The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
About 90 percent of those who have tested positive for COVID in Israel in recent days have been infected with the Omicron variant, reports the Kan public broadcaster.
According to the report, the figures are based on statistics gathered by the Leumit health care provider.
Israel confirmed its first case of the ultra-contagious Omicron variant in late November. As of the last week of December, the Health Ministry confirmed 1,741 cases of Omicron, but since then stopped updating, as it became clear that the variant was becoming the dominant strain.
There are currently 117,860 active COVID cases in Israel, with more than 99,000 of them confirmed over the past week.
The rapid antigen COVID tests that were being administered by Magen David Adom at testing stations across Israel are up to 10x less reliable than other antigen tests in detecting Omicron, claims a news report on Channel 12.
According to the report, the Health Ministry informed MDA that the tests were highly unreliable, and MDA stopped using them several days ago, but did not inform the public. The tests in question, under the SD Biosensor brand and the BD brand, are still being sold to the public, claims Channel 12.
דו״ח של המעבדה המרכזית לנגיפים קובע: מתוך 6 בדיקות אנטיגן שמשווקות בישראל, 2 הראו רגישות נמוכה פי עשרה בזיהוי האומיקרון. מד״א ביצעה בדיקות מוסדיות עם הסוג היעיל פחות. לפני 3 ימים שינו במד״א את סוג הבדיקות. את הציבור עדיין לא עדכנו בממצאים והבדיקות נמכרות כרגיל pic.twitter.com/HUUV3L7X92
— עמליה דואק (@AmalyaDuek) January 9, 2022
On Friday, a new framework went into effect in which fully vaccinated Israelis under 60 would not need a PCR test, but rather only an antigen test, to exit quarantine if they were exposed to a positive COVID case.
But with questions over their reliability piling up, the government is reportedly considering switching back to PCR tests for all citizens.
Israel’s Tourism Ministry launches a new website designed to aid tourists and travelers in entering Israel amid all the current COVID regulations.
Entry to fully vaccinated tourists reopened today after it shut down in late November, following just a few-week period during which foreigners were allowed to enter.
The new site “incorporates all the necessary and useful information related to local Corona guidelines that a vaccinated/recovered tourist would need to visit to Israel,” says the ministry.
The site is currently in English, but the ministry says it will be translated to other languages in the near future.
More than 10,000 people in Israel have tested positive for COVID as of 6:30 p.m., according to the latest Health Ministry statistics.
That figure is expected to climb by the thousands by tomorrow morning, when the full day’s figures have been reported.
More than 150,000 tests were carried out so far today, with more than 83,000 of them PCR tests, and the remainder Magen David Adom-administered rapid antigen tests.
On Saturday, 17,518 new COVID cases were reported, a slight drop from Friday, when a new daily record was set of 18,841. Fewer tests are carried out on Saturdays, when some testing stations are closed and many citizens stay home over Shabbat.
Currently, 542 Israelis with COIVD are hospitalized, and 204 are in serious condition.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier today that he expects 2 to 4 million Israelis to be infected by COVID throughout the current wave.
Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai denies accusations that police officials would be punished following whistleblower attempts.
Earlier today, Shimon Nachmani, the head of the police Operations Division, told a state commission of inquiry into last year’s deadly Meron disaster that he believed his promotion within the force had been nixed, due to allegations he had leaked materials to the commission.
In a letter to police officers, Shabtai says the claims that police would make decisions “based on rumors that an officer has any intention to give information to the commission have no basis whatsoever.”
“I want to emphasize that all procedures in the police are done with full transparency and on the basis of professional considerations only,” writes Shabtai.
Israel’s national library says the number of visitors to its Arabic website more than doubled last year, driven by a growing collection of digitized materials and an aggressive outreach campaign to the Arab world.
Around 650,000 users, predominantly from the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Algeria, visited the National Library of Israel’s English and Arabic sites in 2021, says library spokesman Zachary Rothbart.
One of the most heavily trafficked resources on the Arabic website is a newspaper archive with more than 200,000 pages of Arabic publications from Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine, says Raquel Ukeles, head of the library’s collections.
“We have been working on outreach to the Arab world, into the Arabic-speaking public here in Israel for over a decade, and we have slowly built up a rich set of resources on our websites,” she says. They include the digital newspaper archives, manuscripts, posters, electronic books and music, she said. They are open access, allowing scholars and curious web browsers to visit.
The Israeli Navy and Israel Police are dispatched to recover a piece of ordnance that was discovered off the coast of central Israel this morning, the military says.
“The ordnance was neutralized in a controlled detonation under the water,” the Israel Defense Forces says.
In an appeal to citizens for patience and understanding, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warns that 2-4 million Israelis are likely to be infected by COVID in the current wave, and everyone will need to deal with the situation.
“I understand the frustration and I am listening to it,” Bennett writes on Facebook. “I also have children in schools, and we are also trying to maneuver in this complex situation.”
Bennett says that information presented to the cabinet earlier today shows the likelihood that “a total of 2-4 million citizens will be infected during this current wave. This is a storm that is happening around the world, even in countries that instituted a lockdown.”
The prime minister writes that the government is working to continue to provide solutions to ongoing issues: “I am listening to the distress, to the long lines and the high price of tests,” he says. “We are working to alleviate things as much as possible, but we will all need patience and resilience.”
Since the start of the pandemic, close to 1.5 million Israelis have tested positive for COVID. Israel’s population stands close to 9.5 million.
A baby who went missing amid the chaos in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over last year has finally been reunited with members of his family, according to an exclusive Reuters report.
Sohail Ahmadi was just two months old in August when the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan and his family tried to flee the country. Amid the desperation, his father handed the baby over an airport wall to a man he believed to be a US soldier, intending to climb immediately after him.
“Baby lost in chaos of #Afghanistan airlift found, returned to family”
An infant boy handed in desperation to a soldier across an airport wall in the chaos of the #American evacuation of Afghanistan has been found and was reunited with his relatives in #Kabul on Saturday#REUTERS pic.twitter.com/FrZ0URVhsq
— Ali Khara (@alikhara1) January 9, 2022
But as the crowds pushed and shoved, Mirza Ali Ahmadi was separated from his son and the soldier. By the time he got inside the airport, he could not find the baby despite searching high and low.
Officials told him that the baby was likely to have been taken out of the country separately, and told them to continue their plans to flee, which they did. But even after landing in Texas, they could not learn anything of their baby’s whereabouts.
Reuters in November discovered that the baby was still in Kabul, after he was taken home by a taxi driver who decided to raise him as his own. Seven weeks of negotiations led to the baby finally being handed over to his grandfather this week.
Now, five months after he was parted from his parents and siblings, the Ahmadis are still desperate to have Sohail reunited with them in the United States, no easy feat with no clear solution in sight.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan issues a sharp condemnation of Iran.
Sullivan slams Iran’s attempt to impose sanctions on dozens of Americans yesterday, “as Iran’s proxy militias continue to attack American troops in the Middle East, and as Iranian officials threaten to carry out terror operations inside the United States and elsewhere around the world.”
“Make no mistake: the United States of America will protect and defend its citizens,” Sullivan adds. “This includes those serving the United States now and those who formerly served. As Americans, we have our disagreements on politics. We have our disagreements on Iran policy. But we are united in our resolve against threats and provocations. We are united in the defense of our people.”
Sullivan specifically notes that the US will “work with our allies and partners to deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran. Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 52 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences.”
Sullivan visited Israel at the end of December and met with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman says that businesses harmed by COVID restrictions will receive some form of compensation.
“There will be aid to businesses hurt by COVID, but there won’t be any handouts,” says Liberman. “There won’t be any electoral bribery.”
The finance minister says some business owners who have gone on the TV news to complain about his policies have hidden their own success. “Some of them are listed on the stock exchange, so I can check their quarterly reports,” says Liberman “I wish we would all be in such a situation in 2022.”
Liberman, who has long been opposed to funding government compensation of companies due to COVID, claims that “currently, most businesses are in excellent shape.”
Economy Minister Orna Barbivai calls on private companies to allow their employees to work from home where possible, as COVID cases in Israel continue to skyrocket.
The statement has the support of the head of the Histadrut, the country’s largest labor union.
“The government is leading a policy of [preserving] the economy alongside COVID with as little harm as possible to businesses and workers,” says Barbivai.
There are currently 116,411 active COVID cases in Israel, as new infections continue to skyrocket and a shortage of tests worsens.
Iraq’s new parliament holds its first session, nearly three months after Iraqis voted in a general election whose results have been contested by powerful Iran-backed factions.
The meeting ushers in what is likely to be a lengthy period of political wrangling among rival groups to choose a new president and prime minister.
As leader of the biggest bloc, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — a maverick leader remembered for leading an insurgency against US forces after the 2003 invasion — has the upper hand in choosing the new prime minister. But he will have to manage tensions with rival Shiite groups who continue to reject the election results and are demanding to have a say in the government formation process.
Lawmakers from al-Sadr’s bloc arrive early to the parliament building in Baghdad, donning white shrouds Muslims use to wrap their dead in a sign of their willingness to die for him. Al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential political leaders, was the biggest winner in the Oct. 10 vote, securing 73 out of Parliament’s 329 seats.
Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka says that there are approximately 2,000 medical personnel across the country who are in quarantine either due to testing positive for COVID or being exposed to a positive case.
There are currently 116,411 active COVID cases in Israel.
After a report earlier today said health officials were considering allowing medical personnel who test positive but remain asymptomatic to continue working, the head of the doctors union lashed out.
“We will not agree in any way to allow doctors who test positive to continue to work as normal,” said Prof. Zion Hagay, chairman of the Israel Medical Association, calling the suggestion dangerous for public health.
Ministers push off a vote on lifting the requirement for a “Green Pass” at malls amid a disagreement on the measure.
According to the government, while a series of other measures were agreed to, a vote on the Green Pass — which shows proof of up-to-date vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 — at malls will only occur later in the week.
Many ministers oppose keeping the measure in place, in part for financial reasons, while others believe it should remain in force for health reasons and to encourage vaccination.
Today’s cabinet hearing was marked by sharp disagreements among ministers over how to approach the fifth COVID wave as Omicron rages and new daily cases continue to set records.
According to Ynet, Agriculture Minister Oded Forer suggests during the meeting that there is widespread “public distrust” in the government, and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen says “the public is not with us and there is a lot of confusion.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among Israel Defense Forces soldiers, officers and civilian employees has nearly doubled in three days, from 1,778 on Thursday to 3,160 today, the military says.
The IDF says that all have mild symptoms.
Another 3,598 service members are in quarantine as of Thursday, the military adds.
Ministers give first-stage approval to a bill that mostly bars Palestinians married to Israelis from receiving permits to live with their spouses in Israel.
The bill — widely called “the Citizenship Law” — advances through the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which allows the coalition to fast-track the process. From here, the bill will go to the Knesset, where it must still pass through several votes before becoming law.
Since 2003, an Israeli law — renewed annually — imposed a ban on Palestinians married to Israelis from receiving residency. The coalition failed to garner enough votes to renew the law in July, causing it to expire — in part due to the Islamist Ra’am party, two of whose MKs abstained.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has since repeatedly said that she intends to bring the law to another vote. She has also continued to implement the ban, even though the law is no longer on the books.
The Citizenship Law was first passed during the Second Intifada as an emergency anti-terror measure. Israeli security officials at the time said that Palestinians married to Israelis were more likely to participate in terrorism.
In the years since, Israeli politicians have increasingly argued that the law is a key means of maintaining a Jewish majority.
“There’s no need to shirk from the essence of this law. It is one of the tools to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel, which is the nation-state of the Jewish people. Our goal is for there to be a Jewish majority,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted shortly before the law lapsed in early July.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is reprimanded by a judge and his request to delay the time of a hearing in his case against fellow former prime minister Ehud Olmert is rejected.
In May, Netanyahu filed a defamation lawsuit against Olmert after Olmert called the Netanyahu family “mentally ill.”
Today, Netanyahu requested that the first hearing in the case be pushed off from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. in order to account for delays due to security.
The judge rejects the request, noting that the time and date were set back in late October, but Netanyahu waited until a day in advance to request a delay: “The way to avoid delays from security arrangements is, of course, to leave the house earlier.”
The judge notes that any parties to the case who do not appear in court at the appointed hour will be considered to be violating his order setting the hearing date for tomorrow.
The government cabinet votes to extend electronic tracking of travelers who arrive in the country by an additional month, until at least February 9.
The government also votes to extend the requirement to show a negative test before boarding a plane to Israel for an additional month, and institutes a requirement for air travel personnel who enter Israel to undergo weekly tests.
Currently, anyone who enters Israel must present a negative PCR before boarding a flight, and take an additional test upon landing. Those who are fully vaccinated with a booster are released from quarantine if the test after landing is negative, but those who are not must spend a week in quarantine and take another test a week after arriving (or spend 14 days in quarantine without an additional test).
Saudi authorities have released a princess detained in the kingdom under mysterious circumstances for nearly three years, her supporters say.
The princess, Basmah bint Saud, a daughter of Saudi Arabia’s second king, disappeared in March 2019 and landed in a notorious Saudi prison without charge, she wrote on social media at the time.
The reason for her arrest along with her daughter was not clear, as she never wielded significant influence. But it marked the latest case against a royal family member as the headstrong Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidated power as the kingdom’s de factor leader.
The 58-year-old Princess Basmah and her 30-year-old daughter Suhoud al-Sharif left al-Ha’ir Prison on the outskirts of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, last week and returned home to the port city of Jiddah Thursday, says her legal adviser Henri Estramant. Princess Basmah suffers from health problems including osteoporosis and is now focused on recovering and spending time with family, he adds.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas arrives in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
According to the PA’s envoy to Cairo, Diab al-Louh, Abbas will stay in the city for the next two days.
“Abbas’s meeting with Sissi will discuss the latest developments in the Palestinian arena, efforts to advance the peace process, and end the Israeli occupation,” al-Louh says.
Abbas is accompanied by his two top advisers, Hussein al-Sheikh — who is responsible for ties with Israel — and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj.
Security forces fire tear gas as thousands rally in Sudan’s capital Khartoum and a neighboring city, witnesses say, keeping up pressure on the military following a coup 11 weeks ago.
The resumption of protests since the coup has been met with a crackdown that has killed at least 60 people, according to medics.
Security forces fire tear gas as pro-democracy protesters headed towars the presidential palace, witnesses say, amid roadblocks seeking to prevent people converging there and at army headquarters. Protesters also rallied in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city.
Authorities have repeatedly denied using live ammunition in confronting protests and said scores of security forces have been wounded during demonstrations that have often “deviated from peacefulness.”
Shimon Nachmani, the head of the Operations Division in the Israel Police, claims that his promotion within the police was halted after he was accused of leaking relevant materials to the state commission of inquiry into last year’s Meron disaster.
Testifying in front of the commission, Nachmani says he was told he was in line for a promotion to deputy chief of a new branch aimed at fighting crime in the Arab sector. “Then I was surprised when [the police chief] asked me during the interview, ‘Why did you give materials to the probe?'”
Nachmani says Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai worked to sabotage his promotion due to the allegations. Former Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, who heads the commission of inquiry, says Nachmani did not leak documents to the probe.
The three-member commission is continuing to hear witness testimony related to the April 2021 Lag B’Omer tragedy at Mount Meron, where 45 civilians were killed in a crush of people at the site after repeated warnings that it was unsafe for such a large crowd.
Nachman says he tried to warn Shabtai that the site was unsafe, but that the police chief dismissed his concerns, allegedly saying before Lag B’Omer that he would deal with any state inquiries that followed.
United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler has tested positive for COVID-19.
Eichler, 66, was infected with COVID in late 2020 and was since vaccinated.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office announced that he was quarantining after a member of his staff tested positive for COVID.
Likud MKs Haim Katz and Etti Atiya and Shas MK Yoav Bentzur tested positive for COVID yesterday. Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll and Blue and White MK Michael Biton tested positive last week.
At least five people, including a diver, are killed in flash flooding from torrential heavy rains in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, a senior regional official says.
“We have experienced five fatalities already, that includes a police… diver,” Oscar Mabuyane, the Eastern Cape provincial premier tells reporters while visiting affected areas.
Sudden rains pounded parts of the southern province including East London, on the Indian Ocean coast, yesterday.
Within hours, low lying areas were severely flooded, a local government official tells AFP. Among the worst hit is Mdantsane, a sprawling township on the outskirts of East London.
A member of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s staff tests positive for the coronavirus, requiring the minister to enter quarantine until he receives a negative test, his office says.
According to the defense minister’s office, Gantz has already performed a rapid antigen test, which came back negative, but will remain at home until he receives the results of a more accurate PCR test.
Last week, Gantz, 62, received a fourth coronavirus vaccine, and the staff member who tested positive had received three doses, his office says.
The Hamas terror group announces that it has arrested a Palestinian accused of collaborating with the Mossad in the targeted killing of a Hamas weapons expert in Malaysia.
“We arrested a person involved in the assassination of engineer Fadi al-Batsh in Malaysia. He admitted to participating in the assassination, which was commissioned by the Israeli Mossad,” the Hamas-run Gaza Interior Ministry says in a statement.
Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh was an electrical engineer and avowed Hamas member. In 2018, al-Batsh was gunned down by two motorcyclists as he walked to dawn prayers in Kuala Lumpur.
Then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman denied Israeli involvement in the killing at the time.
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