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Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi takes over as IDF deputy chief of staff

Former head of Southern Command and Military Intelligence replaces Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the IDF's new deputy chief of staff, speaks during a handover ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the IDF's new deputy chief of staff, speaks during a handover ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

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

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi takes over as IDF’s deputy chief of staff

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi takes over as the IDF’s deputy chief of staff, in a handover ceremony at the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Halevi, who formally headed Southern Command and Military Intelligence, is replacing Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir as the IDF’s deputy chief.

At the ceremony, military chief Aviv Kohavi touts Halevi for his “wisdom, operational experience, judgement.”

Rocks thrown at prominent national-religious rabbi’s car in East Jerusalem

Prominent national-religious Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s car is pelted with stones as he drives through Ma’ale Hazeitim, a Jewish enclave in East Jerusalem.

Eliyahu’s driver was lightly injured, according to the Kan public broadcaster, which says police are investigating.

Video from the scene shows a large crack in the front passenger window.

Iranian ex-MP: Mossad behind all attacks in Iran, no ‘serious thought’ on how to cope

A former Iranian lawmaker who headed the parliament’s committee for national security and foreign affairs has blamed the Mossad spy agency for attacks in Iran, and says “no one has given a serious thought to the problem,” Iran International TV reports.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh also says Israel “is the Islamic Republic’s rival in security and intelligence,” according to the broadcaster, which quotes an interview he gave today to the Etemad newspaper.

Fauci says too soon to know if COVID vaccine booster needed

WASHINGTON — The US government’s top infectious diseases expert says that “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that Americans will need a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months, but it is too soon for the government to recommend another shot.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, says that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration did the right thing last week by pushing back against drugmaker Pfizer’s assertion about a booster within 12 months. Hours after Pfizer’s statement Thursday that it would seek authorization for a third dose, the two agencies said they did not view the booster shots as necessary “at this time.”

Fauci says clinical studies and laboratory data have yet to fully bear out the need for a booster to the current two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen.

“Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot,” he says. “That doesn’t mean we stop there…. There are studies being done now, ongoing as we speak, about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people.”

He says it was quite possible in the coming months “as data evolves” that the government may urge a booster based on such factors as age and underlying medical conditions. “Certainly, it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely at some time, we will need a boost,” Fauci says.

HMOs get OK to resume administering first vaccine doses

Health maintenance organizations have been given the go-ahead to continue administering a first COVID vaccine shot to Israelis older than 12-years-old, as of tomorrow, the Health Ministry says, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement this morning that a fresh delivery of Pfizer doses will be moved up next month from September.

As the current batch of Pfizer vaccines is due to expire at the end of the month, Israel stopped giving doses to those younger than 16 today to ensure that they can get second shots before the expiration date.

UAE embassy in Israel to officially be inaugurated Wednesday

The UAE embassy in Tel Aviv will officially be inaugurated Wednesday, following the agreement last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties.

SpaceIL secures funds to attempt another lunar landing

SpaceIL, the nonprofit Israeli initiative whose spacecraft crashed on the moon two years ago, says that it has secured $70 million in funding to make a second attempt at a lunar landing.

SpaceIL says the new pledges mean that it has raised almost all of the $100 million it estimates is needed for the mission to meet its 2024 launch target.

SpaceIL says the funding will come from South African-Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, who bankrolled much of the first mission, French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, and South African philanthropist Martin Moshal, co-founder of venture capital firm, Entree Capital.

The first “Beresheet,” or “Genesis” spacecraft, built by SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, crashed into the moon moments before touchdown in April 2019, falling short in its attempt to become the first privately funded lunar landing.

According to the Davidson Institute, a branch of the Weizmann Institute of Science research university in Israel, the spacecraft suffered a string of technical malfunctions. That included damage to the star trackers, a type of navigation tool, failure of computer systems, and engine failure.

The new mission, to be called Beresheet 2, was first announced in late 2020, and plans to set new global space records through a double landing on the moon and the installment of the lightest ever moon landers, each weighing 60 kg (132 pounds) without fuel.

It will be composed of three spacecraft — an orbiter and two landers — with the mission hoping to follow China in becoming only the second to successfully land on the far side of the moon.

New President Herzog speaks by phone with PA chief Abbas

President Isaac Herzog speaks by phone with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who he says called to congratulate him on being sworn in last week.

Herzog tweets that he told Abbas he intends to have an ongoing dialogue with the PA chief, “with the hope of assisting in advancing relations and the hope for peace between two peoples living side by side.”

Meeting Lapid, Egyptian FM urges resolution of ‘current stalemate’ between Israel, Palestinians

After arriving Brussels, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, as Egypt brokers talks between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group on a long-term truce.

During the meeting, Lapid raised the issue of the two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two soldiers being held in Gaza by Hamas, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

A spokesperson for Egypt’s foreign ministry tweets that Shoukry stressed “the need to resolve the current stalemate between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, leading to a just and comprehensive peace negotiations.”

Lapid lands in Brussels ahead of meeting with EU’s top diplomat

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has touched down in Brussels, where he will meet with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

Tomorrow, Lapid will address the EU Foreign Affairs Council. He is Israel’s first foreign minister to do so since Tzipi Livni met her European counterparts in 2008.

New virus cases in Russia top 25,000 for third day

MOSCOW — Russia’s daily tally of confirmed coronavirus infections has exceeded 25,000 for the third day in a row.

Authorities report 25,033 new cases today.

Russia has been facing a sharp rise of contagions in recent weeks, with daily new infections increasing from around 9,000 in early June to over 25,000 on Friday. For the first time in the pandemic, the daily death toll exceeded 700 on Tuesday. It has remained at that level ever since, with 749 new deaths registered today.

Officials blame the surge on the spread of the delta variant. They are seeking to boost vaccine uptake, which has remained lower than in many Western countries. As of Wednesday, about 27 million Russians, or just 18.5 percent of the 146-million population, have received at least one shot of a vaccine, and 18.5 million, or 12.6%, have been fully vaccinated.

Bennett taps former senior Mossad official as his new national security adviser

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appoints Eyal Hulata, a former senior official in the Mossad intelligence agency, as his new national security adviser.

“In light of his years-long experience, performance and understanding of the State of Israel’s strategic challenges in the security and diplomatic spheres, Prime Minister Bennett chose to appoint him,” a statement from Bennett’s office says.

Among the various posts in his over 20 years with the Mossad, Hulata headed the spy agency’s department for strategic planning and was chief of its technology unit.

He will replace incumbent National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, a confidante of ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu. After the new government was sworn in last month, Bennett asked Ben-Shabbat to stay on until he selected a replacement.

Active COVID cases dip as serious infections tick up slightly

The Health Ministry reports 248 new coronavirus infections have been confirmed since midnight, while serious cases further tick up slightly to 47.

Active infections though fall back below 4,000, with the number of people who recovered from COVID today outpacing new infections. There have been 846,083 cases confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began.

The death toll rises to 6,438, up two from this morning.

Of the over 28,583 tests conducted so far today, 0.9 percent have come back positive, up slightly from the rate seen in recent days.

Israel has recently seen a resurgence in infections, but there has not been a major rise in serious morbidity and mortality following the country’s successful vaccination campaign.

According to the Health Ministry, 5,191,909 people have received at least one vaccine dose and 5,729,178 have gotten both shots.

Aa per Ra’am demand, gov’t votes to move Bedouin agency to Welfare Ministry

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has agreed to Ra’am’s demand that the government hold a vote on transferring a government body tasked with assisting Bedouin to the Welfare Ministry, according to Channel 13 news.

The government is holding a phone vote on the matter now.

Under the coalition deal, a vote on the matter was set to be held in several weeks. However, after a Ra’am MK said the Islamist party wouldn’t take part in plenum votes or Knesset committee sessions until further notice, Hebrew media reports said Ra’am was demanding the vote be moved up.

Hundreds in Ramallah call on PA leader Abbas to resign: ‘Get out, get out’

A few hundred Palestinians gather in downtown Ramallah to call for the end of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s 16-year rule.

“Get out, get out, Abbas,” demonstrators chant.

Abbas has led the PA since he was elected to a four-year term in 2005. While he has regularly promised to allow Palestinians another shot at the ballot box, his pledges have never come to fruition. Surveys regularly find that a majority of Palestinians demand his resignation.

These latest demonstrations were sparked by the death of social media activist Nizar Banat while in the custody of PA security forces. Rights groups have accused the PA of brutally suppressing several demonstrations, wantonly attacking peaceful protesters and deliberately targeting journalists.

Yesterday, Abbas’s ruling party held a thousands-strong counterdemonstration intended as a show of strength against the roiling discontent.

Iran summons Slovenian envoy after PM urges accountability for rights violations

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran denounces what it labels “baseless accusations” made by Slovenia’s Premier Janez Jansa at a meeting of an opposition group reviled by Tehran, and summoned its ambassador.

The foreign ministry charges that Jansa’s participation at a meeting yesterday of the exiled People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) was “unacceptable and undiplomatic.”

It says it summoned Slovenia’s ambassador to Tehran, Kristina Radej, to express its “strong protest” to the country that has since July 1 held the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency.

The MEK’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), yesterday held a meeting at its base in Albania that included by video conference lawmakers, officials or former ministers from the United States, Britain and France.

Jansa told the meeting in an online message that the “Iranian people deserve democracy, freedom and human rights, and should be firmly supported by the international community.”

He also demanded that the “Iranian regime must be held accountable for human rights violations.”

The Slovenian prime minister said he backed calls for justice for “the families of the 30,000 political prisoners who perished” during what she termed the “horrible 1988 massacre.”

He urged the United Nations to “shed light” on the mass executions of detainees at the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, when MEK fighters launched an offensive against the Islamic Republic from Iraqi soil.

“This is especially important in light of the fact that the regime’s next president will be Ebrahim Raisi, who is accused by Amnesty International of crimes against humanity for his role in the massacre,” he said.

Raisi, the head of the Iranian judiciary, won June elections and takes office in August.

Virgin’s Richard Branson takes off on journey to space

Billionaire Richard Branson takes from a base in New Mexico aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel bound for the edge of space, a voyage he hopes will lift the nascent space tourism industry off the ground.

A massive carrier plane makes a horizontal takeoff from Space Port, New Mexico, at around 8:40 a.m. local time and will ascend for around an hour to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15 kilometers), before dropping the spaceplane beneath it.

Death toll in Florida building collapse rises to 90

SURFSIDE, Florida — Authorities are making progress in identifying the victims of the deadly building collapse in Florida last month.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava says today that 90 deaths have now been confirmed. Among them are 71 bodies that have been identified. Their next of kin has been notified.

Some 31 people remain listed as missing. Levine Cava also says that the unrelenting search amid the rubble has resulted in the recovery of over 14 million pounds of concrete and debris.

Israel to withhold nearly NIS 600 million from PA over terror payments

The security cabinet has voted to withhold nearly NIS 600 million ($184 million) from the Palestinian Authority to offset funds that it paid to terrorists and their families in the past year, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

According to a report prepared by the Defense Ministry, the PA transferred NIS 597 million ($182.82 million) in “indirect support for terror in 2020,” the PMO says.

“In light of this report, these funds will be frozen from the monthly payments that Israel transfers to the PA,” according to the PMO.

Egypt upholds life sentences of 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders

CAIRO — Egypt’s highest appeals court has upheld the sentencing of ten leaders of Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, including the group’s head, to life imprisonment, the state-owned MENA news agency reports.

In 2019, a Cairo criminal court found all ten, including the group’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, guilty of charges related to killing policemen and organizing mass jail breaks during Egypt’s 2011 uprising. That revolt culminated in the ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The defendants were found guilty of helping around 20,000 prisoners escape, and of undermining national security by conspiring with foreign terror groups — the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, the Court of Cassation acquittes eight middle-rank leaders of the nation’s oldest Islamist organization, who were sentenced earlier to 15 years in prison.

All of the sentences, which the court considered on appeal, are final.

WATCH: Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson to blast off to space on own rocket

Billionaire Richard Branson is set to take off today from a base in New Mexico aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel bound for the edge of space, a voyage he hopes will lift the nascent space tourism industry off the ground.

“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” the brash Brit writes in a tweet, posting a video of himself biking to the base and meeting with his crewmates, all Virgin employees.

Branson is also aiming to one-up Amazon founder Jeff Bezos by winning the race to be the first tycoon to cross the final frontier in a ship built by their own company.

Branson posts a picture of himself standing in a kitchen with SpaceX boss Elon Musk, who’d come to show his support.

“Great to start the morning with a friend. Feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready,” he adds.

26 years after Srebrenica massacre, additional victims buried

SREBRENICA, Bosnia — The remains of 19 more victims of the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims are laid to rest during a commemoration marking 26 years since the genocide that still deeply divides the Balkan nation.

Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys after they captured the ill-fated town on July 11, 1995, in the final stages of Bosnia’s 1990s war.

It marked the worst atrocity committed on European soil since World War II and was deemed a genocide by international justice, though most ethnic Serbs and their leaders in both Bosnia and Serbia reject the label.

Because the bodies of the victims were originally dumped into mass graves, most of which were then moved in an effort to hide the atrocity, families were not able to bury the remains of their loved ones until they were found years later.

The remains of 19 such victims, including two teenagers, are laid to rest during today’s ceremony, held at a memorial center just outside of town.

They join the remains of 6,671 Srebrenica victims that have been buried at the cemetery so far, while another 236 people have been laid to rest elsewhere.

“I will bury only the skull of my brother but even it is not whole,” Azir Osmanovic tells reporters.

His brother Azmir was 16 years old in July 1995 when he tried to flee Srebrenica with a group of other teenagers as the Serbs captured the town, but entered a mine field, Osmanovic says.

“My brother and two other boys died there.”

Azmir’s skull was found in 2018 and identified a few months ago.

New President Herzog to hold first work meeting with Bennett

New President Isaac Herzog will hold his first work meeting tomorrow with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his office says.

Herzog was sworn in as president last week, taking over from Reuven Rivlin. Bennett became premier last month after the Knesset voted to approve the new government.

Hospital says operation to remove Joint List MK’s kidney stones was successful

Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem says the operation to remove Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi’s kidney stones was successful.

Tibi was anesthetized during the surgery.

Iran fumes after US, European politicians speak at opposition rally

BERLIN — The Iranian government has expressed anger over the appearance of senior European and US politicians at a rally in support of an opposition group that has long sought to overthrow Iran’s theocratic rulers — and which was once considered a terror organization by the West.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency reports that the country’s foreign ministry today summoned Slovenia’s envoy in Tehran over a video message by the EU nations’ prime minister at the event hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

The NRCI is the political wing of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which is considered a terror organization by Iran and was once designated as such by the United States until it was delisted in 2012. The EU removed the group from its terrorism list in 2009.

Hundreds of people rallied yesterday in front of Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, while speakers including former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and numerous serving US senators from across the aisle lauded the NRCI and its aims.

Iran slams Western politicians taking part in the event, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accusing them of “(selling) themselves cheap for a Europe-hosted circus arranged by a once Saddam-backed terrorist cult with Iranian blood on its hands.”

The ministry also condemns the speech by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, calling it “unacceptable, against diplomatic norms and spirit” of bilateral relations, the IRNA news agency reports.

Oman’s ruler arrives in Saudi Arabia on first trip abroad

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Oman’s sultan arrives in Saudi Arabia to meet with the Saudi king, starting the first visit by an Omani ruler in years against the backdrop of renewed diplomatic efforts to end the war in Yemen and the sultanate’s worsening economic woes.

With trumpets blaring and fighter jets streaking overhead, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said lands in Neom, a futuristic desert city planned along the kingdom’s Red Sea coast. Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, greets him on the tarmac and guides him down a long lavender carpet for palace meetings as regional tensions simmer and his government faces growing stress at home.

The choice to make Saudi Arabia Sultan Haitham’s first foreign destination since taking power last year signals the states’ mutual self-interest and Oman’s respect for the influence of Saudi Arabia, the spiritual anchor of the Sunni Muslim world and the region’s largest economy with its vast oil reserves.

Sultan Haitham ascended the throne after the death of the long-ruling Sultan Qaboos bin Said, whose public appearances grew scarce as he aged. Sultan Qaboos traveled abroad frequently for medical treatments toward the end of his tenure but steered clear of the pomp and pageantry of visits to fellow Gulf Arab sheikhdoms.

Oman, sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and its archrival Iran, has long played the role of neutral mediator, particularly in efforts to settle the seven-year-old conflict in Yemen. The costly war, pitting a Saudi-led military coalition against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and settled into a bloody stalemate, increasingly compelling the kingdom to cool tensions with Iran and seek a way out of the quagmire.

Iraqi PM visits critic of Iran-backed militias after abduction, assault

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi pays a hospital visit to a pro-democracy activist who has been critical of pro-Iran armed factions, after the campaigner had been abducted and assaulted.

Ali al-Mikdam, a young Iraqi journalist, activist and researcher, had disappeared on Friday, sparking widespread concern from his friends and supporters, before he was released late Saturday, injured, on the outskirts of Baghdad.

A tweet from Khademi’s office says the premier checked up “on the health of journalist and activist Ali al-Mikdam in one of Baghdad’s hospitals after security forces released him from his kidnappers.”

Mikdam was a key figure in anti-government protests which swept Iraq for months from October 2019 calling for the removal of Iraq’s political class, which activists branded as inept and corrupt.

The protesters also rallied against the influence of Iran in the war-battered country, where powerful pro-Tehran armed factions have been integrated into the national security apparatus.

Government approves national virus czar as new Health Ministry director

The government approves the appointment of Nachman Ash as the new director-general of the Health Ministry.

Ash, who has served as the national coronavirus czar since November, takes over for Chezy Levy, who is returning to be director of Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi to have emergency surgery for kidney stones

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi has been taken to a hospital for emergency surgery due to complications from kidney stones.

Tibi was briefly hospitalized over the weekend and diagnosed with kidney stones after feeling unwell.

Left-wing group calls for Evyatar residents to shoulder cost of maintaining outpost

The Combatants for Peace activist group calls for residents of the illegal Evyatar outpost to shoulder the costs to the state of a compromise agreement that saw them leave the wildcat West Bank community without it being demolished.

In a letter sent to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Justice Minister Benny Gantz and State Prosecutor Amit Aisman, the left-wing organization says the costs of having IDF troops guard the site and conducting a land survey should come out of the settlers’ pockets.

“In light of the fact that the founders of the Evyatar outpost… in their actions and/or oversights caused the damage, they are the ones who should bear [the cost] and compensate the state for it,” the letter says

Knesset panel okays NIS 5,000 fines for Israelis trying to visit banned COVID hotspots

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approves NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fines for those caught attempting to visit countries that Israelis are currently barred from visiting due to high levels of COVID-19 morbidity.

The countries that Israelis are currently banned from visiting are Uzbekistan, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Russia.

10 buildings evacuated in Kiryat Shmona due to nearby fire

Residents of ten apartment buildings in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona are evacuated from their homes due to a nearby fire.

Firefighters are working to douse the blaze.

High Court orders state to extend surrogacy rights to same-sex couples

The High Court of Justice rules that all legislation denying surrogacy rights to same-sex couples and single men will be null and void six months from now, in a dramatic ruling in favor of LGBT rights.

“This is a historic day for the LGBT community in Israel and for society as a whole,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, one of Israel’s most prominent gay politicians, says in a statement after the ruling.

He adds: “Discrimination against same-sex couples and single fathers will end.”

Horowitz also says his ministry will work to implement the High Court ruling.

Syria’s Assad announces 50% salary hike for public servants, military amid financial crisis

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian President Bashar Assad issues a decree giving hundreds of thousands of civil servants and military members a 50% salary increase amid a harsh economic and financial crisis and price increases for vital products.

Assad’s decision comes a day after the state doubled the price of bread, the country’s main staple, and increased by 180% the price of diesel fuel.

The Syrian economy has been hard hit by a decade of war, Western sanctions, widespread corruption and most recently a severe economic and financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon. The last salary increase was announced in November 2019.

The decree released by Assad’s office puts the minimum monthly income at 71,515 Syrian pounds ($22). It also grants military and civilian pension holders an increase of 40% in the retirement pension.

The US dollar is trading at about 3,200 pounds on the black market while the official rate is 2,500 pounds.

Nearly 80% of Syrians live in poverty, and 60% are food insecure — the worst food security situation ever seen in Syria, according to the United Nations.

Virus cabinet to meet Tuesday as infections continue to rise

The so-called coronavirus cabinet, a select forum of ministers leading the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, will convene Tuesday amid a continued rise in morbidity.

Ra’am MK: We won’t take part in Knesset votes, meetings until further notice

Ra’am MK Waleed Taha tweets that his Islamist party won’t take part in Knesset committee meetings or vote in plenum sessions until further notice.

Taha doesn’t specify why Ra’am is taking this step, but the Kan public broadcaster quotes a Ra’am source saying the party won’t allow the coalition to hold talks with predominantly Arab Joint List party, which could weaken Ra’am.

Unlike Ra’am, the Joint List opposes the new government, but it can still provide the coalition with support by voting for or abstaining on a given piece of legislation.

Taha’s comments came after fellow Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim said the party would bolt the coalition if Israel were to strike in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

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