The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is saddened by each of the over 6,000 COVID-19 deaths but asserts it is a relatively low figure.
“Six thousand dead is a difficult number for every one of us, but it’s much less than other countries our size,” he tells the Ynet news site.
The prime minister vows that “there will unequivocally not be another lockdown,” but then equivocates: New virus mutations could lead to such a result.
In an interview with the Ynet news site, the premier also said four more countries were set to normalize their ties with the Jewish state, following in the footsteps of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Yesh Atid leader and opposition chief Yair Lapid says it is important that the left-wing Meretz party pass the electoral threshold, but no less important that his party win big among the parties of the anti-Netanyahu bloc.
“If someone wants to vote Meretz, vote Meretz, it’s important they pass the electoral threshold. But with all due respect to bloc calculations, you can’t change a government without a big party.”
A business jet that had been set to bring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United Arab Emirates for his first state visit last week — before that visit was canceled at the last minute due to a lack of Jordanian approval to use its airspace for the flight — is now making its way to Israel again, Army Radio reports.
The plane, designated A6HHS, can currently be seen on Flightradar24.com flying over Saudi Arabia in the general direction of Israel, though its destination is not available.
Netanyahu had previously said the trip would happen “very soon.”
Netanyahu further tells Ynet that there are “four more peace agreements” on the way, but does not name the countries.
Netanyahu and others, including former US president Donald Trump, have said in the past that multiple countries could join the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in normalizing ties with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry announces that the West Bank recorded 1,891 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours as PA areas continue to see surging infections.
With PA hospitals overflowing, Ramallah has ordered a return to total lockdown in some governorates.
Around 28 percent of coronavirus tests taken in the West Bank have come back positive over the past two weeks, the PA said yesterday.
“The alarm has sounded in Palestine,” PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in a statement last night carried by the official PA WAFA news agency. “The current epidemiological situation is very dangerous due to the wide spread of the disease in a manner unprecedented since the beginning of the pandemic.”
US manufacturer Moderna says it has started COVID-19 vaccine trials for children aged from 6 months to under 12 years old, with plans to enroll about 6,750 participants.
“We are pleased to begin this Phase 2/3 study of mRNA-1273 in healthy children in the US and Canada,” says CEO Stephane Bancel in a statement.
“This pediatric study will help us assess the potential safety and immunogenicity of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate in this important younger age population.”
The Iron Dome missile defense system has completed a “technological leap” in recent months, with a series of upgrades that have improved its ability to deal with multiple complex threats, the Defense Ministry says.
This includes “simultaneously shooting down multiple unmanned aerial vehicles, missile salvoes and rockets.”
The Israeli Air Force maintains a multi-tiered missile defense system, which is meant to protect the country from aerial threats. The lowest layer of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense system is the Iron Dome.
מינהלת "חומה" במפא"ת וחברת רפאל השלימו בהצלחה סדרת ניסויים מתקדמת במערכת הנשק "כיפת ברזל", שהוכיחה קפיצת מדרגה טכנולוגית. במהלך הניסויים התמודדה "כיפת ברזל" בהצלחה עם תרחישים עמוסים ויירטה מטרות המדמות איומים פוטנציאליים, בהם יירוט בו-זמני של מספר כטב"מים ומטחי טילים ורקטות. pic.twitter.com/kT2bipHwsq
— משרד הביטחון (@MoDIsrael) March 16, 2021
“Ten years after the first operational use of the Iron Dome, today we are completing a qualitative technological leap in the system’s abilities. In three series of experiments in just a few months, we have upgraded the capacities of the Iron Dome to the next generation of threats,” says Defense Ministry official Moshe Pattal.
The system, under the new configuration, “is to enter operational use in the Air Force and further bolster Israel’s aerial defense,” he says.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz adds: “In the face of evolving, varied threats by our enemies, the new systems and their updates allow the political and operational leadership maneuvering space that is critical to national security.”
An Arab party formed only two months ago to run in the upcoming election, and which had not been expected to pass the electoral threshold, has dropped out of the running in order to ensure left-wing votes do not go to waste.
Ma’an was expected to draw several thousand votes, which Haaretz journalist Jack Khouri notes could be important for borderline-polling parties such as Meretz and Ra’am.
Ma’an will now give its support to the Joint List.
Social activist Mohammad Darawsheh formed Ma’an (“together” in Arabic) in January with a stated mission to move the Arab community “from victimhood to decision-making positions.”
An American return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran remains possible, but both sides need to be prepared to negotiate, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog suggests to European parliamentarians.
Asked about Iran’s insistence that the US take the first step to return to the deal, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi says in a video appearance before three European Parliament committees that “it takes two to tango.”
He notes that over the past two years Iran has accumulated a lot of nuclear material and new capacities, and used the time for “honing their skills in these areas.”
“Even if you had a magic wand or the hand of God and said we go back tomorrow, there will be a lot of housekeeping,” he says.
Grossi says he has been talking to both sides in his agency’s “impartial neutral role” and does think that a US return to the deal is possible.
“They want to come back,” he says. “But of course… there are a number of issues that still need to be clarified. So it’s not impossible. It is difficult, but not impossible.”
President Reuven Rivlin lands in Germany at the beginning of a trip to Europe, on which he is joined by IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi.
Rivlin is expected to meet with the leaders of Germany, France and Austria.
He is expected to discuss various diplomatic issues of concern, including the threats posed by Hezbollah and Iran and well as the International Criminal Court’s decision to probe Israel and the Palestinians for potential war crimes.
Kohavi will brief top officials on security aspects during the trip.
Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami says Iran must be ready to defend itself “against all threats… including chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.”
Hatami says “the enemies of humanity” are prepared to use all means to achieve their war goals.
But Iranians should know the nation is vigilant and “has taken all necessary measures against every threat.”
A Jewish Iraqi doctor, one of the last Iraqi Jews in Baghdad, has passed away.
According to Kan news, Dr. Thafer Eliyahu died of a heart attack.
“Dr. Thafer Eliyahu, Orthopedic doctor in Wasiti hospital in Baghdad passed away. He is one of the last Iraqi Jews in Baghdad, he was called the doctor of the poor people since he always used to treat those who can’t afford the costs for free,” Washington Post Iraqi correspondent Mustafa Salim reports.
Dr. Thafer Eliyahu, Orthopedic doctor in Wasiti hospital in Baghdad passed away . He is one of the last Iraqi Jews in Baghdad, he was called the doctor of the poor people since he always used to treat those who can’t afford the costs for free. pic.twitter.com/8jgQvsaY9C
— Mustafa Salim (@Mustafa_salimb) March 16, 2021
Israel has begun vaccinating hundreds of Jordanians employed in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.
Some 700 workers who regularly crossed the border to work at Eilat hotels had been barred from Israel for long months due to the coronavirus pandemic. They will now quarantine and vaccinate to allow them to return to work as Israel reopens.
With coronavirus cases rising in many places, governments face the grimmest of dilemmas: push on with a vaccine that is known to save lives or suspend use of AstraZeneca over reports of dangerous blood clots in a few recipients, even as the European regulator says there is “no indication” the shot was responsible.
It has created a jagged divide across the globe, forcing politicians to assess the health risks of halting the shots at a time when many countries, especially in Europe, are already struggling to overcome logistical hurdles and vaccine hesitancy among their populations.
Sweden was the latest to join a swelling group of European Union nations choosing caution over speed, even as the head of the European Medicines Agency says the agency is “firmly convinced” that the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh the risks.
Emer Cooke notes that thousands of people across the EU develop thromboses every year for a variety of reasons and that there were no reports of increased blood clots in the clinical studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Still, experts will undertake a “very rigorous analysis” and make a recommendation Thursday, she says.
The Tel Aviv Labor Court has ruled that 10 Palestinians who were employed by the Jewish National Fund for decades without proper employee rights and who were fired were discriminated against due to their origin and against worker rights laws, The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael reports.
The court ordered that the 10 be rehired and compensated. Eight of them will become permanent employees. (The Jewish National Fund-KKL is unrelated to Jewish National Fund-USA.)
The lawyer for the fired employees had charged that the layoffs were carried out for “nationalist and racist” motives, in order to replace Arab workers with Jewish ones. They told The Times of Israel that the management was attempting to abide by the conditions of a new labor agreement that was signed with the workers’ committee by laying off Palestinian workers who are not protected by the agreement.
The Palestinian workers were employed with no pension or other benefits.
President Rivlin meets with German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin. Rivlin thanks Steinmeier for “his commitment to further deepening relations between the countries” and Germany’s commitment to Israel’s security.
He calls the ICC probe of Israel a “scandalous” decision and thanks Germany for opposing the court probe.
On Iran, Rivlin says it was using “nuclear blackmail” to achieve a removal of sanctions.
Steinmeier congratulates Israel on “Israel’s vaccination drive that has been seen here in Germany with great appreciation and respect, not only because of its speed but also because of the efficiency of the process.” He says Germany and others “can learn a great deal from it.”
He calls Jerusalem’s normalization deals with Arab countries “nothing less than historic.”
Steinmeier says the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran “did not, we believe, support positive developments and we hope that we can bring about change in the future with the new administration and our European neighbors.”
During an interview at a conference organized by Channel 20, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will agree to a pre-election political debate with centrist rival Yair Lapid if the two can agree on a moderator.
Pre-election debates by prime ministerial candidates were once a regular occurrence in Israel but have not taken place since 1996, with candidates often seen as calculating that they can only cause them damage.
Netanyahu too has refused repeated calls to debate his rivals ahead of elections.
A new Israeli initiative led by American expats seeks to encourage Haredi immigration from the US.
The Nachliel Project is a nonprofit that aims to “provide information, education and inspiration about the opportunities currently available for Heredi Jews seeking to return to their ancestral homeland.”
A press release from the group says that “recently battered by the devastating effects of COVID-19 combined with a palpable sense of increased anti-Semitism and what they perceive as a hostile political climate,” some in the community “are beginning to give serious consideration about aliyah to Israel for the first time ever.”
France will return a painting by Gustav Klimt to the Jewish family from which it was looted by Austrian Nazis in 1938.
“Rose Bushes Under Trees,” painted by the Austrian artist around 1904-05, will be returned to the family of Holocaust victim Nora Stiasny, France’s culture minister Roselyne Bachelot announces.
“The restoration of looted items is an ardent obligation. It is the honor of the Republic to do so, the honor of France,” she says.
The painting was bought in 1911 by Stiasny’s uncle, a Jewish Austrian collector named Viktor Zuckerkandl. She was forced to sell it very cheaply shortly after the Nazis came to power in Austria in 1938 at a time when Jewish families were being frozen out of the economy.
It was bought by Stiasny’s former lover, Philipp Haeusler, who had joined the Nazi party and managed to hide his past after the war.
Lightning strikes may have supplied primordial Earth with enough phosphorus to support the emergence of life, according to new research that offers an alternative explanation as to how living organisms were born.
Phosphorus is a vital building block of life as we know it, forming basic cell structures and the double helix shape of DNA and RNA.
Billions of years ago on early Earth, most of the available phosphorus was locked away in insoluble minerals. However one mineral, schreibersite, is highly reactive and produces phosphorus capable of forming organic molecules.
Since most schreibersite on Earth comes from meteorites, the emergence of life here has long been thought to be tied to the arrival of extraterrestrial rocks. But schreibersite is also contained within the glass-like rock formed by lightning strikes in some types of clay-rich soils.
Researchers in the US and Britain used state-of-the-art image techniques to analyze the amount of the phosphorus-giving mineral formed in each lightning strike. They then estimated how much schreibersite could have been produced over the eons before and around the time of the emergence of life on Earth, around 3.5 billion years ago.
“Lightning strikes on early Earth may have provided a significant amount of reduced phosphorus,” Benjamin Hess, lead study author from Yale’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, says.
Israeli businessman Patrick Aloni has been arrested on suspicion of scamming an American company out of 24 million dollars, Channel 12 news reports.
The report says the Israeli businessman promised to provide disposable rubber gloves to MSC Industry Supply Co. at a discounted price, a commodity in high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the police fraud division, Aloni pledged to supply 200,000 cartons of nitrile gloves from a factory in Vietnam to MSC for $24 million.
After MSC transferred the funds it became apparent that the factory in Vietnam knew nothing about Patrick Aloni, nor the company he claimed to own.
Lebanon releases a social media activist on bail, after her lawyer filed an appeal against a three-year sentence for “collaborating” with Israel, the lawyer and a judicial source say.
Kinda al-Khatib, who is in her twenties, was arrested in June and charged with “collaborating with the enemy,” “entering the occupied Palestinian territories” and “collaborating with spies of the Israeli enemy.”
Khatib was sentenced to three years in prison in December.
The Military Investigative Judge "Najat Abu Shakra" issues an indictment against the defendant, Kinda Al-Khatib, for the crime of espionage, communicating with Israeli journalists and Israeli agents, and providing security information on Lebanon and Hezbullah. pic.twitter.com/BTODP0Cye4
— Lebanese News and Updates (@LebanonaME) September 2, 2020
“The military appeals court on Tuesday decided to release the activist Kinda al-Khatib in exchange for a bail of three million Lebanese pounds,” ($1,990 officially, $200 at the market rate), the judicial source says, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the case.
Her lawyer Jocelyne al-Rahi says she had filed an appeal that had been accepted and a new verdict would be issued.
“Kinda will continue to appear in court” until the new judgment, she adds.
Outraged protesters return to the streets of Lebanon’s capital, blocking roads with burning tires and garbage containers as the currency continues to plummet to all-time lows and the country’s financial crisis intensifies.
The protests resume — although in smaller numbers — following several days of relative calm as the Lebanese pound continued its slide, plunging to a new low of 15,000 to the US dollar on the black market.
“Where are the people? Come down, we are hungry, we are fed up!” yelled Ahmad Shuman, a protester frustrated at the small number of people taking part in demonstrations.
In another Beirut neighborhood, small groups of young men, some driving scooters, pelted shop windows with stones and asked them to close. It was not clear why they were pressuring them to close.
The currency has lost 90% of its value since October 2019, when anti-government protests erupted, including more than 25% in the past few weeks alone. Senior politicians, meanwhile, have refused to work together to form a new government that would implement the reforms needed to extract the nation from the crisis.
Vaccination of pregnant women in Israel has been proven to immunize not only the mother but the fetus too a study by Hadassah Medical Center has shown.,
The study looked at dozens of women vaccinated during the third trimester. The women and their fetuses all showed similar antibody levels in the wake of the vaccination.
The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
According to Channel 12, the research has generated much interest around the world.
British jet fighters of the Royal Air Force have flown over Israel on their way to strike caves used by the Islamic State in Iraq, Channel 12 news reports.
The strike occurred sometime during the March 10-12 period. The RAF says in a statement today that Typhoon FGR4 fighter jets used Storm Shadow missiles against IS targets south-west of Erbil city in northern Iraq.
Channel 12 reports that the jets took off from Cyprus, and says the fighters could be observed flying over Israel on several recent occasions on flight-tracking sites.
The number of seriously ill Israelis has dropped below 600 for the first time in months.
The latest Health Ministry data has the number of serious cases at 586. This is the lowest number since December 27.
The number of active cases stands at 26,324, also the lowest number since late December.
Fatalities stand at 6,047.
A Virgin Atlantic flight that departed from London to Tel Aviv yesterday night turned back some 20 minutes after takeoff after a laser beam hit the cockpit and temporarily blinded the pilot.
The flight landed safely and passengers were housed in local hotels before boarding a later flight.
Virgin says the flight “returned to Heathrow after take-off due to a laser beam incident upon departure.”
“The safety and security of our people and our customers is paramount and this was a precautionary step taken by the operating crew.”
A new poll shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party gaining strength in the final stretch ahead of the March 23 election, moving from the high twenties in the number of projected Knesset seats to 30.
According to the poll aired by Channel 12, Netanyahu’s Likud will win 30 seats in the election, while Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid will come in second with 18.
They are followed by Yamina with 10; New Hope with 10; Joint List 8; Shas 8; UTJ 7; Yisrael Beytenu 7; Labor 6; Blue and White 4; Ra’am 4; Religious Zionism 4; and Meretz 4.
The anti-Netanyahu bloc has 57 seats, while 49 definitely back Netanyahu. Yamina and Ra’am are unknowns with 14.
Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas agree in Cairo to a code of conduct to ensure upcoming elections are run based on “transparency and integrity.”
The parliamentary and presidential polls are set for May 22 and July 31, respectively, and will be the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.
In a copy obtained by AFP, the 25-point electoral code of conduct stresses the “criminalization and prohibition of using weapons… during electoral activities.”
The sides declare they are committed to respecting the results of the forthcoming elections. Other commitments focus on not “inciting violence” against candidates or voters heading to the polls.
Religious places of worship are not to be used for campaigning and candidates must refrain from igniting “sectarian” differences.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Joe Biden will speak on the phone soon, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tells Palestinian media.
“Numerous contacts were made with the American administration, and many files were discussed, and it was emphasized that the Palestinian issue should be present on the American docket,” Shtayyeh says in statements carried by Palestinian news site Dunya al-Watan.
Shtayyeh adds that the phone call will happen “in the near future.”
Outgoing ZAKA head Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse and assault, will defend himself by claiming he did not assault anyone, and that any sexual relations were consensual, Channel 12 news reports, citing unnamed associates.
Meshi-Zahav had previously denied the claims outright.
The report says Meshi-Zahav will at most say relations were in exchange for money, gifts or other benefits.
Some of the claims against Meshi-Zahav involve sexual assault of minors, though many are outside the statute of limitations.
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