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Teachers’ strike to continue for second day in row

Daycares and elementary schools to remain closed Thursday in latest move by Israel Teachers Union as labor talks with Finance Ministry deteriorate

Illustrative: An empty classroom in  Beit Hakerem, Jerusalem on February 10, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: An empty classroom in Beit Hakerem, Jerusalem on February 10, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Israeli, US military officials discuss plans in case of escalation on northern border — report

During a series of meetings between senior Israel Defense Forces officers and a visiting delegation of officers from the US Central Command, joint action plans for intelligence, air defense and logistical assistance were discussed, the Haaretz daily reports.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi briefed the senior officials “on the joint operational challenges of both militaries and opportunities for expanding the network of security cooperation in the Middle East,” the military said.

According to Haaretz, each side presented its perspective on the possible events and the dilemmas it would face, as well as emergency cooperation, in the event of an escalation.

The newspaper says there was no discussion of the possibility of direct US involvement in Israeli strikes on the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group.

Israel to allow in 2,000 more Gaza workers, after move frozen over rocket attack

Israel unfreezes a move that expands the quota of work permits for Gazan Palestinians to 14,000, almost a week after a rocket was launched at southern Israel.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, widely known by its acronym COGAT, announced last Thursday that an additional 2,000 permits would be added to the quota. But the move was stopped on Saturday, hours after terrorists in the Gaza Strip launched one rocket at the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon.

COGAT says Defense Minister Benny Gantz has now signed off on allowing the move to go ahead, effective from Sunday, “on the condition that security calm is maintained in the area.”

The Defense Ministry has signed off on a tentative plan to eventually raise the number of Gaza permits to 20,000, a dramatic and unprecedented increase. In mid-2021, just 7,000 Palestinians from Gaza had permits to work or trade in Israel.

Report: Biden administration working on ‘roadmap’ for Saudi Arabia normalization with Israel

The Axios news site is reporting that the White House has been working on a “roadmap for normalization” between Israel and Saudi Arabia, ahead of US President Biden’s visit to the Middle East next month.

The site cites four US sources who were briefed on the matter.

According to the sources, the White House said during a briefing with think tank experts about Biden’s trip that there will not be an agreement before the Middle East visit, but they are working on it and the president will discuss it with Israeli and Saudi leaders.

Another source cited by Axios says the White House thinks any roadmap for normalization will take time and will be a long-term process.

A different source describes the strategy as a step-by-step approach, the news site says.

Bennett to New York Times: Coalition ‘experiment’ was success, but pressure got to both sides

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has given an interview to The New York Times, titled “Naftali Bennett’s Exit Interview.”

Bennett says that his coalition “‘experiment’ was a success,” but opponents on both political extremes “found the weakest links and applied tremendous pressure.”

The Knesset is expected to formally disperse as early as Monday.

The newspaper says Bennett prides himself on what he was able to accomplish with his radically different coalition partners, by simply being willing to “set aside ideological disagreements” and focus on “better education, better jobs, better infrastructure.”

Speaking on Iran, Bennett says the regime in Tehran is “rotten, corrupt and incompetent.”

He says that when Iranians “hit us through proxies or directly, they will pay a price in Iran,” outlining what he calls the “Octopus doctrine” of striking Tehran at its head rather than its tentacles.

“It turns out these guys are more vulnerable than they seem,” he adds.

On Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed amid a gun battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp in May, Bennett says IDF soldiers “definitely” did not intentionally target her.

“What I do know is that Israeli soldiers definitely do not shoot intentionally. Never will Israeli soldiers intentionally target reporters,” he tells the Times.

Virus czar says Israel in the midst of sixth COVID wave

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka says Israel is facing a sixth wave of COVID-19.

“We’re in the midst of an additional wave, a sixth wave — with serious cases mainly among the at-risk population, especially in the over-60 age group,” Zarka says in a briefing to reporters earlier today.

There were 10,845 people diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday, with a further 5,413 since midnight Wednesday taking the number of active cases to 56,249, according to the latest Health Ministry data.

TV report: Bennett’s aides recommending he not run in upcoming elections

Channel 12 news is reporting that people close to outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett are recommending he not run in upcoming elections.

The network says his aides have recommended he announce he is quitting as the Knesset is expected to formally be dispersed next week.

Some Yamina party members have said Bennett will run in the election, which is expected in the fall.

Bennett’s office does not respond to Channel 12’s request for comment.

Lapid may meet Ergodan during Turkey visit on Thursday

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s team is preparing for the possibility of a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to the country tomorrow.

A source close to the matter says that because Lapid will soon take over the role of prime minister — as early as next week — his team believes Erdogan may ask for a surprise meeting.

Despite the unfolding drama around the dissolution of the governing coalition, Lapid will still fly to Ankara to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to the Foreign Ministry. They are expected to discuss the Iranian terror threat to Israeli travelers in the country.

Rocket targets Iraq gas complex, causing ‘no damage or injuries’

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — A Katyusha rocket fell near a gas complex in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region without damaging the facility or causing any casualties, security officials say.

The rocket targeted the Khor Mor gas complex, which belongs to UAE energy company Dana Gas and is located in Chamchamal district, counter-terrorist services in Sulaimaniyah province says in a statement.

They report “no material damage or injuries,” an assessment confirmed by a security official who requested anonymity.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Teachers full strike to continue for second day in row

The Israel Teachers Union announces that instructors will not be showing up to school at all tomorrow, for the second day in a row, as labor negotiations with the Finance Ministry take a turn for the worse.

Teachers have already been carrying out a partial strike for several days over wage disputes, starting classes several hours late.

The latest decision by union head Yaffa Ben David will apply to daycares and elementary schools, while special education facilities will continue to operate as normal. High schools concluded classes for the summer on Monday.

Microsoft says Russian cyber spying targets 42 Ukraine allies

CLEVELAND (AP) — Coinciding with unrelenting cyberattacks against Ukraine, state-backed Russian hackers have engaged in “strategic espionage” against governments, think tanks, businesses and aid groups in 42 countries supporting Kyiv, Microsoft says in a new report.

“Since the start of the war, the Russian targeting (of Ukraine’s allies) has been successful 29 percent of the time,” Microsoft President Brad Smith writes, with data stolen in at least one-quarter of the successful network intrusions,

Nearly two-thirds of the cyberespionage targets involved NATO members. The United States was the prime target and Poland, the main conduit for military assistance flowing to Ukraine, was No. 2. In the past two months, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Turkey have seen stepped-up targeting,

A striking exception is Estonia, where Microsoft said it has detected no Russian cyber intrusions since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The company credited Estonia’s adoption of cloud computing, where it’s easier to detect intruders. “Significant collective defensive weaknesses remain” among some other European governments, Microsoft says, without identifying them.

Half of the 128 organizations targeted are government agencies and 12% are nongovernmental agencies, typically think tanks or humanitarian groups, according to the 28-page report. Other targets include telecommunications, energy and defense companies.

Using artificial intelligence tools, Microsoft says, it estimates “Russian cyber influence operations successfully increased the spread of Russian propaganda after the war began by 216 percent in Ukraine and 82 percent in the United States.”

Shaked says she would sit in Netanyahu-led government in current Knesset

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tells the Ynet news site she will agree to sit in a government led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu within the current Knesset makeup, potentially avoiding elections.

The chances of this happening are considered near impossible, as Shaked would have to resign as minister in order to return to the Knesset as an MK.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, there were some attempts this morning by the opposition’s right-wing and religious parties to gather at least 61 members to establish a new government within the current Knesset. But at this stage, none of those attempts bore fruit, the reports say.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar have both said there is no chance they will sit with Netanyahu again.

Meanwhile, parliament is expected to disband and set a date for elections, which may occur as early as Monday.

Moderna says new booster candidate effective against Omicron subvariants

WASHINGTON — Moderna says its new COVID-19 booster candidate, which it is hoping to get approved this fall, performed well against Omicron’s latest subvariants.

The US biotech company announced earlier this month that the so-called “bivalent” vaccine, which targets the original COVID-19 strain and original Omicron BA.1, performed better against both compared to its original COVID vaccine called Spikevax.

In new results from a clinical study, the company says the booster also did well against BA.4 and BA.5, Omicron’s latest subvariants, which are becoming dominant thanks to their increased ability to evade prior immunity, and enhanced transmissibility.

The bivalent booster elicited high levels of infection-blocking antibodies against BA.4 and BA.5 both in people who were previously infected and those not previously infected.

However, even those high levels were still one-third the levels achieved against the original Omicron strain, BA.1

“We will submit these data to regulators urgently and are preparing to supply our next generation bivalent booster starting in August, ahead of a potential rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections due to Omicron subvariants in the early fall,” says Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel in a statement.

Sa’ar says he will bring term limits bill for vote Sunday

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announces he will bring a bill to cap prime ministerial tenures to a period of eight continuous years for an initial vote on Sunday, before the Knesset is set to disperse.

The bill had passed initial readings earlier this year, but expired ahead of the final votes, after the coalition failed to muster a majority.

The bill is not expected to pass all three readings before parliament is expected to disband, which may occur as early as Monday.

Senior Saudi journalist says ‘nothing’ preventing normalization with Israel

A senior Saudi Arabian journalist, said to be close with the country’s leaders, says the Gulf state could normalize ties with Israel, even without American mediation, Channel 12 news reports.

“In my opinion, there is no need for the US president to be a meditator between Tel Aviv and other countries,” says Mubarak al-Ati, the director of Saudi Arabia’s official al-Ekhbariya Radio in a video aired on the Israeli network.

“The negotiating tables are open, and we can talk openly,” al-Ati says, mentioning recent remarks by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who said Israel could be a “potential ally” of Riyadh.

“Nothing is stopping relations with Israel… and I think all the signs show that Israel can be part of Saudi Arabia’s network of connections,” he adds.

US President Joe Biden’s highly anticipated first trip to the Middle East will include stops in Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia from July 13 to July 16.

Jewish suspect arrested over fatal stabbing of Palestinian during brawl

A Jewish Israeli man has been arrested over the fatal stabbing of a Palestinian man during a brawl with Israeli settlers near Salfit yesterday, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

The suspect is being prevented from meeting with a lawyer, according to the Ynet news site.

It is not immediately clear if he is suspected of carrying out the stabbing itself, Channel 12 news says.

Local Palestinians say Ali Hassan Harb, 27, was stabbed to death by a settler on his land after a group of Israelis arrived to look into building an illegal outpost in the area.

Initial reports by Israeli settlers described a mass assault by 40 Palestinians wielding stones and clubs.

Damascus International Airport to reopen tomorrow, nearly two weeks after raid attributed to Israel

Nearly two weeks after Damascus International Airport was shuttered after being heavily damaged in an airstrike attributed to Israel, Syria’s Transportation Ministry announces it will reopen tomorrow.

Repair work to the runways and equipment damaged in the June 10 airstrike has been completed, the ministry says. Arrivals and departures will begin Thursday, it adds.

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.

This photo released by ImageSat International on June 10, 2022, shows Syria’s Damascus International Airport after an airstrike attributed to Israel (ImageSat International)

Bennett says he’ll vote against bill barring person under indictment from being PM

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali says he will not support a bill barring indicted politicians from forming a government, expected to be brought for a vote today.

“The right to vote and to be elected is sacred and is the essence of democracy. This was and remains my opinion. Although we have seen that there are heavy prices [as a result of] the tenure of a criminal defendant, those who have to decide are the citizens of Israel,” Bennett says on Twitter.

“Especially on the eve of an election — do not try to change the rules of the game, but let them be decided at the ballot, and I am convinced that [the voters] will make the right choice,” he says. “I will therefore vote against the law.”

The long-talked-about bill is widely viewed as aimed personally against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shin Bet investigating fatal stabbing of Palestinian during brawl with settlers

The Shin Bet has joined police in investigating the stabbing of a Palestinian man during a brawl with Israeli settlers near Salfit yesterday, a spokesperson for the internal security service says.

A Jerusalem court signed off on a request by police for a gag order on the details of the investigation, including the names of the suspects. The case is being led by Israel Police’s Judea and Samaria Nationalist Crime unit, which often examines cases involving Jewish extremist violence.

Local Palestinians say Ali Hassan Harb, 27, was stabbed to death by a settler on his land after a group of Israelis arrived to look into building an illegal outpost in the area.

Initial reports by Israeli settlers described a mass assault by 40 Palestinians wielding stones and clubs.

Merav Michaeli slams ‘terrorism’ against women during gender equality cabinet meeting

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli convenes an emergency meeting on violence against women at the so-called Gender Equality Cabinet, which she heads.

“The State of Israel is under terrorist attack. There are no other words for it. Four women a week, four women killed in a week is terrorism, plain and simple,” Michaeli says.

“This debate is taking place today because we must start doing more to stop this happening. We must eradicate this terrorism. More than 200,000 women in Israel are victims of violence every year. There are 20 murders every year,” she says. “This is terrorism for all intents and purposes, and it is time to start treating it as such.”

“Unfortunately, we are going to elections which will make it difficult for us to do all the things we started to do, that we intended to do and that we still intend and plan to do,” Michaeli adds.

Renegade Yamina MK attempting to delay Knesset dispersal

Coalition deserter Yamina MK Nir Orbach is trying to delay convening the Knesset House Committee in order to hold up the legislative process necessary to disperse the Knesset.

The plenum passed 11 separate bills to dissolve the Knesset earlier this afternoon, all of which then went to Orbach’s House Committee for their next step. The House Committee needs to meet to decide which of two committees will prepare the bills for their next reading, either itself or the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The coalition is expected to prefer that the bill move to the Constitution Committee, headed by Labor MK Gilad Kariv. Kariv would be expected to run the bill through a rapid process.

On the contrary, Orbach says that he wants to create space to give the formation of an alternative right-wing government a chance. His best tool for gumming the legislative wheels is to hold off on convening the House Committee, in which the coalition holds a majority, and wrest control back to the Constitutional Committee.

Hundreds of officers join search for teen who went missing near Meron

Police say hundreds of officers conducted extensive searches in the Mount Meron area this morning to locate Avraham Moshe Klinerman, who went missing in the area in early April.

So far no sign of the 16-year-old has been found in the area, but police vow to continue the search there, as well as in other areas.

Avraham Moshe Klinerman at a rabbi’s tomb in Safed. (Courtesy)

Death toll from Afghanistan earthquake reaches 1,000

KABUL — The death toll from an overnight earthquake in Afghanistan has reached at least 1,000, an official from one of the worst-hit provinces says.

“The number is increasing. People are digging grave after grave,” Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in Paktika, says in a message to journalists.

Russian oil refinery said hit by Ukraine drone strike

MOSCOW — An oil refinery in southern Russia says it was struck by a drone attack from Ukraine, which started a fire at the plant and forced it to suspend operations.

The Novoshakhtinsk refinery is located in Russia’s Rostov region, a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine’s separatist region of Lugansk.

“As a result of terrorist actions from the western border of the Rostov region, two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) attacked the technical facilities” of the plant, the Novoshakhtinsk refinery says in a statement.

It adds that as a result “an explosion occurred, starting a fire.”

Rostov region governor Vasily Golubev said earlier that drone fragments were found at the site but did not specify where the drones may have originated.

Golubev said the fire had been put out and all plant staff had been evacuated with no casualties.

Work at the plant has been suspended pending an investigation, Golubev added.

Videos shared on social media — which could not be independently verified — showed drones flying over the plant shortly before an explosion took place.

Russia has several times accused Kyiv of launching attacks near the joint border since starting a military intervention in Ukraine in late February.

The fire at the refinery comes days after Moscow accused Ukraine of firing at Black Sea drilling rigs off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.

Lapid speaks to British counterpart, thanks UK for ‘determined stance’ on Iran

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks by phone with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, thanking her for the UK’s “determined stance on the Iranian issue,” according to the Foreign Ministry.

“The two spoke about the need for determined actions by the international community in the struggle against Iranian terror and in regional stability,” reads a Foreign Ministry statement.

In a briefing last week, Lapid said the UK was an “intensive partner” as Israel presented its stance to the United Nations Security Council member states that the Iranian nuclear issue should be referred back to the UNSC from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The British government would not confirm that it played a role.

Truss is expected to visit Israel this month, on Lapid’s invitation.

UK Middle East Minister Amanda Milling is in Israel currently. She will also visit the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

Coalition may bring bill barring person under indictment from being PM for vote today – TV report

Ahead of the final votes to dissolve the Knesset, the coalition is said to be seeking to bring a bill barring indicted politicians from forming a government for a vote.

The long-talked-about bill is widely viewed as aimed personally against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Channel 12 news, the bill may be brought for a vote today, with outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party allowing members to vote as they like.

Some in the party are believed to be uneasy about the bill, as they feel it will be seen as personally targeting Netanyahu to bar him from returning to power — a move that will not sit well with right-wing voters.

Bennett visits south, warns Hamas not to take advantage of election season

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett toured the military’s Gaza Division in southern Israel earlier.

“We are summarizing the quietest year for the residents of Sderot, Ashkelon, and the Gaza border communities in 15 years,” Bennett says according to a statement published by his office.

“The new normal in the south is peace, security, and normal life,” he says.

“We are in a period of political instability, but security stability must be maintained. I do not suggest to anyone on the other side to try to challenge it,” he adds, in a warning to the Hamas terror group.

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