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Biden to further delay Jerusalem consulate reopening at Israel’s request

US agrees to postpone move until after new government passes state budget

This Monday, March 4, 2019 photo shows the United States consulate building in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
This Monday, March 4, 2019 photo shows the United States consulate building in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

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

Unilever chief says company ‘fully committed’ to Israel

In this March 15, 2018, photo, the logo for Unilever appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
In this March 15, 2018, photo, the logo for Unilever appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)

The chief executive of Unilever says the global consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, distancing himself from this week’s announcement by the company’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand that it will stop serving Israel’s West Bank settlements.

But CEO Alan Jope gives no indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry’s to roll back its controversial decision. In a conference call with investors, Jope says Ben & Jerry’s, which has a long history of social activism, had made the decision on its own.

He notes that under its purchase agreement with Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, the company maintained broad independence over its social justice policies and that Unilever respected that arrangement.

“Obviously it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings,” he says. “If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”

NSO denies leaked target list linked to its spyware: ‘Insinuations and slander’

The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, on August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)
The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, on August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

Amid allegations its spyware was used to target journalists and politicians, Israeli firm NSO Group denies being engaged in mass surveillance, calling the allegations against it “insinuations and slander.”

“False allegations have been published against us that ignore the facts,” the company says in a statement announcing that it won’t not be responding to further requests to comment on the claims. “We will not play the game of insinuations and slander.”

NSO claims an “orchestrated campaign is being carried out against us.”

The statement came after a list was leaked of some 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been chosen by clients of NSO for possible surveillance, according to an international reporting effort. The list contained numbers for 14 heads of state including French President Emmanuel Macron and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

“The list is not a list of Pegasus’s current or potential targets,” the company says, adding that “any claim that any name on the list is necessarily related to Pegasus is wrong and false.”

Judge awards $150 million in initial compensation to victims of Florida condo collapse

Search and Rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 27, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Giorgio Viera / AFP)
Search and Rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building on June 27, 2021 in Surfside, Florida. (Giorgio Viera / AFP)

Victims and families who suffered losses in the collapse of a 12-story oceanfront Florida condominium will get a minimum of $150 million in compensation initially, a judge says.

That sum includes insurance on the Champlain Towers South building and the expected proceeds from sale of the Surfside property where the structure once stood, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman says at a hearing.

“The court’s concern has always been the victims here,” the judge says, adding that the group includes visitors and renters, not just condo owners. “Their rights will be protected.”

The $150 million does not count any proceeds from the numerous lawsuits already filed since the June 24 collapse, which killed at least 97 people. Those lawsuits are being consolidated into a single class action that would cover all victims and family members if they choose, the judge says.

“I have no doubt, no stone will be left unturned,” Hanzman says of the lawsuits.

A receiver appointed by Hanzman to handle the Champlain Towers board’s finances says the site has been completely cleared of debris under the watchful eye of investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — the agency leading a federal probe into the collapse.

Rubble considered key evidence is being stored in a Miami-area warehouse, with the rest in nearby vacant lots, says the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg. All of that will be preserved as possible evidence for the lawsuits and for other experts to review, he says.

“It may take years for their report to become public,” Goldberg says of the NIST probe.

Muslim, Jewish Democrats in US House call for Islamophobia monitor

Muslim and Jewish Democrats in the US House of Representatives have joined to call on the Biden administration to create an Islamaphobia monitor position.

The proposal in a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken was shaped by Representative Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, who is Muslim, and Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinous, who is Jewish.

A source close to the drafters says the government’s antisemitism monitor, a position created in 2004, was a model for the proposal. The name proposed in the letter, Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Islamophobia, is a precise echo of the existing office, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.

“In recent years, we have seen a dramatic increase in violent Islamophobia and the persecution of Muslims manifesting itself around the world,” says the letter, which cites ongoing persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China and Rohingya Muslims in Burma, as well as a mass casualty attack on a New Zealand mosque in 2019 and a recent deadly attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario.

Among the 23 Democrats signing are the House’s two other Muslims, Andre Carson of Indiana and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and seven of the 25 Jewish Democrats in the House, including Schakowsky; Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Sara Jacobs, Alan Lowenthal and Mike Levin of California; Brad Schneider of Illinois; and Dean Phillips of Minnesota.

Phillips and Schneider are among the Jewish Democrats who had fraught exchanges with Omar and Tlaib over their harsh criticism of Israel during the Israel-Gaza conflict in May.

Omar and Schakowsky in 2019 launched a media tour together to combat bigotry after Omar came under fire for online comments about the AIPAC Israel lobby that were criticized as antisemitic.

Biden said to further delay Jerusalem consulate reopening at Israel’s request

This Monday, March 4, 2019 photo shows the United States consulate building in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
This Monday, March 4, 2019 photo shows the United States consulate building in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

At Israel’s request, the Biden administration will push off the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem as the de facto mission to the Palestinians until the government passes a budget, according to the Walla news site.

The US decision followed requests from the Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry, with the report asserting it shows how important it is to US President Joe Biden to shore up the new government and avoid harming it.

The news site also quotes an unnamed senior Israeli source saying that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is opposed to the consulate reopening, claiming it contradicts the 2017 US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump — who shuttered the consulate in 2019 — recognized the city as Israel’s capital, he specified his decision was not meant to take a stance on the boundaries of Jerusalem, the eastern portion of which is claimed by the Palestinians.

High Court grants government request to delay razing of West Bank village

View of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice grants the new government’s request to delay the razing of a Bedouin village in the West Bank that Israel says was built illegally.

The postponement gives the government until September 5 to respond to the ruling.

But the High Court says it won’t grant any further postponement, after then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested and received multiple delays since the demolition was approved by the Supreme Court in 2018.

“No more,” the court writes in the ruling.

Morocco threatens legal action over allegations it used Israeli spyware

AFP — Morocco’s government threatens legal action against anyone accusing it of using the Israeli spyware program Pegasus, and deplored what it calls a “false, massive, malicious media campaign.”

A government statement “categorically denied the false and unfounded allegations” that the North African country’s intelligence services had used the software.

News outlets had reported on Sunday that the software, developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, had been used by governments to spy on activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians around the world.

The bombshell claims were based on a leaked document containing 50,000 numbers of people identified as potential targets via Pegasus between 2016 and June 2021.

Numbers from 10 countries — Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — figured particularly often on the list.

On Monday, Morocco said it had “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.”

A day later, Radio France reported that the Moroccan king was on the list of 50,000 numbers, which also included “a large number” of Moroccan royals.

Today’s government statement says Rabat will “opt for a judicial process, in Morocco and internationally, against any party taking up these spurious allegations.”

Netanyahu claims 3rd vaccine shot ‘only way to protect the population’

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu puts out a video statement confirming he spoke twice in recent days with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

He also calls for third coronavirus vaccine doses to be “immediately” administered to adults despite the FDA saying there is no current evidence that a booster shot is needed. Israel approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the country on the basis of the FDA’s emergency approval of the shot.

“This is the only way to protect the population,” Netanyahu claims.

Netanyahu said to speak several times with Pfizer, Moderna CEOs behind Bennett’s back

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks during a press conference at Pfizer's factory in Puurs, Belgium. (John Thys/Pool/AFP)
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks during a press conference at Pfizer's factory in Puurs, Belgium. (John Thys/Pool/AFP)

Ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing to push to have third coronavirus vaccine doses administered to Israelis, and spoke several times in recent days with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and Moderna Stéphane Bancel behind the back of his prime ministerial successor Naftali Bennett, according to the Ynet news site.

The report says during the conversations, Netanyahu was updated about vaccine supply and the outbreak of the delta variant, and concluded that Israel needs million more doses and to immediately begin administering third shots to adults.

“This is the only way to protect the population, to save lives and to keep the economy open in light of the outbreak of the Indian variant,” associates of Netanyahu are quoted as claiming.

Pfizer has been seeking FDA authorization for a third shot though US officials have said boosters aren’t needed yet.

AIPAC affiliate delays congressional trips to Israel over Delta variant fears

WASHINGTON — The AIPAC affiliate that organizes trips to Israel for members of Congress has rescheduled several that were to take place next month until early 2022, citing the COVID-19 resurgence in the country attributed to the Delta variant.

Two trips organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, one for new Republican members of the US House of Representatives and another bipartisan trip for members of two House committees, Armed Services and Homeland Security, were to have taken place in August.

But COVID cases are rising in Israel and the country this week instituted new measures to contain the resurgence triggered by the variant.

“Given Israel’s increased concern over the Delta variant and the likelihood of further travel restrictions, we decided it was not possible to offer Members of Congress a comprehensive and informative program in the midst of the current challenges,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann says in an email. “Enthusiasm for traveling to Israel remains high among these members of Congress, and we look forward to them visiting Israel with AIEF.”

The trips will now take place in February 2022, when the trip for Democratic freshmen was already scheduled.

The AIEF trips, usually organized in non-election years for first-year representatives, are seen as key to building support for Israel in Congress.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee this month announced that for the second year in a row it will not mount an annual conference in Washington because of continued concerns about the coronavirus.

Jewish WNBA star to be Team USA flag bearer at Tokyo Olympics opening

Team USA's Sue Bird plays against Team WNBA during the second half of the WNBA All-Star basketball game, July 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Team USA's Sue Bird plays against Team WNBA during the second half of the WNBA All-Star basketball game, July 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Jewish basketball star Sue Bird will be one of Team USA’s two flag bearers at the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony on Friday.

Bird, one of many Jewish athletes going for gold this summer, will be competing in her fifth Olympic games this summer. The 12-time WNBA All-Star has won gold at the last four Olympics with the US Women’s Basketball Team.

“I think that’s the best part, to be honest, to have your peers be the one to see your career and pick you to be the one to lead us in,” Bird tells the Today Show. The flag bearer, and the opening ceremony, has “always been” Bird’s favorite Olympics moment, “outside of winning, obviously,” she jokes. “So, to actually be named [flag bearer] now is mind-blowing.”

Bird — whose paternal grandparents immigrated to the US from what is now Ukraine in the early 1900s and changed their surname from “Boorda” to “Bird” — also holds Israeli citizenship.

For the first time in Olympic history, Team USA will have two flag bearers — the honor was also given to Eddy Alvarez, a former speed skating medalist who is now a baseball player in the Miami Marlins’ organization. Bird and Alvarez will wear special “air-conditioned jackets,” designed by Jewish fashion icon Ralph Lauren. (The Tokyo Olympics are set to be one of the hottest on record.)

PA slams Herzog for BDS ‘terrorism’ criticism: ‘The occupation is terrorism’

The Palestinian Authority foreign ministry criticizes President Isaac Herzog’s statements branding boycotts of Israel and Israeli settlements “terrorism.”

“The occupation is terrorism itself. It is the worst kind of terrorism,” the ministry says in a statement.

Herzog’s remarks followed a decision by the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company to cease selling its products in “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” referring to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel disputes that it occupies those territories, although much of the international community considers it an occupying power.

The Vermont-based ice cream company has said it will continue to sell its products within Israel proper.

“The Israeli president should thank Ben & Jerry’s. They’re an alarm bell. Either Israel wakes up from its occupation and works to end it, or it will face a total boycott,” the PA foreign ministry says.

Bennett appears to take swipe at Netanyahu

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appears to take a shot at his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu during an event honoring past premiers and presidents of Israel.

“The ties between the presidents of Israel and prime ministers has known ups and downs over the years, but the strong ties between them are a source of strength in the world, a source of internal resilience within the State of Israel,” he says during the event at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Turning to President Isaac Herzog, Bennett says, “I’m happy, mister president, that today the ties are strong and stable.”

Netanyahu had a notoriously frosty relationship with Herzog’s predecessor Reuven Rivlin, whose term as president ended earlier this month

WHO reports new COVID cases up from past week, as deaths continue to fall

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks at the WHO headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 24, 2021. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks at the WHO headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland, May 24, 2021. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File)

GENEVA — The World Health Organization says there were more than 3.4 million new global cases of the coronavirus last week, a 12% increase from the previous week.

The UN health agency says the number of deaths is continuing to decline, with about 57,000 in the last week.

“At this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks,” WHO says. It notes the highest increases in COVID-19 cases were in the Western Pacific and European regions. In the past week, WHO says the highest coronavirus infections were in Indonesia, Britain, Brazil, India and the US.

It says the increased transmission of the virus is driven by new variants, the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and the large number of people still susceptible to the coronavirus, despite rising vaccination rates in some countries.

WHO has urged countries to commit to vaccinating at least 40% of every country’s population by the end of the year. Of the more than 3 billion vaccine doses administered globally, only about 1% have gone to people in poorer nations.

Saudi Aramco facing $50 million ransom demand over leaked data

This file photo taken on September 15, 2019, shows an Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi capital Riyadh  (FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)
This file photo taken on September 15, 2019, shows an Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi capital Riyadh (FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia’s state oil giant acknowledges that leaked data from the company — files now apparently being used in a cyber-extortion attempt involving a $50 million ransom demand — likely came from one of its contractors.

The Saudi Arabian Oil Co., better known as Saudi Aramco, tells The Associated Press that it “recently became aware of the indirect release of a limited amount of company data which was held by third-party contractors.”

The oil firm doesn’t say which contractor found itself affected nor whether that contractor had been hacked or if the information leaked out another way.

“We confirm that the release of data was not due to a breach of our systems, has no impact on our operations and the company continues to maintain a robust cybersecurity posture,” Aramco says.

A page accessed by the AP on the darknet — a part of the internet hosted within an encrypted network and accessible only through specialized anonymity-providing tools — claims the extortionist holds 1 terabyte worth of Aramco data. A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes.

The page offers Aramco a chance to have the data deleted for $50 million in cryptocurrency, while another timer counted down from $5 million, likely in an effort to pressure the company. It remains unclear who is behind the ransom plot.

Aramco has been targeted before by a cyberattack. In 2012, the kingdom’s oil giant found itself hit by the so-called Shamoon computer virus, which deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. The attack forced Aramco to shut down its network and destroy over 30,000 computers.

US officials later blamed that attack on Iran, whose nuclear enrichment program had just been targeted by the Stuxnet virus, likely an American and Israeli creation.

Herzog: Boycotting Israel is ‘a new type of terror’

President Isaac Herzog speaks at a ceremony in central Israel on July 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at a ceremony in central Israel on July 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog slams the boycott movement against Israel following Ben & Jerry’s announcement that it will no longer sell ice cream in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

“The boycott against Israel is a new type of terror, economic terror, a terror that tries to harm Israeli citizens and Israel’s economy,” Herzog says at a ceremony honoring past presidents and prime ministers.

He adds: “The BDS campaign is not pursuing peace and is seeking to undermine the State of Israel’s existence.”

Briton suspected in 2020 Twitter hack of celebrities, politicians arrested in Spain

WASHINGTON — A British national charged in last year’s hack of Twitter accounts of celebrities and politicians has been arrested in Spain, US officials say.

The Justice Department says Spanish National Police arrested 22-year-old Joseph O’Connor on a warrant issued by a US federal court.

O’Connor faces multiple charges in connection with the July 2020 hack of over 130 Twitter accounts, including those of Apple, Uber, Kanye West, Bill Gates, Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Elon Musk.

Environment Ministry announces $75 million grant to boost composting

Rich compost ready for use. (NormanAck, CC-BY, via wikipedia)
Rich compost ready for use. (NormanAck, CC-BY, via wikipedia)

The Environmental Protection Ministry announces a NIS 250 million ($75 million) grant to boost recycling of organic waste, which accounts for around a third of the 5.8 million tons of municipal waste generated annually.

Of the 5.8 million tons, around 77 percent is sent to landfill, which pollutes the ground and groundwater, emits global warming gases, takes up valuable land and forgoes the value of recycling soil-enriching compost in the case of organic waste.

The ministry’s policy is to have organic waste separated at source rather than thrown away by homes, businesses and factories together with other trash, and to turn it into compost.

The cash, for which local authorities and their companies are invited to submit requests, will be used to create, upgrade and operate indoor biocomposting facilities, which use microbes to break down organic matter in oxygen-free conditions.

Israel to administer Moderna vaccine to those getting first COVID shot

A medical worker readies to administer the Moderna coronavirus vaccine to a Palestinian laborer at a temporary medical facility set up at a checkpoint on March 9, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A medical worker readies to administer the Moderna coronavirus vaccine to a Palestinian laborer at a temporary medical facility set up at a checkpoint on March 9, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry has told HMOs that starting August 1, any Israelis over 18 receiving their first shot will receive Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, according to Hebrew media reports.

Anyone getting their second shot or between 12 and 18 years old will continue to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that Israel has been relying on for its national immunization drive.

Religious affairs minister working on plan to reform Jewish conversions

Religious Affairs Matan Kahana speaks at the Knesset on June 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Religious Affairs Matan Kahana speaks at the Knesset on June 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana is working on a plan to liberalize conversions to Judaism, the Kan public broadcaster reports, following the rollout of his proposal to reform kosher supervision.

According to the report, which says work on the plan is well advanced, Kahane’s proposal would allow for conversions outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.

“This is on the agenda. According to the coalition agreement, municipal rabbis will return to converting,” Kahana’s aide, Rabbi Shay Weissman, says in an interview with the broadcaster.

Flood-battered Germany approves $470 million relief package

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approves a huge emergency aid package for flood-stricken regions of Germany and says billions will be needed to rebuild homes, businesses and vital infrastructure.

A week into the region’s worst flooding disaster in living memory, which has killed at least 170 in Germany and 31 in Belgium, the right-left “grand coalition” government unlocks some 400 million euros ($470 million) in immediate relief.

Half will come from the federal government of Europe’s top economy and the rest from the 16 regional states, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz says.

“We will make sure that life can go on,” Scholz tells reporters in Berlin.

He says the coming months will bring a “billions-strong reconstruction program to clear the devastation and restore infrastructure” including roads, bridges and railways.

“We will rebuild — rebuild businesses, rebuild factories, rebuild buildings,” he says.

The damage caused by the floods is likely to cost the insurance industry up to five billion euros ($5.9 billion), the GDV insurance industry association says, calling the disaster “one of the most devastating storms in recent history.”

However, the real cost is likely to be much higher as less than half of Germans in the affected states are insured against heavy rain and floods, the association adds.

Health minister warns of ‘long months’ ahead in battling Delta variant

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press briefing on July 21, 2021. (Screen capture: Facebook)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press briefing on July 21, 2021. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz says Israel faces “long months” ahead in fighting the Delta variant, a more contagious coronavirus strain that is being blamed for the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Israel.

In a press briefing, he says daily infections will continue to rise in the coming weeks and also predicts a rise in serious cases.

“Only one consideration leads us in managing this crisis — the public’s health,” Horowitz says.

He adds: “The formula here is very clear, follow the guidelines now to prevent strict restrictions later. We understand the coronavirus won’t soon pass from the world. After the Delta variant it is likely that another variant will emerge in the world and therefore our strategy is clear: Life alongside the coronavirus.”

Horowitz also says the government’s goal is for schools to fully reopen at the beginning of September.

Delta variant to become dominant coronavirus strain within months, WHO warns

GENEVA — The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus over the coming months, the World Health Organization says.

Delta, which was first detected in India, has now been recorded in 124 territories — 13 more than last week — and already accounts for more than three-quarters of sequenced specimens in many major countries, the WHO says.

“It is expected that it will rapidly out-compete other variants and become the dominant circulating lineage over the coming months,” the UN health agency says in its weekly epidemiological update.

Of the three other coronavirus variants of concern (VOCs), Alpha, first detected in Britain, has been reported in 180 territories (up six from last week), Beta, first detected in South Africa, in 130 (up seven) and Gamma, first detected in Brazil, in 78 (up three).

According to SARS-CoV-2 sequences submitted to the GISAID global science initiative over the four weeks to July 20, the prevalence of Delta exceeded 75 percent in several countries.

Those included Australia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Britain, China, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Israel, Portugal, Russia, Singapore and South Africa.

“Growing evidence supports the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant as compared to non-VOCs. However, the exact mechanism for the increase in transmissibility remains unclear,” says the WHO.

France now requiring COVID pass to visit Eiffel Tower, museums

Visitors register for COVID-19 tests at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
Visitors register for COVID-19 tests at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, July 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

PARIS — Visitors now need a special COVID pass to ride up the Eiffel Tower or visit French museums or movie theaters, the first step in a new campaign against what the government calls a “stratospheric” rise in Delta variant infections.

As the new rule comes into effect today, tourists who came to the Paris landmark unprepared line up for quick virus tests at the site. To get the COVID pass, people must show they are either fully vaccinated, have a negative virus test or proof they recently recovered from an infection.

“The world is facing a new wave, and we must act,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex says.

The solution, he says on TF1 television, is “vaccination, vaccination, vaccination,” urging his compatriots to sign up for injections to avoid new lockdowns. Of France’s 18,000 positive cases recorded yesterday, he says 96% involved people who were not vaccinated.

Reporters Without Borders urges Israel to suspend spyware exports

The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, on August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)
The logo of the Israeli NSO Group company on a building where they had offices in Herzliya, on August 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

Reporters Without Borders urges Israel to suspend exports of spying technology amid allegations it was used to target more than a dozen heads of state and hundreds of journalists.

“We call on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to impose an immediate moratorium on surveillance technology exports until a protective regulatory framework has been established,” RSF head Christophe Deloire of the Paris-based group says in a statement.

His call came after a list was leaked of some 50,000 phone numbers believed to have been chosen by clients of Israel’s NSO Group for possible surveillance, according to an international reporting effort.

The list contained numbers for 14 heads of state including French President Emmanuel Macron and Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

NSO’s flagship program Pegasus can hack into mobile phones without users knowing, enabling clients to read every message, track a user’s location and tap into the phone’s camera and microphone.

“Enabling governments to install spyware that is used in practice to monitor hundreds of journalists and their sources throughout the world poses a major democratic problem,” Deloire says.

Spokespeople for NSO, Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz don’t respond to questions from AFP on Wednesday.

Movement for Quality Government appeals against law easing Knesset defections

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel files a High Court petition against a recently passed amendment that makes it easier for lawmakers to split off from a Knesset faction, a legislative move that was seemingly aimed at former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“A personal amendment that is meant to split Likud and encourage political defectors is a super-dirty trick, even when the government calls itself a ‘change government,'” the organization writes on Twitter.

Under the amended law, a few as four MKs can now split off from a party as a group without penalty. The previous law imposed sanctions unless at least a third of a Knesset faction’s membership broke ranks, which in Likud’s case would’ve required at least 11 lawmakers.

New Hope MK appeals to Arab MKs to back marijuana decriminalization

Illustrative: A young Israeli smokes  marijuana in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: A young Israeli smokes marijuana in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New Hope MK Sharren Haskel appeals to Arab lawmakers to back her bill to decriminalize recreational marijuana use, a week after the proposed legislation was pulled due to opposition among lawmakers in the Islamist Ra’am party, which is party of the coalition.

Haskel says she will again present the bill for a first plenum reading next week.

“I appeal once again to representatives of the Arab public in the Knesset. Some 33 percent of arrests for cannabis are of Arab citizens, almost double their size in the population,” she writes on Twitter. “Among Arabs, 45% tried or use cannabis and you are sentencing them to a life of crime.”

Health Ministry said to drop demand for weeklong quarantine of all arrivals

Travelers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport on July 1, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Travelers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport on July 1, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is dropping its demand for the government to require all incoming travelers — regardless of vaccine status or infection levels in the countries they’re arriving from — to quarantine for a week after encountering political opposition to such a move, according to Hebrew media reports.

UK border officers reportedly halt routine COVID checks

A plane comes in to land near a government coronavirus information sign at Heathrow Airport in London, February 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, FILE)
A plane comes in to land near a government coronavirus information sign at Heathrow Airport in London, February 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, FILE)

LONDON — UK border officers have been directed to stop routinely checking whether travelers from many countries have tested negative for COVID-19, British media reports today, citing leaked government documents.

While the change is designed to reduce waiting times for airport immigration checks, it has raised concerns about importing new coronavirus cases at a time when infection rates in Britain are soaring, the Guardian newspaper reports.

The new policy applies to people arriving from so-called green and amber list countries, the top two levels of the government’s three-tier traffic light system for foreign travel. Everyone entering Britain is still legally required to fill out a passenger locator form and have a negative COVID-19 test even if border officials don’t routinely check their documentation.

The changes come after the government relaxed quarantine rules for amber-list countries, including most of Europe, triggering warnings that holiday travelers might face hours-long lines for airport immigration checks.

Beginning this week, fully vaccinated people traveling from most amber-list countries are no longer required to self-isolate after they arrive in Britain. Travelers arriving from France still have to self-isolate, even though it is an amber destination, because of concern about virus variants circulating there. Anyone traveling from a red list country must quarantine at a government-approved hotel at their own expense.

The government declined to comment on the leak, but stressed that airlines are still required to check coronavirus documentation before passengers board aircraft, the Guardian reports.

Ombudsman freezes probe of Meron disaster to let state commission take lead

Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Israeli rescue forces and police at the scene of the fatal crush during Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron, in northern Israel on April 30, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman has frozen his investigation into the tragedy at Mount Meron to allow the state commission of inquiry to take the lead in probing the deadly crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations this year, in which 45 people were killed.

Englman’s decision to suspend the probe comes a day after he met with members of the commission and presented to them his office’s findings so far.

“I decided to wrap up the inspection and allow the committee to carry out its role optimally and exclusively,” Englman says.

It also comes a week after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered a halt to the ongoing criminal investigation into the disaster for identical reasons as Englman.

Coronavirus cabinet to meet Thursday amid rising infections

Israelis, some wear face masks, as they walk through the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv on July 20, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis, some wear face masks, as they walk through the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv on July 20, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The high-level coronavirus cabinet will convene tomorrow afternoon to discuss additional measures to stem a continued rise in coronavirus cases, after some renewed restrictions took effect at midnight.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says ministers will discuss a plan “that will provide an answer to the outbreak of the Delta variant in Israel that includes a proposed Green Pass and a proposal for the issue of entering and exiting the country.”

The statement says also that the meetings will come after a week in which the ministers held an “in-depth study” of the current coronavirus figures and spoke with experts in Israel and the world.

Team USA chiropractor sorry for comparing Olympic COVID protocols to Nazi Germany

TOKYO — The chiropractor for the American women’s wrestling team has apologized after comparing Olympic COVID-19 protocols to Nazi Germany in a social media post.

Rosie Gallegos-Main, a chiropractor for women’s wrestling since 2009, says in a letter to the USA Wrestling Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee she is sorry “for my poor judgment and my choice to share this message.”

The post, sent to her Instagram and Facebook accounts last week, was flagged by both social media platforms for spreading misinformation.

“We went from ‘Flattening the curve in 14 days’ to ‘Going door-to-door to see your papers’ … Gotta admit, I did N-A-Z-I that one coming,” the post said.

Gallegos-Main deleted her post hours after The Associated Press brought it to the attention of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

She will be allowed to finish her planned stay at USA Wrestling’s pre-Olympic camp in Nakatsugawa, Japan. This is her third Olympics with women’s wrestling, although she is not a part of the accredited US delegation in Tokyo. She will also be required to undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training.

Morocco denies using Israeli firm’s spyware to target Macron, other French officials

Moroccan King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speak after inaugurating a high-speed line at Rabat train station, Morocco, November 15, 2018. (Christophe Archambault/Pool Photo via AP)
Moroccan King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speak after inaugurating a high-speed line at Rabat train station, Morocco, November 15, 2018. (Christophe Archambault/Pool Photo via AP)

RABAT, Morocco — Morocco’s government has denied reports that the country’s security forces may have used spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group to eavesdrop on the cellphones of France’s president and other public figures.

In a statement, the Moroccan government lashes out at a global media consortium investigating the suspected widespread use of NSO’s Pegasus spyware to target journalists, human rights activists and politicians in multiple countries. The government threatens unspecified legal action.

French newspaper Le Monde, a member of the consortium, reported that the cellphones of President Emmanuel Macron and 15 then-members of the French government may have been among potential targets in 2019 of surveillance by Pegasus spyware on behalf of a Moroccan security agency.

French public broadcaster Radio France reported that the phones of Moroccan King Mohammed VI and members of his entourage were also among potential targets.

“The Kingdom of Morocco strongly condemns the persistent false, massive and malicious media campaign,” the statement says. The government said it “rejects these false and unfounded allegations, and challenges their peddlers … to provide any tangible and material evidence in support of their surreal stories.”

Joint List chief rushed to hospital after pain from kidney stone

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh has been rushed to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa after experiencing severe pain from a kidney stone, according to his spokesman.

The spokesman says Odeh “is currently undergoing the necessary tests while under sedation.”

Odeh is the second Joint List lawmaker to be hospitalized for kidney stones in recent weeks, following the predominantly Arab alliance’s No. 2, Ahmad Tibi.

MK Mansour Abbas, the head of the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party, also underwent surgery earlier this year to have a kidney stone removed.

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