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After delay, COGAT says its vaccine drive for Palestinian workers back on track

Military liaison says employees to be inoculated at checkpoints on Monday and at West Bank industrial zones on Tuesday after budget problems delayed program

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A Palestinian worker gets vaccinated by Israeli Magen David Adom staff at the Sha'ar Efraim checkpoint in the West Bank, March 4, 2021 (COGAT)
A Palestinian worker gets vaccinated by Israeli Magen David Adom staff at the Sha'ar Efraim checkpoint in the West Bank, March 4, 2021 (COGAT)

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

Coronavirus czar says fourth lockdown a possibility, Netanyahu understands this

The government’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash urges Israelis to exercise caution as many parts of the economy and school system reopen for the first time in months.

“It is not over. We must continue to be careful, keeping social distance and wearing masks. We have a ways until it is over,” Ash tells Ynet.

“This is clear to everyone and the prime minister knows this,” he adds.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News that while Israelis will have to wear masks for the foreseeable future, the pandemic was largely behind them.

But not all health experts were as pessimistic as Ash. Speaking on a panel organized by Channel 12, his predecessor Ronni Gamzu says, “The concern is exaggerated.”

Gamzu, who heads Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, calls for the economy to be reopened at a faster pace. “I understand the complexity, but the focus should be socioeconomic empowerment. Our main goal has been achieved with the vaccines.”

Ze’ev Rubinstein, who heads Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, tells the panel that Israel has reached herd immunity.

Ash, in the Ynet interview, says 2 million more Israelis must be vaccinated before that will be the case.

Gantz refuses to commit to recommending Lapid as head of next government

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz refuses to commit to recommending the head of the center-left bloc, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, to form the next coalition.

Speaking at Channel 12’s Influencers Conference, Gantz says he’ll recommend “anyone who can replace Netanyahu,” not ruling out Lapid, New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar or Yamina head Naftali Bennett.

Asked if he’d sleep well at night if Lapid is premier, Gantz says, “I’ll sleep peacefully with anyone who is not Netanyahu.”

Asked if he’s concerned whether people in his party will desert him as some did after the previous election, Gantz declares that those who wanted to make personal arrangements “have already done so. Whoever stays – is loyal to me.”

The Blue and White chairman vows that this time he has no plans to serve alongside Netanyahu. “You can fool me once,” he declares.

Gantz refrains from calling on the Meretz party, which is polling below the threshold, to drop out of the race, saying Lapid should have done more to make sure the left-wing slate merged with Labor.

PA announces 2,095 new COVID cases in last 24 hours, among highest totals yet

West Bank Palestinians see 2,095 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, one of the highest daily figures since the start of the pandemic, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry announces.

Eleven Palestinians died from the virus in the West Bank in the past 24 hours. Another Palestinian infected with the coronavirus died in the Gaza Strip, the Health Ministry says.

A nightly curfew has been in place in West Bank Palestinian areas for around a week, but coronavirus cases have continued to rise sharply despite the tightened restrictions.

On Saturday night, the Nablus, Ramallah, and Bethlehem governorates announced that they would enter total lockdown in an attempt to clamp down on infections.

Tulkarem governor Issam Abu Bakr announces today that his governorate will also enter total lockdown beginning on Tuesday.

Indictment filed against woman who illegally crossed into Syria

An indictment has been filed against the Israeli woman who illegally crossed into Syria last month.

Israel scrambled into hostage negotiations that were mediated by Russia and agreed to exchange two captive Syrian shepherds as well as NIS 2 million worth in coronavirus vaccines, according to foreign media reports.

The woman’s name remains under gag order and the indictment was submitted to the Magistrate’s Court in Nazareth behind closed doors.

Stumping in Bedouin town, Netanyahu pledges NIS 1 billion for security in Arab towns

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Bedouin town of Rahat on March 7, 2021. (Courtesy)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Bedouin town of Rahat on March 7, 2021. (Courtesy)

Campaigning in the the largely Bedouin town of Rahat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to transfer another NIS 1 billion to beef up law enforcement in Arab towns.

“We have already transferred NIS 150 million to the Arab society to increase enforcement against crime. I pledge to transfer another billion shekels to give personal security to all Arab citizens of Israel,” he says.

“You deserve to live in Rahat and in every community without mothers being afraid to send their children to the streets… We’ll get rid of this. Enough!” he says.

Swiss ‘burqa ban’ vote on a knife-edge

Switzerland votes today on whether to ban full facial coverings in public places, with the result on a knife-edge, according to early projections.

After the polling stations closed at midday (1100 GMT), public broadcaster SSR and pollsters gfs.bern both projected that 51 percent had voted in favor of the ban.

In parallel votes, a trade deal with Indonesia seemed set to be narrowly accepted, while a plan for a state-backed electronic identity looked on course to be rejected, according to projections.

The so-called anti-burqa vote comes after years of debate in Switzerland following similar bans in other European countries — and in some Muslim-majority states — despite women in Islamic full-face veils being an exceptionally rare sight in Swiss streets.

Even though the proposal “Yes to a ban on full facial coverings” did not mention the burqa or the niqab — which leaves the eyes uncovered — there was no doubt as to what the debate was about.

The ban would mean that nobody could cover their face completely in public — whether in shops or the open countryside. But there would be exceptions, including for places of worship.

A 2019 Federal Statistical Office survey found that 5.5 percent of the Swiss population were Muslims, mostly with roots in the former Yugoslavia.

Laywer says Iranian-British national held in Tehran has completed sentence

Lawyer says that Iranian-British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has finished her 5-year sentence on sedition charges, though it is unclear if she can leave Iran.

Rouhani: Iran ready to take ‘compensatory’ steps when US lifts sanctions

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his country was prepared to take steps to live up to measures in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as soon as the United States lifts economic sanctions on Iran.

In a meeting with Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Rouhani says: “Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments just after the US illegal sanctions are lifted and it abandons its policy of threats and pressure.”

Rouhani criticizes the European signatories of the historic nuclear deal for what he said was their inaction on their commitments to the agreement. He said Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain.

Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear accord, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the U.S. then reimposed some sanctions and added others, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.

The Republic of Ireland has the role of facilitator in the implementation of the nuclear deal.

Coveney says the withdrawal of former President Donald Trump was a mistake and noted that the new US administration is determined to return to the deal.

In December, Iran’s parliament approved a bill that calls for the suspension of part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

Stepping out of shadow, Lapid challenges Netanyahu to debate

Speaking at Channel 12’s Influencers Conference, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid challenges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a debate.

The leader of the center-left bloc appeared to be refraining such one-on-one battles until, largely keeping a low profile as his poll numbers have continued to rise.

Analysts have speculated that Netanyahu wants the election to be seen as a battle between him and Lapid. If Yamina chair Naftali Bennett or New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar are seen as contenders, the premier will have a harder time boasting of his right-wing credentials while branding his opponents as “weak leftists.”

Hence Lapid’s decision until now not to make such offers. Evidently, his campaign decided that raising the party’s profile will further help it in the polls.

Lapid: Bennett, Sa’ar will be willing to sit in coalition backed by Joint List

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid tells Channel 12’s Influencers Conference that he his not concerned about declarations made before the election by New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar and Yamina head Naftali Bennett that they would not serve in a government led by him.

Lapid claims the two will be prepared to join his coalition, even if it is backed from the outside by the majority Arab Joint List.

Saudi-led coalition jets pound Yemen capital after Houthi strikes

The Saudi-led military coalition has mounted airstrikes on Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on Sunday after it intercepted 10 drones launched by the Iran-backed rebels, state media reported.

“The military operation targets Houthi military capabilities in Sanaa and a number of other provinces,” the coalition is quoted as saying by the official Saudi Press Agency.

In Selma, Alabama, Bloody Sunday memorial to honor late civil rights giants

The commemoration of a pivotal moment in the fight for voting rights for African Americans will honor four giants of the civil rights movement who lost their lives in 2020, including the late US Rep. John Lewis.

The Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee will mark the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday — the day on March 7, 1965, that civil rights marchers were brutally beaten by law enforcement officers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and attorney Bruce Boynton are the late civil rights leaders who will be honored on Sunday.

Bloody Sunday became a turning point in the fight for voting rights. Footage of the beatings helped galvanize support for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This year’s commemoration comes as some states seek to roll back expanded early and mail-in voting access and efforts have been unsuccessful to restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.

“Those of us who are still living, particularly the young, need to take up the challenge and go forward because there is still so much to be done,” says former state Sen. Hank Sanders, one of the founders of the annual celebration.

The event typically brings thousands of people to Selma. However, most of the events are being held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual Martin & Coretta King Unity Breakfast will be held as a drive-in event. The Rev. Bernard LaFayette, Martin Luther King III and the founders of the group Black Voters Matter will speak at the breakfast.

US President Joe Biden will appear via a pre-recorded message in which he will announce an executive order aimed at promoting voting access.

US Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and US Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will also deliver remarks by video.

Lowery, a charismatic and fiery preacher, is often considered the dean of the civil rights veterans and led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Vivian began organizing sit-ins against segregation in the 1940s and later joined forces with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965, Vivian led dozens of marchers to a courthouse in Selma, confronting the local sheriff on the courthouse steps and telling him the marchers should be allowed to register to vote. The sheriff responded by punching Vivian in the head.

Boynton was arrested for entering the white part of a racially segregated bus station in Virginia, launching a chain reaction that ultimately helped to bring about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South. Boynton contested his conviction, and his appeal resulted in a US Supreme Court decision that prohibited bus station segregation.

His case inspired the Freedom Riders of 1961 — a group of young activists who went on bus rides throughout the South to test whether court-ruled desegregation was actually being enforced. They faced violence from white mobs and arrest by local authorities.

Thousands fill stadium for pope’s final Iraq event

Thousands of people have filled the sports stadium in the northern city of Erbil for Pope Francis’ final event in his visit to Iraq: an open-air Mass featuring a statue of the Virgin Mary that was restored after Islamic militants chopped off the head and hands.

Organizers of the service say Francis will bless the statue, which was transported from the church in Keramlis, a Christian village on the Nineveh Plains, to a place of honor on the altar for Sunday’s Mass.

Keramlis, an ancient Assyrian town less than 18 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Mosul, fell to Islamic State in August 2014, two months after the extremists took Mosul and surrounding areas, sending most inhabitants fleeing. In Keramlis, they destroyed the interior of St. Adday church and decapitated the statue of the Madonna.

Francis traveled to northern Iraq to encourage those Christians who have remained to persevere, rebuild, and ultimately forgive the militants who committed such atrocities.

UK calls on Iran to release dual national after sentence ends

The UK government calls for the immediate release of a British-Iranian woman after her five-year sentence for sedition ended in Tehran.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been under house arrest for months, has had her ankle tag removed, her local MP in London says.

But the 42-year-old dual national now faces another court date in Iran next Sunday, dashing hopes from her family, friends and colleagues of an immediate return home.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says the government in London welcomed the fact she was no longer electronically tagged.

But he calls her treatment by the authorities in the Islamic republic “intolerable.”

“She must be allowed to return to the UK as soon as possible to be reunited with her family,” he writes on Twitter.

Labor chair says Meretz will likely cross threshold, urges Gantz to quit

Speaking to Channel 12’s Influencers Conference, Labor chair Merav Michaeli dismisses concerns that the Meretz party to her left will not cross the threshold.

“I believe they will cross in the end,” she says, adding that if anyone should be dropping out, it is the Benny Gantz-led Blue and White.

Meretz has been polling just below the threshold in recent days, while Blue and White has been steady at 4-5.

Michaeli says Gantz will once again sit with Netanyahu and should quit while he’s ahead as he as “destroyed the center-left bloc” by breaking his promise to voters not to serve under the Likud leader after the last election.

B-52s again fly over Mideast in US military warning to Iran

A pair of B-52 bombers fly over the Mideast, the latest such mission in the region aimed at warning Iran amid tensions between Washington and Tehran.

The US military’s Central Command says the two B-52s flew over the region accompanied by military aircraft from nations including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It marked the fourth-such bomber deployment into the Mideast this year and the second under President Joe Biden.

Flight-tracking data showed the two B-52s flew out of Minot Air Base in North Dakota, something Central Command did not mention in its statement on the flights.

The military did not directly mention Iran in its statement, saying the flight was to “deter aggression and reassure partners and allies of the US military’s commitment to security in the region.”

However, such flights had become common in the last months of former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers sparked a series of escalating incidents in the region.

Biden has expressed a desire to return to the deal if Iran honors the deal’s limits on its nuclear program. However, tensions remain high after militias in Iraq — likely backed by Iran — continue to target American interests.

Biden last month launched an airstrike just over the border into Syria in retaliation, joining every American president from Ronald Reagan onward who has ordered a bombardment of countries in the Middle East.

Coronavirus czar says wearing masks outside not that important

The government’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells the Kan public broadcaster that it is not that crucial for Israelis to wear masks while outside.

However, he clarifies that in order to avoid confusion, health guidelines will continue to require mask wearing, both indoors and outdoors.

Bennett has better chance of being PM of Singapore — Liberman

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman says at Channel 12’s Influencers Conference that Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett has a better chance of becoming the prime minister of Singapore than of the State of Israel.

The remark is a knock at Bennett’s “Singapore Plan” for revamping the Israeli economy.

Hamas mourns deaths of fishermen allegedly killed by misfired rocket

Hamas’ military wing says it “mourns with great sorrow” the deaths of the three fishermen allegedly killed by a misfired Hamas rocket.

In its statement, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades did not take responsibility for the deaths of the three fishermen killed off the coast of the Gaza Strip this morning.

“The resistance leadership and the security forces will form a specialized team to discover the circumstances of this painful incident, and the whole truth will be announced as soon as possible, God willing,” the terror group says.

Hamas often fires experimental rockets towards the Mediterranean sea, both to test its military capabilities and as a show of force.

IAF F-15s accompany American B-52 through Israeli airspace in show of force against Iran

Israeli F-15 fighter jets escort two American B-52 heavy bombers through Israeli airspace, as part of an ongoing show of force by the United States aimed at Iran.

In recent months, B-52 bombers have repeatedly flown through the Middle East amid concerns that Tehran may launch a large strike against US forces in the region or against Israel.

“This flight is another testament to the strategic cooperation with American forces, which is a cornerstone in the preservation of the security of the airspace of the State of Israel and the Middle East,” the Israel Defense Forces says in a statement.

Myanmar junta hires Israeli lobbyist to boost ties with West

An Israeli-Canadian lobbyist hired by Myanmar’s junta downplays the military’s coup in the country and claims that the the generals will leave politics shortly, while seeking to improve relations with the US and distancing themselves from China.

Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli Military Intelligence official who has previously represented Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Sudan’s military rulers, tells Reuters that the military junta also wants to repatriate Rohingya Muslims who have undergone genocide and fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

The international community has widely condemned the military-led coup in Myanmar.

Ben-Menashe says he was hired because the West “misunderstands” the Myanmar military.

“There’s a real push to move towards the West and the United States as opposed to trying to get closer to the Chinese,” Ben-Menashe says. “They don’t want to be a Chinese puppet.”

Bedouin leader to PM: We love you, but your governments have made life hard on us

Addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit with Bedouin leaders outside of Rahat, Sheikh Gideon Abu Sabit says that while he supports the Likud leader, “many workers under your jurisdiction have made our lives miserable.”

“Mr. Prime Minister, I am voting for Likud and we know that what is good for the state is good for us. But I hope you will take the affairs of the Bedouin into your hands because we are not enemies of the state,” he says.

Abu Sabit names Transportation Minister Miri Regev among those in Netanyahu’s party who have vilified Israeli Bedouin. He calls on the premier to prevent the demolition of homes in the sector.

Liberman vows to recommend whoever receives most seats – other than Netanyahu

Effectively backing Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman tells Channel 12’s Influencers Conference that his party will recommend the head of the party that wins the most seats, besides Likud, to form the next coalition.

Lapid is currently polling in second place at 20 seats, well ahead of New Hope and Yamina.

After delay, COGAT says vaccine drive for Palestinian workers to restart

The vaccination drive for Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements, which had been delayed, will restart tomorrow, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announces.

A successful pilot program on Thursday saw 700 Palestinians vaccinated at the Sha’ar Efraim checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, according to the Health Ministry.

However, on Friday, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said the plan was being put on hold “due to administrative delays, which are supposed to be solved in the near future.”

The full vaccination program for some 120,000 Palestinians who are legally employed in Israel and in West Bank settlements was supposed to start Sunday, at Sha’ar Efraim and seven other checkpoints, as well as four settlement industrial zones.

The drive will begin at checkpoints tomorrow and at West Bank industrial zones on Tuesday.

Ashkenazi meets Brazilian counterpart, thanks Brasília for stance against ICC

In a meeting with his Brazilian counterpart Ernesto Araujo, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkanezi thanks Brasilia for its stance against last week’s ICC decision to open a probe against Israel and Hamas for war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We are working together to expand cooperation between our two countries in the fight against the pandemic. We will help Brazil in every way possible and examine ways to deepen research and development in drugs and other solutions for dealing with the virus,” Ashkenazi adds.

Iraq will always remain with me,’ Pope Francis vows in Erbil

Pope Francis promises thousands gathered for mass in the Kurdish regional capital Erbil, the last public event of his historic trip, that he would keep Iraq in his heart.

“In my time among you, I have heard voices of sorrow and loss, but also voices of hope and consolation,” he says.

“Now the time draws near for my return to Rome. Yet Iraq will always remain with me, in my heart.”

PA foreign minister says he’s planning to go to The Hague to meet with ICC chief prosecutor

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki announces he is planning a trip to The Hague to meet with the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

In an interview with Palestine TV, the official PA mouthpiece, al-Maliki says the discussions will center around the technicalities of the ICC’s investigation into war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza and how and when Palestine is to present its case.

“We are now in the stage of evaluating matters and developing an integrated plan of action, developing a complete strategy for how to work with the court,” al-Maliki says.

Al-Maliki says a date for the visit has not yet been set.

Russian rights group disbands under ‘foreign agent’ pressure

A longtime human rights organization in Russia announces it’s disbanding because of pressure from the country’s foreign agents law.

The law requires organizations and individuals involved in vaguely defined political activity and who receive assistance from abroad to register as foreign agents. It seen as an attempt to discredit activists because of the pejorative connotation that the term “foreign agent” carries for many Russians.

The organization For Human Rights says in a statement that it is disbanding, citing the inclusion of its leader, Lev Ponomarev, on the Justice Ministry’s list of foreign agents.

It also says the law could subject its members to fines and imprisonment. Ponomarev, a veteran human rights activist, founded the organization in 1997.

From August 1, all cars that carry children under 4 must have alert system

From August 1, Israeli law will require every car transporting a child under the age of four to have an alert system installed that prevents children from being forgotten inside.

The reform pushed by Transportation Minister Miri Regev follows a number of tragic cases in recent years of young children dying of heatstroke after being forgotten in their parents’ cars.

Jordan cabinet undergoes reshuffle after virus rule breach

Jordan’s King Abdullah II reshuffles the government, with 10 officials out including the interior and justice ministers, after they last week breached regulations in place to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The pair have been asked to step down after reports they had attended a dinner in Amman with a total of nine people, when the law allowed a maximum of six.

Mazen al-Faraya, a general and vice president of the National Center for Security and Crisis Management, is appointed as interior minister.

Ahmed Ziyadat, State Secretary for Legal Affairs, is named as justice minister.

Foreign Minister Aymane Safadi has not been replaced.

Ministers responsible for key economic portfolios also largely remain in their posts, apart from the ministers for transport and agriculture.

The number of ministers ha also been cut by two to 30, the royal palace says.

Oraib Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Centre for Political Studies in Amman, says the reshuffle raised eyebrows.

“I think the time has come, as the nation’s centenary approaches, to reconsider the way governments are formed in Jordan… otherwise Jordan will remain the world record holder for the number of former ministers,” he says.

Environmental Protection Ministry announces return of water sports after oil spill

The Environmental Protection Ministry announces that Israelis may once again carry out sporting activities in most of the country’s coastal waters after last month’s oil spill tarred the beaches in one of the worst environmental disasters in Israel’s history.

France’s Macron has only one senior female adviser

French President Emmanuel Macron has only one woman among his closest advisers, one of his ministers says, adding that she had spoken to the head of state about the issue.

“I told him ‘Mr President, you are not giving a good example,” Elisabeth Moreno, a junior minister in charge of gender equality, tells French media on Sunday.

She declines to say how the 43-year-old reacted, but she praises him for making gender equality a public priority and for ensuring balanced governments throughout his time in office.

Every cabinet since Macron came to power in 2017 has featured equal numbers of men and women, although both prime ministers have been male.

Of Macron’s 13 closest advisers at the Elysee Palace, there is only one woman: deputy cabinet chief Cecile Geneste.

Monday is International Women’s Day.

Florida vaccine site overrun after false rumors said all could come

A Florida vaccination site had so few eligible takers that is started inoculating any adult who wanted a shot rather than let the vaccine on hand go to waste.

Word spread and today the Florida City site was overwhelmed, particularly after local state Sen. Annette Taddeo incorrectly tweeted that the federally run site would again take all comers. The Democrat, who was the party’s lieutenant governor candidate in 2014, later deleted that tweet and corrected herself.

Police had to calm the crowd Sunday when the site again enforced the state’s eligibility rules: 65 and older; frontline medical workers and police officers, teachers and firefighters over 50; and younger people with a physician’s note saying they would be endangered if they caught the virus.

According to the Miami Herald, a Florida City police officer through a megaphone told 200 people waiting in line, “If you do not meet the criteria, you will not be vaccinated today.” Vaccines must be refrigerated at extremely cold temperatures and used that day once they are removed.

The site, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, administers 500 doses per day. It had enforced Gov. Ron DeSantis’ rules Saturday morning, but when it became clear not enough eligible people would arrive, the workers invited anyone in for a shot. That is not unusual — many drugstores, for example, will inject anyone in the store at closing time if they have leftover vaccines that would spoil otherwise.

Social media spread the news Saturday and people came from miles to the small town on the Florida peninsula’s southern tip to get their shots.

Culture Ministry reportedly won’t fund rapid tests for event attendees

A Culture Ministry official tells Channel 12 that the office will not fund rapid coronavirus tests for event organizers to utilize for attendees who have not been vaccinated.

Current health guidelines require all attendees of indoor cultural events to be vaccinated or to have tested negative for the coronavirus beforehand.

Channel 12 reported last week that the Culture Ministry was weighing funding the rapid tests to ease the burden on event halls and planners, but the official speaking to the network today suggests that the office does not have the resources.

Swiss voters narrowly back ‘burqa ban’

Swiss voters narrowly back banning full face coverings, a decision hailed by supporters as a move against radical Islam, but branded sexist and racist by opponents.

Official results showed that 51.21 percent of voters, and a majority of federal Switzerland’s cantons, supported the proposal.

After PM releases statement on ‘visit to Rahat,’ mayor says Netanyahu was never there

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement earlier today about a campaign stop he made in the Arab town of Rahat with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

But Rahat mayor Talal Alkernawi issues his own statement, claiming the premier had made no such visit and that he actually had stopped at a Bedouin village outside the town.

Health Ministry figures show continued, slow decline of seriously ill COVID patients

Updated Health Ministry figures show 1,863 new coronavirus cases were identified yesterday.

The number of active patients has dropped by 3,353 since the start of the day and now stands at 37,472.

The number of seriously ill patient stands at 712, continuing the overall decline of the past couple weeks.

The death count stand sat 5,889.

Of the 45,940 tests carried out yesterday, 4.2% came back positive — a slight rise from the 3.6% rate on Friday.

Almost five million Israelis have been vaccinated with the first dose and 3,748,243 have received both doses.

Health Ministry officials reportedly not planning to push another lockdown ahead of elections

Health Ministry officials tell Channel 12 that there would have to be a very severe spike in coronavirus cases for them to recommend another lockdown before the March 23 election.

Finance Ministry officials tell the network that they are currently working to encourage the large number of workers currently on paid leave to rejoin the workforce.

Edelstein: We’re still very concerned, but if public follows guidelines, we’ll avoid lockdown

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tells Channel 12 that, while there is reason for optimism after today’s economy reopening, his office is “very concerned.”

However, he said that as long as the public follows the government’s health guidelines, the country will be able to avoid another lockdown.

Pope meets father of drowned Syrian refugee boy

Pope Francis has met with the father of a Alan Kurdi, a 3-year old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and whose image drew global attention to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.

Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Irbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him, the Vatican says.

Through an interpreter, the pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the pope for his words.

The Kurdi family, which hails from Kobane in Syria, took the route of many Syrian and other migrants in 2015 by sea in a small boat from Turkey heading for Greece. When their boat capsized, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and his mother perished. The image of Alan’s body, washed up on Turkish shores, came to symbolize the perilous journey to Europe and drew international condemnation. The father now runs a charity in Irbil.

Meretz, Ra’am under threshold in latest TV poll

In Channel 12’s latest poll, both the left-wing Meretz party and the Islamist Ra’am slate fall below the electoral threshold.

The results are as follows:

Likud: 29
Yesh Atid: 20
New Hope: 12
Yamina: 12
Joint List: 9
Shas: 9
United Torah Judaism: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 7
Labor: 6
Blue and White: 5
Religious Zionism: 4

UTJ head calls on Netanyahu to open schools in locales with high infection rates

While grades 7-10 were allowed to return to classes today in areas where other grades have already been in session, those in red locales with high infection rates remained at home. A large number of those towns are ultra-Orthodox.

United Torah Judaism chairman Moshe Gafni calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come up with a proposal to allow schools to reopen, so yeshiva students do not remain at home.

Ra’am chairman doesn’t rule out backing Likud; says he’ll wait and see

Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas tells Channel 13 that he is not ruling out backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next coalition.

However, he says he will wait and see what the results of the March 23 election to decide.

Board to begin search for permanent Capitol Police chief after post-riot resignation

The board that oversees the US Capitol Police is beginning a search for a permanent police chief, a person familiar with the matter said, as the fallout from the January 6 riot at the Capitol continues.

Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman has faced scrutiny from Capitol Hill leaders and congressional committees over law enforcement failures that allowed thousands of rioters to overtake police officers during the insurrection.

The search for a permanent leader of the force, which has more than 2,300 sworn officers and civilian employees, will be nationwide, and while Pittman can apply for the position, she is not guaranteed it, according to the person, who had direct knowledge of the search. This person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies are trying to determine the best way to secure the Capitol over the long term. Officials last week quibbled over requesting National Guard reinforcements to remain in the District of Columbia and whether to remove the massive fence that has encircled the Capitol grounds since January.

The Capitol Police Board, which includes the House and Senate sergeant at arms and the architect of the Capitol, is charged with oversight of the police force.

Pope wraps up historic Iraq visit

Pope Francis boards a plane upon concluding his visit to Iraq at Baghdad airport, Iraq, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Pope Francis boards a plane upon concluding his visit to Iraq at Baghdad airport, Iraq, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Pope Francis wraps up his historic whirlwind tour of Iraq that sought to bring hope to the country’s marginalized Christian minority with a message of coexistence, forgiveness and peace.

The pontiff and his traveling delegation are seen off with a farewell ceremony at the Baghdad airport, from where he leaves for Rome following a four-day papal visit that has covered five provinces across Iraq.

As the pope’s plane takes off, Iraqi President Barham Salih is at hand on the tarmac, waving goodbye.

At every turn of his trip, Francis urged Iraqis to embrace diversity — from Najaf in the south, where he held a historic face-to-face meeting with powerful Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to Nineveh to the north, where he met with Christian victims of the Islamic State group’s terror and heard their testimonies of survival.

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