.

That would include resuming online studies for grades 5-10 and placing more limits on workplaces.

Some members of the Blue and White party reportedly oppose the plan and are insisting that the outbreak is slowing down, reports say.

Hospitals said under record strain, nixing surgeries to open more COVID wards

Israel’s hospitals are under immense strain as infections soar, with many medical centers electing to cancel between 10 percent and 40% of non-urgent surgeries, and convert operating rooms into makeshift coronavirus wards, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The report says hospitals nationwide are suffering from a shortage of manpower and beds that is the worst seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The third wave is more severe than the second,” the report cites the managers of the Hadassah and Rambam hospitals as saying. “The numbers of serious patients are higher. We are forced to open more coronavirus wards.”

The Health Ministry is expecting the situation to get even worse.

The ministry said earlier today that 30 confirmed cases of the more infectious British mutated strain have been identified so far in the country, including seven today. The ministry said the cases were not linked to arrivals from abroad, indicating community spread.

UAE said to arrest Iranians planning attacks on anniversary of general’s killing

In the past few days, intelligence bodies in the United Arab Emirates have arrested a number of Iranians in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, suspected of having planned terror attacks in the UAE, Channel 12 news reports.

The development comes as Israel braces for an Iranian revenge attack on the first anniversary of the assassination of its top general, Qassem Soleimani, in a US strike.

The Iranian suspects are currently being questioned, the report says. The UAE is said to be sharing the information that is revealed in the investigation with friendly states.

There are currently thousands of Israeli travelers in Dubai, for both business and pleasure. Authorities are probing whether they were the intended target of the Iranian terror cell, the network reports.

Fire strikes fuel warehouse on Syria-Lebanon border, 7 hurt

A massive fire breaks out in a warehouse where fuel and gas canisters are stored along the border between Lebanon and Syria, injuring seven people and causing loud explosions, the Lebanese Red Cross and army say.

The fire rages in a warehouse in the border area of al-Qasr, where the line between the two countries is highly permeable. The Lebanese army says the explosions occurred away from one of its checkpoints and that none of its members was injured.

It is not immediately clear what caused the fire and explosions. Smuggling of fuel and diesel is rampant between Lebanon and Syria — many suspect the warehouse was used to store contraband, and Lebanon’s LBC TV says the warehouse was used by smugglers. Both countries are going through crippling economic conditions and smuggling, which is common along the shared border, has increased in recent months.

In its statement, the Lebanese army says the warehouse is owned by a Lebanese family, but does not say whether it was used for smuggling fuel.

The explosion comes at a time of increased tension in the region on the one-year anniversary of the US killing of an Iranian general in Iraq, who was also a major ally of the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group.

The fire started while Israeli jets were flying low over Lebanon and as the head of Hezbollah was delivering a speech to commemorate the Iranian general. The jets caused confusion over the source of the explosion. Israeli jets regularly enter Lebanese airspace and have often struck inside Syria from Lebanese territory.

— Agencies

Group of US senators urges Biden’s win be certified

A bipartisan group of 10 US senators has issued a statement calling for Congress to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s election win.

The senators, including four Republicans, say in the statement that efforts by some Republicans to overturn the results in favor of President Donald Trump “are contrary to the clearly expressed will of the American people and only serve to undermine Americans’ confidence in the already determined election results.”

Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Mitt Romney of Utah sign on to the statement, which says, “It is time to move forward.”

A separate group of Senate Republicans, led by Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, say they plan to object to the election results when Congress meets on Wednesday to tally Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory over Trump.

The objections will force votes in both the House and Senate, but none is expected to prevail.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has urged Republicans not to object. And several other GOP senators have criticized the efforts, splitting the party as the new Congress begins. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has said that the objections are “bad for the country and bad for the party.”

Fraud did not spoil the 2020 presidential election, a fact confirmed by election officials across the US.

— AP

Shooting in Texas church leaves one dead, others wounded – governor

A shooting in a church in northeastern Texas has left one person dead and others wounded, US officials say.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirms in a statement that a suspect has been apprehended after the shooting in the Starrville Methodist Church in the town of Winona.

Few details are immediately confirmed, but ABC affiliate KLTV says the church’s pastor pulled his gun when he found a man hiding in a restroom. It says the man lunged at the pastor, grabbed the gun and shot him dead.

KLTV says the man, who has not been identified, was involved in a shooting incident the night before. It says he was shot and apprehended following a high-speed chase.

Abbott says the state will “ensure that justice is served and that the Starrville community has the resources it needs during this time.”

Winona lies about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Dallas; it has a population of about 525.

Texas has seen other church shootings in the past.

A shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs on November 5, 2017, left 26 people dead and 20 wounded; it was the worst mass shooting in state history. Shooter Devin Patrick Kelley was later found dead.

Gun laws in Texas are among the laxest in the US.

— AFP

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