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2,000 travelers with COVID entered Israel in past month — report

Hundreds of infected passengers were returning from Turkey, Greece; 12 cases of ‘Delta Plus’ variant found in country

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 Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

Over 1,500 new COVID cases diagnosed since midnight; 121 in serious condition

The Health Ministry says 1,538 new coronavirus cases have been recorded since midnight, bringing the number of active infections to 12,243.

The number of serious cases leaps by 25 since midnight, hitting 121.

 

Man drowns near Herzliya, in 6th fatality since Saturday

A man in his 30s drowns off the coast of Herzliya.

He is the sixth drowning fatality since Saturday, including two children.

France calls for ‘competent and capable’ government in Lebanon

France urges the formation of a “competent and capable” government in Lebanon to carry out reforms, after a year of political deadlock.

The foreign ministry says it is “urgent” to form such a government and implement reforms “essential to the recovery of the country,” calling on “all Lebanese leaders to act in this direction as quickly as possible.”

Earlier, Lebanese lawmakers tasked ex-premier and billionaire Najib Mikati with forming a government and ending one year of political deadlock that has crippled the economy.

Large meteor lights up skies in Norway

Norwegian experts say an unusually large meteor was visible over large parts of southern Scandinavia and illuminated southeast Norway with a powerful flash of light for a few seconds as many observers were reported to also hear a roaring sound afterwards.

The Norwegian Meteor Network says it has analyzed and reviewed several videos of the event Sunday and said the meteor first appeared about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of the capital, Oslo, and continued its trail in a southwest direction before fragmenting in several flashes of light.

“The meteor appeared at 1:08 a.m. on the night of July 25 and was visible for approximately for 5 seconds,” says the network, which had posted a video on the phenomenon on its Twitter site.

Sightings of meteors — space rocks that burn brightly after entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed — are not uncommon over Norway and the Norwegian Meteor Network has a number of cameras continuously monitoring the sky.

A meteor that survives passage to the ground is known as a meteorite.

Preliminary data suggested a meteorite may have hit Earth in a large forested area, Finnemarka, not far from Oslo, the Norwegian Meteor Network says.

Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg dies at 88

Physicist Steven Weinberg, who won the Nobel prize in 1979 with two other scientists for their separate contributions unlocking mysteries of tiny particles and their electromagnetic interaction, has died at 88, the University of Texas at Austin says.

A professor at the university since the 1980s, Weinberg died Friday in Austin, Texas, according to his wife Louise, says UT spokesperson Christine Sinatra. The Jewish physicist had been hospitalized for several weeks, but a cause of death was not released, according to Sinatra.

“The passing of Steven Weinberg is a loss for The University of Texas and for society,” UT President Jay Hartzell says in a statement.

“Professor Weinberg unlocked the mysteries of the universe for millions of people, enriching humanity’s concept of nature and our relationship to the world,” Hartzell adds.

In 1979, Weinberg shared the Nobel prize in physics with scientists Abdus Salam and Sheldon Lee Glashow. Their work improved the understanding of how everything in the universe relates, according to a UT statement.

The work helped physicists unify two of the four forces of nature — subatomic forces known as nuclear forces, said Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Haredi MK compares religious affairs minister to villain of Hanukkah story

United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni attacks Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana over his proposed reforms of the kashrut certification industry.

“Antiochus!” shouts Gafni in Kahana’s direction in the Knesset plenum. Antiochus is remembered in the Jewish tradition as the villain of the Hanukkah holiday who sought to ban Jewish religious rites, sparking the Maccabean revolt.

The plan released by Kahana, who is Orthodox, would establish a series of private kosher certification agencies that will be required to uphold religious standards established by the Chief Rabbinate.

The proposed plan would also see the creation of an overarching supervisory body of the Chief Rabbinate to monitor the private agencies and ensure they uphold the standards they have promised to meet.

According to the plan, however, if an agency wants to issue a certificate with a lower level of kashrut than the Chief Rabbinate, it can do so with the approval of three city rabbinate-approved rabbis, and issue a different certification — including one that can be given to restaurants open on Shabbat. The proposal has been attacked by the Chief Rabbinate and Haredi lawmakers.

Opposition said refusing to offset hospitalized coalition MK’s vote

The opposition is refusing to offset the vote of New Hope MK Zvi Hauser, who has been hospitalized, according to Hebrew media reports.

As a result, Hauser is expected to leave the hospital and travel to the Knesset to vote.

His condition is not immediately clear. Several weeks ago, Hauser was hospitalized for a “mild neurological” condition.

Massive California wildfire generating its own weather system

Thousands of US firefighters are battling a blaze in California that has grown so big it is generating its own weather system, with authorities warning conditions could worsen on Monday.

The flames have grown so large that they have created clouds that can cause lightning and high winds, which in turn can serve to fuel the fire, according to experts.

Around 5,400 firefighters have been struggling to contain the inferno, which was just 22 percent contained as of Monday morning, the California fire and forestries department reports.

A man rides his bike passed a gas station as smoke fills the sky during the Dixie fire in Greenville, California on July 23, 2021. (JOSH EDELSON / AFP)

“If these clouds get tall enough they do have the potential to produce lightning,” warns Julia Ruthford, a government meteorologist assigned to the blaze.

The Dixie Fire has been raging in the forests of northern California since mid-July, part of a climate crisis that has brought sweltering heat and an alarming drought. Over the weekend, it merged with another fire, prompting new evacuation orders.

Wildfires are common in the state, but this summer has been particularly incendiary.

Fires have already ravaged three times more vegetation this year than they had at this time in 2020, the worst fire year in California’s history.

Rescue workers have been dispatched from as far away as Florida to help contain the Dixie Fire and its pyrocumulus clouds.

Despite its size — the fire’s circumference stretches at least 82 miles and it has burned 197,487 acres — it has so far ravaged extremely remote areas, destroying the few dozen homes and small buildings in its path.

After ousting PM, Tunisian president also fires defense minister

Tunisian President Kais Saied fires the defense minister, a day after ousting the prime minister and suspending parliament, plunging the young democracy into constitutional crisis in the midst of a pandemic.

Street clashes erupt outside the army-barricaded parliament, after Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup.”

Saied declared on Sunday that he had “taken the necessary decisions to save Tunisia, the state and the Tunisian people,” following street protests in multiple cities against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president, who under the constitution controls the armed forces, warns his opponents against taking up arms, threatening that if anyone “fires a single bullet, our forces will respond with a rain of bullets.”

Police investigating modeling agent accused of sexual harassment

Police launch a criminal investigation into Israeli modeling agent Shai Avital, who represents some of the country’s top models and has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple former clients and colleagues.

Channel 13 on Saturday released evidence of Avital sending models threatening messages, including police complaints ready to be submitted if they were to accuse him of sexual abuse. In leaked text messages, Avital appeared to boast that he has connections with the police, and he is not afraid of any complaints against him.

According to documents released by the network, in 2009 Avital paid NIS 120,000 ($35,000) to model Israela Avtau, after he sexually assaulted her in his office. The incident was apparently kept under wraps, and Avital continued his career as an agent.

Sexual messages allegedly sent by Avital to a number of women, including minors, were also shown by the network.

A number of allegations also claimed Avital exposed himself in front of them, including at least one case that resulted in them having sex afterward, which continued on a regular basis after Avital promised the apparent victim would be featured on a popular reality show.

Other women accused him of forcibly groping, kissing, and licking their faces. The allegations date back over the past two decades, the network said.

2,000 people with COVID entered Israel in past month — TV

Two thousand travelers infected with COVID entered Israel this month, according to figures cited by Channel 12.

Among them, 314 came from Turkey, 291 from Greece, 169 from the UK, 142 from the US and 147 from Cyprus.

With virus surge, US to keep international travel restrictions for now

The United States will keep existing COVID-19 travel restrictions on international travel in place for now due to concerns about the surging infection rate because of the delta variant, according to a White House official.

US President Joe Biden earlier this month said that his administration was “in the process” of considering how soon the US could lift the ban on European travel bound for the US after the issue was raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the White House.

The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly and speaks on the condition of anonymity, says while the administration understands the importance of international travel, cases are rising in the US — particularly among those who are unvaccinated and will likely continue to increase in the weeks ahead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans against travel to the United Kingdom this past Monday given a surge in cases there.

Most of continental Europe has relaxed restrictions on Americans who are fully vaccinated, although the United Kingdom still requires quarantines for most visitors arriving from the US. Airlines say, however, that the lack of two-way travel is limiting the number of flights they can offer and seats they can sell.

But the rise and prevalence of COVID-19 variants in Europe, especially the Delta mutation that is also spreading throughout the US, has caused the Biden administration to tread slowly about increasing transatlantic travel.

3 Jewish fencers fail to win medals in individual events at Olympics

Eli Dershwitz returned to the Olympics for redemption after losing in the opening round of the 2016 Rio Games.

It didn’t work out that way for the American Jewish fencer.

On Saturday, he lost in the second round of the individual saber competition at the Tokyo Games to South Korea’s Kim Jung-Hwan. Dershwitz, who was considered a medal favorite, aimed to be the first American man to win gold in saber fencing.

He does have a second chance at medaling, however: This year’s Olympics feature a team competition. He will compete on Wednesday with Team USA fencers Daryl Homer and Andrew Mackiewicz, both of whom also lost in the individual event. The trio is ranked eighth in the team competition.

Dershwitz’s teammate Jake Hoyle, also Jewish, failed to advance past the first round on Sunday in epee. Hoyle, too, will have a second chance in the team epee on Friday.

“Many of the teammates and coaches that I’ve worked with over the years have been Jewish. To me, the world of Team USA fencing feels like one filled with support for Jewish athletes,” Hoyle told Alma ahead of the Olympics. “I’m proud to be a Jewish fencer, and to be part of a community that prioritizes sportsmanship and camaraderie.”

Another Jewish fencer, Eli Schenkel of Canada, also failed to advance past the first round in the men’s individual foil competition. Yet he took it in stride, posting to his Instagram story after the event, “Dream of rocking a Jewfro at the Olympics? [Check emoji].”

Schenkel, too, will compete in the team competition on Sunday.

Eli Dershwitz of the United States reacts after his loss to Junghwan Kim of South Korea at the Tokyo Olympics, July 24, 2021. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images via JTA)

Iraq records over 12,000 new COVID cases, shattering daily record

Iraq records 12,180 Covid infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry says, the highest number the country has detected in a day so far in the pandemic.

More than 1.5 million people have now tested positive and 18,347 have officially died of Covid-19 in Iraq, where the health infrastructure is dilapidated and much of the 40 million population remains skeptical of vaccines.

12 cases of ‘Delta Plus’ variant found in Israel

A dozen cases of the “Delta Plus” COVID variant have been found in Israel, according to Hebrew reports.

The first case was detected in early July. The strain does not appear poised to become a dominant variant, according to health officials.

Anti-Defamation League, PayPal to research how extremists share money online

The Anti-Defamation League has joined with PayPal to research how extremists use financial platforms to fund criminal activity.

The partnership will focus on “uncovering and disrupting the financial pipelines that support extremist and hate movements” by targeting “actors and networks spreading and profiting from all forms of hate and bigotry,” according to an ADL news release.

Their findings will be “shared broadly across the financial industry and with policymakers and law enforcement,” according to the release.

The ADL’s Center on Extremism will be one of multiple partner organizations in the effort for PayPal, a San Jose company that has become one of the world’s largest online payment platforms. The news release also mentions the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The ADL, a nonprofit headquartered in New York City, specializes in combating antisemitism and other forms of hate. The PayPal partnership is the second it has announced in the last week: It also announced a new relationship with the Union of Reform Judaism to launch an antisemitism reporting tool that both the ADL and URJ will monitor. That announcement comes amid criticism from the left that the group too freely identifies criticism of Israel as antisemitism.

Lebanese lawmakers pick Najib Mikati as new prime minister

Lebanese lawmakers vote to designate billionaire businessman Najib Mikati as prime minister, tasked with forming a government and ending a year-long political impasse that has aggravated the country’s financial crisis.

Mikati, a two-time premier who was last in power in 2014, clinches a clear majority of 72 votes from lawmakers who sat for consultations with the president.

Health Ministry chief: Rise in serious cases is ‘very troubling’

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash says he’s troubled by the rise in serious COVID cases, which surpassed 100 on Sunday for the first time in months.

In a briefing with reporters, Ash says he hopes the reimposed “Green Pass” system, which goes into effect later this week, will help stem the outbreak.

The renewed restrictions will apply to both indoor and outdoor events with over 100 participants, starting on July 29. The requirement to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test from the past 72 hours will only apply to people older than 12. Under that age, there will be no restrictions.

“We hope the Green Pass will help reduce morbidity, but the number of serious cases is very troubling,” says Ash.

The Health Ministry chief also opposes a plan that would see children in schools be required to self-isolate for just 48 hours upon exposure to COVID and present a negative test before they return to class.

Clashes erupt in Tunisia after PM’s ouster

Street clashes erupt outside Tunisia’s army-barricaded parliament, a day after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended the legislature, plunging the young democracy into a constitutional crisis.

Saied fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup,” following a day of angry street protests against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic.

Soldiers from early Monday blockade the assembly in Tunis while, outside, the president’s backers hurl stones, bottles and insults at supporters of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, whose leader was barred entry to the complex.

Troops also surround the office of Mechichi, who is yet to officially react to the events rocking the North African country.

Iran water protests spread to Tehran

Dozens of Iranians marched down a major street in Tehran, online videos show, amid ongoing protests over water shortages in southwestern Iran.

The demonstrators are seen in the videos marching down Jomhuri Islami Avenue — or “Islamic Republic Avenue” in Farsi — and calling on police to support them. Men on motorbikes and those in cars behind them honk their horns in time with their shouts.

The demonstrators later disperse peacefully. Security forces have maintained a heavier-than-normal presence recently in the Iranian capital.

The semiofficial Fars news agency later reported the demonstrations, but blamed them on a power outage at a nearby shopping center on the avenue known for its electronic shops. Fars published a video online that shows police on motorcycles and on foot, at one point talking to the crowd.

While the protests were peaceful, several demonstrators shout: “Death to the Dictator!”

That phrase can lead to the demonstrator being arrested and prosecuted in the Islamic Republic, where the civilian government is overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

At least four people have been killed amid days of protests over the water shortage affecting Iran’s Khuzestan province, an oil-rich, restive area of the country. Activists say the death toll is higher.

Lebanese billionaire poised to be named premier-designate

Lebanon’s president is expected to appoint a billionaire businessman and former prime minister as the next premier-designate, after Saad Hariri earlier this month gave up attempts to form a Cabinet amid an unprecedented financial meltdown roiling the country.

Najib Mikati’s appointment is likely to come later in the day, following binding consultations between President Michel Aoun and Lebanese lawmakers.

One of the richest men in Lebanon, Mikati became a favorite for the post after he was endorsed by most of Lebanon’s political parties and also the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah group. Mikati was also endorsed by former Sunni prime ministers including Hariri, who abandoned efforts to form a government after failing to agree with Aoun on the Cabinet’s makeup.

The political deadlock, driven by a power struggle between Aoun and Hariri over constitutional rights and powers of the president and prime minister, has worsened a crippling economic and financial crisis.

It is not clear whether Mikati — widely considered an extension of the political class that brought the country to bankruptcy — would be able to break the year-long impasse over the formation of a new government. He faces Christian opposition, including from Aoun’s own political party, now led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil.

Health minister: State budget must include more funding for healthcare

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) says he won’t support the state budget unless it includes more funding for the healthcare system.

“Without a solution for the healthcare system, we won’t be able to pass the budget,” he says.

The state budget must pass by November or the government automatically dissolves.

Woman in Charlie Hebdo T-shirt stabbed in London park

UK police say they are investigating a knife attack on a woman in a London park, with online footage showing she was wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon from Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine targeted by jihadists.

The 39-year-old woman was treated in hospital for a minor slash injury after the attack on Sunday afternoon at Speakers Corner’ in Hyde Park, the Metropolitan Police say.

Footage posted on YouTube showed a man in a hooded top approach a woman holding an umbrella and stab her, apparently several times.

The man then takes off his hood and leaves.

The woman’s T-shirt has the Charlie Hebdo logo and a cartoon showing a Muslim man kissing a cartoonist with the slogan “L’amour plus fort que la haine” (love is stronger than hate).

She has blood running down her face and shortly afterwards collapses to the ground.

Speakers’ Corner is a historic place for open-air debate where people are allowed to make speeches on any lawful subject.

Police do not identify the victim by name but social media says she is Hatun Tash, a preacher from a group called DCCI Ministries that says it seeks to preach the Christian Gospel to Muslims.

Detectives say they have recovered a knife at the scene and the victim gave an account of what happened.

“We know that this assault was witnessed by a number of people, many of whom captured it on their phones. I would ask them, if they have not already done so, to contact police,” says Detective Superintendent Alex Bingley.

Bingley asks people not to “speculate on the motive for the attack until we have established the full facts.”

Netanyahu urges vaccine booster for elderly

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu urges the government to begin administering a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to the elderly, saying the country requires 2 million more shots to get the job done.

“In order for Israel to continue defeating the coronavirus, we need two million more vaccines, and to allow elderly citizens to get the third shot,” says Netanyahu at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset.

“Instead of arranging jobs for Yair Golan and Eli Avidar [who were recently given cabinet posts], let them acquire a third vaccine. What are they waiting for?”

Israeli health authorities are currently evaluating whether to approve a third vaccine shot for the elderly.

Education minister opposes administering COVID vaccines in schools

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton denies reports she’s going head to head with the Health Ministry over its plan on the reopening of schools in September amid the pandemic.

She decries the “false reports and disinformation” on the issue.

Shasha-Biton also says she opposes administering vaccines in schools.

“Children have been dealing with emotional crises from the past year and we can’t apply further social pressure on them within schools,” she says.

“The health minister and I are cooperating, having fruitful discussions, reaching agreements and standing together behind the… best plan for teaching staff, students and their parents,” she says.

Israeli woman who crossed into Syria sentenced to 8 months in jail

An Israeli woman who walked across the border into Syria in early February and was returned later that month after a flurry of international negotiations is sentenced to eight months in prison at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court.

The woman, whose identity is barred from publication, has reportedly suffered from mental ill-health in the past.

Her lawyers thank the court for taking their arguments on her mental health into account and giving her a “moderate, proportionate” sentence.

She is reported to be a 25-year-old from Modiin Illit who left the ultra-Orthodox community. It is unclear why she entered Syria. She apparently crossed at a less-monitored part of the border fence, on foot and on her own.

The Axios news site, citing Israeli officials, has said the woman studied Arabic and in the past had been prevented from crossing the southern border into the Gaza Strip.

The woman was returned to Israel via Russia on February 19, in a deal brokered by Moscow. As part of the deal, Israel released several Syrian nationals in its custody and reportedly financed the purchase of $1.2 million worth of Russian-made COVID-19 vaccines for Syrian use.

After the woman was returned, she reportedly told Israeli investigators that she had been “seeking adventure.” According to Channel 12, she did not apologize or express regret for the trip. Investigators determined that she did not cooperate with any enemy entities while in Syria.

Palestinian teen dies of wounds sustained in May clashes

A 17-year-old Palestinian dies, two months after he was wounded in the neck by Israeli gunfire during clashes near the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, Palestinian health authorities say.

The shooting occurred during one of numerous clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces during the 11-day war in May between Israel and Hamas, the fourth conflict since the terror group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

A statement from Palestinian health authorities says Youssef Nawaf died after a May 14 gunshot wound in the neck damaged his spinal cord, leaving him in critical condition.

Hadassah CEO Rotstein steps down

The CEO of the Hadassah Medical Organization, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, resigns.

Rotstein, who faced being fired, announced earlier this month he would step down.

He will be replaced by Yoram Weiss on an interim basis, until a new CEO is chosen.

Rotstein was summoned for a dismissal hearing after five tumultuous years in which he repeatedly sparred with numerous officials in the hospitals under his management.

During his tenure, he became embroiled in conflicts with the medical organization’s owners and board of directors, Finance Ministry officials, senior doctors and hospital employees. In one case, all the doctors in the pediatric hematology and oncology department quit over a dispute with Rotstein.

Rotstein’s conduct drew criticism, including over his alleged facilitation of VIP treatment for various officials, including top Hasidic figures when the ultra-Orthodox Knesset member Yaakov Litzman was health minister.

Iran’s daily COVID caseload tops 30,000 in new record

Iran’s daily Covid caseload crosses the 30,000 mark for the first time, its health ministry says, less than a week after the country recorded a daily infection record.

In the past 24 hours, the Islamic Republic registered a record 31,814 new infections to bring its total number of positive cases to 3,723,246.

It also recorded 322 additional coronavirus-related deaths, taking the total to 89,122.

Defense Ministry, president pay tribute to Channel 12’s Daniel

President Isaac Herzog and the Defense Ministry join the chorus of tributes to Channel 12’s military analyst Roni Daniel, who died today at 73.

“Roni, you will be greatly missed,” says the Defense Ministry.

Herzog laments the loss of his “unique,” “fair,” and “professional” voice on Israeli television.

Channel 12 military analyst Roni Daniel dies at 73

Channel 12’s military analyst Roni Daniel has died at the age of 73, the network announces.

Daniel worked at the station since its founding in 1993.

He was eulogized by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who says that Daniel “blended his journalism with patriotism and Zionism.”

“He criticized when necessary, gave a good word when it was deserved,” says Bennett.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also mourns Daniel, saying he was “all heart.”

Israel’s Gorbenko advances to Olympic semifinals

Israeli Olympic swimmer Anastasia Gorbenko advances to the semifinals after placing fourth in the women’s 200 meter individual medley.

She completes the race in 2:10:21, after the UK, Switzerland and Canada.

Earlier, Gorbenko made history and set a national record in the 100-meter backstroke, on her way to clinching a chance to compete for an Olympic medal in the event. Gorbenko, 17, raced in with a time of 59.30 seconds, enough to clinch fourth place in her heat, and eighth place among all 16 swimmers competing in the event, good enough to put her in Tuesday’s final in an event that isn’t even her strongest.

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