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Health minister: We’re in talks with another country to swap vaccines

Nitzan Horowitz says coronavirus cabinet will weigh new restrictions as COVID cases rise, but notes that number of those in serious condition remains low

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz  at the Abarbanel Mental Health Medical Center, Bat Yam, on June 22, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz at the Abarbanel Mental Health Medical Center, Bat Yam, on June 22, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

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

Pfizer vaccine 70% effective against Delta variant, claims study

The Pfizer COVID vaccine is 70 percent effective against the new ultra-contagious Delta variant, claims a new study from the Hebrew University, according to Kan. This is compared to an approximately 95% rate of effectivity of the vaccine against earlier strains of COVID.

According to the study, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also less effective at preventing people infected with the Delta variant from developing serious symptoms.

Earlier today, Haaretz reports on Health Ministry figures that indicated that the Delta variant is responsible for more than 90% of new COVID cases in Israel over the past two weeks; compared to just 60% of new cases in the country just two weeks ago.

Gantz: Conflict with Gaza could erupt at any time

Defense Minister Benny Gantz warns that fighting could break out again in the Gaza Strip at any time despite what he called the successes of May’s 11-day conflict between the Israel Defense Forces and terror groups in the enclave.

“Gaza is a very sensitive place. We know that a tactical event can quickly deteriorate,” he says in an interview on Channel 13. “We are, of course, ready to act. We are identifying dozens of targets, we’ve already identified hundreds. I really don’t recommend that Hamas test the capabilities of the IDF.”

Recent weeks have seen a return of balloon-based arson attacks from the Gaza Strip, which have burned large swaths of private and public land in southern Israel, but have so far caused no Israeli injuries.

Gantz says that despite these incendiary attacks, he still believes Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls campaign was a success, having dealt a significant blow to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups’ capabilities.

Separately, speaking in a speech marking the opening of Israel’s first monument to the Southern Lebanon Army, which fought alongside the IDF during Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, Gantz makes a rare offer of assistance to Israel’s neighbor to the north.

“Israel has offered to help Lebanon in the past, and today as well, we are prepared to work to help it grow and get out of this crisis,” Gantz says, referring to the country’s unprecedented financial disaster.

Hamas chief denies progress in prisoner swap deal

Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas’s diaspora branch, denies that there has been any breakthrough in negotiations with Israel over a prisoner swap deal.

Mashaal tells the Al-Arabiya network, according to Kan, that “the issue has been debated for years and there is no significant progress.” He refuses to answer whether Hamas is holding live IDF soldiers or bodies. “This is not a matter for the media, but only for negotiations.”

Health minister: We’re in talks with another country to swap vaccines

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz says that Israel is in advanced talks with another country to broker a COVID vaccine swap deal.

“We have contacts with another country that I hope will come to fruition in the next few days,” Horowitz tells Channel 13 News. The health minister declined to name the country, since the talks are still ongoing.

Israel is seeking to swap its stockpile of Pfizer vaccines, which are slated to expire at the end of the month, in exchange for a future delivery that was destined for another country.

Horowitz says the coronavirus cabinet on Tuesday will take into consideration many factors when discussing the possible return of COVID restrictions amid rising cases. “What we had a year ago is nothing like what we have today,” he says, noting that 60 percent of the country is vaccinated.

More than 60,000 people are currently in quarantine in Israel, according to Health Ministry figures. The Health Ministry is considering mandating vaccinated parents of children who test positive for COVID to remain in quarantine until they receive a negative test, reports Channel 13.

But Horowitz says he is concerned about the heavy economic toll such a move would have.

Gantz: Iran knows we are ready to act against it

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says that Israel is facing a conflict with Iran “and we have to defend ourselves.”

Gantz tells Channel 13 News that Israel is “determined to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear.” He says Israel is “not ready to accept Iran’s negative activities in the region… and I think they know that we are ready to act.”

Health Ministry chief: We may need to limit gatherings of unvaccinated

Outgoing Health Ministry director general Chezy Levy says that Israel may need to once again limit large gatherings, particularly among children and the unvaccinated.

In an interview with Channel 12 News, Levy says that the rise in those hospitalized with COVID is continuing, but still remains at low levels. “We’re not close to what we’ve seen in the past,” he says. “It’s nothing like the case load we had earlier.”

Following Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s comments this morning that Israel is weighing returning to the “Green Pass” system, Levy says it may make sense to once again limit large gatherings, particularly of unvaccinated children.

The Health Ministry director general, who will soon be departing his post, also says that a third booster shot for the general population will not happen before the end of the year, while an additional dose for those with compromised immune systems may happen sooner.

Remaining portion of collapsed Florida building almost ready for demolition

Eighty percent of the drilling work to insert explosive charges into the precarious, still-standing portion of a collapsed South Florida condo building is complete.

The remaining structure could be toppled as soon as this evening, says Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah.

Jadallah praises the speedy work of the demolition crews and expresses hope that, following the implosion of the remaining portion of the building — over safety concerns and as a tropical storm nears — the search-and-rescue mission at the site can continue.

Lapid meets Canadian foreign minister in Jerusalem

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Lapid thanks Garneau for Canada’s support of Israel during its conflict with Gaza in May, and also welcomes the appointment of former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler to head the Canadian delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Likud MK: We haven’t decided how to vote on Palestinian reunification law

Likud MK David Bitan says his party has not yet decided how it will vote on extending the Palestinian family reunification law.

Bitan tells Kan radio that “we still haven’t decided how to vote. We could vote in favor of the law if the coalition proves that it is prepared to work with us on the Basic Law on immigration, and if the coalition has not promised [to others] anything beyond what is stated in the law.”

The legislation, which first passed in 2003, bars the automatic granting of citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israelis. The bill is slated to come up for a Knesset vote tomorrow ahead of its expiration on Tuesday.

Delta variant responsible for 90% of new COVID cases in Israel

The ultra-contagious Delta variant is responsible for more than 90% of new COVID cases in Israel over the past two weeks, reports Haaretz based on Health Ministry figures.

According to the report, the Delta variant was behind only 60% of new cases in the country just two weeks ago. The Delta variant is believed to be 2x as contagious as the original COVID strain and 1.5x more contagious than the Alpha variant first discovered in the UK.

IDF to inaugurate monument to fallen SLA soldiers

The Defense Ministry will hold a ceremony this evening to inaugurate a new memorial to soldiers in the Southern Lebanese Army who died during combat between the years of 1982 and 2000.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi are both slated to take part in the ceremony in Metula, along with SLA veterans and bereaved families.

Gantz and Kohavi will distribute campaign medals to SLA veteran commanders who fought shoulder to shoulder with IDF soldiers. The monument, which took eight months to complete, is engraved in Hebrew and in Arabic with the words: “We will remember the soldiers of the Southern Lebanese Army who fell while defending the towns of southern Lebanon and northern Israel.”

Israel selects its Tokyo Olympic flag bearers

The Israel Olympic Committee selects swimmer Yaakov Toumarkin and triple jumper Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko to be Israel’s flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23.

“From the moment I arrived in Israel in 2012 I feel completely Israeli,” says Knyazyeva-Minenko, a native of Ukraine. “This great honor symbolizes the appreciation and respect that I feel from Israel.”

This is the third Olympic games for both Knyazyeva-Minenko and for Toumarkin, a native of Russia.

Bennett speaks with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about COVID vaccines

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about Israel’s concerns regarding its expiring COVID vaccines and its need for new shipments of vaccine doses.

Bennett and Bourla have spoken several times in the past few days, says the Prime Minister’s Office. They have discussed potential deals to swap Israel’s stockpile of vaccines, which are slated to expire at the end of July, with those ordered by other countries.

The pair are “maintaining continuous telephone contact” and working together on Israel’s vaccine concerns, according to the PMO.

Health Ministry to push third COVID vaccine dose for those with weak immune systems

Israel will recommend that people with a weak immune system receive a third booster shot of the Pfizer COVID vaccine, reports Channel 13 News.

According to the report, Israel’s health system believes that two doses of the vaccine do not provide enough antibodies to those with compromised immune systems. The move will also allow Israel to use some of the Pfizer COVID vaccines that are slated to expire at the end of July.

The coronavirus cabinet is slated to meet Tuesday evening to discuss how best to address the rising number of cases.

Fauci: 99.2% of recent US COVID deaths are among the unvaccinated

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, says about 99.2% of recent COVID-19 deaths in the United States involved unvaccinated people.

“It’s really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable,” he tells NBC’s “Meet the Press.” It’s frustrating “where you have a formidable enemy” in the coronavirus and “yet we do have a countermeasure that’s highly, highly effective. And that’s the reason why it’s all the more sad and all the more tragic why it isn’t being completely implemented in this country.”

COVID cabinet to meet Tuesday as serious cases rise slightly

The renewed coronavirus cabinet is slated to meet Tuesday evening and weigh reinstating some restrictions as cases continue to rise.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that if morbidity continues to rise, the “Green Pass” system could be reinstated, which makes some activities and venues off-limits to those who are unvaccinated or have not recovered from COVID-19.

As of this afternoon, there are 2,425 active COVID cases in Israel, with 174 new cases confirmed so far today. There are also 35 people hospitalized in serious condition; last Sunday there were 24 in serious condition.

London man suffers antisemitic abuse twice last night in London – report

A Jewish man was reportedly threatened and attacked on public transportation twice last night in London, reports the Daily Mail.

According to the report, a man threatened to “slit your throat for Palestine” and called the Jewish man a “f***ing scumbag” aboard a bus. Later in the evening, a different man reportedly shouted “I f***ing hate the Jews” while inside an underground train station.

London police and public transportation security have said they will be investigating the incidents after the man’s brother publicized the events on social media.

IDF commander who died in training laid to rest in Tel Aviv

The funeral of Sharon Asman, 42, the commander of the Nahal Brigade who died suddenly during an IDF training session last week, is taking place at the Kiryat Shaul military ceremony in Tel Aviv.

Hundreds are bidding farewell to Asman, whose death is being investigated by the IDF, and who only entered his new position days before his death.

“Professional and thorough, cool-headed and brave,” says IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi in his eulogy. “A man of thought and action, an officer and a gentleman… officers like Sharon are the officers we need.”

Israel arrests Palestinian rights lawyer who protested Abbas

A Palestinian human rights lawyer is detained by Israeli forces after taking part in a protest against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, reports the Independent Commission for Human Rights.

The organization says Farid al-Atrash was detained at an Israeli checkpoint while returning from a protest against the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and was transferred to Israel’s Hadassah Hospital.

Issa Amro, a prominent Palestinian activist and friend of al-Atrash, says he was released from the hospital hours later and is still being questioned by Israeli authorities. It’s unclear why he was hospitalized and neither the IDF nor Israeli police responded to AP’s requests for comment.

Police investigating potential arson in West Bank fire

Police are investigating a fire that broke out this morning in the West Bank settlement of Migdalim as potential arson.

According to the Israel Firefighting Services, the fire broke out at three different locations near the settlement, including one site that caused the evacuation of nearby homes.

A fire is also raging next to the Esh Kodesh outpost near the West Bank settlement of Shilo.

Prosecution requests another extension in Netanyahu corruption trial

The prosecution in the ongoing corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu requests an extension in handing over the results of a search of emails and phone messages of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua, a key witness in the case.

Prosecutors ask for the deadline to be pushed off from tomorrow until next Sunday. The hearings in the trial are slated to begin again next Monday, but are expected to be pushed off if the prosecution’s request is accepted.

IDF delegation heads to Cyprus to help battle fire

An IDF delegation of firefighters heads to Cyprus in order to help battle a deadly forest fire blazing in the country.

Four planes will assist in the efforts and the delegation is carrying flame retardant materials and other equipment to battle the flames that have already claimed four lives.

Government inquiry on Meron disaster begins working

The state commission of inquiry into the deadly crush at Mount Meron in April begins working today.

Members of the commission, headed by former Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor, have asked to receive a series of documents and materials related to the tragedy that killed 45 people on Lag B’Omer. The committee is cooperating with the criminal investigation already opened by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Fire breaks out in West Bank settlement

A fire is blazing in the West Bank settlement of Migdalim, according to the Israel Firefighting Services. Firefighters are currently working to bring the flames under control.

Moroccan Air Force plane lands in Israel ahead of joint drill

A plane from the Moroccan Air Force touches down in Israel for the first time ahead of a joint international drill with the Israeli Air Force.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the IDF refuses to comment directly on its military cooperation with Morocco, saying only that it “cooperates with a variety of foreign countries and armies on exercises, meetings with senior officials, research and other developments.”

UAE rejects ‘unfair’ OPEC+ output deal

The United Arab Emirates criticizes the current oil production deal among OPEC+ alliance members as “unfair,” offering to extend the agreement only if its production is reviewed.

In a row that could put at risk the energy market’s post-coronavirus recovery, the UAE’s push to increase its production baseline has reportedly derailed last week’s meeting of the alliance of oil-producing countries.

The UAE on Friday raised a last-minute objection to the Russian-Saudi Arabia deal and has reportedly insisted on having its baseline lifted by 0.6 million barrels per day to 3.8 million.

Rivlin granted one-fifth of pardon requests during his tenure – report

President Reuven Rivlin, whose seven-year term ends this week, granted 1,797 pardon requests out of 8,682 he received through the month of April 2021, reports Channel 12 News.

The TV network reports that, according to the full figures, Rivlin granted slightly more than one-fifth of the requests he received during his tenure for pardons or reduced sentences.

Iran reimposes virus restrictions as Delta variant spreads

Iran announces Sunday it is reimposing coronavirus restrictions on major cities, as the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant spurs fears of another devastating surge in the nation.

Iran orders the closures of non-essential businesses in 275 cities, including the capital of Tehran. The government says it is also imposing a travel ban between cities with high infection rates.

Jerusalem woman sentenced to prison for recruiting Hezbollah operatives

The Jerusalem District Court sentences Yasmin Jaber, a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem, to two-and-a-half years in prison for working to recruit Israelis and Palestinians to carry out terror attacks on behalf of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.

Jabar, who worked for the National Library of Israel at the time, was arrested in August after an extensive Shin Bet security service investigation.

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