The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing up warming ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh ahead of this week’s election.
“We will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca,” he promises in an interview with Army Radio.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but clandestine ties have strengthened in recent years, as the two countries have confronted a shared threat in Iran. Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia in November to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the first publicly reported meeting between the two, as he hinted normalization with the Saudis could be close. Saudi officials have said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must precede its recognition of the Jewish state.
In the radio interview, Netanyahu also declared that Israel would “have no more lockdowns” following its successful vaccination campaign, which has seen over half of Israel’s population get the shots.
The prime minister also defends Israel’s transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians.
“We are one epidemiological unit. We transferred very few vaccines. This is a very important [move] that any responsible government would do,” he says.
President Reuven Rivlin meets the new UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland in Jerusalem.
“The president congratulated Wennesland on taking up the position and said he was happy to continue the good coordination he had with the previous head of UNSCO, Nikolay Mladenov. The president wished Mr. Wennesland success,” Rivlin’s office says.
“The two discussed the current regional challenges and the various needs raised by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the important opportunities the Abraham Accords offer the peoples of the region,” the statement says.
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 2,710,382 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.
At least 122,737,460 cases of coronavirus have been registered. The vast majority have recovered, though some have continued to experience symptoms weeks or even months later.
These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organizations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.
On Saturday, 8,635 new deaths and 509,629 new cases were recorded worldwide. Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were Brazil with 2,438 new deaths, followed by United States with 937 and Mexico with 608.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 541,918 deaths from 29,784,001 cases. After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 292,752 deaths from 11,950,459 cases, Mexico with 197,827 deaths from 2,193,639 cases, India with 159,755 deaths from 11,559,130 cases, and the United Kingdom with 126,122 deaths from 4,291,271 cases.
The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is the Czech Republic with 230 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Belgium with 195, Slovenia 191, Montenegro 190 and Hungary 187.
Europe overall has 917,542 deaths from 41,252,892 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 741,483 deaths from 23,521,822 infections, and the United States and Canada 564,554 deaths from 30,713,762 cases.
Asia has reported 265,857 deaths from 16,961,887 cases, the Middle East 110,273 deaths from 6,151,094 cases, Africa 109,700 deaths from 4,101,259 cases, and Oceania 973 deaths from 34,746 cases.
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of tests conducted has greatly increased while testing and reporting techniques have improved, leading to a rise in reported cases.
However, the number of diagnosed cases is only a part of the real total number of infections as a significant number of less serious or asymptomatic cases always remain undetected.
As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.
New Hope candidate Dani Dayan, the former consul-general of Israel to New York, says he refused an order by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to blame Reform Jewry for the government’s decision to freeze a plan to build an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall in 2017.
“When the Western Wall deal was frozen, I was instructed by Prime Minister Netanyahu to blame the Reform” movement, said Dayan at a conference last week, according to a statement Sunday. “It wasn’t true and therefore I refused, even at the cost of ending my term as consul-general in New York.
“I told the prime minister that the keys are on the table and if he wants to, let him extend his hand and take them and I will go back to Israel. I couldn’t live with a quiet conscience after blaming the Reform [movement] for the suspension of the Western Wall plan,” says Dayan, whose New Hope party is seeking to replace Netanyahu in Tuesday’s election.
After months of delays and logistical issues, the Palestinian Authority begins its public coronavirus vaccination campaign.
“The wheels are churning, and we are on the way to vaccinating everyone who needs and deserves a vaccine,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh tells reporters in Ramallah.
Around 9,800 vaccine doses had been distributed in the West Bank before today. But even that small number of doses has been dogged by accusations of nepotism and corruption, although the PA maintains that most of the shots were administered to frontline health care workers.
Despite the public fanfare, however, the PA has so far been able to secure only enough doses to inoculate around 2.5 percent of its population against the coronavirus. An additional 105,000 Palestinian workers have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine from Israel.
Shtayyeh says that he is optimistic that more coronavirus vaccines will arrive soon. Numerous deadlines provided by PA officials for the vaccine’s arrival have fallen through, however.
“By the middle of next month, we expect to receive another 100,000 doses from our friends in China, as well as another 50,000 from Russia,” Shtayyeh says.
Turkey’s weekly regional COVID-19 figures keep increasing as the country keeps relaxed restrictions in place for now.
Health ministry statistics released late Saturday show the rate of infection as more than 251 cases per 100,000 in Istanbul, the country’s largest city — up 41% since last week. That means about 40,000 new infections in Istanbul alone, which has quadrupled from numbers first released six weeks ago.
The government has divided its 81 provinces into four risk categories and said it would evaluate restrictions at a local level every two weeks. The latest figures show many cities turning “very high-risk” or “high risk.”
Turkey’s president announced this week that relaxed restrictions, like in-restaurant dining and reduced curfews, would continue “for some more time” despite rising infections, but said tougher measures could be brought back.
According to measures announced in early March, weekend curfews remained in place in “very high-risk” cities and Sunday lockdowns continued in “high risk” cities. Restaurants are open for indoor and outdoor dining in all the categories other than “very high-risk,” and nighttime curfews are applied across the country.
The seven-day average of infections across the country has climbed over 18,000, hitting daily rates last seen in December. The number of patients in critical care and deaths are also rising. The total reported death toll in Turkey is 29,959.
Facing an economic downturn, the government has been under pressure from business owners to resume operations during the pandemic.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri defends the lack of women on his ultra-Orthodox party list, claiming politics is not their “natural place.”
“Ask my wife and other women and they will answer — this is how they were educated — that it isn’t their natural place,” Deri tells the Kan public broadcaster. “It runs against their worldview.”
Neither Shas nor United Torah Judaism have any female candidates on their electoral slate.
The Yisrael Beytenu party is petitioning the Central Elections Committee after Likud sends Russian-language election flyers to prospective voters, promising them cash payouts amid the coronavirus pandemic, amid other pledges.
Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, whose main backers are Israelis from the former Soviet Union, is alleging “election bribery” by Likud.
Famed Egyptian author Nawal el-Saadawi, a champion of women’s rights who revolutionized discussions on gender in the Arab world, died Sunday at the age of 89, Al-Ahram newspaper says.
Saadawi died in a Cairo hospital after suffering a long illness, her family says.
A prolific author who shot to fame with widely translated novel “Women at Point Zero” (1975), Saadawi was a fierce advocate for women’s empowerment in Egypt’s deeply conservative and patriarchal society.
With more than 55 books to her name including the taboo-breaking work “Women and Sex,” she was briefly jailed by late president Anwar Sadat and also condemned by Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni Muslim authority in Egypt.
Saadawi’s outspoken brand of feminism — including campaigning against women wearing the veil, inequality in Muslim inheritance rights between men and women, polygamy and female circumcision — gained her as many critics as admirers in the Middle East.
In 1993, after constant deaths threats from firebrand Islamist preachers, Saadawi moved to Duke University in the US state of North Carolina, where she was a writer-in-residence at the Asian and African languages department for three years.
She returned to Egypt and in 2005 ran for president but abandoned her bid after accusing security forces of not allowing her to hold rallies.
RIP #Egypt’s brave feminist, activist and thinker Nawal Saadawi. She was censored, imprisoned and attacked by traditionalists, religious authorities.
“Creativity is you are not afraid of the unknown, you can go alone in the darkness & speak your mind.”pic.twitter.com/he3GhWTh1z
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) March 21, 2021
She fell out of favor with many secular progressives later in life for her wholehearted embrace of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Her path-breaking, critical books published in dozens of languages also took aim at Western feminists including her friend Gloria Steinem and policies espoused by heads of state such as former US president George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Saadawi’s death coincides with Mother’s Day celebrations in Egypt and across the Arab world. She divorced three times and had two children.
Twenty thousand police officers will be deployed on election day Tuesday to secure the vote, with cops stationed outside ballot stations flagged as potential flashpoints, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
Undercover agents will also ensure there is no election tampering, the report says.
Police will also be on the lookout for violators of quarantine and COVID-19 patients who show up to cast their ballot at the general polling stations, rather than specially designated spots for those in quarantine.
Some 9,000 people pass through Ben Gurion Airport today as the cap on the number of permitted travelers allowed in and out of the country is lifted, Channel 12 reports.
It’s the highest daily number of passengers to go through the main international airport since late January.
According to the network, more Israelis are leaving than coming in, with some 3,500 arrivals and over 5,000 departures.
Ben Gurion International Airport is handling some 60 incoming and outgoing flights on Sunday, as Israeli nationals come back into the country ahead of Tuesday’s elections, following weeks of stringent limitations.
The High Court ruled on Wednesday that a government-imposed cap of 3,000 returning citizens per day disproportionately violated civil rights due to its sweeping and extended nature, as well as the proximity to the March 23 elections.
A 17-year-old teenager in Jerusalem is charged with reckless manslaughter for allegedly attacking an Arab driver, who proceeded to ram into and kill a protester while trying to flee.
Ibrahim Hamed said he was assaulted by a group of protesters in an anti-Arab attack and was attempting to escape when he plowed his vehicle earlier this month into Itamar Ben Abu, 47 in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, killing him.
The teenage suspect is not named.
Hamed is also facing manslaughter charges, despite ostensibly being a victim of racially motivated violence himself. Security camera footage showed him fleeing into a store after the incident and pleading for help.
Iran has made threats against Fort McNair, an Army base in the nation’s capital, and against the Army’s vice chief of staff, two senior US intelligence officials say.
They say communications intercepted by the National Security Agency in January show that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard discussed mounting “USS Cole-style attacks” against the base, referring to the October 2000 suicide attack in which a small boat pulled up alongside the Navy destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden and exploded, killing 17 sailors.
The intelligence also reveals threats to kill Gen. Joseph M. Martin and plans to infiltrate and surveil the base, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss national security matters and spoke on condition of anonymity. The base, one of the oldest in the country, is Martin’s official residence.
The threats are one reason the Army has been pushing for more security around Fort McNair, which sits alongside Washington’s bustling newly developed Waterfront District.
City leaders have been fighting the Army’s plan to add a buffer zone of about 250 feet to 500 feet (75 meters to 150 meters) from the shore of the Washington Channel, which would limit access to as much as half the width of the busy waterway running parallel to the Potomac River.
The Pentagon, National Security Council and NSA either did not reply or declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
As District of Columbia officials have fought the enhanced security along the channel, the Army has offered only vague information about threats to the base.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman condemns the Shas party, after leader Aryeh Deri says there are no women on his ultra-Orthodox slate because it isn’t their “natural place.”
Branding Deri the “minister of the exclusion of women,” Liberman adds: “On Tuesday, we’ll show him his natural place and fling him and his [United Torah Judaism] allies Litzman and Gafni to the opposition.”
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash says he doesn’t anticipate a fourth wave of virus cases, but says the requirement to wear masks will continue for the time being.
Ash makes the comments in a briefing to reporters.
Ash also says he’s concerned by the lower rates of vaccination among Russian-speaking Israelis, though he adds that he doesn’t have precise figures on inoculations among that demographic.
Palestinian media reports say Israel has withdrawn the VIP travel permit of the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, as he returns to the West Bank from The Hague.
The move is said to be in retaliation for the International Criminal Court’s decision to investigate Israel and Palestinian terror groups for alleged war crimes from 2014.
The Palestinian diplomat’s travel documents were reportedly canceled as he crossed at the Allenby crossing from Jordan into the West Bank, upon his return from a visit at the ICC.
According to the reports, al-Maliki’s entourage was interrogated by the Shin Bet security services on the scene. The VIP travel pass normally allows Palestinian Authority officials and staff to pass through Israeli checkpoints with minimal friction.
There is no immediate confirmation from Israel or the PA.
Iran’s supreme leader reiterates the Islamic Republic’s “definite policy” that Washington must lift all sanctions before Tehran returns to its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal.
“The country’s policy regarding interaction with JCPOA parties and the JCPOA itself has been clear,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says in a televised speech, referring to the accord by its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
It “entails that the Americans must lift the sanctions, all the sanctions, and then we will verify and if they are truly lifted, then we will return to our JCPOA commitments.”
Khamenei stresses that lifting sanctions “on paper is not acceptable” and had to be implemented “in practice.”
The deal was meant to provide Iran with international sanctions relief in exchange for limitations on its controversial nuclear program.
But it has been on life-support ever since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
Joe Biden, who defeated Trump at the ballot box in November, has signaled his readiness to revive the accord, but his administration insists Iran must first return to its nuclear commitments, most of which Tehran has suspended in response to US sanctions.
Tehran has insisted Washington make the first move by scrapping the sanctions.
“If they accept and implement the policy we have announced then everything will be fixed. And if they don’t, things will continue as they are now, and it is not an issue,” Khamenei says.
He also repeats Tehran’s stand that “maximum pressure has failed” and warns if the Biden administration “wants to continue maximum pressure, they will fail as well.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defends the ultra-Orthodox community in the face of widespread criticism of its response to the pandemic, in an interview with a Haredi radio station.
“The media distorts the reality in the media,” he tells Kol Berama. “Was the coronavirus because of the Haredi public? Because of the Haredim there was coronavirus in France and Germany, in England?”
“The media always incites against me and the Haredi community, just as it incites against right-wing voters,” he says. “Our answer will be at the ballot box.”
The State Prosecution closes the criminal case into the former head of the Israel Bar Association, who had been suspected of advocating for the judicial appointment of a woman with whom he was romantically involved.
Neither Efi Nave nor Eti Craif, a judge on the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, will be charged.
Nave, who resigned as head of the bar association after his arrest in 2019, was one of the nine members of the powerful Judicial Appointments Committee, which decides on placement and promotions for judges in Israel’s three-tiered judicial system. The position gave him outsize influence in helping lawyers advance in their careers — a role he is suspected of exploiting for sex.
The case was closed after the prosecutors assessed the chances of conviction were low. Prosecutors had previously announced they would charge both with bribery.
The Health Ministry says 287 virus cases have been diagnosed since midnight, and 337 new infections were recorded on Saturday.
Testing levels generally plummet over the weekend.
According to the ministry, there are currently 16,253 active coronavirus cases. It says 548 people are in serious condition, including 211 on ventilators. The death toll stands at 6,087.
The dramatic decline comes as over 5.1 million Israelis have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, with 4.5 million fully immunized.
The Palestinians record another 1,940 coronavirus cases in the West Bank in the past 24 hours and 307 in the Gaza Strip, during a continued resurgence of the virus.
Seventeen people have died of COVID-19 in the West Bank in the past day, and four have died in Gaza.
Hospitals are at 97.8 percent capacity in the West Bank, where ventilator use and ICU occupancy are above 100%.
Fifteen years ago, Jack Dorsey typed out a banal message — “just setting up my twttr” — which became the first ever tweet, launching a global platform that has become a controversial and dominant force in civil society.
The short tweet on March 21, 2006, by the Twitter CEO is now being sold at auction, with bidding reaching $2.5 million.
It has been a long, strange journey for the social network, which in January deleted former president Donald Trump’s account after he was blamed for inciting the violent insurrection on the US Capitol in January by extremist supporters seeking to overturn his election loss.
The banning of a head of state from the platform was both welcomed and denounced in a sign of the thin line Twitter and other social media networks often try to walk between neutrality, freedom of expression, moderation, and prevention of abuse.
Bidding on Dorsey’s tweet ends later Sunday. He has said he will donate the funds to charity.
Dorsey’s tweet will be sold as an NFT, or a non-fungible token.
NFTs use the same blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies to turn anything from art to sports trading cards into virtual collector’s items that cannot be duplicated.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi condemns the International Criminal Court’s investigation into Israel over alleged war crimes and defends the Israeli military’s conduct.
“The values of the IDF and international law are not only intended to prevent harm to bystanders on the other side, they are equally aimed at enabling us to protect our citizens,” he says.
Kohavi tells soldiers that the IDF will protect them from prosecution.
He also argues that the ICC is unfamiliar with the terrorist tactics that IDF soldiers encounter.
“The Hague is living in the old world. In the Middle East, there is a new area of terrorism,” he says, adding that there’s a “gulf” between what is happening on the ground and how the judges at the ICC perceive those actions.
Channel 13’s pollster Camil Fuchs assesses that ahead of Tuesday’s election, some 15 seats are still up for grabs.
He underlines that many Israelis are undecided, with one-third saying that they may yet change their minds on their votes.
Fuchs says turnout will be key.
President Reuven Rivlin’s office presents a timetable for post-election consultations, which will ultimately see a candidate tasked with forming a coalition by April 7.
Rivlin will begin consultations with parties and gather their endorsements for the next prime minister from March 31 until April 7, with the latter date the final day on which he can announce the candidate chosen to form a government.
From then, the candidate will have 28 days to clinch a coalition, with the option of asking for another 14-day extension. If the party leader fails to form a government, the mandate returns to the president, who can nominate another candidate and give them 28 days to cobble together a coalition. If the second candidate fails as well, politicians can gather 61 signatures to endorse a third prospective premier. If all cannot muster a majority government, another election is called.
Preliminary reports say there has been a stabbing near a United Torah Judaism political event in Bnei Brak.
Two people have been injured at the ultra-Orthodox gathering, reports say.
This is not immediately confirmed by police.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli is met with jeers and heckling during a pre-election tour of the Hatikva Market in Tel Aviv.
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu call Michaeli a “lesbian” and “garbage” while chanting in support of the Likud leader.
Michaeli’s spokesperson was spat on by a man at the market. He also spat on the ground near Michaeli, while branding her a “slut.” Passersby on electric bikes also drove in the direction of her staff.
The Labor party condemns the incident and says they are weighing a police complaint. Michaeli urges Netanyahu to denounce the incident.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri, in an interview with Channel 13, pledges that right-wing political parties will not undermine the judiciary. He vows the court system will remain “strong.”
“Write this down: ‘No one will harm the High Court,'” says Deri, adding that such a move would cause “absolute lawlessness.”
“One thing we will do, which we haven’t managed to do until today, is to balance it out,” he says. “It can’t be the case that the Knesset will legislate laws… and the court knocks it down.”
He says the Knesset will seek to bypass the court on some laws, but “no one will harm the judges’ authority” on civil and criminal matters.
Deri pledges he will not back any Knesset laws that aim to help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evade criminal prosecution. “Netanyahu doesn’t want this stain,” and will complete his criminal trial, says Deri.
Asked about the lack of female representation on his ultra-Orthodox party list, Deri claims Haredi women do not want to enter politics.
Two people are lightly hurt in a brawl that breaks out at a United Torah Judaism political event, reports say.
The circumstances are not immediately clear. The incident had earlier been described as a stabbing.
The United States has for the first time administered more than three million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for two consecutive days, according to official figures published Sunday.
The new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm the growing reach and success of the US vaccine rollout.
The CDC reported 3.04 million doses had been administered in the 24 hours through Sunday morning, after 3.12 million the previous day. It said the latest seven-day average was 2.44 million doses a day.
“First time we have had 3M or more in two consecutive days. Also second consecutive day reporting more than 2M first doses per day,” tweets Cyrus Shahpar, the White House Covid-19 data director.
“Making progress!” he adds.
The United States has suffered more COVID-19 deaths by far — some 542,000 to date — than any other country.
The Israel Defense Forces arrests three people who crossed illegally into Israel from Lebanon.
The army says the three suspects are being questioned.
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