The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s developments as they unfolded.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz calls for greater international efforts to counter Iran, after the Islamic Republic confirmed it was enriching uranium to levels that breach curbs on its nuclear program.
“We know that Iran is continuing to ignite the region with instability and chose to raise enrichment to 20 percent. Iran is a global and regional challenge and we too have our eyes open,” Gantz says in a video statement.
He adds: “Everyone needs to join together in the fight against Iran, its regional terror activities and the threat of its nuclear armament.”
Gantz speaks as he tours the training base of the navy’s elite Shayetet 13 commando unit.
“Today I’m visiting the navy and its elite units… which operate in every space, close or far, above the water or below it,” he says, praising the “great work” of the soldiers.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein predicts the first batches of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine won’t arrive in Israel for another two months, as he again calls for tightening lockdown measures to curb surging infections.
Moderna announced overnight that Israel approved its vaccine for use in the country. Both the Massachusetts-based biotech firm and the director-general of the Health Ministry said they expected doses to reach Israel by the end of January.
But, “we don’t know anything about moving up [the delivery] of the Moderna vaccines,” Edelstein says during a press conference. “Unfortunately only in two months will we see the shipments.”
Ten people including the lone known surviving suspect in the 2015 deadly Paris attacks have been ordered to stand trial in connection with the suicide bombings which killed 32 people and injured hundreds in the Brussels subway and airport nearly five years ago.
According to the federal prosecutor’s office, the Brussels Chamber of the Council also decides that charges against three other suspects should be dismissed.
Earlier this year, prosecutors requested that eight of the 13 main suspects should be referred to the criminal court of assizes — the court that tries the most serious crimes — for charges of assassinations and attempted assassinations in a terrorism context, and for belonging to a terror group.
But the Council Chamber decided to refer to the court all 10 people who were ultimately charged, meaning that only one trial related to the case should take place.
Among those to stand trial is Salah Abdeslam, who is also suspected of playing a major role in the Paris attacks, and Mohamed Abrini, the Brussels native who walked away from Brussels’ Zaventem airport after his explosives failed to detonate.
Abdeslam was captured in Brussels on March 18, 2016, and his arrest may have prompted other members of the Islamic State group cell to rush attack plans already in motion. Four days later, suicide bombers detonated their explosives in the Brussels airport and metro during the morning rush hour. In Paris, the network of French and Belgian fighters killed 130 people in attacks at the Bataclan concert hall, the national stadium and in bars and restaurants.
Around 900 people are among those who suffered physical or mental trauma in the Brussels attacks, which were claimed by IS.
The case will now be transferred to the Court of Appeal, which will decide when the case will be heard by the Chamber for Indictments. A date has yet to be set for the trial, which is expected to start in the autumn.
President Reuven Rivlin rebukes the health authorities for sending mixed messages to Israelis on the vaccines.
“The health system must present a unified position,” says Rivlin.
It’s not immediately clear to what messages Rivlin is referring, though his comment came as the health minister and Health Ministry director general presented contradictory information on when the first batch of Moderna vaccines is due to arrive in the country.
The Magen David Adom emergency service says it has vaccinated 63% of residents of nursing homes and elder care facilities. Overall, the organization says, it has administered the first dose of the immunization to 100,000 such residents.
In a statement, MDA notes that one-third of Israel’s coronavirus deaths have been residents of such facilities.
“The elderly and the physically disabled are the people most at risk for getting critically ill or dying from COVID,” says Dr. Shafir Botner, director of paramedic training for Magen David Adom and acting field director of MDA’s COVID testing and vaccination program. “So it’s crucially important that inoculating these populations be made a priority.”
Danish health authorities will allow a wait of up to six weeks before administering a second dose of a coronavirus vaccine, but say the original guidelines of waiting only three to four weeks to deliver a second shot should be followed whenever possible.
Soeren Brostroem, head of the Danish Health Authority, says his agency and the Danish Medicines Agency have been scrutinizing vaccine data. Denmark is part of the European Union, which officially kicked off its vaccination programs on December 27 using the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which requires two shots.
“We can see in the documentation that it can take up to six weeks between each injection. We will add this to our updated guidelines,” Brostroem tells Danish news agency Ritzau. “If you go longer than six weeks, we cannot see the scientific evidence that you are protected with certainty.”
Britain, in an effort to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible, has allowed authorities to stretch out the time between the first shot and the second from 21 days to 12 weeks. Around the world, among scientists and governments, there is strong debate on the wisdom of that plan.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who strongly opposed school closures and claimed repeatedly the education system i\was not the source of serious outbreaks, is now amenable to shutting down all schools.
“I will agree to shut down the whole school system if a general lockdown is decided,” says Gallant, according to Channel 12.
Israel is technically now under lockdown, its third since the start of the pandemic, but authorities are set to tighten the loopholes in the regulations, which kept many schools and workplaces open even as virus cases spiked.
Georgia voters have begun casting their ballots in a race that will determine which party will control the US Senate.
Polls for the runoffs open statewide at 7 a.m. Tuesday and are scheduled to close at 7 p.m.
The results will have huge implications on US President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to pass his legislative agenda on matters such as the pandemic, health care, taxation, energy and the environment.
Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock need to win both races for a 50-50 Senate. That would allow Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to tilt the chamber to Democrats with the tiebreaking vote.
Ossoff is facing David Perdue, while Warnock is challenging Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and trying to become the state’s first Black senator.
More than 3 million Georgians have already voted either early in-person or via absentee ballots. That’s more than 60% of the nearly 5 million who voted in November’s presidential election.
A stabbing attempt is reported at the Gush Etzion Junction in the Etzion Bloc of the West Bank.
According to initial reports, a Palestinian man tried to attack IDF soldiers with a large knife and was shot. There were no immediate reports of injuries among the servicemen.
דיווח ראשוני: סיכול פיגוע דקירה בצומת גוש עציון. מחבל פלסטיני כבן 30 נורה ונהרג לאחר שניסה לדקור בצומת. ללא נפגעים ישראלים בארוע. pic.twitter.com/jdSpGtciPJ
— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) January 5, 2021
The Health Ministry will present a plan to ministers later today to tighten the lockdown, which recommends closing all schools and further reducing gatherings.
According to Hebrew media reports, the plan would also close workplaces, except for essential workers. Gatherings would be limited to five indoors, 10 outdoors, and the limit on traveling beyond 1 kilometer from home would remain in place. All schools would be shuttered, except for special education.
The Health Ministry also wants the plan to come into effect within 24 hours, namely by Thursday night or Friday morning, the Walla news site reports.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says he’ll support tightening the lockdown, on condition the court system remains open and protests are allowed to continue.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently on trial on corruption charges, with the evidentiary stage of the proceedings set to begin next month. There have also been weekly protests against the prime minister over the past six months.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says that the Gulf states have signed an agreement on regional “solidarity and stability” at a summit aimed at resolving a three-year embargo against Qatar.
“These efforts helped us reach the agreement of the Al-Ula statement that will be signed at this summit, where we affirm our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability,” he tells the meeting, thanking the United States and Kuwait for their mediation.
“There is a desperate need today to unite our efforts to promote our region and to confront challenges that surround us, especially the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its plans for sabotage and destruction.”
Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council signed two documents, the Al-Ula declaration, named after the Saudi city where the summit was held, and a final communique.
Their contents are not immediately released but hopes for a deal to end the bitter impasse were raised overnight when Saudi announced it would open its borders to Doha despite lingering enmity between the neighbors.
Saudi Arabia led a coalition of countries in the Gulf and beyond that cut ties and transport links with Qatar in June 2017, charging that it was too close to Iran and backed radical Islamist groups — allegations Doha has always denied.
German firm BioNTech warns there is no data backing the “safety and efficacy” of delaying the second shot of its COVID-19 vaccine beyond three weeks, as some countries push back the jab to give more people their first dose.
BioNTech, which developed the vaccine with US giant Pfizer, says its clinical data showing 95 percent efficacy was based on a two-dose schedule separated by 21 days.
“The safety and efficacy of the vaccine has not been evaluated on different dosing schedules,” it says.
“Although data… demonstrated that there is a partial protection from the vaccine as early as 12 days after the first dose, there is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.”
Faced with limited supplies of the vaccines, Denmark said Monday it would space out the jabs by up to six weeks, while Britain has said it would wait up to 12 weeks before giving the second jab.
Germany too is mulling pushing back the second shot to beyond 21 days.
Over one-quarter (25.9%) of active virus cases in Israel are children and teenagers in school, according to data submitted to the cabinet ahead of a ministerial meeting later on tightening the lockdown, Army Radio reports.
There are currently 56,223 active cases — meaning that over 14,000 students are ill with COVID-19.
That’s slightly lower than their proportion of the population, some 27%, the report notes.
The government has resisted closing all schools despite the rising virus rates.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is set to add four women to his new center-left political party, reports Channel 13. Huldai will announce the candidates tonight and will pledge to keep his slate balanced between genders, the network says.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Rafi Peretz, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, announces he won’t run in the upcoming March elections.
He says the Jewish Home needs new leadership.
The former IDF chief rabbi entered politics ahead of the April 2019 vote. In just under two years, he ran in three elections under various party names, and held two cabinet posts (including the education portfolio).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have reached an agreement on tightening the lockdown for 10 days, according to Army Radio.
The Health Ministry is recommending it begin on Thursday.
In addition to closing all schools, the new plan will also see supermarkets closed at 7 p.m., the report says.
Opening the meeting on the lockdown, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz both seemingly blame the British variant for the booming surge in virus cases in Israel.
“The mutation is out of control, and here, too, we see a rise,” Netanyahu says, according to leaks from the meeting to Hebrew media. “The hospitals are warning that we are entering the most dangerous wave since the start of the pandemic and that if we don’t act immediately, we’ll lose many more people.”
According to the Walla news site, Gantz also appears to pin the resurgence on the new strain. “There is no doubt that in light of the basic reproduction number of the mutation, we must take broad, general steps to reduce morbidity.”
In a presentation to government ministers, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash says 30 Israelis have been infected with the British variant of the virus, which is believed to be more infectious, according to Channel 13.
The 30 people went on to infect 189 others, Ash is quoted saying.
According to Channel 12, 60% of those recently infected with COVID-19 don’t know where they were infected.
Another 33% picked up the virus from other members of their household.
Just 3.2% were infected from school, 1.5% in their workplace or on public transportation, and 0.3% in synagogues.
According to the report, prior to their diagnosis, 20% of the virus carriers had recently visited a shopping center; 17% took public transportation; 15% recently visited a medical clinic; 7% were in school; 4% recently went on vacation.
The Health Ministry emphasizes that Israelis who received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine will receive the second.
The statement comes as the ministry is expected to soon stop administering the first dose to new patients, amid a shortfall in January before vaccine shipments pick up again in February. It also comes as some European countries say they’ll hold off on giving the second dose.
Former IDF spokesperson Lieutenant General (res.) Ruth Malki-Yaron joins a new political party created by former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, Hatnufa.
The US Treasury imposes new sanctions targeting Iran’s steel sector, slapping penalties on a dozen Iranian companies, three foreign holding companies of Iranian firms, and one China-based manufacturer that supplies graphite electrodes to the Islamic Republic.
“The Iranian metals sector is an important revenue source for the Iranian regime, generating wealth for its corrupt leaders and financing a range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for foreign terrorist groups, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” says the US Treasury.
The announcement comes after Iran announced Monday it would begin enriching uranium to 20%, for the first time since 2015.
“The Trump Administration remains committed to denying revenue flowing to the Iranian regime as it continues to sponsor terrorist groups, support oppressive regimes, and seek weapons of mass destruction,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy predicts Israel will reach “herd immunity” when the combined number of vaccinated, those who’ve recovered from the coronavirus, and those infected reaches 5 million, according to leaks from the cabinet meeting.
He estimates that 1.8 million Israelis will have received both doses of the vaccine by the end of January. The number of coronavirus cases from the start of the pandemic is 451,000.
Israel’s population is 9.3 million, so over half of the overall population would have to be immunized to reach that level.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tells the Jerusalem court where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is standing trial that he authorized the police investigations into the premier.
But Mandelblit indicates there’s no written record of the approval, telling the court there’s no legal obligation to authorize the criminal investigations in writing. He says he oversaw the process carefully, and has documentation from meetings that underline his involvement.
The Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday ordered prosecutors to hand over Mandelblit’s authorization for police investigations into Netanyahu.
The court’s ruling applies to Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000 against the prime minister, after lawyers for Netanyahu alleged that permission for the criminal probes — which must be granted by the attorney general — was given retroactively. Netanyahu’s attorneys have argued that if written authorization was not given, all the charges against him must be dropped.
Lawyers for the prime minister had asked the court to cancel the criminal indictment against the premier, alleging the attorney general hadn’t authorized in advance the probe that yielded the corruption charges for which Netanyahu now stands trial, but only did so after the fact.
The State Attorney’s Office has said that “the authorizations to open an investigation were given at two meetings, one on December 25, 2016, and the other on January 5, 2017.”
Sheba Medical Center says 50 percent of its workers have developed antibodies since they received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine two weeks ago.
The Ramat Gan hospital has been conducting serological testing on the workers who were administered the first dose to track the antibody response.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi says the normalization deal with the UAE is now official, after the Emiratis ratified the agreement.
“The peace process with the Emirates became official today. This morning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received an official letter from Abu Dhabi confirming the ratification of the peace agreement by the Emirates,” he tweets. “Congratulations to our friends from the Emirates on this celebratory day of peace in the Middle East.”
The head of Iran’s atomic agency says the Islamic Republic is in the process of installing 1,000 new centrifuges.
“One thousand centrifuges are being installed inside the country,” says Ali Akbar Salehi, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
“We are currently installing one thousand IR-2m centrifuges, but two cascades are installed and working,” adds Salehi.
The comments are made a day after Iran says it has begun enriching uranium to 20%, a short step away from weapons-grade levels.
He also says Iran has increased its supply of yellowcake, a precursor to enriched uranium, by eight times in the past two years.
“Until three or four years ago, we used to produce an average of 4 to 5 tons of yellowcake, but for the past two years, we have increased the production of yellowcake to 30 tons.”
“This year, the production of yellowcake will be between 35 and 40 tons, which means that we have 8-folded the production of yellowcake,” he says.
Yellowcake is a uranium concentrate in powder form and an early step in uranium processing. It is produced by mining uranium ore from rocks and separating the uranium from the rocks by bathing them in acid. The yellowcake can then be converted, enriched to raise its purity, and then used for weapons or energy production.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announces that four female candidates have joined his new center-left party.
They are: Former Blue and White MK Einav Kabala; information scientist Karine Nahon; educator Karen Tal; and Adi Tsabari, head of the Education, Culture and Neighborhood Renewal Company in Tel Aviv.
Huldai says his party’s candidate list will be equally split between men and women.
Wendy Sherman, a chief US negotiator for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, will be nominated to the role of deputy US secretary of state under Joe Biden’s nominee for the secretary position, Tony Blinken, Politico reports.
Hundreds of senior citizens determined to get vaccinated against the coronavirus camp out overnight in frigid temperatures to secure spots in Tuesday morning’s line in Daytona Beach.
City officials tried to avoid a repeat of Monday’s traffic jams by opening a stadium’s parking lot to overnight camping for people 65 and older. By 7:30 p.m. Monday, senior citizens in some 200 vehicles were on the property.
The Daytona Beach News Journal reported officials planned to close the gates once 1,000 people entered, matching the number of vaccines available for Tuesday. The shots will be administered by Volusia County’s office of the Florida Department of Health.
The state has received more than 960,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. By Monday, about 260,000 Floridians had been vaccinated, mostly health care workers and first responders, followed recently by the elderly.
About 83% of coronavirus deaths in Florida have been people older than 65. Florida has one of the nation’s oldest populations, with 4.4 million of the state’s 21 million people 65 years or older.
The Health Ministry says another 5,643 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 59,376.
Yesterday, 8,368 cases were recorded and 7.4% of tests returned positive, the highest rate in months.
According to the ministry, there are 828 people in serious condition, 204 of them on ventilators. Another 253 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. The death toll stands at 3,489.
Former deputy IDF chief of staff Dan Harel is joining Ron Huldai’s new center-left party.
Harel is also a former Defense Ministry director-general.
He is the sixth candidate to join Huldai’s party.
A 44-year-old lawyer hospitalized in the coronavirus ward in Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba tells Channel 13 that the patient next to him died of the virus, but it took the hospital staff six hours to move his body.
“For six hours, I lay next to a body,” says Shalom Pinia.
The network airs harrowing footage taken in the ward of an elderly man who fell on the floor and urinated himself and repeatedly cried out for help. It took a while for the staff to respond, says Pinia, who emphasizes that he doesn’t blame the overworked nurses and appreciates their efforts.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a prominent ultra-Orthodox religious leader, favors closing Haredi schools in Jerusalem, according to Hebrew media reports.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion meets with Kanievsky and presents a plan under which ultra-Orthodox schools would be closed for 10-14 days only and teaching staff would be vaccinated during this time. Moreover, the schools would only be closed if the shutdown of the school system nationwide is approved by the government. According to Haaretz and some ultra-Orthodox media reports, Kanievsky agreed, but only under these conditions.
Channel 12, however, says he’s still considering it.
The 93-year-old religious leader’s consent, rather than the government order, is the final word for many in the ultra-Orthodox community.
Former Health Ministry director-general Gabi Barbash says he believes the coronavirus vaccines will protect recipients from the British and South African variants.
“It is believed that the vaccine can overcome both the mutations,” says Barbash on Channel 12, where he serves as a resident expert on the pandemic.
“If not, if [the vaccine] proves a little less effective [against the latest mutations], it will take about six weeks to update it and manufacture [the updated] vaccine.”
Vaccines are routinely updated, he says. “The flu shot is updated every year.”
He also says it has to be assumed that the British and the South African mutations are having an impact in Israel.
Channel 12 says 1.5 million Israelis have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
It says over half (55 percent) of Israelis over age 60 have been vaccinated.
Of the 1.5 million to receive the shot, 65% are over 60 years old, it says.
Telem leader Moshe Ya’alon, a former Likud minister, is expected to dissolve his political partnership with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and form a new party composed of the anti-Netanyahu protest leaders, according to Channel 13.
Ya’alon is seeking to recruit the activists who rally against the prime minister weekly, for over six months, and become the movement’s political representative, the network says.
At the same time, he is still conducting negotiations with Lapid, though the prospects of their continued partnership in the March elections are dim, it says.
The government votes to tighten the lockdown, shuttering schools and nonessential businesses.
The rules go into effect overnight Thursday-Friday, for two weeks.
The order comes after the daily number of virus cases in Israel surged to over 8,000.
A new poll suggests that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still has no clear path to forming a government, despite his Likud remaining the largest party. His rivals on the right, left, and center could narrowly form a coalition, though there are large ideological differences between them.
The Channel 12 survey, which comes 77 days before the March elections are set to be held, gives Likud 27 seats; Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope 18; Naftali Bennett’s Yamina 14; Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid 13; the Joint List 10; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 8; Ron Huldai’s The Israelis 6; Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu 6; Meretz 5; and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White 5.
Netanyahu and his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox allies would win just 57 seats, four short of a majority.
A coalition of the right-wing New Hope, Yamina, and Yisrael Beytenu, and the centrist Yesh Atid and Blue and White, along with the center-left The Israelis would garner 62 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, it predicts.
Netanyahu remains the preferred candidate for prime minister, with 27%, followed by Sa’ar (16%), Lapid (14%), Bennett (13%), and Gantz (6%).
The survey also suggests that Yamina would pick up more seats without its hard-right member Betzalel Smotrich (14 vs. 16)
Health officials tell the Walla news site the first shipment of Moderna vaccines will arrive in Israel this week, likely on Thursday.
The shipment includes 100,000 shots, the report says.
The report comes after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says Israel won’t receive vaccines from Moderna until March.
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