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

UN nuclear watchdog mulls censure of Iran

Iran’s recent decision to limit inspections by the UN’s nuclear watchdog will be at the heart of a meeting of its board of governors on Monday, with some members mulling a formal rebuke to Tehran.

Western countries will be trying to find a way of censuring Iran without jeopardizing fragile efforts to revive the 2015 deal between Tehran and major powers on its nuclear program.

The possibility of a resolution criticizing Iran being passed at the board attracts sharp diplomatic comment in the run-up to the meeting.

“The Europeans have started a wrong move by supporting the US in the board of governors,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens during the talks in Moscow, Russia, January 26, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

“We think this move will lead to the situation becoming disorganized,” he says, according to the official Irna agency.

While President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the 2015 deal, on Sunday Iran said the time was “not suitable” to hold an informal meeting with the US and the remaining parties to the accord — France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia.

Diplomatic sources say that no decision has yet been taken by European states on whether or not to put forward a resolution as Iran will only be discussed later in the week at the meeting, being held via videoconference.

Russia has made clear its opposition to the prospect of a resolution criticizing Iran.

Russian ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov tweets that such a move would be an “unfortunate miscalculation.”

Earlier he had said that “the common responsibility of all 35 Governors is to ensure that the debates (even heated) do not negatively affect diplomatic efforts aimed at full restoration of #JCPOA,” using the formal name for the 2015 deal.

Iran’ Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi (R), in Tehran on February 21, 2021 (AFP)

Russia’s deputy foreign minister also blasted Washington for US strikes on Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria last week, saying the move threatened to scupper talks.

“There is no doubt that influential forces in Washington have taken steps in order to derail this meeting,” Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by Russian state news agency TASS as saying.

The JCPOA was sent into disarray when former US President Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from it in 2018 and went on to impose swingeing economic sanctions on Iran.

“We are running against time,” Ulyanov said.

Zarif said that Iran hoped “that reason will prevail” at this week’s meeting.

“If it does not we do have solutions,” he said, without specifying what these were.

In a document circulated to IAEA member states ahead of this week’s meeting, the Iranian mission to the organization says a critical resolution would be “counterproductive and destructive.”

The document also says the introduction of such a resolution would mark the “end” of the agreement reached with the IAEA last month to mitigate the impact of reduced inspections.

Under that temporary three-month arrangement, Iran has pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA when US sanctions are lifted.

If a resolution censuring Iran is passed, it would be the first such resolution since June, which was itself the first in eight years

UAE’s first Israel ambassador meets FM Ashkenazi

The United Arab Emirates’ first ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, meets Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who welcomes him to the Jewish state.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R) meets with Emirati Ambassador to Israel Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah on March 1, 2021 (Foreign Ministry)

“We have a historic opportunity to present a model of a warm and comprehensive peace between countries and nations. The opening of Foreign Ministry missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and the opening of the Emirates’ Embassy in Israel are critical to establishing bilateral relations and promoting peace,” says Ashkenazi.

“I am happy to see the rapid warming of relations between the countries, and the realization of the vision of peace between cultures and peoples,” he adds.

Al Khajah, who came with a small team of staffers, will later today present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in an official ceremony at the President’s Residence.

Study: Fitness of former COVID patients aged 45 is similar to 80 year olds

A study of recovered COVID-19 patients, aged 45 on average, finds their physical fitness levels to be similar to 80-year-olds.

The research is conducted by the Beilinson Medical Center in central Israel, in its physiotherapy center, on 30 patients, three months after they were officially cleared of the disease.

In one test, the recovered patients were asked to walk for six minutes. They covered 450 meters in that time, compared to 700 meters on average for their age group. In the second test, they were asked to stand up and sit down repeatedly for 30 seconds. Most managed to do so 14 times in half a minute, compared to an average of 30 for healthy adults their age.

Researchers say the results are similar to the fitness levels of an 80-year-old.

It’s not immediately clear how the trial participants were selected and what their condition was when they were ill with COVID-19.

Likud MK deletes tweet saying he’ll advance immunity law for Netanyahu

Likud MK Nissim Vaturi tweets that in the next Knesset, he’ll advance a law granting immunity for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his corruption charges.

He deletes the message minutes later and says that while he supports advancing the so-called French Law for prime ministers, such legislation won’t apply to Netanyahu, who is currently on trial.

Iran nuclear inspections should not be ‘bargaining chip,’ says IAEA chief

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog appeals for its inspection work in Iran not to become a “bargaining chip” as world powers mull negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“The inspection work of the IAEA must be preserved… (it) should not be put in the middle of a negotiating table as a bargaining chip,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi tells a press conference at the start of the agency’s quarterly meeting of its board of governors.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi addresses media after his arrival at Vienna International Airport on February 21, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

In fresh surge, 1,626 new COVID cases recorded among West Bank Palestinians

West Bank Palestinians record another 1,626 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry says.

There are currently 12,897 active coronavirus cases in the West Bank, which health officials say has entered a third coronavirus wave.

Ramallah and Hebron governorates have emerged as centers of the renewed coronavirus outbreak in the West Bank, registering 389 and 322 new cases, respectively.

Fourteen Palestinians died of the novel coronavirus in the West Bank in the past 24 hours, according to the PA Health Ministry.

Gaza continues to see lower coronavirus infection rates, with only 98 new cases identified by Hamas health officials in the past day.

Palestinian health workers at a hospital in the West Bank town of Nablus, where health workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) earlier today, after the delivery of vaccine doses from Israel. February 03, 2021. Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90

1,800 former IDF officers, Mossad agents urge Biden not to reenter Iran deal

A group representing 1,800 former Israel Defense Forces officers and Mossad operatives pens a letter to US President Joe Biden, imploring him not to reenter the nuclear deal with Iran.

The former security officials say they’ve “watched with great concern as your administration appears focused on creating a new agreement based on the flawed guiding principles of the JCPOA.”

Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

“From a strict security perspective, this approach represents an existential threat to the Jewish State. It also would work against your Administration’s stated goal of stabilizing the Middle East, as such action would push Israel and her Sunni allies into a dangerous corner and potentially ignite a massive nuclear arms race,” says the letter by the group, called “Habithonistim.”

“What is needed is not to succumb to the false brinkmanship and nuclear blackmail of Iran, and to use the maximum pressure sanctions to demand Iran accept a more effective deal that will not include sunset clauses, and will guarantee that Iran shall never have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. A deal that dismantles the military nuclear facilities, provides for real inspections anywhere anytime, limits enrichment for a very long time or prevents it and takes care of delivery systems (ballistic missiles).”

US President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

UK’s Prince Philip, 99, transferred to another hospital for infection treatment

Buckingham Palace says Prince Philip has been transferred to another London hospital to continue treatment for an infection.

The palace says Philip, the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II, was transferred from King Edward VII’s Hospital to St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

In addition to treatment for an unspecified infection, he will also undergo testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition.

Philip was admitted to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital last month after feeling ill. The illness was not related to the coronavirus and royal officials called it a precautionary measure.

The palace says Philip “remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week.’’

Britain’s Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh greets guests at a garden party at Buckingham Palace in London on June 1, 2017. (John Stillwell / POOL / AFP)

German soldier and relative arrested over far-right sympathies, weapons hoarding

A German soldier and a relative have been arrested on suspicion of illegally hoarding weapons and expressing far-right sympathies, investigators say.

The two men were arrested over the weekend in the central state of Hesse, according to the region’s criminal police office and prosecutors in the city of Hanau. A third man, also a relative, turned himself into police on Sunday evening.

The identities of the men, aged 20, 21 and 63, aren’t made public. Investigators say they found evidence including firearms, ammunition and explosives in searches of the men’s homes and workplaces.

Their statement doesn’t specify what branch of the military the soldier belongs to.

The arrests come at a time of concern about far-right extremism in the German military, or Bundeswehr. Last week, parliament’s commissioner for the military said the number of reported far-right incidents in the Bundeswehr climbed to 477 last year from 363 in 2019.

The country’s special forces, the KSK, have faced particular scrutiny after numerous allegations of far-right extremism in recent years. Germany’s defense minister disbanded one of the KSK’s units in July and vowed to further investigate extremism and implement reforms.

French ex-president Sarkozy convicted of corruption, sentenced to year in prison

A Paris court finds French former President Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of corruption and influence peddling and sentences him to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence.

The 66-year-old politician, who was president from 2007 to 2012, is convicted for having tried to illegally obtain information from a senior magistrate in 2014 about a legal action in which he was involved.

The court says Sarkozy will be entitled to request to be detained at home with an electronic bracelet.

Sarkozy will face another trial later this month along with 13 other people on charges of illegal financing of his 2012 presidential campaign.

In this Oct.29, 2020 file photo, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy attends a ceremony in Nice, southern France (Valery Hache; Pool via AP, File)

Grades 7-10 to return to class next week — report

The government is expected to approve the resumption of in-person classes for grades 7-10 in low-infection areas starting Sunday, Channel 12 reports.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant has been pushing for the grades to reopen Wednesday.

The network says Gallant is expected to tussle with other ministers on the issue during today’s cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein decided on reopening next week without consulting with Gallant, the report says.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said classes will resume in “green” and “yellow” areas with low-infection rates, including for grades 7-10, which had so far remained closed, in the coming days.

But the prime minister was persuaded by health officials to postpone the reopening until next week, Channel 12 says.

Fifth grade students return to school in Efrat, February 21, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Ministers convene to discuss reopening schools, airport

The cabinet is meeting to discuss the reopening of grades 7-10 in low-infection areas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly backs the resumption of studies next week, while Education Minister Yoav Gallant wants classes to resume earlier.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev is also set to present a plan to the cabinet whereby all Israelis abroad would be permitted to return to Israel to vote in next month’s elections. The plan would reportedly see the controversial Permits Committee scrapped.

Netanyahu condemns ‘intolerable’ Purim gatherings

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the start of the cabinet meeting, condemns illegal parties and gatherings during the weekend’s Purim holiday, according to Hebrew media reports.

He calls the violations “intolerable.” Major street parties were held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and around the country.

The prime minister says he’s seeking to reopen more schools in areas with high vaccination rates.

People wearing costumes celebrate the holiday of Purim at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, February 26, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Abbas orders establishment of elections court ahead of Palestinian vote

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issues a presidential decree ordering the establishment of an elections court to resolve disputes between Fatah, Hamas and other factions in the upcoming legislative vote.

The first Palestinian elections in 15 years are scheduled to take place on May 22. While many observers are still skeptical that the vote will actually happen, optimism has slowly been growing in diplomatic circles that Palestinians could head to the ballot box.

The establishment of an independent elections court has been a central demand by Abbas’s Hamas rivals, who have expressed concern that Abbas could use a court to revise election results should he lose.

The panel’s judges include representatives both from the West Bank, which is controlled by Abbas’s Fatah movement, and from Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The election is chaired by Iman Nasr al-Din. A Palestinian lawyer involved in forming an independent list in the upcoming Palestinian elections called her “a well-respected, professional jurist, with a good reputation.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership to discuss the United Arab Emirates’ deal with Israel to normalize relations, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 18, 2020. (Mohamad Torokman/Pool via AP)

UAE’s new ambassador to Israel presents credentials to President Rivlin

The United Arab Emirates’ first ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khajah, presents his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin.

Upon his arrival at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Al Khajah is greeted with a musical reception and a red carpet.

Rivlin welcomes him in Arabic, before continuing his remarks in Hebrew.

“This is a moving ceremony for me, as president of Israel,” says Rivlin. The president adds that it’s personally emotional for him, noting his late father’s love of Arabic and translation of the Quran into Hebrew.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony announcing the winners of the Wolf Foundation award, at the president residence in Jerusalem, on January 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Our countries have a shared ethos: A small country committed to turning arid land into a flourishing garden, against all the odds,” says Rivlin.

Ties between Israel and the Emirates were developed quietly over a long time, says Rivlin. “We believed that if we waited patiently, the right time would come in which we would be able to take our ties a step forward. To deepen the friendship between us. To make it public.”

Rivlin says it’s a “terrific day, in which the Emirati flag flies alongside the Israeli flag over the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.”

“The entire Israeli nation is moved and welcomes you, gladly,” he adds.

“Leaders sign deals, but real peace, lasting peace — [that] peace is made ‘people to people,’ face to face,” says Rivlin, wishing him luck in his new diplomatic role.

Al Khajah will spend several days in the country, during which time he will reportedly meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials, as well as scout out suitable locations for the embassy and his home.

New UAE envoy to Israel says countries share vision of peace and security

Newly appointed UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohammad Mahmoud Al Khaja says that he will work to tighten relations between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.

“The vision which begins today is one which seeks a more flourishing, more stable future,” Al Khaja says as he presents his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin.

By partnering with Israel, the United Arab Emirates is offering “a new civilizational approach” which aims “to open the door to new opportunities.”

“The two nations have a shared mission: to establish peace and security throughout the region,” Al Khaja says.

ِAl Khaja says that he will work to increase relations in culture, business and education between the Emirates and Israel.

“I will make every effort to make these relations ever tighten, to close the gap between the two countries and their people,” he says.

“Our two countries have the largest and most important economies in the region,” he adds, saying that Israel and the UAE have collaborated in fighting COVID-19.

Israel to recognize soldiers who fought in southern Lebanon

The government unanimously approves a proposal recognizing the period from 1982 to 2000 during which troops were deployed in southern Lebanon as an official, named campaign, and will grant a special pin to those who took part in it.

The cabinet vote is hailed by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“As the last soldier to leave Lebanon, I feel the great honor of recognizing thousands of soldiers,” says Gantz.

The government resolution also recognizes Israel-allied South Lebanon Army fighters.

Israeli soldiers patrol along a road in Israeli-controlled southern Lebanon, March 31, 1996 (AP Photo/Yaron Kaminsky)

A vocal group of IDF veterans from this period has lobbied for this official recognition for years, claiming their experiences in the so-called “security zone” in southern Lebanon were forgotten and ignored by the state.

The symbolic move will place the 18-year military occupation on the same pedestal as Israel’s wars and multi-year military campaigns.

This period, during which the IDF occupied a strip of southern Lebanon — totaling about 10 percent of Lebanese territory — in order to defend northern Israel from terrorist attacks will be known as “The Security Zone in Lebanon Campaign.”

Israel dismantled the security zone and hurriedly pulled back to the international border in late May 2000, under prime minister Ehud Barak. The South Lebanon Army, a militia backed by Israel that fought alongside the IDF in the zone, collapsed as Israel departed. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group subsequently moved into the area, and a Hezbollah cross-border raid led to the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Iran’s suspension from judo events over Israel boycott lifted

Iran’s suspension from international judo events for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The case was prompted by former world champion Saeid Mollaei leaving the Iranian team in 2019, claiming he was ordered to lose matches and withdraw from competitions to avoid facing Israelis.

CAS says its judges hearing the Iranian judo federation’s appeal decided the International Judo Federation overstepped its authority with such a severe ban, which was imposed in October 2019. The case was sent back to an IJF disciplinary panel for review.

Israeli world champion judoka Sagi Muki, right, and Iranian champion Saeid Mollaei embrace at the Paris Grand Slam, February 10, 2020, in an Instagram photo posted online by Muki. (Instagram screen capture)

The court acknowledges the Iranian judo federation had “committed severe violations of the IJF rules” on discrimination and should be punished, though within the world governing body’s rules.

The IJF had accused Iranian government officials of putting pressure on athletes including Mollaei, who later fled to Germany.

The International Olympic Committee last year approved Mollaei’s switch to compete for Mongolia.

The IOC said the change did not need permission from Iranian Olympic officials because the judoka was technically a refugee.

During the case, the IJF said any action taken against Iran would not apply directly to the Tokyo Olympics, because athletes are technically entered by the Iranian Olympic Committee and not the national judo body.

In pilot program, Israel rolls out electronic bracelet quarantine tracking

Passengers arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport are given the option of quarantining at home with an electronic bracelet, rather than isolation at state-run hotels, in a trial run by the government.

The pilot program will include around 100 people. The bracelets will monitor their location to ensure they are adhering to Health Ministry guidelines through their two-week quarantine period.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the Israelis are asked for a NIS 1,500 ($453) deposit to receive an electronic bracelet.

Israel’s top diplomat speaks to Omani counterpart

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks to his Omani counterpart about regional issues.

Israel and Oman do not have diplomatic relations.

“During the call, views were exchanged on a number of issues of common interest, as well the importance of supporting all efforts aimed at achieving peace and stability in the region,” says Ashkenazi. “We agreed to maintain our direct channel of communication and to further enhance cooperation.”

Government okays NIS 150 million plan to fight crime in Arab communities

The government approves a NIS 150 million ($45 million) plan to combat the spread of violence and organized crime in Arab cities and towns, the Prime Minister’s Office announces.

The plan, which was announced by Netanyahu in early February, includes the establishment of “five new police stations, two fire departments and the establishment of a special police unit devoted to combating crime in Arab communities.” Another NIS 1 million ($302,500) will be devoted to raising awareness about violence in Arab communities.

Arab Israelis have seen a staggering rise in violence in their communities over the past few years, with the homicide rate rising to a record 96 victims last year. Many charge that police neglect to solve crimes or crack down on organized gangs in their cities and towns. Passing a major relief plan to combat the problem has been a central priority for Arab lawmakers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new plan to fight crime in Arab Israeli communities on February 3, 2021 (screenshot: YouTube)

Netanyahu’s plan has been criticized by Arab politicians and civil society organizations, who had hoped for billions of shekels to be allocated to the issue.

The Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, a shared society organization that has worked extensively on relations between Israel Police and Arab Israelis, called the plan “too little, too late” in a statement at the time the proposal was unveiled.

“The immediate measures presented, and especially the meager budget provided, do not provide a solution in and of themselves. A handful of police stations, fire stations and community buildings, at a total cost of NIS 100 million — this is not a serious response to rampant crime,” the Abraham Initiatives said in a statement in early February.

Israel’s top court recognizes Reform, Conservative conversions

In a dramatic decision, the High Court of Justice rules that people who convert to Judaism in Israel through the Reform and Conservative movements must be recognized as Jews under the provisions of the Law of Return, and are thus entitled to Israeli citizenship.

The decision culminates an appeal process that began more than 15 years ago, involving 12 people who converted to Judaism in Israel through the non-Orthodox streams. The justices note that they had withheld issuing a ruling to allow the state to handle the matter, but the state had failed to do so.

The ruling constitutes a political bombshell, since it punctures the longstanding Orthodox monopoly on officially recognized conversions in Israel.

Most of the petitions were launched in 2005, the court’s president, Justice Esther Hayut notes, and the court repeatedly postponed a ruling to enable legislation on the issue.

“We refrained from issuing a ruling in order to allow the state to advance legislation on the issue,” writes Justice Dafna Barak-Erez. But since people’s “rights hang in the balance” and no such legislation is advancing, the court has decided to issue its ruling.

The ruling is by a majority verdict, 8-1, with Justice Noam Sohlberg dissenting.

Deri: Court’s ruling on conversions ‘a mortal blow to Israel’s Jewish character’

Shas leader Aryeh Deri says the High Court’s recognition of non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism for the purposes of the Law of Return constitutes “a mortal blow to the Jewish character of the state” and the “complete demolition of the status quo [on religious affairs in Israel] that has been upheld for over 70 years.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset building, on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas says the ruling underlines the court’s disconnect from the majority of the Israeli people, “who want to maintain the Jewish state and preserve Judaism according to traditions that go back thousands of years.”

The ultra-Orthodox party vows to initiate legislation to overturn the court’s ruling, and also to support legislation that will prevent the court from intervening in such matters in the future.

Liberman hails ‘historic’ court recognition of non-Orthodox conversions

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman calls the High Court decision to recognize Reform and Conservative Conversions to Judaism carried out in Israel “historic.”

He says his party will “continue to battle religious coercion and to preserve the state of Israel’s characters as Jewish, Zionist and liberal state.”

Yamina on conversions ruling: Court has overstepped its role

Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party castigates the High Court for its recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel, saying the court “is intervening in government decisions and forgetting its role.”

The State of Israel’s stance on conversion to Judaism, says the Orthodox nationalist party, “will be determined by the democratically elected representatives of the people, not by jurists.”

It says it will advance legislation on the issue based on a framework devised by former justice minister Moshe Nissim.

Chief rabbis: Reform, Conservative converts are not Jews

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef criticizes the High Court decision recognizing non-Orthodox conversions, and urges the Knesset to advance legislation to cancel it.

He calls the decision “extremely regrettable.”

“What the Reform and Conservative [movements] term ‘conversion’ is nothing but a falsification of Judaism and will mean including thousands of Gentiles among the people of Israel,” says Yosef.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau says: “Those who converted through Reform conversions and the like are not Jewish. No High Court decision will change that fact.”

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef convene an emergency meeting against a new proposal to overhaul the conversion to Judaism system in the country on June 3, 2018 (Courtesy of the Chief Rabbinate spokesperson)

Opposition head Lapid backs court ruling, urges ‘freedom of religion for Jews’

Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition, says he welcomes the court decision on conversion.

“Israel must have complete equality of rights for all streams of Judaism – Orthodox, Reform or Conservative,” he says. “We all need to live here together with tolerance and mutual respect.

“A sane government will put an end to the ridiculous situation whereby Israel is the only democracy in the world without freedom of religion for Jews.”

Netanyahu silent on High Court’s ruling on conversions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to comment on the High Court ruling recognizing non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism in Israel for the purposes of immigration.

His office declines to comment.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

Netanyahu, Gantz leave cabinet meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the cabinet meeting to take a “very important” call, say Hebrew media reports, without elaborating.

A short while later, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announces that he is leaving the videoconference meeting, along with other Blue and White ministers, while complaining that Finance Minister Israel Katz is using the meeting to criticize bureaucrats.

Another 2,877 virus cases diagnosed since midnight

Another 2,877 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 38,348, the Health Ministry says.

Among them, 737 are in serious condition, including 241 on ventilators.

The death toll stands at 5,760.

According to the ministry, over 4.7 million Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccine and 3.39 million have had both shots.


Transportation Ministry plan would see airport reopen from Sunday

The Transportation Ministry plans to allow Israelis to enter the country to vote in the March 23 elections, beginning Sunday, according to Hebrew media reports.

The ministry plan, which is set to be presented to the cabinet, will also enable Israelis to leave the country, though not to high-infection countries listed by the government.

Israelis who enter the country who are not vaccinated will be forced to self-isolate in the state-run hotels or quarantine at home with an electronic bracelet, reports say.

Israel’s main international airport has been mostly shuttered since late January, with the government approving exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

The empty arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on February 3, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Health Ministry tells HMOs to start vaccinating recovered COVID patients — TV

The Health Ministry informs health providers they can begin to vaccinate recovered COVID-19 patients who are over 16 years old, according to Channel 12.

The recovered patients are to receive a single Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

They will be eligible to receive the vaccine three months after recovery.

East Jerusalem residents receive COVID-19 vaccine injections in a mobile Magen David Station at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on February 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

NY’s Cuomo sorry for ‘misinterpreted’ conduct, denies sexual harassment

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he is “truly sorry” if his conduct had ever been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation” as he faces mounting pressure over sexual harassment allegations.

Cuomo has been harshly criticized, including by fellow Democrats, after former aide Charlotte Bennett told The New York Times that he sexually harassed her last year.

The allegations came just four days after ex-aide Lindsey Boylan described unwanted physical contact from Cuomo.

He issues a statement saying, “Sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny… I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a press conference before the opening of a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in the Queens borough of New York, on February 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal.”

He admits some of his comments may have been “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry.”

But he denies ever inappropriately touching or propositioning anyone.

Cuomo says he had called for an independent review into the allegations.

He had earlier chosen former federal judge Barbara Jones to lead a probe, but high-profile figures in his own Democratic party said that was insufficiently transparent.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent young liberal lawmaker, tweeted that the “detailed accounts” of Cuomo’s accusers “are extremely serious and painful to read.”

According to the 25-year-old Bennett, Cuomo, who is 63, said in June that he was open to dating women in their 20s, and asked her if she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, the Times reported.

While Cuomo never tried to touch her, “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” she said.

Cuomo became a national figure last spring with his straight-talking yet empathetic coronavirus briefings. They fueled speculation that President Joe Biden — then a candidate — might consider him as a running mate.

On Wednesday, Boylan said in a blog that Cuomo had harassed her when she was working for his administration, from 2015 to 2018.

Boylan, 36, alleged that the governor had given her an unsolicited kiss on the lips, suggested that they play strip poker and went “out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms, and legs.”

“Every woman should be heard, should be treated with respect and with dignity,” Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for President Joe Biden, said on CNN.

Khashoggi’s fiance demands US punish Saudi crown prince

The Turkish fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi calls on Washington to punish Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder.

The United States on Friday declassified a report that publicly accused the crown prince of approving Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate in 2018.

But the United States stopped short of applying sanctions against the 35-year-old de facto Saudi leader, known by his initials MBS.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of the killed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, speaks during a memorial event for her fiance at the Mechanical Engineers Institute in London, October 29, 2018. (John Stillwell/PA via AP)

“It is essential that the crown prince, who ordered the brutal murder of a blameless and innocent person, should be punished without delay,” Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, says in a statement posted on her official Twitter account.

“This will not only bring the justice we have been seeking for Jamal, but it could also prevent similar acts recurring in the future.”

Khashoggi, a US resident and critic of Prince Mohammed who wrote for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate after going inside to receive paperwork for his wedding to Cengiz.

Cengiz says that “following this report, there is no longer any political legitimacy for the crown prince.”

But she says the US report did not go far enough.

A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) with blood on his hands protests with others outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, on October 10, 2018, demanding justice for missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Jim WATSON/AFP)

“The truth — that was already known — has been revealed one more time, and it is now confirmed.”

“Yet this is not enough,” she warns, “since the truth can only be meaningful when it serves justice being achieved.”

Top health officials want to stick to reopening plan, despite virus uptick

Despite a rise in coronavirus infections, top health officials are reportedly sticking to the original plan to gradually reopen the economy, which will see restaurants and hotels open their doors to the vaccinated next week.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and coronavirus czar Nahman Ash tell ministers the easing of restrictions should go ahead as planned, according to Hebrew media reports. Channel 13 says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also inclined to adopt this position.

The audience waits on opening night at the Khan Theater during a performance where all guests were required to show proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination or full recovery from the virus, in Jerusalem, February 23, 2021. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

The next stage of the government’s reopening plan, scheduled for around March 7, includes allowing students in grades 7-10 to return to school in low-infection areas, reopening restaurants and cafes, permitting hotels and event venues to open in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines, and easing limitations on gatherings.

Ministers are meeting to discuss how to proceed with the lifting of the health rules.

Likud: High Court decision on non-Orthodox conversions ‘endangers Law of Return’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party criticizes a High Court of Justice ruling that recognizes Reform and Conservative conversions to Judaism in Israel for the purposes of obtaining citizenship.

“The High Court made a decision that endangers the Law of Return, which is a cornerstone of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” the party says. “Only a vote for Likud will ensure a stable right-wing government that will return sovereignty to the people and the Knesset.”

World won’t vanquish virus this year, says WHO

It is unrealistic to think that the world will be done with the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of the year, the WHO says.

The World Health Organization’s emergencies director Michael Ryan says it might be possible to take the sting of tragedy out of the coronavirus crisis by reducing hospitalizations and deaths.

But the virus remains very much in control, he adds, especially given that global new case numbers increased this week after seven consecutive weeks of decline.

“It will be very premature and I think unrealistic to think that we’re going to finish with this virus by the end of the year,” Ryan tells journalists.

A healthcare worker inoculates an 84-year-old in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

“But I think what we can finish with, if we’re smart, is the hospitalizations, the deaths, and the tragedy associated with this pandemic.”

Ryan says the WHO’s focus is on keeping virus transmission low, to help prevent the emergence of variants, but also to reduce the numbers of people who get sick.

He also says vaccinating front-line health care workers and those most vulnerable to severe disease would “take the fear and the tragedy out of the pandemic.”

Israel to start vaccinating recovered COVID patients, Health Ministry confirms

The Health Ministry confirms that Israelis who recovered from COVID-19 over three months ago can get the coronavirus vaccine, from Tuesday.

Those who previously had the virus will get a single vaccine shot, rather than two doses.

Separately, the ministry updates that 87 percent of Israelis over 50 have been vaccinated.

Europeans to push for Iran censure at UN nuclear watchdog meeting

The three European members of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will put forward a resolution condemning Iran’s suspension of some inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources say.

France, Germany, and the UK will propose it during this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog’s board of governors, a delicate moment for diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear issue.

US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the landmark 2015 deal between Tehran and major powers on its nuclear program.

It has been unraveling since Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.

But the proposed resolution could derail the temporary agreement that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi hammered out with Iran to mitigate what he calls the “huge loss” of some IAEA inspections.

Iran’ Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi (R), in Tehran on February 21, 2021. (AFP)

A document circulated by the Iranian mission in Vienna and seen by AFP says the introduction of a critical resolution would effectively end the temporary agreement with the IAEA.

Under that three-month arrangement, which went into force on February 23, Iran has pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

Sources say the European resolution is expected to come to a vote on Friday, and that it is backed by the United States.

A version of the text seen by AFP “expresses serious concern at Iran’s decision to stop implementing” some inspections-related commitments and “urges Iran to immediately resume implementation.”

The prospect of Iran suspending the temporary agreement with the IAEA in retaliation was described by one diplomatic source as “a risk to be taken” to protect “the credibility of the agency” and stand up to Iranian “blackmail.”

They were confident the resolution would be adopted, the source adds.

Moscow has made clear its opposition to such a resolution.

Ministers vote to reopen grades 7-10, continue easing restrictions Sunday

The cabinet votes in favor of reopening grades 7-10 in low-infection areas from Sunday and pressing ahead with its original plan to gradually lift coronavirus restrictions.

The next stage of the government’s reopening plan, scheduled for around March 7, includes reopening restaurants and cafes, permitting hotels and event venues to open in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines, and easing limitations on gatherings.

From next week, those who are vaccinated will be allowed to sit inside cafes and restaurants, while those not immunized must sit outdoors. Hotels and event venues will be opened strictly to the vaccinated.

The general limit on gatherings will be expanded to 20 indoors, 50 outdoors.

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