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IAEA claims Iran enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges in further breach

Nuclear watchdog tells member states that Islamic Republic has started using third cluster of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at underground Natanz plant

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, in an image released on November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.

Israeli police break up ‘illegal’ East Jerusalem International Women’s Day event

Israel Police officers break up an event at a women’s center in East Jerusalem to mark International Women’s Day, saying it was being held illegally.

“This was a Palestinian Authority event, and illegal by law. The Public Security Ministry issued an order declaring it as such, and police executed the order,” spokesperson Roni Markovitz says.

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.

Syria’s President Assad and first lady test positive for coronavirus

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma Assad, in July 2010. (AP/Hassene Dridi)
Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma Assad, in July 2010. (AP/Hassene Dridi)

The Syrian presidency says President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma have tested positive for the coronavirus.

It says that they are both in good condition and will be quarantined.

Health minister: If guidelines are kept, we can celebrate Passover together

Health Miniter Yuli Edlestein says there will be no need to impose a lockdown over the coming Passover holody if the public adheres to the current cornavirus restrictions.

“If the guidelines are kept we will be able to celebrate Passover together and continue to live our lives,” he says at an event marking the 5 millionth Israeli to receive a coronavirus vaccine shot.

Passover will be celebrated starting the evening of March 27.

Last year, a nationwide lockdown kept people to within 100 meters of their homes over the festival.

EU says it will get 100 million vaccine doses per month from April

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen says she expects the bloc to receive 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccines every month from April, giving a boost to Europe’s stuttering inoculation campaign.

Given higher delivery volumes promised by manufacturers, and “because more vaccines are about to be approved,” von der Leyen tells the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper the bloc should see a big ramp-up in arrivals of the shots.

The EU will receive “in the second quarter an average of around 100 million doses a month, in total 300 million by end June,” she says.

The 27-nation bloc with a population of 446 million people has received 51.5 million doses of vaccines as of February 26, according to official data posted on the EU’s website.

Israel to open Egyptian border crossing for 5 hours to allow Israelis in

The Interior Ministry announces that the Taba border crossing from Egypt to Israel will be opened Thursday for five hours to allow Israelis back into the country.

The border will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will only allow Israelis who have a clear coronavirus test taken within 72 hours to enter, the ministry says.

Israel’s land and air gateways had been largely closed since January 25, leaving thousands unable to return.

After delay, Israel starts vaccinating Palestinian workers

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)

Israel kicks off its vaccination drive for Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements.

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

However, on Friday, the military liaison to the Palestinians said the plan was being put on hold “due to administrative delays, which are supposed to be solved in the near future.”

Around 87,000 Palestinians hold work permits in Israel, and an additional 35,000 work in Israeli settlements, according to Defense Ministry figures.

Biden salutes pope’s ‘historic’ visit to Iraq

US President Joe Biden welcomes the “historic” visit by Pope Francis to Iraq, saying it sent an “important” message of peace.

“To see Pope Francis visit ancient religious sites, including the biblical birthplace of Abraham, spend time with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, and offer prayers in Mosul — a city that only a few years ago endured the depravity and intolerance of a group like ISIS — is a symbol of hope for the entire world,” Biden, a Catholic, says in a statement.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s packed three-day visit passed off without a hitch despite concerns about security and the coronavirus pandemic. He covered more than 900 miles (1,400 kilometers) inside the conflict-ravaged country.

Schoolgirl admits to lying about beheaded French teacher

Relatives and colleagues hold a picture of Samuel Paty during the 'Marche Blanche' in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris, on October 20, 2020, in solidarity after a teacher was beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)
Relatives and colleagues hold a picture of Samuel Paty during the 'Marche Blanche' in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris, on October 20, 2020, in solidarity after a teacher was beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

A schoolgirl who sparked a deadly online hate campaign against a French teacher after he showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to students has admitted to lying and spreading false claims about him, her lawyer says.

The girl had claimed the teacher, Samuel Paty, who was beheaded by an Islamic extremist in the street in October last year, had asked Muslims to leave the class when he showed the cartoons.

The girl’s father later lodged a legal complaint and amplified the allegations online, leading an 18-year-old Chechen refugee to track down Paty in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris.

“She lied because she felt trapped in a spiral because her classmates had asked her to be a spokesperson,” her lawyer Mbeko Tabula says, confirming a report from the Parisien newspaper.

A week after vaccines, less than 0.2% develop virus symptoms — Health Ministry data

Less than 1 percent of those who have received a second COVID-19 vaccine dose at least a week before being tested have been infected with the coronavirus, and less than 0.2% have developed symptoms, according to the latest data set released by the Health Ministry.

The data shows that out of 3,387,340 vaccinated people who have passed more than a week since receiving the second vaccine dose, only 4,711 were found to be positive for the virus and of those, only 907 developed symptoms including fever or respiratory problems.

IDF to increase senior female officers by 50% in 5 years, chief of staff says

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi says he intends to put forth a plan that would see the number of female senior officers rise by 50 percent within the next five years, which would be a bolder objective had the number of promotions of female officers for top positions not fallen dramatically in recent years.

In his more than two years as chief of staff, Kohavi has promoted no women to the rank of major general and only promoted one woman, who was tapped to serve as the chief intelligence officer of the Central Command, to the rank of brigadier general. According to a recent Haaretz tally, of the nearly 200 officers promoted to the rank of colonel under Kohavi, 19 of them have been women.

Head of the IDF Armored Corps Brig. Gen. Guy Hasson, center, poses on a tank with the army’s first female tank commanders, who graduated their course on June 28, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

There are currently zero female major generals in the IDF, and there haven’t been since 2014 when the so far only one retired from the military, and only six female brigadier generals, some of whom have not actually received their ranks officially, but — for bureaucratic reasons — are only permitted to wear them as their position demands them.

Kohavi’s announcement comes on International Women’s Day. The military says the chief of IDF staff’s plan will be put together within the next three months.

“We must act to increase the number of female senior officers by 50 percent within the next five years and to increase the number of women serving in technology and cyber roles,” Kohavi says.

Central Elections Committee to shuttle COVID patients to polling stations

A bus converted into a polling station ahead of the Knesset elections, in a photo released March 8, 2021. (Chaim Levy/Central Elections Committee)
A bus converted into a polling station ahead of the Knesset elections, in a photo released March 8, 2021. (Chaim Levy/Central Elections Committee)

Israel will fund special shuttles to polling stations for active COVID-19 patients during the March 23 Knesset elections, Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas says, alongside further adaptations forced by the pandemic that will turn the election into the most expensive in the country’s history.

Adas also tells reporters that dozens of buses will be converted into ballot stations for people in quarantine and to lower crowding in certain polling stations.

The committee is also weighing placing voting stations at Ben Gurion Airport, so that arrivals to the country will be able to vote there before they enter home quarantine.

A bus converted into a polling station ahead of the Knesset elections, in a photo released March 8, 2021. (Chaim Levy/Central Elections Committee)

There are currently around 40,000 active COVID-19 cases in the country, and 120,000 others are in quarantine.

There will be some 15,000 voting stations throughout the country, more than the normal 11,000, Adas says, in hopes of limiting potential infections at crowded stations.

The parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee has approved the CEC’s budget totaling NIS 674 million ($202 million), including NIS 237 million ($71 million) for facing the challenges posed by the coronavirus crisis.

Cabinet set to approve Blue and White’s Eitan Ginzburg as communications minister

Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg poses for a picture at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg poses for a picture at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The cabinet is set to approve the appointment of Blue and White MK Eitan Ginzburg as communications minister.

The appointment will now need to be approved by the Knesset plenum.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit last week notified Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his unity government partner Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz that they must speedily appoint permanent ministers to replace six acting positions that are set to expire, including that of communications minister.

Mandelblit warned that the terms of the acting ministers cannot be extended and that the permanent ministers must be approved by the Knesset plenum.

As the unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz collapsed over the failure to pass a state budget, various ministers either resigned or were booted from their posts amid a flurry of lawmakers switching allegiances.

Gantz had held the position of communications minister up until now but under Israeli government laws, an interim minister who replaces one who left the position can only be appointed for three months.

Full vaccine effect slower than thought; delay ‘green pass’ eligibility – HMO

Israel is risking an unnecessary “increase in morbidity” by issuing green passes so soon after vaccination, and should make people wait another week, the Meuhedet Healthcare Services HMO says, in research that may have global reverberations.

According to a Meuhedet report based on analysis of more than 100,000 members, vaccine effectiveness reaches 96 percent on day 15 after full vaccination. However, from days 7 to 14, it is only at 89%.

In view of this, the fact Israel is giving green passes a week after full vaccination, instead of after two weeks, “may help to cause additional waves of illness,” says Dr. David Mosinzon, director of Meuhedet’s medical division.

Israel’s first Ethiopian-born MK shocked at racism allegation in Meghan interview

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, pictured on February 4, 2020, in Hadera. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, pictured on February 4, 2020, in Hadera. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Pnina Tamano-Shata, Israel’s first Ethiopian-born member of Knesset, protests the racism alleged by Meghan and Harry in the British royal family.

Meghan, who is biracial, told Oprah Winfrey that when she was first pregnant with son Archie, some members of the royal family expressed concerns to Harry over the color of the child’s skin. “In those months when I was pregnant… we have in tandem the conversation of ‘he won’t be given security, he’s not going to be given a title’ and also concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born,” Meghan told Winfrey in the couple’s bombshell interview yesterday.

Tamano-Shata, the minister of immigrant absorption, says she is horrified by the allegations of racism, and that if that was the case, it’s clear why the couple chose to escape the royal household. “It’s so shocking,” she says. “Now I understand why Meghan fled, if that’s what was going on and that’s what she had to suffer.”

Suffering that kind of situation is intolerable “no matter how golden the palace,” she adds.

Interviewed by Jacob Bardugo on Army Radio, Tamano-Shata is asked whether she would raise the issue with the queen if she were visiting the royals. “It sounds like, were you and me to visit there, they’d turn you into the gardener and me the cleaner,” she quipped, adding hurriedly that she’s kidding and doesn’t intend to cause offense.

Tamano-Shata was born near Gondar in northern Ethiopia and was brought to Israel in an airlift as a child in the mid-1980s. Bardugo’s parents immigrated to Israel from Morocco.

UK’s PM expresses ‘highest admiration’ for queen after Harry-Meghan interview

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expresses his “highest admiration” for Queen Elizabeth II after an explosive interview by her grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan.

“I’ve always had the highest admiration for the queen and the unifying role she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth,” Johnson tells reporters, declining to comment further when asked about Meghan’s comments on racism and mental anguish.

CDC says fully vaccinated people can gather without masks

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can gather unmasked with others who have been vaccinated, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in new guidance.

Those who are fully vaccinated can also visit unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without masks or distancing so long as the unvaccinated people are not at high risk for severe COVID-19, adds CDC director Rochelle Walensky.

Gantz halts appointments, demanding he be tapped as full-time justice minister

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz stops a round of appointments of full-time government ministers, protesting the fact that it did not include his own appointment as permanent justice minister.

The vote is being held by phone, when Gantz uses his power as alternate prime minister to halt the process.

IDF says attempted Molotov cocktail attack thwarted, 2 Palestinians injured

The Israeli military says it thwarted an attack by two Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails at passing Israeli cars southeast of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

“Israeli soldiers in the area began implementing the arrest procedure, which included fire towards the suspects. They were struck,” the IDF says.

Both Palestinians — both teenagers — were wounded, one critically, according to the official Palestinian Authority WAFA news agency. Palestinian media did not mention whether the suspects threw Molotov cocktails, describing the events as “clashes.”

IAEA claims Iran enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges in further breach

Reuters reports that the International Atomic Energy Agency told its member states today that Iran has started enriching uranium with a third cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground plant at Natanz, further breaching the 2015 nuclear deal.

“On 7 March 2021, the Agency verified… that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into the third cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges,” the IAEA says in a report according to Reuters.

“The fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges was installed but had yet to be fed with natural UF6; installation of a fifth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing; and installation of a sixth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges had yet to begin,” it adds.

Shas, UTJ sign vote-sharing agreement ahead of election

The two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism sign a surplus vote-sharing agreement and vow to continue cooperation in the next Knesset.

The deal is inked by Shas chief Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and UTJ head MK Moshe Gafni.

Vote-sharing agreements, which are widely used in Israeli elections, allow parties to ensure that extra votes that do not add up to enough for a Knesset seat are not wasted. Instead, a party is permitted to share these votes through a special agreement with another party.

Under law, the combined leftover votes go to the party closest to winning another seat, and are often sufficient to add that seat to its tally, making them potentially decisive in a close race.

Health Ministry said weighing indoor gatherings of 30 people for Passover

The Ministry of Health is considering increasing the number of people who can gather indoors from 20 to 30 for the coming Passover festival, Channel 12 news reports.

Morbidity rates over the next 10 days will determine whether the increase will be allowed, the report says.

Last year, a nationwide lockdown kept people to within 100 meters of their homes over the festival.

Cities that are ‘yellow’ for two days can open schools

Following pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Ministry of Health announces that cities that remain ‘yellow’ or ‘green’ according to the traffic light system of infection rates for two consecutive days will be allowed to fully open their education institutions.

UTJ chair Moshe Gafni says in response: “I call on the government and mayors to make the informed decision and open schools immediately in neighborhoods where the color of the traffic light system has improved so that students can return to school tomorrow morning.”

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