The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they unfolded.
New floods again swamp areas of Belgium as a wave of thunderstorms and heavy rain hits the country.
The provinces of Namur and Walloon Brabant, south-east of the capital city Brussels, are particularly affected. They had already been impacted by the devastating floods that left 36 people dead and seven missing last week.
Belgium’s crisis center says the bad weather is expected to last for several days.
In an interview with Russia’s Tass news agency, Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, the head of the Russian military’s Reconciliation Center in Syria, appears to confirm reports of Israeli strikes in Syria last week.
“Two F-16 fighter jets of the Israeli Air Force made a strike with four guided missiles on facilities in Homs province from the airspace of Lebanon,” he says.
“All four missiles were destroyed by the Syrian duty air defense facilities, with the use of Buk-2ME systems of Russian manufacture.”
Israeli planes carried out airstrikes against targets in Homs on both Wednesday and Thursday nights, Damascus claims.
Israel’s military does not comment on reports of specific strikes in Syria, save for those that are made in retaliation.
Jordan’s health ministry announces that COVID-19 vaccines will now be available for children aged 12 and above.
The ministry “has decided to lower the Covid-19 vaccination age to 12 years, starting from Sunday July 25” and without requiring an appointment, the ministry says in a statement on its Facebook page.
“Vaccination will be optional, and those under 18 will be able to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with the consent of their guardian,” the statement adds.
Jordan, a country of 10 million people, has officially recorded more than 763,900 coronavirus cases, including over 9,900 deaths, since the start of its outbreak.
Some 1.9 million people have been fully inoculated against COVID-19, while 2.7 million have received at least an initial vaccine dose.
The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah confirms that military commander Imad al-Amin was killed in western Syria, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
According to the network, the Saudi outlet Al-Arabiya reported earlier that al-Amin was killed by an Israeli strike.
Al-Arabiya also reported that a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps official, Ahmad Qurayshi, was also killed in an attack attributed to Israel in the area of the city of Homs, Kan says.
Iran rejects “false accusations” by the UN rights chief on protests over water shortages in the country’s southwest, where at least four people have been killed since last week.
Khuzestan, Iran’s main oil-producing region and the wealthiest of the country’s 31 provinces, has been gripped by drought since March, with protests erupting in several towns and cities since July 15.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet yesterday told Iran to address the chronic water shortage in Khuzestan instead of cracking down on protesters.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh responds that Bachelet’s comments “on the recent events in Khuzestan (are) regrettable,” decrying “false accusations and incorrect information.”
The rights chief had failed to consider the government’s “great efforts” to “relieve the suffering of the population,” Khatibzadeh says in a statement, adding that this demonstrated the “political” character of the declaration.
According to new Health Ministry figures, 1,430 new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Friday, with a further 630 cases since midnight, bringing active infections to 11,102.
The number of patients in serious condition rose to 89, and the death toll went up by one to 6,458.
The death toll from monsoon-triggered landslides and building collapses jumped to 115 on Saturday, Indian authorities say, with more than 135,000 people evacuated and dozens still missing.
Torrential downpours have lashed India’s western coast in recent days, sparking landslides near the financial capital Mumbai and causing the worst floods in decades in the resort state of Goa.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett congratulates athlete Avishag Semberg for winning the bronze in the taekwondo women’s -49kg category, netting Israel its first medal at the Tokyo Games on the first full day of the Olympics, and its first medal for taekwondo.
“Samberg provides a wonderful example of determination and willpower. You have brought us all national pride!” Bennett writes on Twitter.
“Congratulations Avishag, congratulations Israel!” he says.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog congratulates athlete Avishag Semberg for winning the bronze in the taekwondo women’s -49kg category, netting Israel its first medal at the Tokyo Games on the first full day of the Olympics, and its first medal for taekwondo.
“It’s an honor. You’ve brought such pride to the State of Israel,” Herzog tells her during the phone call, a part of which aired on Channel 13.
“You’ve made history! You made it big. Well done for winning this historic medal in taekwondo,” he says, according to a transcript sent by his office. “You worked hard all the way and brought immense pride to the State of Israel. A big hug from all of us.”
“You are a source of inspiration for many girls and boys in Israel who will look at you and see that with hard work, you can turn a dream into reality,” the president adds.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken congratulates the African Union on welcoming Israel’s return to the organization as an observer after some 20 years.
“We congratulate the AU for its leadership in building bridges and creating new avenues for exchange, and we welcome Israel’s return to the African Union as an observer as part of our support for broader normalization,’ writes Blinken on Twitter.
We congratulate the AU for its leadership in building bridges and creating new avenues for exchange, and we welcome Israel's return to the African Union as an observer as part of our support for broader normalization.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) July 24, 2021
The Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday that Israel will be joining the African Union as an observer state. Israel enjoyed observer status in the predecessor Organization of African Unity until 2002, when the organization dissolved itself and became the African Union.
Israel’s ambassador to Addis Ababa, Aleleign Admasu, submitted Israel’s charter as an observer member to the 55-member continental organization.
“This is a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations,” said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “This diplomatic achievement is the result of efforts by the Foreign Ministry, the African Division, and Israeli embassies on the continent.”
“This corrects the anomaly that existed for almost two decades,” Lapid continued, “and is an important part of strengthening of fabric of Israel’s foreign relations. This will help us strengthen our activities in the continent and in the organization’s member states.”
Israel has relations with 46 of the AU member states. Israel reestablished relations with Guinea in 2016 and with Chad in 2019.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett personally this week to make sure the Israeli government was on top of the NSO allegations, Channel 12 reports.
Macron asked Bennett to ensure the issue was being taken seriously, according to the report, expressing concern that Morocco was among the governments said to have used the powerful spyware developed by the Israeli company.
Channel 12 reports that Bennett made clear that the events occurred before he took office in May and that the required conclusions on the matter will be reached. The Prime Minister’s Office had not disclosed the call with Macron.
The NSO Group’s Pegasus software — able to switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data — is at the center of a growing storm, after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets was leaked to rights groups Amnesty International and French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories.
The French president — whose name was on a list of alleged targets — ordered “a strengthening of all security protocols” following a specially convened meeting of the nation’s Defence Council, his office said on Thursday.
Macron “has himself changed his phone and number for certain exchanges,” it said.
Evidence of an attempted hacking was also found on the phone of former environment minister and close Macron ally Francois de Rugy, with the attempt allegedly originating in Morocco.
Morocco denied the claims, saying this week that it “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.” The country also filed defamation claims against Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories.
NSO insists its software is only intended for use in fighting terrorism and other crimes, and that it exports to 45 countries, with approval from the Israeli government.
The Israeli government has set up a commission to review the software.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, says the COVID-19 pandemic “is still here, we need to learn to live with it.”
Speaking to Channel 12, Dr. Alroy-Preis says the Health Ministry is working to identify the risks in other countries, as even vaccinated travelers will be forced to quarantine upon their return to Israel.
“We have to understand that the tests are not 100 percent [as a measure], we have known this for a while. Tests are not an alternative to quarantine,” she says.
She says vaccinated travelers returning to Israel should avoid meeting people in the first week or so to prevent possible transmission.
She further calls on all those eligible to get vaccinated, and says the Health Ministry wants to give more time for people to do so before recommending more measures.
“We are waiting to see if we need a third shot. We are still looking into this. There are two big ongoing studies at the moment.”
In reference to the Green Pass, a measure that limits attendance at large events to those who are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or who present a valid negative test result — which was approved on Thursday — Dr. Alroy-Preis says the ministry has been “saying for months that we need to minimize transmission.”
“We see the numbers rising,” she says, adding that everyone wants to see the school year open in September without thousands of children among the confirmed cases.
According to a report on Friday, Israel may begin vaccinating children against COVID-19 in schools.
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi announces the arrest of a “terror cell” behind a Baghdad market bombing that killed dozens and was claimed by the Islamic State group.
The attack sparked revulsion and renewed fears about the reach of IS, which lost its last territory in Iraq after a grueling campaign that ended in late 2017, but retains sleeper cells in remote desert and mountain areas.
The bombing took place on Monday at Al-Woheilat market in Sadr City, a Shiite suburb in the capital, and officially killed 30 people, excluding the direct perpetrator.
“We have arrested all the members of the cowardly terrorist cell that planned and perpetrated the attack,” Kadhemi says on Twitter, “and they will be put before a judge today.”
The prime minister did not specify the number of people arrested, but a source at the interior ministry said the suspects were anticipated to make televised “confessions”, a common occurrence for major crimes in Iraq.
Deadly attacks were common in Baghdad during the sectarian bloodletting that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, and later on as IS swept across much of Iraq in a lightning 2014 offensive.
Iraq declared IS defeated in late 2017 after a fierce three-year campaign and attacks became relatively rare in the capital — until January this year when a twin IS-claimed suicide bombing killed 32 people in another market.
The US-led coalition that supported Iraq’s campaign against IS has significantly drawn down its troop levels over the past year, citing the increased capabilities of Iraqi forces.
But US troops have been targeted by powerful pro-Iran Iraqi armed factions, which want them to withdraw from the country entirely.
The US and Iran share enmity toward IS, but Tehran also sees Washington as its arch-nemesis.
PARIS — Far-right activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement protested on Saturday against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and other venues and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers.
Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill on Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it on Friday, as virus infections are spiking and hospitalizations are rising anew.
The French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns.
Most French adults are fully vaccinated and polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures. But not everyone.
Protesters chanting “Liberty! Liberty!” gathered at Bastille plaza and marched through eastern Paris in one of several demonstrations on Saturday around France.
Thousands also joined a gathering across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower organized by a former top official in Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party.
While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march. Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer. Other projectiles could also be seen in a video of the incident.
???????????? | NEW: Vaccine protests in France getting beefy pic.twitter.com/xa12jivHCM
— News For All (@NewsForAllUK) July 24, 2021
Many marchers focused their anger on a French “health pass” that is required to enter museums, movie theaters and tourist sites. The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues.
To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.
Lawmakers have debated the measure amid divisions over how far to go in imposing health passes or mandatory vaccinations.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Sydney and other Australian cities on Saturday to protest lockdown restrictions amid another surge in cases, and police made several arrests after crowds broke through barriers and threw plastic bottles and plants.
The unmasked participants marched from Sydney’s Victoria Park to Town Hall in the central business district, carrying signs calling for “freedom” and “the truth.”
There was a heavy police presence in Sydney, including mounted police and riot officers, in response to what authorities said was unauthorized protest activity. Police confirmed a number of arrests had been made after objects were thrown at officers.
New South Wales Police said it recognized and supported the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, but the protest was a breach of public health orders.
The protest comes as COVID-19 case numbers in the state reached another record with 163 new infections in the last 24 hours.
Greater Sydney has been locked down for the past four weeks, with residents only able to leave home with a reasonable excuse.
Fresh from winning a bronze medal in the taekwondo women’s -49kg category at the Tokyo Olympics, Avishag Semberg says she’s still processing her victory.
“I can’t believe that I am an Olympic medalist. I’m waiting to talk to my mom, my dad, and my boyfriend. There are a lot of people I have to thank,” she says during a press conference, cited by Israel sports network Sport 1.
“It’s crazy, it’s an extraordinary feeling. My head is in the clouds. I’m very pleased with my performance today,” she adds.
“I know I can give more of myself and I think I can bring [the] gold [medal] next time,” says Semberg.
A Jordanian man has been shot dead by the Jordanian army after attempting to cross into Israel, according to multiple reports.
The Israeli military says it is looking into the matter, emphasizing that the entire incident took place on Jordanian soil.
Three suspects approached a border fence between Israel and Jordan when Jordanian forces showed up on Saturday afternoon, according to Israel’s Channel 12. The soldiers called out to the three and opened fire when one of the suspects continued toward the fence. It is unclear what happened to the other two.
The event comes hours after Israeli soldiers arrested five border infiltrators from Jordan following a manhunt earlier in this day.
One suspect was quickly arrested and the other four were caught near the Dead Sea in the early afternoon.
All five were unarmed. The military says it believed they were illegal immigrants and did not represent a danger.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai says President Isaac Herzog “went too far” in calling the Ben & Jerry’s settlement boycott a new kind of terrorism.
“This is not an act of terrorism… [But Ben & Jerry’s boycott] creates a precedent that encourages the BDS movement against Israel,” he tells Channel 12.
“We [in Labor] will advance a two-state solution as much as we can [in this coalition]… and, at the same time, also fight against the punishments that those involved in BDS… want to impose on Israel,” Shai says.
“You know what happened in South Africa, and I don’t want to see that imitated…. The latest survey of US Jews showed 25% think Israel is carrying out Apartheid… That’s the clearest red warning sign for me,” he says.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai tells Channel 12 that the NSO Pegasus saga is highly damaging to Israel, including in terms of international support, and that dark arts intel firms need to be reined in.
Israeli high-tech innovation is widely admired and appreciated overseas, he says, “but it turns out that a kind of rogue program has penetrated Israeli high-tech… We have to make certain that entities [such as NSO] are not able to play in the international game, because they directly harm Israeli diplomatic interests and cause harm among those parts of the Jewish public that admire Israel because of its high-tech.”
On his efforts to help improve Israel’s ties with the Democratic party and with US Jewry, Shai says Israel’s standing will be harmed “if we don’t invest efforts today, especially among the young in the Jewish community — which has become more liberal and progressive. The State of Israel has moved to the right, the Jews in the US have moved left, and the gap has widened — to the extent that we are endangering our position when it comes to the Democratic Party.”
“75% of American Jews vote Democrat… If we don’t nurture our relations with US Jewry today, we will lose the Democratic Party tomorrow,” he adds.
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