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With tensions high, IDF to hold drill near border with Lebanon

Military tells residents of area to expect sounds of artillery toward the contested Mount Dov area during exercises tomorrow

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

IDF soldier Samuel Boujenah, center, gestures as he explains the Israel-Lebanon conflict to foreign journalists in the military base of Har Dov on Mount Hermon, a strategic and fortified outpost at the crossroads between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, on October 30, 2019. (JALAA MAREY/AFP)
IDF soldier Samuel Boujenah, center, gestures as he explains the Israel-Lebanon conflict to foreign journalists in the military base of Har Dov on Mount Hermon, a strategic and fortified outpost at the crossroads between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, on October 30, 2019. (JALAA MAREY/AFP)

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

TV report: Ankara warns Iran against attacking Israelis in Turkey

People walk towards the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, Saturday, July 11, 2020. (AP/Emrah Gurel)
People walk towards the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, one of Istanbul's main tourist attractions in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, Saturday, July 11, 2020. (AP/Emrah Gurel)

According to an unsourced report on Channel 12 news, Ankara has conveyed “blunt and forceful messages” to Tehran that it is not prepared to allow Iran to use its territory to carry out or organize acts of terrorism against other states.

The report comes amid an urgent Israeli warning to its citizens not to travel to Turkey after news that Ankara and Jerusalem collaborated to foil a recent attack against Israeli targets in the country.

Meanwhile, Turkey has reportedly expressed its unhappiness with the expected blow to tourism from Israel’s caution — although many reports show that Israelis are largely ignoring the warnings.

US Fed aims to counter inflation with biggest interest rate hike since ’94

Customers using ATM machines at a branch of Chase Bank in New York, January 14, 2015. (AP/Mark Lennihan)
Customers using ATM machines at a branch of Chase Bank in New York, January 14, 2015. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

The Federal Reserve intensifies its drive to tame high inflation by raising its key interest rate by three-quarters of a point — its largest hike in nearly three decades — and signaling more large rate increases to come that would raise the risk of another recession.

The move will increase its benchmark short-term rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%.

Last month, the Bank of Israel hiked its benchmark interest rate by 0.4 percentage points, from 0.35% to 0.75%, in its second rate hike in two months as it also seeks to tamp down inflation.

After spate of murdered women, MKs call on government to ratify Istanbul Convention

Shira Vishniak, center, whose sister Maya was killed in an incident of domestic violence, addresses a rally against violence towards women, in Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Shira Vishniak, center, whose sister Maya was killed in an incident of domestic violence, addresses a rally against violence towards women, in Tel Aviv, on June 1, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman sends a letter to Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar calling on the government to immediately ratify joining the Istanbul Convention against violence against women.

The letter was signed by Touma-Sliman, the chair of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women, as well as MKs from both the opposition and the coalition.

“How many more women have to die?” Touma-Sliman asks, referencing the killings this week of a woman in Haifa at the hands of her husband, Sapir Nahum of Acre and anti-violence activist Johara Khnifes.

Sa’ar had been pushing for Israel to join the international treaty, but Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked halted efforts last month over concerns over clauses granting political asylum.

New satellite images of Damascus Airport show reconstruction work after strike

This photo released by ImageSat International on June 15, 2022, shows repair work at Syria's Damascus International Airport after an airstrike attributed to Israel. (ImageSat International)
This photo released by ImageSat International on June 15, 2022, shows repair work at Syria's Damascus International Airport after an airstrike attributed to Israel. (ImageSat International)

Satellite images published by an Israeli intelligence and imagery firm show construction work at Damascus airport after damage was caused to its runways in a strike attributed to Israel.

According to estimates by ImageSat International (ISI), the repair work — at a number of locations at the airport and adjacent military airbase — will likely last a number of days.

Syria accused Israel of striking the airport in the pre-dawn hours of Friday. The raid shuttered the airport “until further notice” according to the Syrian transport ministry. The strike came after Israeli officials said Iran was smuggling arms to its Lebanese proxy terror group Hezbollah, using civilian flights via Syria.

Federal investigators of Surfside condo collapse begin drilling for answers

Rescue workers work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Florida, June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
Rescue workers work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Florida, June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

The federal investigation into the deadly collapse of a Florida beachfront condominium building is entering a new phase that involves cutting and drilling into concrete and steel to determine what role they played in the disaster, officials say.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology says in a news release that what’s known as invasive testing will begin soon as investigators test samples from materials collected at the collapsed Champlain Towers South site.

“This is an important step in the investigation, one we are able to take only after months of careful investigation and preparation,” says Glenn Bell, co-leader of the investigation.

The building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed without warning early on June 24, 2021, leaving 98 people dead, including many members of the Jewish community. Legal settlements of more than $1 billion have been reached for families of victims and owners of the 136 units, with a key court hearing on approval set next Thursday in Miami.

Two Palestinians indicted for deadly Ariel terrorist attack in April

An Israeli security guard at the entrance to the settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, April 30, 2022, a day after a deadly terrorist attack there. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
An Israeli security guard at the entrance to the settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, April 30, 2022, a day after a deadly terrorist attack there. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Military prosecutors file indictments against two Palestinians accused of carrying out a deadly shooting attack in Ariel in April.

Vyacheslav Golev, 23, was gunned down inside a guard booth at the gate to the settlement on April 29 by Palestinian assailants Youssef Sameeh Assi and Yahya Marei, according to the indictments, which were filed yesterday.

The pair are charged with intentionally causing the death of Golev. The charge is equivalent to murder in the West Bank military court.

Separately, the army filed an indictment against the brother of one of the gunmen, who is charged with failing to prevent the attack as well as assisting the pair hide after the attack. All three will remain under arrest until the end of legal proceedings.

On May 7, Assi’s and Marei’s families were informed that their homes in the West Bank town of Qarawat Bani Hassan were slated for demolition.

IDF to hold drill near Lebanon border

IDF soldier Samuel Boujenah, center, gestures as he explains the Israel-Lebanon conflict to foreign journalists in the military base of Har Dov on Mount Hermon, a strategic and fortified outpost at the crossroads between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, on October 30, 2019. (JALAA MAREY/AFP)
IDF soldier Samuel Boujenah, center, gestures as he explains the Israel-Lebanon conflict to foreign journalists in the military base of Har Dov on Mount Hermon, a strategic and fortified outpost at the crossroads between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, on October 30, 2019. (JALAA MAREY/AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces will conduct a military drill in the Galilee Panhandle tomorrow morning, which will include artillery fire toward the Mount Dov area on the border with Lebanon.

The military says the exercise — which is pre-planned — will end in the afternoon hours.

Explosions are expected to be heard in nearby towns, the military says.

Mount Dov, also known as the Sheba Farms, is a contested area claimed by Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Russia summons Israeli ambassador over strike on Damascus airport

Damage to passenger halls at Damascus Airport as seen in a photo released June 11, 2022 by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said the airport arrival halls were being used as areas for the unobserved arrival of senior figures from the Iranian military and Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group. (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
Damage to passenger halls at Damascus Airport as seen in a photo released June 11, 2022 by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said the airport arrival halls were being used as areas for the unobserved arrival of senior figures from the Iranian military and Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group. (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)

Russia’s deputy foreign minister summons Israel’s envoy, Alexander Ben Zvi, to express Moscow’s concern over Israel’s purported strike on Damascus International Airport.

According to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, the attack damaged the runway and airport buildings, and disrupted the flow of humanitarian supplies to Syrian civilians.

Moscow’s Mikhail Bogdanov tells Ben Zvi that Moscow is not pleased with the justifications offered by Israel, and that it is waiting for additional clarifications “within the framework of the existing Russian-Israeli mechanism.”

Bogdanov also stresses that Russia will not allow Syria to be turned into a theater of war between outside parties, and insists that Israel respect Syria’s territorial integrity.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry does not respond to a request for comment.

The shuttering of the Damascus airport in the most recent strike attributed to Israel, in the pre-dawn hours last Friday, prevented all cargo and civilian flights from Tehran — and elsewhere — from arriving for the time being. Most flights are now being redirected to Aleppo’s airport, and it remains to be seen if Iran will attempt to smuggle weapons there too, until the Damascus airport is repaired.

Over the years, Israel has repeatedly charged Iran with smuggling weapons and missile-improving systems from Tehran to its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah using flights via Syria.

White House reportedly asks Israel to halt West Bank action until after Biden visit

US President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One upon arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on June 2, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US President Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One upon arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on June 2, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

US officials have asked Israel to halt action in the West Bank until after the visit of US President Joe Biden next month, according to a report in Axios.

The report claims that the White House has requested that Israel hold off on home demolitions, evictions and settlement building decisions before the president arrives on July 13.

According to the report, the request came as a result of shuttle diplomacy conducted between Jerusalem and Ramallah by US Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf over the weekend.

US expected to send $1 billion more in aid to Ukraine

A Ukrainian tank is in position during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk, the Luhansk region, Ukraine, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak)
A Ukrainian tank is in position during heavy fighting on the front line in Severodonetsk, the Luhansk region, Ukraine, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

The US is expected to announce today that it will send about $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, the largest single tranche of weapons and equipment since the war began, in an effort to help stall Russia’s slow but steady march to conquer the eastern Donbas region, US officials say.

According to officials, the aid is expected to include anti-ship missile launchers, howitzers, and more rounds for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems that US forces are training Ukrainian troops on now. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details not yet made public.

Increased arms supplies can’t come soon enough for the Ukrainian forces battling to keep Russia from taking control of their country’s industrial east after more than 3½ months of war.

In his daily address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded last night for more and faster deliveries of Western arms, specifically asking for anti-missile defense systems.

Sa’ar taps new deputy attorney general

MIlitary Advocate General Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek speaks at an international law conference in Herzliya on May 28, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
MIlitary Advocate General Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek speaks at an international law conference in Herzliya on May 28, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announces his recommendation of former military advocate general Sharon Afek for the role of deputy attorney general.

His nomination was unanimously approved by a selection panel headed by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

“Attorney Sharon Afek is a masterpiece of excellence and public service and I am convinced of his ability to make a unique and significant contribution to the Justice Ministry and justice system,” Sa’ar says in a statement.

Renegade Meretz MK says is unlikely to run for next Knesset

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi says she stands by past statements that she will not quit the Knesset this term, but she is considering not running for the Knesset in the future.

“I am not resigning from this Knesset but it’s very likely that I will not run for the next Knesset again,” she tells the Galei Israel radio station. “Apparently I’m not a good enough politician.”

Rinawie Zoabi, who was given a guaranteed spot on the Meretz party list, is unlikely to be offered another next time. Although she nominally returned to the coalition after a brief rebellion, she has broken coalition discipline to topple critical to pass laws, invoking government and her own party leaders to call for her resignation.

The wayward lawmaker, for her part, says that she plans to act in line with her “conscience” to protect Arab interests.

“As long as I’m here I’m going to act according to my conscience and I am aware of all the consequences,” she says.

Ex-IRGC commander claims Iran is dealing ‘blows’ to Israel

The head of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks in a conference called 'A World Without Terror,' in Tehran, Iran, October 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
The head of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks in a conference called 'A World Without Terror,' in Tehran, Iran, October 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps claims that Iran is dealing ongoing “blows” to the State of Israel.

“The Zionist regime and its officials know better what blows they have received from the Islamic Republic so far, some of which are even still in progress,” says Ali Jafari in an interview with the semi-official Iranian Tasnim news agency.

Jafari claims that many of the IRGC’s operations and attacks on Israel must be kept confidential.

Child killed in Iraq airstrike blamed on Turkey

A picture taken on August 17, 2015 shows a general view of the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, west of the city of Mosul. (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)
A picture taken on August 17, 2015 shows a general view of the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, west of the city of Mosul. (AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED)

A child has been killed in an airstrike on Iraq’s northern region of Sinjar, security sources say, blaming the Turkish air force.

The heartland of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, Sinjar is frequently targeted by Turkish airstrikes against bases of Turkey’s separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The strike hit a “municipal council building in Snuny,” a village near the border with Syria, says a security official in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

“A 12-year-old child was killed and six other people were wounded,” the official says on condition of anonymity.

Health Ministry confirms 5th monkeypox case in Israel

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)
This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions, left, and spherical immature virions, right, obtained from a sample of human skin. (Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC via AP)

A fifth monkeypox case has been confirmed in Israel, the Health Ministry says.

The newest patient is a man in his 30s who recently returned from abroad and showed up at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv with symptoms, according to the ministry. The case was confirmed to be monkeypox after a lab test at the Israel Institute for Biological Research.

As the disease spreads across Europe, the World Health Organization is slated to convene a meeting next week to decide whether to declare the outbreak an international health emergency.

UN experts alarmed by Iran’s ‘violent crackdown’ on protests

Iranians attend a gathering at the Tehran University on June 10, 2022, to protest to condemn remarks about the Prophet Mohammed made by a top official in India's ruling party. (AFP)
Iranians attend a gathering at the Tehran University on June 10, 2022, to protest to condemn remarks about the Prophet Mohammed made by a top official in India's ruling party. (AFP)

A group of independent UN rights experts express alarm over a “violent crackdown” on teachers and wider civil society in Iran, demanding that those responsible be held to account.

The experts, who are appointed by the United Nations but do not speak on its behalf, allege that more than 80 teachers have been arrested or summoned by the authorities in the Islamic Republic.

The reported arrests come amid repeated protests by teachers against working conditions and low wages, including one held on May 1 — International Workers’ Day — when they took to the streets of several cities, joined by transportation workers.

“We are alarmed at the recent escalation of arbitrary arrests of teachers, labor rights defenders and union leaders, lawyers, human rights defenders and other civil society actors,” the experts say in a UN statement. “The space for civil society and independent associations to carry out their legitimate work and activities is becoming impossibly narrow.”

Lapid thanks Turkish FM for help thwarting Iranian attacks on Israelis

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (C) speaks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (Asi Efrati/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (C) speaks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 25, 2022. (Asi Efrati/GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, by phone to thank him for Ankara’s efforts to protect Israeli tourists from attempts by Iran to harm them.

Lapid and Cavusoglu met in Jerusalem in late May, as the two sides work to gradually improve ties between the erstwhile regional allies.

On Monday, Lapid called on Israelis in Turkey to leave immediately and for citizens to cancel travel plans to the country amid reports that an Iranian plot to assassinate Israelis in Istanbul was foiled at the last moment, and that Turkish authorities had uncovered a network of Iranian agents aiming to target Israelis.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, after the assassination of an Iranian officer in Tehran last month, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.

As coalition splinters, opposition wins another round

A discussion being held in the Knesset ahead of a vote on the 'West Bank bill' on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A discussion being held in the Knesset ahead of a vote on the 'West Bank bill' on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In another embarrassment to the barely surviving coalition, the opposition wins another vote in the Knesset 51-50.

The legislation sponsored by Likud MK Galit Distel Atbaryan would lower tax rates on some individuals and companies. The bill is based in part on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s “Singapore Plan,” though Bennett voted against the legislation since it was put forth by the opposition.

The bill passes a first reading, and would need two more to become law, which is not considered likely to happen as the Knesset appears close to dispersal.

Morocco slated to open embassy in Israel this summer, says Lapid

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, June 15, 2022. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, June 15, 2022. (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Speaking at a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reveals that Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita will be visiting Israel this summer in order to officially open the nation’s embassy in Israel.

Rabat and Jerusalem normalized relations in 2020, and have since signed significant defense and economic pacts.

Israel opened its liaison office in Morocco in August 2021, but has not upgraded the mission to an embassy. Morocco opened its liaison office in Tel Aviv in February of that year.

An Israeli diplomatic source tells The Times of Israel that the upgrade to Israel’s diplomatic office in Rabat is expected to occur in conjunction with Bourita’s visit.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed is also slated to visit this summer, says Lapid.

7 earthquakes strike off the coast of Iran, rattling Gulf

The USS Boxer transits the Strait of Hormuz, August 12, 2019. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Ortiz/Released)
The USS Boxer transits the Strait of Hormuz, August 12, 2019. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Ortiz/Released)

Seven earthquakes strike off Iran’s southern Kish Island, rattling Dubai and other areas across the Persian Gulf.

The US Geological Survey says six magnitude 4 temblors struck, as well as one magnitude 5.3 off the island near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian state television reports that authorities deployed rescue teams to the town of Jenah in Hormozgan province, though no damage and casualties were initially reported. Jenah is some 1,080 kilometers (670 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.

Iran lies on major seismic faults and experiences one earthquake a day on average.

Gazan aid worker Halabi convicted of transferring funds to Hamas

A Palestinian walks next to a poster of Mohammed al-Halabi, the Gaza director of Christian humanitarian charity World Vision, in Gaza City on January 12, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)
A Palestinian walks next to a poster of Mohammed al-Halabi, the Gaza director of Christian humanitarian charity World Vision, in Gaza City on January 12, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

An Israeli court convicts Mohammad al-Halabi, a Gazan aid worker accused of transferring millions in funds to the Hamas terror group, on every count but one.

Halabi’s conviction seemingly ends a years-long saga that saw Israel’s justice system draw international condemnation.

Halabi was held in detention since June 2016 and throughout the prolonged legal battle. Israeli courts granted prosecutors’ requests to extend Halabi’s detention 27 times before his conviction today.

Prosecutors repeatedly offered plea bargains to Halabi, who staunchly refused and protested his innocence, according to his lawyer.

Much of the evidence used to indict Halabi remains classified. But audits by aid organization World Vision, along with Germany, Australia, and the United States Agency for International Development, failed to turn up irregularities in the disbursement of funds donated to the nonprofit.

World Vision said its entire Gaza budget over the previous 10 years was $22.5 million, making the alleged diversion of $50 million “hard to reconcile.” Halabi had been appointed manager of its Gaza operations in October 2014, less than two years before he was arrested.

The case has drawn international attention, with the European Union calling for Halabi’s “immediate release” in January. US diplomats also attended several of Halabi’s hearings before the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem.

4 wounded as wall collapses in Safed hospital

The site of a wall collapse at Ziv Hospital in Safed on June 15, 2022. (Courtesy)
The site of a wall collapse at Ziv Hospital in Safed on June 15, 2022. (Courtesy)

Four patients are lightly wounded when a wall collapses at Ziv Hospital in Safed.

According to the hospital, the collapse occurred due to ongoing construction work. It says that the construction was immediately halted and the incident is being investigated.

First responders say that nobody was trapped in the collapse.

Russia expresses ‘deep concern’ over Jerusalem church land ruling

The Imperial Hotel next to Jaffa Gate in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on November 29, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)
The Imperial Hotel next to Jaffa Gate in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on November 29, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Russia says it is “deeply concerned” after Israel’s top court ruled that a Jewish settler group legally purchased an East Jerusalem property from the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Ateret Cohanim organization, which seeks to “Judaize” East Jerusalem, bought three buildings from the church in a controversial deal struck in secret in 2004. The church then brought charges against Ateret Cohanim, claiming the properties were acquired illegally and without its permission.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation regarding the Christian presence in Jerusalem,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says in a statement, a week after the Supreme Court dismissed the church’s appeal.

“Such a decision is predictably detrimental to interfaith peace and raises legitimate concerns about the position of the Christian community in the Holy Land,” she adds.

IKEA to ‘further scale down’ operations in Russia, Belarus over Ukraine war

A branch of the furniture chain Ikea in Wallau near Wiesbaden, Germany, March 17, 2020. (Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa via AP)
A branch of the furniture chain Ikea in Wallau near Wiesbaden, Germany, March 17, 2020. (Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa via AP)

Swedish furniture giant Ikea says it will “scale down” its activities in Russia and Belarus, after putting them on hold following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Businesses and supply chains across the world have been heavily impacted and we do not see that it is possible to resume operations any time soon,” Ingka Group, which manages the majority of Ikea’s stores, says in a statement. “As a consequence, Inter IKEA Group and Ingka Group have now each decided to enter a new phase to further scale down the IKEA business in Russia and Belarus.”

COVID czar says there could be up to 20,000 new cases a day currently

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a visit at a Safed hospital on August 24, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka seen during a visit at a Safed hospital on August 24, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

There are likely 15,000 to 20,000 new COVID-19 cases every day in Israel, says the official tasked with overseeing the country’s pandemic response, as health experts weigh resuming an indoor mask mandate to stem the renewed outbreak.

The rolling average of confirmed daily infections has jumped from 2,400 a day on June 6 to 7,661 on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Knesset’s Health Committee, Salman Zarka says the new coronavirus variant mutated from Omicron, known as BA.5, is quickly gaining traction and is more resistant to vaccines than previous strains.

Iran admits it is preparing for rocket launch tests

This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows a rocket preparing to be erected at a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows a rocket preparing to be erected at a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

Iran acknowledges it is planning two tests for its new solid-fueled rocket after satellite photos showed preparations at a desert launch pad previously used in the program, even as tensions remain high over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program.

The Islamic Republic will launch its satellite-carrying Zuljanah rocket twice more after conducting a previous launch, the state-run IRNA news agency quotes Defense Ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini as saying. He does not elaborate on a timeframe for the tests, nor say when the previous launch occurred.

Each of the Zuljanah’s three stages will be evaluated during the tests, Hosseini says.

Satellite images taken yesterday by Maxar Technologies showed preparations at a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.

One set of images showed a rocket on a transporter, preparing to be lifted and put on a launch tower. A later image Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket apparently on the tower.

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