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Bennett secretly met with Jordanian king in Amman last week

News site quotes ex-official as saying the two agreed to open a new page in Israel-Jordan ties after tense relations between the countries’ leaders during Netanyahu’s tenure as PM

Jordan's King Abdullah II gives a speech during the inauguration of the 19th Parliament’s non-ordinary session, in Amman, Jordan, on December 10, 2020. (Yousef Allan/The Royal Hashemite Court via AP)
Jordan's King Abdullah II gives a speech during the inauguration of the 19th Parliament’s non-ordinary session, in Amman, Jordan, on December 10, 2020. (Yousef Allan/The Royal Hashemite Court via AP)

The Times of Israel is liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Biden announces US military mission in Afghanistan to end August 31

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the American military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31, saying “speed is safety” as the United States seeks to end the nearly 20-year war.

“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build,” Biden says in a speech updating on his administration’s ongoing efforts to wind down the US war in Afghanistan. “Afghan leaders have to come together and drive toward a future.”

Biden also amplifies the justification of his decision to end US military operations, even as the Taliban make rapid advances in significant swaths of the country.

The effort to further explain his thinking on Afghanistan comes as the administration has repeatedly sought in recent days to frame ending the conflict as a decision that Biden made after concluding it’s an “unwinnable war” and one that “does not have a military solution.”

Israel seizes bitcoin wallets used by Hamas to fundraise – report

The Israeli security establishment has begun closing down Hamas funding via bitcoin, taking control of digital wallets used by the Gaza-ruling terror group, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says Defense Minister Benny Gantz gave permission to seize these wallets, which are operated from the Gaza Strip and have been raising funds from abroad to revive the Hamas military wing after 11-days of fighting in May against the Israel Defense Forces.

The move comes amid Israeli opposition to major reconstruction efforts in Gaza until two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 war are returned.

Senior health official: Israel headed for another lockdown if no change in gov’t policy

A top Health Ministry official asserts that Israel is headed for another lockdown unless the new government shifts its pandemic policy to stem rising coronavirus cases.

While Israel has seen a spike in the number of daily infections in recent weeks, serious cases have only ticked up slightly and few deaths have been recorded.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the ministry, indicates to the Kan public broadcaster that she opposes using the number of serious cases as a benchmark, rather the number of new infections, when formulating COVID-19 policy.

“The meaning is treating coronavirus as if its the flu,” she says.

The comments come as the government has largely refrained from reimposing new restrictions amid the rise in cases, despite health officials reportedly lobbying for tighter measures.

Bennett kept Lapid in dark about demolition of terror suspect’s home – report

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett did not update Foreign Minister Yair Lapid before the West Bank home of a Palestinian-American terror suspect was demolished this morning, Channel 13 news reports.

The razing of Muntasir Shalabi’s house drew a rare condemnation from the US Embassy, with a spokesperson saying “the home of an entire family should not be demolished for the actions of one individual.”

Shalabi is suspected of killing 19-year-old student Yehuda Guetta during a terror attack in May.

According to the report, Lapid’s office reached out to Bennett’s office and asked why it wasn’t updated, saying the Foreign Ministry could have prepared and attempted to soften criticism from the US.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office say it is not the job of the premier’s aides or the National Security Council to provide updates on such matters.

“Years of government neglect caused the communication and coordination system between the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office to not function properly. We are now fixing and arranging everything,” a statement on Lapid’s behalf said.

The statement added: “It will take a little longer but thanks to the good relations between Prime Minister Bennett and Ministers Lapid and Gantz, the reporting and coordination mechanisms are improving every day.”

Top court again delays deadline for government to pass new Haredi enlistment law

The High Court of Justice accepts the new government’s request to delay conscripting ultra-Orthodox Israelis into the military, again postponing the matter.

The government will now have until January 2022 to pass new legislation formally exempting Haredi yeshiva students from military enlistment.

The previous law was stuck down in 2017, but the High Court has since granted repeated delays to the goverment on the matter.

Leading COVID policy official shunned from virus cabinet meetings – report

Retired general Roni Numa, who was recently tapped to take charge of COVID-19 policy at Ben Gurion Airport, has reportedly not been invited to sessions of the high-level coronavirus cabinet ever since attending a meeting on the first day he was appointed, according to Channel 12 news.

New research underscores that current COVID vaccines protect against Delta variant

New research from France adds to the evidence that widely-used COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against a coronavirus mutation that is spreading rapidly around the world and is now the most prevalent variant in the US.

The Delta variant is surging through populations with low vaccination rates, says Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This, she says, is leading to “two truths” — highly-immunized swaths of America are getting back to normal, while hospitalizations are rising in other places. “This rapid rise is troubling,” Walensky says.

A few weeks ago, the Delta variant accounted for just over a quarter of new US cases, but it now accounts for just over 50% — and in some places, such as parts of the Midwest, as much as 80%.

Researchers from France’s Pasteur Institute reported new evidence today that full vaccination is critical.

In laboratory tests, blood from several dozen people given their first dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines “barely inhibited” the Delta variant, the team reports in the journal Nature.

But weeks after getting their second dose, nearly all had what researchers deem as an immune boost strong enough to neutralize the Delta variant — even if it was a little less potent than it was against earlier versions of the virus.

The French researchers also tested unvaccinated people who had survived a bout of the coronavirus, and find that their antibodies were four-fold less potent against the new mutant.

But a single vaccine dose dramatically boosted their antibody levels — sparking cross-protection against the Delta variant and two other mutants, the study finds. That supports public health recommendations that COVID-19 survivors get vaccinated rather than relying on natural immunity.

The lab experiments add to real-world data that the Delta variant’s mutations aren’t evading the vaccines most widely used in Western countries, but underscore that it’s crucial to get more of the world immunized before the virus evolves even further.

Death toll in Florida condo collapse rises to 60; rescue workers vow to press on

SURFSIDE, Florida — Rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors in the rubble of a Florida condominium collapse pause briefly atop the pile to mark the two-week anniversary of the disaster, but say they have no plans to pull back during the recovery effort.

The death toll rises to 60, with another 80 people unaccounted for, Miami Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says at a news conference today.

Detectives are still working to verify that each of those listed as missing were actually in the building when it collapsed. Meanwhile, rescue workers who have been at the site for two weeks are dedicated to the task of recovering as many victims as possible, Levine Cava says.

“The work continues with all speed and urgency,” she says. “We are working around the clock to recover victims, and to bring closure to the families as fast as we possibly can.”

The painstaking search for survivors shifted to a recovery effort overnight, after authorities said they had come to the agonizing conclusion that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside.

Participants in Gay Pride event at West Bank settlement attacked with mace

Police say that a number of suspects attacked participants in a Gay Pride event in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The suspects fled after throwing eggs and spraying mace at three people, according to police, who report that the three were lightly injured and received medical care on the scene.

Officers have launched a manhunt for the suspects.

Health Ministry confirms COVID death; number of serious cases fall

Serious COVID cases fall to 37 as the Health Ministry releases updated coronavirus figures.

The number of patients in serious condition stood at 46 earlier today, when the ministry rejected reports it was inflating the stat.

According to the ministry’s website, the death toll rose by one to 6,430. Hospitals reported two coronavirus deaths earlier today, the first fatalities in over two weeks. It isn’t immediately clear what accounts for the discrepancy.

There have been 326 new cases confirmed since midnight, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 844,905.

Today’s positivity rate is so far 0.7 percent, identical to the previous few days.

Bennett secretly met with Jordanian king in Amman — report

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met secretly with Jordanian King Abdullah II last week at his palace in Amman, the Walla news site reports.

Quoting an unnamed former Israeli official, the report says the meeting was very positive, and that Abdullah informed Bennett he would okay a proposal for Israel to sell more water to Jordan.

The ex-official also says the two agreed to open a new page in Israel-Jordan ties, after tense relations between the countries’ leaders during former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure.

The report comes after Foreign Minister Yaid Lapid met with his Jordanian counterpart earlier today for their first meeting since Israel’s new government was sworn in last month.

Herzog to world leaders: Join with us in opposing Iran’s nuclear efforts

A day after taking office, President Isaac Herzog tells world leaders who congratulated him on being sworn in to join with Israel in opposing Iran’s nuclear efforts.

“The efforts Iran is leading, along with its unceasing efforts to acquire a nuclear capability, are a threat to our security and regional stability. I know together we can prevent these attempts,” Herzog is quoted saying by his office.

Among the leaders Herzog received letters from were British Queen Elizabeth II, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammaed bin Zayed al Nahyan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Firefighters attempt to quell aftermath of Dubai port explosion

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Firefighting boats pour cascades of water on a container ship that had erupted in a fiery explosion at Dubai’s main port last night, rocking the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates.

Satellite images captured by Planet Labs Inc. and analyzed by The Associated Press show that intensive efforts to cool the Ocean Trader are continuing some 12 hours after the blast at Jebel Ali port, as fireboats douse the area with water. Authorities say the explosion caused no casualties and they were still investigating the cause.

The photos also show a thin sheen of what appeared to be an oil-water mix spreading from the vessel into the gulf. Dubai authorities reported a “leakage” from the ship, without elaborating. They said the ship had been carrying containers full of unspecified “flammable materials.”

The blast, which sent a giant fireball skyward late Wednesday and shook homes and high-rises in several neighborhoods across Dubai, was powerful enough to be seen from space by satellite. Panicked residents filmed the eerie orange glow over Dubai’s futuristic skyline, reporting trembling walls and windows over 15 miles away from the port.

Dubai authorities vigorously sought to stem the fallout from the explosion, praising the “record time” it took firefighters to contain the flames and stressing the crucial port operations had not experienced any disruption. The port is “running seamlessly,” celebratory headlines in state-linked media declared.

Over a dozen graves vandalized at Baltimore Jewish cemetery

Over a dozen gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Baltimore have been vandalized, local officials say.

“As the son of Holocaust victims and survivors, this symbol hits hard,” Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka writes on Twitter.

Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen tweets: “This too is America. The place for which my great grandmother fled the gas chambers in Austria.”

Pictures from the cemetery show a swastika spray-painted on a grave and the world “holdomir” painted on another, in an apparent misspelling of the Holodomor, a man-made famine in which millions of Ukrainians died, an event believed to have been perpetrated by the Soviet Union from 1932 to 1933.

Interior Minister: High Court had no authority to hold hearing on nation-state law

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked expresses her support for the High Court’s rejection of petitions against the nation-state law, but says it should’ve never agreed to hear them in the first place.

Shaked, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, claims the hearing “was done with a total lack of authority.”

“Revoking the nation’s authority to define the character and identity of the State of Israel in the name of abstract principles knocks down the basis of the democratic process,” she writes on Twitter.

Shaked, a former justice minister, has long accused the court of overreach and previously pushed a measure that would allow a Knesset majority to override High Court rulings, thereby clipping its power to strike down laws.

Joint List MK: Those who backed nation-state law will be judged by ‘tribunal of history’

MK Ofer Cassif of the predominantly Arab Joint List rails at the High Court for rejecting petitions against the 2018 nation-state law.

Cassif says “no court can legitimize a racist law” and appears to suggest lawmakers who backed it should be tried by the International Criminal Court.

“The judgment against the Nation-State Law and of those who legislated it — the tribunal of history. We hope that on the way they’ll pass through the Hague,” he tweets, referring to the Dutch city where the ICC is based.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, meanwhile, cheers the court decision, saying the law “anchors the Jewish essence and character of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people” and says there was no reason for judicial intervention.

“There is no harm in the law to the individual rights of any Israeli citizen,” Sa’ar writes on Twitter.

Arab civil society groups rip High Court for not nixing ‘racist’ nation-state law

Arab Israeli civil society organizations criticize the High Court decision not to strike down the quasi-constitutional nation-state law.

“It has now been conclusively proven that the High Court does not protect Palestinians from laws that are among the most racist in the world since World War II and the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa,” says Adalah, a prominent Arab legal rights group, whose attorneys presented one of 15 petitions against the law.

The Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit that works to advance Jewish-Arab partnership, calls for the Knesset to repeal the law.

“The ruling does not change the racist and discriminatory nature of the nation-state law, which establishes Arab citizens of Israel as second-class citizens,” the nonprofit says.

High Court rejects petition against Jewish nation-state law

The High Court of Justice rejects a petition against the quasi-constitutional Nation-State Law, which enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.”

The justices rule that there are no grounds to throw out the 2018 legislation, which they say is meant “to anchor the state’s identifying components as a Jewish state, without diminishing the components of the state’s democratic identity that are anchored in other Basic Laws.”

In the sole dissent, Justice George Kara argues some clauses of the law “negate the core of the democratic identity of a state and shake the thresholds of the constitutional structure,” urging they be struck down.

Israeli taxman said seeking millions on donations to ex-PM Olmert’s legal defense

The Israel Tax Authority orders former prime minister Ehud Olmert to pay millions of shekels in taxes on donations he received for his legal defense while on trial for corruption charges, the Haaretz daily reports.

In an objection, Olmert argued the donations were from friends and should therefore be treated as nontaxable gifts, according to the newspaper. He is expected to appeal if the tax authority rejects this argument.

The sum the tax authority is demanding, which the report doesn’t specify, is subject to interest payments and linkage differentials.

Olmert resigned as prime minister in 2008 before being formally indicted on corruption charges. He was convicted of fraud in 2014 and served 16 months of a 27-month prison sentence.

Japan announces Tokyo Olympics to be held without fans

TOKYO — Spectators will be banned from Olympic venues in Tokyo because of a virus state of emergency, Japan’s Olympic minister announces today, meaning the Games will happen mostly behind closed doors.

“We reached an agreement on no spectators at venues in Tokyo,” Tamayo Marukawa says after talks involving local and national government officials, organizers and Olympic and Paralympic chiefs.

Most Olympic competition will happen in Tokyo, but a few events will be held outside the Japanese capital.

Health Ministry denies inflating number of serious COVID patients

The Health Ministry denies Hebrew media reports that accuse it of inflating the number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition.

The ministry specifically lashes out at the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, accusing its reporter of “not checking the details in depth, thus misleading the public.”

According to the ministry, there are currently 46 people hospitalized in serious condition with coronavirus complications. The Yedioth report, which cited hospital figures, put the number at 27, while Channel 12 news reported there were 32 such cases.

The ministry says its data includes patients who are no longer infected with COVID but are still hospitalized in serious condition. It adds that it checks the stats three times a day and that it is regularly in touch with hospital representatives.

“The figures public by the Yedioth Ahronoth reporter were checked again with hospitals… and it was found they were incorrect, to put it mildly,” the ministry says in a statement.

German court delays intel gathering on far-right party until after election

BERLIN— A court in Germany says that it won’t decide before the country’s national election in September whether the domestic intelligence agency can put the far-right Alternative for Germany party under observation due to suspicions of extreme-right sympathies.

The Cologne administrative court says it also won’t rule before the September 26 election on the party’s bid to prevent the intelligence agency from publicly specifying how many people belong to its officially dissolved hard-right faction, known as The Wing.

The court says it originally planned to rule in early July, a sufficient distance from the election, but the complexity of the case and other factors got in the way. Therefore, out of “respect for voters’ decision,” it now plans to rule in the first quarter of 2022.

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, entered Germany’s national parliament with 12.6% of the vote in 2017 and is currently the biggest of several opposition parties.

It has moved steadily to the right over the years while retaining a solid core of support; recent polls rate it at 10-12%. The party benefited from anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow large numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers into Germany in 2015. More recently, AfD has portrayed itself as a champion of resistance to coronavirus restrictions.

Lapid and Jordanian FM meet, agree on transfer of more Israeli water

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, their first meeting since the former became Israel’s top diplomat last month when a new government was sworn in.

Lapid says the two agreed to cooperate in the fields of water and commerce, as well as on various other unspecified topics. The agreement on water was in accordance with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to okay the transfer of 50 million cubic meters to Jordan annually, according to the foreign minister,

“The Kingdom of Jordan is a neighbor and important partner of the State of Israel. The Foreign Ministry will continue to hold a continuous dialogue to preserve and strengthen ties. We will expand economic cooperation for the wellbeing of both countries,” Lapid tweets.

Ex-daycare manager gets 9.5 years in prison for toddler abuse

The Central District Court in Lod sentences Carmel Mauda, a former daycare manager convicted of abusing toddlers, to 9.5 years in prison.

Carmel Mauda arrives for a hearing at the Central District Court in Lod on December 9, 2019. (Flash90)

High Court strikes down suspension of welfare for parents of young security prisoners

The High Court of Justice strikes down legislation allowing the state to suspend certain welfare benefits for the parents of minors imprisoned for security offenses.

The justices rule that the 2015 law “unconstitutionally harms the right of equality.”

The court gives the Knesset a year to amend the law, noting it has only been applied in 10 cases and is rarely used due to what is says are difficulties in coordinating with the National Insurance Institute about the welfare payments.

In various dissents, Justice Neal Hendel notes criminal and security offenses are treated differently, asserting therefore the law did not harm the right to equality. Justice Yitzhak Amit argues that as the parents don’t have to pay the same level of expenses for the child while he is imprisoned, any damage caused by suspending the benefits is “negligible and does not justify invalidating the law.”

High Court rejects petition against Herzog’s hiring of Netanyahu’s ex-spokesman

The High Court of Justice rejects a petition seeking to block President Isaac Herzog’s appointment of Naor Ihia as his spokesman.

Ihia until recently served as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political spokesperson and was the flack for the ex-premier’s Likud party.

The justices order the group that filed the petition to pay NIS 5,000 in court fees.

Dubai authorities probing large explosion on container ship

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai authorities are investigating an explosion on a container ship carrying flammable materials, which unleashed a fireball at one of the world’s busiest ports and sent shock waves through the city.

Firefighters rushed to the scene at Jebel Ali Port to tackle the blaze that broke out last night on a large vessel stacked with containers which authorities said had been preparing to dock.

Flames and smoke poured from the ship but authorities said it was doused within 40 minutes and that there were no casualties, with all 14 crew members evacuated in time before the explosion.

“Thank God, everything is safe. But this is a natural accident that happened in one of the containers, which was also carrying some flammable materials. There was no other reason,” Mona Al Marri, director of the Dubai Media Office, tells Al-Arabiya television.

She says there will be an investigation into the cause of the blast. Police vehicles and fire trucks are still parked close to the heavily damaged vessel, with burned containers visible on the waterfront.

Dubai police say three of the 130 containers on the ship held flammable materials.

“Initial reports indicate that… friction, or heat, may have led to the blast,” Dubai police chief Abdullah al-Marri tells Al-Arabiya, adding that there were no radioactive substances or explosives present in the containers.

Jebel Ali port is capable of handling aircraft carriers and was the US Navy’s busiest port of call outside of the United States in 2017, according to the US Congressional Research Service.

Global logistics giant DP World tweets that “operations are running seamlessly” across the port, thanking the local authorities for “their swift response in resolving the fire incident.”

IDF probing case of female troops barred from swimming in bathing suits

Commanders in the IDF’s Home Front Command banned female troops from swimming in a pool with bathing suits “to not harm the feelings of religious soldiers,” the Haaretz daily reports.

The incident occurred when a Home Front Command unit currently serving in the West Bank went to a pool for an IDF-organized vacation, with most of the female soldiers reportedly deciding not to get in the water following the order.

While male troops were allowed to swim in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts, the women were told they must wear baggy shirts and long pants, according to the newspaper, which notes the order contravened military rules regarding joint service.

The Israel Defense Forces says the matter is being probed and that the rules will be further clarified.

Liberman defends ending daycare subsidies for kids of full-time yeshiva students

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman fires back at his ultra-Orthodox critics after announcing he would end daycare subsidies for children whose fathers are full-time yeshiva students.

Liberman tweets that children “need education and the ability to become integrated in the workforce, to make a living with respect and not to be dependent on subsidies and donations.”

Addressing the ultra-Orthodox, Liberman says they should read Maimonides, quoting the medieval Jewish sage saying one who only studies Torah and doesn’t work has “desecrated God.. and inflicted evil on himself.”

Liberman’s tweet comes as a lawmaker in his party says the rest of the coalition was aware of the treasury chief’s plans to announce the cuts, disputing a report asserting that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was caught off-guard by yesterday’s announcement.

“We talked about a proposal for daycare subsidies for a long time. It was in the coalition agreements — this didn’t surprise anyone,” MK Alex Kushnir, chair of the Knesset Finance Committee, tells Army Radio.

Bennett pushes back on US criticism of home demolition of terror suspect

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pushes back on US criticism of Israel for demolishing the West Bank home of a Palestinian-American suspect in a deadly terror attack.

“The prime minister admires and respects the American administration,” a source in Bennett’s office says. “However, he acts only in accordance with the security considerations of the State of Israel and in defending the lives of Israeli citizens.”

The comment came after the US Embassy said “the home of an entire family should not be demolished for the actions of one individual,” referring to suspect Muntasir Shalabi.

Coronavirus deaths reported in Israel for first time in over 2 weeks

Israeli hospitals report two deaths today from COVID-19 complications, the first coronavirus fatalities recorded in over two weeks.

Wolfson Medical Center in Holon says a 48-year-old man who was unvaccinated died. He did not have any significant preexisting conditions beyond high blood pressure, according to the hospital.

The other fatality is an 86-year-old man hospitalized at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, who had received both vaccine shots. The man’s wife, in her 70s, is also hospitalized with the coronavirus and is in moderate to serious condition. She too got both doses.

The deaths come as Israel experiences a resurgence in COVID infections, though there have been few deaths and serious cases have risen slowly following the country’s mass vaccination campaign.

The fatalities were not included in the latest Health Ministry figures published this morning, in which the national toll remained at 6,429. Before Wednesday, the last COVID death was recorded on June 23 and prior to that there were no fatalities in more than a week.

The ministry reports 518 new cases yesterday, with active infections rising to 3,568. There have been 844,684 cases confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began.

The number of patients in serious condition ticks up slightly to 46, out of 78 people currently hospitalized.

The positive test rate yesterday was 0.7 percent, identical to the preceding few days.

The ministry also says that nearly 5.7 million people out of Israel’s population of roughly 9.3 million have received at least one shot and close to 5.2 million are fully vaccinated.

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