The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they occured.

Gantz meets Ra’am’s Abbas in bid to pull him away from Netanyahu

Blue and White head Benny Gantz has met with his counterpart from the Ra’am party Mansour Abbas in a bid to convince the Islamist faction not to back Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister, according to Hebrew media reports.

“Gantz asked that Abbas support a candidate who will stabilize the change bloc for forming a government,” Walla quotes a Blue and White source saying.

On Twitter, Gantz writes a warning to both Abbas and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett that Netanyahu will use them.

World leaders urge international pandemic preparedness treaty

More than 20 heads of government and global agencies have called for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness that they say will protect future generations in the wake of COVID-19, in a commentary published today.

But the commentary includes few details to explain how such an agreement might actually compel countries to act more cooperatively.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Premier Mario Draghi of Italy and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda propose “a renewed collective commitment” to reinforce preparedness and response systems by leveraging the U.N. health agency’s constitution.

“The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one,” Tedros says during a news conference. He said the treaty would provide “a framework for international cooperation and solidarity” and address issues like surveillance systems and responding to outbreaks.

Over 100,000 pile into parks for Passover recreation

Some 100,000 staycationers are packing Israel’s national parks and nature reserves, according to an official estimate, as the country takes advantage of sunny skies and sinking COVID-19 rates for the Passover holiday.

People are flocking to beaches, parks, forests, antiquities sites, museums and other spots now open to the public.

Israelis visit Emek HaTkhelet Park in the north on March 29, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The holiday is normally marked by mobs of families and others enjoying the outdoors, but this year the crowding is expected to be heavier due to the inability to go abroad.

In first, Israeli coronavirus mutation identified

The Health Ministry is set to report that researchers have discovered what they are calling the first native Israeli strain of SARS-CoV-2: the Israeli mutation.

The strain, P681H, has been present since November and was found in 181 patients, according to Channel 12, which reported on the not-yet-published research.

A key professor involved in the study confirmed the report to The Times of Israel.

The strain is mostly marked by a single changed protein and does not appear to be any more infectious or dangerous than the original novel coronavirus.

According to the channel, it has been found as far away as Nigeria and Hawaii.

BioNTech boosts vaccine manufacturing plans by 500m

German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says that after ramping up its manufacturing and supply systems, it expects to manufacture this year up to 2.5 billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine it developed with US partner Pfizer.

The two companies had previously spoken of being able to make 2 billion doses in 2021.

Mainz-based BioNTech said Tuesday that it had delivered 200 million doses of the vaccine globally as of March 23 and signed orders for 1.4 billion doses for delivery in 2021. Discussions on further orders were ongoing, it said.

The company attributed the increased capacity to optimized production processes and the start of production at a new plant in Marburg, Germany; the expansion of its manufacturing and supply network; and regulatory approval for six doses to be drawn from each vial, rather than five.

Ministry confirms Israeli variant, says it’s no big deal

The Health Ministry has released a statement confirming the existence of an Israeli variant, but downplaying its significance.

The variant “has no clinical or epidemiological significance, and is not connected to or a cause for widespread infection or severe illness nor does it have any effect on vaccine effectiveness.”

The statement says the variant was first seen in July but has since pretty much fallen off the map.

Not so the British variant, however, which was found in 90% of samples sequenced here, the ministry says.





German state freezes use of AstraZeneca vaccine after new blood clot cases

The German state of Berlin is again suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for people under 60 due to reports of blood clots.

Berlin’s top health official, Dilek Kalayci, says the decision was made as a precaution ahead of a meeting of representatives from all of Germany’s 16 states after the country’s medical regulator announced 31 cases of rare blood clots in people who had recently received the vaccine. Nine of the people died.

All but two of the cases involved women aged 20 to 63.

Reports of an unusual form of blood clot in the head, known as sinus vein thrombosis, prompted several European countries to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month.

After a review by medical experts, the European Medicines Agency concluded the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks but recommended that warnings about possible rare side effects should be provided to patients and doctors.

Most European Union countries have since resumed use of the vaccine.

Northern streams polluted, bathers should stay away — ministries

The government says several popular streams in northern Israel are polluted and advises waders to stay out of the water.

The polluted areas include the Snir (Hatzbani) from the Lebanese border to the  Yussuf Bridge on Route 9779; the Banias from the Kfar Szold Bridge to the Yussuf Bridge, and the El Al.

A view of the Hatzbani, or Snir, stream in northern Israel, 2009 (Hamad Almakt/Flash 90)

The Health and Environmental Protection ministries say water samples showed amounts of fecal coliform above acceptable levels, warning that entering them could be dangerous. It notes the source of the pollution is not known, beyond the Snir, where it was found polluted as it came into Israel.

The advisory comes as hundreds of thousands are taking to the great outdoors for the Passover holiday.

Bahrain names ambassador to Israel

Bahrain and Israel announce the appointment of an ambassador from Manama to the Jewish state.

A statement carried by the official Bahrain News Agency names the ambassador as Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma.

Israel says al-Jalahma was approved after Bahraini Foreign Minister ‘Abd al-Latif al-Ziani floated his name on Sunday in a conversation with Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi and “relevant checks were made.”

Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma. (Bahrain Foreign Ministry)

“The decision of the Bahraini government to appoint an ambassador to Israel is another important step in the implementation of the peace agreement between and of the strengthening of ties between the two countries,” Ashkenazi told al-Ziani, according to an Israeli statement.

“In the coming weeks, a team from Bahrain will arrive in Israel to make the necessary arrangements,” the statement says.

Police minister, top cop said to back officer who shot disabled man to death

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is backing a police officer who shot and killed a disabled Arab man who appeared to be wielding a knife Monday, according to a report in Walla news.

Relatives of Munir Anabtawi, 33, said he suffered from mental illness and they had called police for help. Police say Anabtawi tried to stab them before they opened fire. Authorities are investigating.

Security forces inspect the scene where a man was shot to death by a police officer after the man attempted to stab him, in Haifa, March 29, 2021. (Roni Ofer/Flash90)

The family says he was shot five times in the ensuing confrontation.

Ohana and police chief Kobi Shabtai spoke with the Haifa officer accused of shooting him, who has not been named, and told him they support him and are there to back him up, according to the report.

A police spokesperson has not responded to a Times of Israel request for comment.

Family of slain Haifa man bemoans police shooting as cops close ranks

The brother of a disabled Arab man shot to death by a police officer says his mother attempted to call an ambulance to help her son when he had what appeared to be a psychotic episode, but accidentally reached the police, who arrived with tragic results.

Amir Anabtawi tells Channel 12 that police are a “criminal organization” who “assassinated his brother.”

According to the police, Munir Anabtawi was running around with a knife and attacked an officer, who responded with live fire after fearing for his life.

“They’re fraidy-cats. They are not professional enough to deal with the problem,” he says.

“Why five bullets? Fine, give him one. He’s down. But one, and another, and another and another. They neutralized him,” he adds sarcastically.

Police claim that bodycam footage proves that the officer feared for his life, Channel 12 reports. It says that local police officials are backing the officer and believe he will be exonerated by an internal investigation.

The officer has been released after being questioned by the Justice Ministry, but has not returned to work, the channel says.

Palestinian novel detailing Israeli atrocity gets International Booker nod

Palestinian author Adania Shibli has been longlisted for the prestigious International Booker Prize for her most recent novel “Minor Detail.”

Shibli was previously known for her intense, surreal prose. Her novel “Touch,” a bildungsroman told from the perspective of a young Palestinian girl, received critical acclaim.

“Minor Detail” is almost a thriller, recounting a historical horror story: the rape and murder of a young Arab Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers in 1949.

A timeline detailing the true-life incident alternates with that of a fictional young woman in present-day Ramallah who becomes obsessed with the crime, which was revealed decades later in the pages of the Haaretz daily.

Twenty soldiers involved in the 1949 rape and murder were sent to military prison; then-prime minister David Ben Gurion deemed the assault a “horrific atrocity,” according to Haaretz.

Also nominated is “In Memory of Memory” by Russian writer Maria Stepanova, in which a woman recreates the memories of her Jewish family’s survival through a century of persecution following the death of her aunt.

Passover vacationers not going anywhere fast with country jammed up

Roads in Israel are full to bursting, with traffic jams reported all over the country thanks to an especially heavy stream of Israelis traveling for Passover outings.

According to some reports, the traffic is among the worst in the country’s history, made by a perfect storm of great weather, the holiday, travel restrictions keeping Israelis from leaving the country, and a general opening up that has left the country nearly restriction free for the first time in months.

Cops have been called out in force to manage the traffic jams, according to Channel 12 news.

By the Sea of Galilee, authorities are asking would-be visitors to visit somewhere else, as their beaches are full.


WHO head pushes to probe lab-leak COVID origin theory

The World Health Organization chief is calling for investigators into the COVID-19 pandemic’s origins to delve deeper into a theory about a possible lab incident, which they all but ruled out.

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sais in a briefing to WHO member states about the investigators’ long-awaited report after an international mission to Wuhan, China.

Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus arrive by car at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on February 3, 2021. ( HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP)

The WHO chief also voices concern that the international team had difficulty accessing raw data during the mission, adding: “I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing.”

Ohana says cop who shot mentally ill man to death acted as expected

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana says in a statement that the officer who shot and killed a mentally ill Arab man wielding a knife Monday acted “exactly as expected of him.”

Munir Anabtawi (R), a mentally ill man from Haifa shot dead by cops who said he charged at them with a knife on March 29, 2021. (Courtesy)

He confirms an earlier report that he spoke with the officer shortly after he was questioned Monday night and offered his support.

Ohana says the incident is being investigated but “it’s important that even now every officer know that they will get full backing for any action meant to prevent harm to their lives or the lives of civilians — and not just backing but our full appreciation.”

“This is exactly how the officer acted: With speed and effectiveness, to dispatch the threat on his life — exactly as is expected of him.”

He also expresses condolences to the family of Munir Anabtawi, the man who was killed.

Kurds say 53 IS jihadists hiding out in refugee camp arrested

Kurdish forces say they had arrested 53 suspected Islamic State group members in a northeast Syria camp for relatives of jihadists, in an anti-IS security operation.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the launch Sunday of the sweep in Al-Hol camp, which has been rocked by assassinations and breakout attempts.

Kurdish authorities have warned that the settlement, home to almost 62,000 people, is turning into an extremist powder keg because of IS jihadists hiding out among camp residents.

The Kurds’ Asayish security forces say they “detained 53 IS members, including five leaders of IS sleeper cells that carried out violent terrorist attacks in the camp.”

Heavily-armed Kurdish forces stood guard outside the camp as others stormed suspected hideouts inside the vast settlement, an AFP reporter says.

Many residents see the camp as the last vestige of the IS proto-state that jihadists declared in 2014 across large swathes of both Syria and Iraq.

Kurdish authorities have recorded more than 40 murders in Al-Hol since the start of this year.

They say IS sympathizers are behind most of the murders, while humanitarian aid sources have said tribal disputes could be behind some of the killings.

Rivlin to get election results Wednesday morning

President Reuven Rivlin’s official residence says he will receive the official election results at a Wednesday morning ceremony, where he and Supreme Court Justice Uzi Fogelman, who oversaw the vote, will deliver speeches.

The notice does not say when Rivlin will begin consultations with parties over who to task with forming a government.

On Monday, the residence said talks with party leaders would start April 5, and that the person best positioned to become prime minister will be tasked with forming a government by Wednesday, April 7.

In challenge to Abbas, Palestinian Barghouti to reportedly back rival candidates

In a dramatic turn of events in the Palestinian legislative elections, Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti has decided to run his own list of candidates in the upcoming vote, according to Palestinian media reports.

There was no official confirmation from any Barghouti associates.

Barghouti was convicted by Israel of masterminding several terror attacks during the Second Intifada and is currently serving multiple life sentences in Israeli prison. Nonetheless, he enjoys widespread popularity among Palestinians, many of whom see him as a symbol of resistance untainted by corruption.

A Palestinian man gestures in front of a poster bearing the portrait of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoner Day in Gaza City on April 17, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)

A recent survey found that if Barghouti formed a breakaway political faction within Fatah, his candidates would defeat Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s bloc: 28% of those polled said they would vote for Barghouti’s list while 22% said they would vote for Abbas’s list.

Some 25 Palestinian factions have submitted parliamentary lists to the Central Elections Commission, including both the Hamas terror group and exiled ex-Fatah member Mohammad Dahlan, a key opponent of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fatah has delayed submitting its own list of candidates. Officials have said they intend to send the list to the commission before the Wednesday deadline.

Man declared dead following crash, teen in serious condition

A 43-year-old father and Magen David Adom volunteer has been declared dead following a car wreck on Route 6 near Yokneam.

The man had been rushed to a local hospital in critical condition following the crash. Also badly injured was a girl, 17. A 3-year-old and 20-year-old suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

Among those responding to the crash was Eli Beer, the head of rescue group United Hatzalah, who happened to be in the area.

The scene of a deadly crash near Yokneam on March 30, 2021. (United Hatzalah)

S&P says Knesset gridlock should not affect credit rating, yet

Political instability in Israel is likely to continue, but the country’s fiscal situation should not be impacted in the immediate term, the S&P credit rating agency says in a memo, indicating that it will not downgrade Israel’s rating.

However, it warns that should the Knesset deadlock persist, it could make it difficult for policymakers to reach consensus on economic matters.

“Fiscal risks could build if finding consensus on a balanced fiscal policy proved difficult as a result of persistently fragmented domestic politics,” the bulletin warns.

It also says it expects growth to recover soon, and lauds Israel for having sound debt policy, which it says continue to justify its rating of AA-/Stable/A-1+.

Interim Finance Minister Israel Katz calls the document a “show of support for Israel’s economy.”

EU to reportedly sanction Iranians over rights abuses

The European Union will reportedly sanction several Iranians Wednesday, in a rare move that could heighten tensions between Tehran and Europe, according to Reuters.

It would be the first such move by the 27-nation bloc since 2013.

An unknown number of individuals are expected to be slapped with travel bans and asset freezes as a punitive measure over human rights abuses, according to the report.

Netanyahu makes rare appearance to warn of future vaccine shortage

After seemingly disappearing from public view for a week, interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has released a video warning that Israel will lose its ability to get vaccines in the future if money to buy more vaccines is not approved by the cabinet.

A cabinet meeting set for Monday, where ministers were set to approve an NIS 7 billion ($2.1 billion) spending package on coronavirus vaccines was called off by Defense Minister and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz amid fresh squabbling between the Likud and Blue and White parties over the appointment of a permanent justice minister.

“We have to order millions more vaccines now, but the good news I can tell you with high confidence is that the vaccines we order will also be good to give to our kids,” he says. “Unfortunately, there is someone who is holding up government approval and the acquisition of these vaccines and that’s very dangerous because instead of being in front of other countries, we could lose our place in line and the vaccines that should have gone to us will go to some other countries and we’ll be without.”

Israel has enough vaccines to fully inoculate the remaining unvaccinated population, and to give a single shot to recovered COVID-19 patients, according to Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy. However, he said Israel needed a continuing supply of shots and wanted to “get ahead of the rest of the world.”

On Army Radio, Levy confirms an earlier report that Pfizer is getting frustrated with the Israeli delay.

“There will certainly be a cost to this. I assume they are turning to other places, and we could be shunted to another place in line,” he says. “We need to ensure our place for 2022.”

Netanyahu has not made any public appearances since a 3 a.m. speech at a Likud event following last week’s election.

Gantz to Netanyahu: You’ll get vaccines when I get a justice minister

Responding to Netanyahu’s video blaming him for the vaccine purchase delay, Blue and White head Benny Gantz slings insults, and says the vaccines will get an okay when a justice minister gets one.

“Netanyahu, you waited until now to emerge from your bunker and it’s to lie? You are choking our democracy to escape justice and trying to leave the state without a justice minister. If the country is more important to you than your trial, convene the government and we’ll approve what we need to approve, today.”

Gantz’s term as interim justice minister expires this week, but Netanyahu is refusing to allow Gantz to nominate another candidate for the position. Netanyahu is barred from having input due to a conflict of interest since he is on trial in three graft cases.

In return to pre-Trump norm, State Dept report refers to ‘occupied’ territories

In a partial return to a pre-Trump era norm, the US State Department’s annual report on human rights violations around the world published today refers to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as territories “occupied” by Israel.

However, the Biden administration does not go as far as to title the specific chapter in the 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” as had been the custom for decades until the Trump administration, led by former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, pushed to have it altered to say “Israel” followed by a list of the disputed territories.

In the 2017 report, the chapter was titled “Israel, Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza. After then-US president Donald Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the 2018 and 2019 reports dropped that territory from the section title.

The 2020 report — the first during the Biden administration — uses the same chapter label from the previous two years, “Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”

In addition to changing the chapter title, the Trump-led State Department dropped almost every mention of occupation from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports. The 2016 report was published in the early months of Republican administration, while the more moderate Rex Tillerson was secretary of state and before Friedman began his stint as ambassador.

The 2020 chapter states that it “covers the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war.”

However, it quickly clarifies that “language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.”

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