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Blinken: Hamas’ foothold in Gaza could slip if US-led rehabilitation successful

After meeting Abbas, US top diplomat announces Jerusalem consulate to Palestinians will reopen, says administration seeking $75 million in aid

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

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

Top US diplomat lands in Israel to ‘solidify’ ceasefire

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrives in Tel Aviv this morning, four days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Blinken, who said earlier his trip would aim to support “efforts to solidify a ceasefire,” is set to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

He will then travel on to neighboring Egypt and Jordan.

US President Joe Biden said Sunday Blinken would meet “with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as seek to rebuild ties with the Palestinians.

Blinken on Sunday reaffirmed US support for a two-state solution as the only way to provide hope to Israelis and Palestinians that they can live “with equal measures of security, of peace and dignity.”

His remarks about “equal measures” for Israelis and Palestinians seemed to shift the tone from Donald Trump’s administration, which cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and unveiled a Middle East peace plan with strong Israeli backing but no support from Palestinians.

Blinken to meet Lapid on Tuesday evening

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Israel’s de facto opposition leader, this evening.

Blinken is in Israel to discuss the Gaza ceasefire and reconstruction, and seek ways to calm tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Just 7 of 590 candidates allowed to run in Iran’s June presidential race

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian state television announces that only seven candidates have been approved by the country’s constitutional watchdog to run for president next month, on June 18, drastically narrowing the field of hopefuls who want to replace outgoing President Hassan Rouhani.

The report does not name those selected, though rumors have circulated that reformists and moderates vying for the spot may have been barred from running by the Guardian Council.

State TV quotes Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman of the Guardian Council, as saying “only seven” had been approved out of some 590 who registered by the panel of clerics and jurists overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Kadkhodaei does not name those selected.

Ebrahim Raisi, head of Iran’s judiciary, waves to media as he visits the Interior Ministry in Tehran to register his candidacy for the June 18 Iranian presidential elections, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iran’s Interior Ministry, which oversees its police and elections, typically announces the candidates. In 2017, 1,630 hopefuls registered to run.

Iran’s judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who ran against Rouhani in 2017, is considered among analysts to be the strongest candidate in the upcoming vote. Many in Iran have grown frustrated with Rouhani, whose signature achievement was the 2015 nuclear deal that’s now in tatters after then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018.

Victims of Italy cable car crash to be flown to Israel tomorrow for burial

The bodies of the five members of the Biran family killed in the cable car crash in northern Italy yesterday will be flown to Israel tomorrow for burial, Hebrew media reports.

The lone survivor of the disaster that killed 14 people, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, remains hospitalized in Italy. He was apparently saved by the embrace of his father, who died when the cabin crashed to the ground, a hospital spokesperson said yesterday.

“In order to be able to survive the terrible impact, it is likely that the father, who was of robust build, wrapped his son in a hug,” the Regina Margherita Hospital in Turin said, according to the Italian la Repubblica newspaper.

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Italian Vigili del Fuoco Firefighters via AP)

The Israeli boy, who resided in Italy with his family, is hospitalized with multiple broken bones. “We await the next 48 hours. The situation is critical, but bodes well,” Giovanni La Valle, the director of health services in Turin, told la Repubblica.

The child’s parents, younger brother, and two great-grandparents were all killed.

Dozens of Palestinian journalists say accounts blocked by WhatsApp

Messaging app WhatsApp blocks the accounts of dozens of Palestinian journalists following this month’s fighting between Israel and Hamas, reporters say.

Shortly after a ceasefire went into effect at 2:00 a.m. on Friday ending 11 days of conflict, two journalists in AFP’s Gaza City bureau received notices from WhatsApp in Arabic informing them their accounts had been blocked.

Other journalists, in Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as Gaza, said their accounts had also been blocked.

A crew from Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera said their accounts had later been restored after they lodged complaints with WhatsApp owner Facebook.

The vice president of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Tahseen al-Astall, says “around 100 journalists” in Gaza had seen their accounts blocked.

Netanyahu, Blinken meet at PM’s Jerusalem office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down in his office in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who landed in the country about an hour and a half ago for talks with regional leaders on bolstering the Gaza ceasefire and beginning work on repairing the damage caused by the latest round of fighting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his office in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Mike Pompeo said coming to Israel this week for Mossad chief’s retirement

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks after a security briefing on Mount Bental in the Golan Heights, near the Israeli-Syrian border, November 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks after a security briefing on Mount Bental in the Golan Heights, near the Israeli-Syrian border, November 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

Politico reports that former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is planning to come to Israel later this week.

The site reports:

“A person close to the former secretary of state said the plans are not finalized because of Israel’s Covid protocols. That person added that Pompeo, a former CIA director, would travel as a private citizen to celebrate the retirement of Yossi Cohen, the head of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.

“Pompeo may also meet privately with nongovernmental officials, according to the person, who added that Pompeo alerted Blinken of his plans.”

Politico notes that the former secretary of state was a staunch defender of Israel, adding that he had served as “America’s top diplomat during the negotiation of the Abraham Accords — bilateral deals that normalized relations between Israel and a number of Arab countries.”

Blinken: US backs Israeli self-defense, will lead Gaza reconstruction; leaders need to set ‘better course’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021 (Screen capture)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021 (Screen capture)

Speaking to the press in Jerusalem alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the US supports Israel’s right to self-defense and will also be heavily involved in and committed to rebuilding Gaza after the latest round of fighting — and to seeking a political solution to the conflict. “Leaders on both sides,” he says, need to take steps “to set a better course for their shared future.”

“President Biden asked me to come here today really for four reasons,” Blinken begins. “First, to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security; to start to work toward greater stability and reduced tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem”; to support “urgent humanitarian reconstruction assistance in Gaza,” and to “continue to rebuild our relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.”

After the intense diplomacy led by President Biden, together with Netanyahu, helped produce the ceasefire, “now we believe we must build on it,” he says. “Losses on both sides were profound,” and “as the Talmud teaches, to lose a life is to lose the whole world, whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli.”

He says the US fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks — “such as the 1000s of rockets fired by Hamas indiscriminately against Israeli civilians… For the president… this commitment is personal; it runs deep…

“We’ll continue to strengthen all aspects of our longstanding partnership, and that includes consulting closely with Israel, as we did today, on the ongoing negotiations in Vienna around a potential return to the Iran nuclear agreement, at the same time as we continue to work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region.”

“We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created [by the ceasefire] to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges, and that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, and starting to rebuild.” He says the US will announce a significant contribution to this effort later today and will work with its partners “to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance.”

“At the same time, we need to work to expand opportunity for Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank, including by strengthening the private sector, expanding trade and investment, and other means. Assistance and investments like these will help foster a more stable environment that benefits Palestinians and also benefits Israelis.”

Blinken says he spoke with Netanyahu about “other steps that need to be taken by leaders on both sides to set a better course for their shared future.”

Quoting Biden, he says, “we believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and democracy, to be treated with dignity.”

Regarding the “intercommunal violence that erupted in Israel during the conflict, he says, “healing these wounds will take leadership at every level.” He says: We very much welcome the statements the prime minister made… condemning the attacks regardless of who they targeted.”

In the US, Blinken says, there has been a “shocking eruption of antisemitic attacks.” Again quoting Biden, he says they are despicable and must stop.

Overall he says, “there is a lot of hard work ahead to restore hope, respect and some trust across communities,” but that having seen the alternative, the need is for “all of us to redouble our efforts to preserve the peace and improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Netanyahu: Biden is right — there won’t be peace until Israel is recognized as an independent Jewish state

Speaking before Blinken, Netanyahu thanks the US for its “firm support for Israel’s right to self-defense.”

“If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” he warns.

He says he and Blinken “discussed ways of how to work together to prevent Hamas rearmament.”

Regarding Iran, Netanyahu says: “I hope that the United States will not go back to the old JCPOA. We believe that that [2015] deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy.”

“Whatever happens,” adds Netanyahu, “Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction, committed to getting the weapons of mass destruction for that end.”

Netanyahu says Israel and the US need to work together to expand normalization between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world.

Also discussed, he says, were ways “to improve the lives and conditions of the Palestinians — the humanitarian conditions in Gaza — including the question of the return of our MIAs and two civilians… as well as building economic growth for Judea, Samaria — the West Bank — with international cooperation and participation.”

As for a formal peace with the Palestinians, says Netanyahu, “President Biden was absolutely correct when he said ‘you’re not going to get peace until Israel is recognized as an independent Jewish state.’ That is the key — I couldn’t agree more with President Biden.”

Concludes Netanyahu, “we have common goals of peace, security and prosperity.”

At the end of the event, Netanyahu takes a moment to thank Biden for his condemnation of the rise of antisemitism.

“Thank you and the president for your strong statements against antisemitism,” he says. It is “masquerading as anti-Zionism but it’s antisemitism and you took a bold position, a clear position, and we appreciate it. I think all decent people everywhere appreciate that stance.”

After Netanyahu, Blinken meets Ashkenazi, Gantz, then heads to Ramallah

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with top Israeli officials in the coming hours, including Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, before heading to Ramallah for high-level meetings with Palestinian Authority leaders, including PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Pope offers prayers for ‘little Eitan,’ lone survivor of Italy cable car crash

Pope Francis offers prayers for “little Eitan,” the lone survivor of the cable car disaster in northern Italy that left 14 people dead when the cabin plunged to the ground after the lead cable snapped and the emergency brake failed to engage.

Francis sends a telegram to the local bishop offering his condolences to the families of the dead who, he said were “tragically lost while immersed in the marvels of creation.”

Prosecutors have said they are investigating why the lead cable of the Stresa funicular snapped Sunday while it was bringing sightseers up to the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore in Italy’s northern Piedmont region. They have said the emergency brake on the supporting cable didn’t engage, events that sent the cabin reeling back down the line until it pulled off, crashed to the ground and rolled over down the mountainside until it came to rest against some trees.

Fourteen people were killed, some of them thrown from the cabin. Five-year-old Eitan Biran, an Israeli citizen living in Italy, was the lone survivor and was hospitalized in Turin with several broken bones.

Francis offers particular thoughts for Eitan, whose parents, great-grandparents and little brother were killed. Francis says he is “following his case with trepidation.”

Officials at Turin’s Regina Margherita children’s hospital have said they plan to begin waking Eitan up from sedation Tuesday after he underwent surgery and an MRI, which showed no brain damage. An aunt and other family members have been with him at the hospital.

Amit Biran (R), his wife Tal Peleg-Biran and their son Tom Biran, who were killed on May 23, 2022, when a cable car collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy. (Facebook)

Witness in Netanyahu trial: Herzog called Yachimovich a ‘bitch’

Former Labor party leader Isaac Herzog called fellow party member Shelly Yachimovich a “bitch,” according to correspondence that emerges in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

The correspondence between Herzog and Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua also saw the ex-Labor chief offer to dictate a headline on the Walla news site following the 2013 Labor primaries, when he defeated his opponent Yachimovich.

Yeshua told Herzog: “Congratulations! Don’t hesitate to [ask me for] assistance on any matter.”

And Herzog replied: “Thanks. I would be happy if the headline would read, ‘Overwhelming victory for Herzog despite the attacks against him.’ I must show control and sideline the bitch.”

Herzog — who is currently running for president — apologizes for the remark. “Shelly and I have discussed that period numerous times and moved on, but I would like to apologize to her, and publicly, for the unnecessary comment.”

Labor party leader Isaac Herzog, right, party member MK Shelly Yachimovich during a faction meeting in the Knesset, November 25, 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supreme Court posthumously clears former chief rabbi of wrongdoing in graft case

Former Sephardic chief rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron has posthumously been cleared of wrongdoing, as the Supreme Court accepts an appeal filed on his behalf in the so-called “rabbis case,” according to Hebrew media reports.

Bakshi-Doron, who died in April 2020 of COVID-19, was convicted of fraud and breach of trust and sentenced to probation and a fine in 2017, in a case that tarnished his reputation.

He was indicted in 2012 over his involvement in a scam, known as “the rabbis’ case,” which included the alleged issuing of false rabbinic credentials to over 1,000 police and security services employees. The extra honorific allegedly entitled them to salary hikes of NIS 2,000-4,000 ($530-$1060) a month. As a result the government paid out hundreds of millions of additional shekels to the civil servants.

The Supreme Court cancels the conviction and fine on Tuesday.

Former Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron at the wedding of his granddaughter in Jerusalem on March 13, 2016.(Yaacov Cohen/Flash90)

IDF: Iron Dome missile accidentally downed Israeli drone during Gaza operation

The Israel Defense Forces confirms accidentally downing one of its own drones during the 11 days of fighting against Hamas in Gaza.

The military says the small reconnaissance drone, known as a Skylark, was hit with an interceptor from the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The incident is being investigated, the IDF adds, without giving further details.

Florida man arrested for placing feces at synagogue, yelling ‘Jews must die’

Police have arrested a man who they say yelled antisemitic remarks at a rabbi and dumped a bag of human feces in front of a South Florida synagogue.

Hallandale Beach police arrests Jeffrey Carl Fleming on charges of felony stalking with a hate crime enhancement and littering human waste. He is being held without bond at the Broward County Jail. Details on his arrest are not released.

Capt. Pedro Abut says in a statement that Fleming, 39, is the man who was captured on cellphone video who went on a rant outside the Chabad of South Broward on Friday.

The man, barefoot and dressed in a white robe, left and returned a short time later, carrying a bag or pillowcase that contained human feces. He dumped the bag in front of the synagogue and yelled, “Jews should die,” according to a police report.

He also spat at a menorah near a sidewalk, according to the police.

Court records do not indicate if Fleming has an attorney.

Mysterious air base being built on volcanic island off Yemen

A mysterious air base is being built on a volcanic island off Yemen that sits in one of the world’s crucial maritime chokepoints for both energy shipments and commercial cargo.

While no country has claimed the Mayun Island air base in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, shipping traffic associated with a prior attempt to build a massive runway across the 5.6-kilometer (3.5 mile)-long island years ago links back to the United Arab Emirates.

Officials in Yemen’s internationally recognized government now say the Emiratis are behind this latest effort as well, even though the UAE announced in 2019 it was withdrawing its troops from a Saudi-led military campaign battling Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

“This does seem to be a longer-term strategic aim to establish a relatively permanent presence,” says Jeremy Binnie, the Mideast editor at the open-source intelligence company Janes who has followed construction on Mayun for years. It’s “possibly not just about the Yemen war and you’ve got to see the shipping situation as fairly key there.”

Emirati officials in Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s Embassy in Washington do not respond to requests for comment.

The runway on Mayun Island allows whoever controls it to project power into the strait and easily launch airstrikes into mainland Yemen, convulsed by a yearslong bloody war. It also provides a base for any operations into the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and nearby East Africa.

Minneapolis to hold outdoor festival to mark anniversary of George Floyd’s death

The intersection where George Floyd took his final breaths is to be transformed Tuesday into an outdoor festival on the anniversary of his death, with food, children’s activities and a long list of musical performers.

“We’re going to be turning mourning into dancing,” rapper Nur-D tweets. “We’re going to be celebrating 365 days of strength in the face of injustice.”

Floyd, 46, who was Black, died on Memorial Day 2020 after then-Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, pinning him to the ground for about 9 1/2 minutes. Chauvin, who is white, was convicted last month of murder and faces sentencing June 25. Three other fired officers still face trial.

The site of Floyd’s death, 38th and Chicago, was taken over by activists soon after and remains barricaded to traffic. The “Rise and Remember George Floyd” celebration, including a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m., caps several days of marches, rallies and panel discussions about his death and where America is in confronting racial discrimination.

A woman holds a Black Lives Matter flag during an event in remembrance of George Floyd and to call for justice for those who lost loved ones to the police violence outside the Minnesota State Capitol on May 24, 2021 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Kerem Yucel / AFP)

Many members of the Floyd family are scheduled to be in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, in a private meeting with US President Joe Biden, who called family members after the Chauvin verdict and pledged to continue fighting for racial justice.

Nur-D, whose real name is Matt Allen, took to the Minneapolis streets in the days after Floyd’s death, often providing medical assistance to protesters who were shot or gassed in confrontations with police. He eventually founded an organization, Justice Frontline Aid, to support safe protest.

He describes the past year as “like we’ve lived 20 years inside of one” and hopes that people will feel “honesty and a real sense of togetherness” during Tuesday’s celebration at what’s informally known as George Floyd Square.

“If you’re angry, you can be angry. If you’re sad, you can be sad,” Nur-D says in a follow-up interview. “If you’re feeling some sense of joy over the verdict and some sort of like step in the right direction, and you want to celebrate that, do that as well.”

The event was organized by the George Floyd Global Memorial. Angela Harrelson, an aunt of Floyd’s and a member of the board of directors, said the organization has stockpiled 3,000 items surrounding Floyd’s death — things like artwork left behind in the square — and will display some of them in a pop-up gallery.

The event is due to start at 1 p.m., the same time Gov. Tim Walz asked Minnesotans to pause for a moment of silence to honor Floyd. Walz asks that the moment last for 9 minutes, 29 seconds – the length of time that prosecutors say Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Jordan FM meets Abbas in Ramallah ahead of Blinken’s visit

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi in Ramallah following recent fighting between Israel and Hamas.

According to a statement from Abbas’s office, the two sides discussed ongoing diplomatic contacts between the PA, the United Nations, and the United States to collaborate on rebuilding Gaza following the fighting.

“Abbas stressed the need to intensify the efforts to rebuild what the [Israeli] occupation has destroyed in the Gaza Strip. The ceasefire must include an end to [Israeli] attacks and invasions” at Jerusalem’s holy sites and in the West Bank, Abbas’s office says.

According to the PA statement, Safadi says Gaza must be rebuilt and all sides must hasten in their pursuit of a political solution which ends Israeli rule over the Palestinians.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is scheduled to visit Ramallah later this afternoon, the highest-level American visit has since US President Joe Biden entered office in January.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met Abbas yesterday, before meeting al-Safadi on his return to Egypt.

National Insurance Institute proposes NIS 100k compensation for Meron victims

The National Insurance Institute is offering NIS 100,000 (30,865) in compensation to each of the families of the 45 victims of the deadly crush at Mount Meron.

The offer is issued at a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee.

The two families that each lost two children during Israel’s worst-ever civilian disaster will receive NIS 130,000 ($40,124) per child, the NII adds.

Victims of the April 30, 2021, Mount Meron disaster: Top row (L-R): Chen Doron, Haim Rock, Ariel Tzadik, Yossi Kohn, Yisrael Anakvah, Yishai Mualem, Yosef Mastorov, Elkana Shiloh and Moshe Levy; 2nd row (L-R): Shlomo Zalman Leibowitz, Shmuel Zvi Klagsbald, Mordechai Fakata, Dubi Steinmetz, Abraham Daniel Ambon, Eliezer Gafner, Yosef Greenbaum, Yehuda Leib Rubin and Yaakov Elchanan Starkovsky; 3rd row (L-R): Haim Seler, Yehoshua Englard, Moshe Natan Neta Englard, Yedidia Hayut, Moshe Ben Shalom, David Krauss, Eliezer Tzvi Joseph, Yosef Yehuda Levy and Yosef Amram Tauber; 4th row (L-R): Menachem Knoblowitz, Elazar Yitzchok Koltai, Yosef David Elhadad, Shraga Gestetner, Yonatan Hebroni, Shimon Matalon, Elazar Mordechai Goldberg, Moshe Bergman and Daniel Morris; 5th row (L-R): Ariel Achdut, Moshe Mordechai Elhadad, Hanoch Slod, Yedidya Fogel, Menahem Zakbah, Simcha Diskind, Moshe Tzarfati, Nahman Kirshbaum and Eliyahu Cohen.

 

State Department: Recently expired passports can be used to return to US

Illustrative: A US passport (vlana/iStock/Getty Images)
Illustrative: A US passport (vlana/iStock/Getty Images)

The US State Department says citizens abroad may be able to travel on recently expired American passports, in some cases, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“US citizens currently overseas whose passports expired on or after January 1, 2020, may be able to use their expired US passport for direct return travel to the United States until December 31, 2021. Certain criteria apply, and we encourage US citizens to confirm their eligibility for traveling on an expired passport at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/ea/covid-19-information.html prior to finalizing travel arrangements.”

But the same does not apply to those in the US.

“Recently expired passports cannot be used to travel from the United States to an international destination or to travel to a foreign country for any length of stay longer than an airport connection en route to the United States or to a United States territory,” it says.

Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport on April 18, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Moderna says its COVID-19 shot works in kids as young as 12

Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine strongly protects kids as young as 12, a step that could put the shot on track to become the second option for that age group in the US.

With global vaccine supplies still tight, much of the world is struggling to vaccinate adults in the quest to end the pandemic. But earlier this month, the US and Canada authorized another vaccine — the shot made by Pfizer and BioNTech — to be used starting at age 12.

Moderna aims to be next in line, saying it will submit its teen data to the US Food and Drug Administration and other global regulators early next month.

The company studied more than 3,700 12- to 17-year-olds. Preliminary findings show the vaccine triggered the same signs of immune protection in kids as it does in adults, and the same kind of temporary side effects such as sore arms, headache and fatigue.

There were no COVID-19 diagnoses in those given two doses of the Moderna vaccine compared with four cases among kids given dummy shots. In a press release, the company also says the vaccine appeared 93% effective two weeks after the first dose.

While children are far less likely than adults to get seriously ill from COVID-19, they represent about 14% of the nation’s coronavirus cases. At least 316 have died in the US alone, according to a tally by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Illustrative: A Palestinian medic displays a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, February 3, 2021, as the Palestinian Authority began administering coronavirus vaccinations after receiving several thousands of doses of the Moderna vaccine from Israel. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Fire service denies wildfires in south sparked by Gaza incendiary balloons

Farmers in communities bordering Gaza report three wildfires — two on Monday, one on Tuesday — which they blame on incendiary balloons from the Strip.

The fire service, however, denies the blazes were sparked by Gaza balloons, instead attributing them to unrelated acts of arson.

Fire in a field in in southern Israel, May 25, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Hagi Avni, a volunteer fireman at Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Gaza border, tells Channel 12 that the fire services, which are also ascribing the fires to electrical faults, are not telling the truth.

“Maybe there’s an instruction from on high not to publicize that there are incendiary balloons [from Gaza],” he says, “because the equation was supposed to change.”

Saudi Arabia said refusing to allow Israeli plane to use airspace

An Israir flight to the United Arab Emirates has been held up for hours at Ben Gurion International Airport due to Saudi Arabia’s refusal to grant approval to the Israeli airline to use its airspace, according to Hebrew media reports.

But according to the Globes business daily, an El Al flight to Dubai took off as planned this afternoon and received permission to use Saudi airspace.

There is no immediate comment from the Foreign Ministry on the incident.

Ashkenazi holds ‘very important meeting’ with Blinken

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi wraps up what he describes as a “very important” meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem.

Ashkenazi tweets: “We discussed the aftermath of operation ‘Guardian of the Walls’ and the importance of our relations with the US. We spoke in detail about regional issues and the importance of strengthening and expanding the circle of peace.

“Over the past two weeks, the US has once again proven to be our closest ally. I thanked Secretary Blinken for the full and unwavering support of the US and its ongoing recognition of Israel’s right to defend its citizens.”

Gantz presents Israel’s plan to achieve long-term quiet in Gaza to Blinken

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and thanks him for Washington’s support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens from Hamas rocket fire and its condemnation of antisemitism amid the 11-day Gaza war, his office says.

“The defense minister presented to the secretary of state the principles that were formulated by the defense establishment to obtain long-term quiet, return the boys [the bodies of IDF soldiers killed in Gaza being held by Hamas], and strengthening the Palestinian Authority while harming the military capabilities of the terror groups in Gaza,” Gantz’s office says.

“Gantz also discussed Israel’s security needs with Blinken, the preservation of its military edge in the region, and the need to act to prevent the nuclear advances of Iran, amid the talks taking place on the issue at this time,” the statement says.

Half of all US adults fully vaccinated against COVID — White House

Half of all US adults will have received full Covid-19 vaccines on Tuesday, the White House says, marking another huge milestone in the fight against the pandemic.

“Today, the United States will reach 50 percent of American adults fully vaccinated,” a White House official says, speaking on condition of anonymity.

More than half a million Americans have died from the coronavirus but the country is now a world leader in rolling out vaccinations.

Illustrative: A teen receives a COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, New Jersey, April 19, 2021. (AP/Seth Wenig)

US among countries urging deeper probe of COVID origins at WHO meet

The United States and other countries call for a more in-depth investigation of the pandemic origins, after an international mission to China earlier this year proved inconclusive.

Addressing the World Health Organization’s main annual meeting of member states, representatives from several countries stress the continued need to solve the mystery of how Covid-19 first began spreading among humans.

“We underscore the importance of a robust comprehensive and expert-led inquiry into the origins of Covid-19,” US representative Jeremy Konyndyk tells the World Health Assembly.

A member of a World Health Organization team is seen wearing protective gear during a field visit to the Hubei Animal Disease Control and Prevention Cente in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province, Feb. 2, 2021. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Australia, Japan and Portugal were among other countries to call for more progress on the investigation, while the British representative urged for any probe to be “timely, expert-driven and grounded in robust science.”

Determining how the virus that causes Covid-19 began spreading is seen as vital to preventing future outbreaks.

But a long-delayed report by the team of international experts sent to Wuhan and their Chinese counterparts drew no firm conclusions on the origins of the pandemic.

Instead, they ranked a number of hypotheses according to how likely they believed they were.

The report said the virus jumping from bats to humans via an intermediate animal was the most probable scenario, while it said a theory involving the virus leaking from a laboratory was “extremely unlikely.”

After the report was released, however, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted all theories remained on the table.

World powers to kick off 5th round of Iran nuclear talks in Vienna

World powers are set to open a fifth round of talks with Iran aimed at bringing the United States back into the landmark 2015 nuclear deal meant to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining an atomic bomb.

The talks in Vienna come the day after the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, was able to strike a last-minute agreement with Tehran to extend a deal on surveillance cameras at Iran’s nuclear sites for one month. The issue wasn’t directly related to the ongoing nuclear deal talks — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — but had Iran not agreed, it could have seriously complicated the discussions.

The US is not directly involved in the talks, although an American delegation headed by President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, has also been in the Austrian capital. Representatives from the other powers involved — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — have been shuttling between the US and the Iranians to facilitate indirect talks.

Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service Enrique Mora addresses the media as he leaves the Grand Hotel Wien where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran took place in Vienna, Austria, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

As he heads back to Vienna for the resumption of talks, Malley tweets that the latest round had been “constructive and saw meaningful progress.”

“But much work still needs to be done,” he writes. “On our way to Vienna for a fifth round where we hope we can further advance toward a mutual return to compliance.”

Russia’s delegate, Mikhail Ulyanov, who has consistently been the most optimistic about the possibility of an agreement, suggests a resolution was in sight.

“I think it can be final,” he tweets about the fifth round. “But in order to be on the safe side I would prefer to say: let’s see.”

Prosecutors close probe into death of soldier at outdoor rave

Prosecutors have closed a criminal investigation into the death of an off-duty Israel Defense Forces soldier at an outdoor rave last year.

Ariel Yoav Tzafrir, a 19-year-old soldier from the West Bank settlement of Barkan, died after collapsing during a party at the Pura Nature Reserve in the south in September 2020, on the hottest day recorded in Israel’s history.

Prosecutors concluded that the party organizers could not be held criminally responsible for Tzafrir’s death.

Ariel Tzafrir (Facebook)

Blinken discussed Iran, Palestinians with Gantz and Ashkenazi

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price says Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the Palestinians and Iran during his talks with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Jerusalem.

He says: “They expressed their support for the ceasefire and noted their gratitude for partners, including Egypt, that helped to bring it about. They exchanged views on Iran, and the Secretary underscored the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security as well as to the broader US-Israel partnership.”

“The Secretary emphasized the need for Israelis and Palestinians to be able to live in safety and security, as well as enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity, and democracy,” adds Price.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before their meeting in Jerusalem on May 25, 2021, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip’s rulers Hamas (Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP)

Biden to meet Putin next month in Geneva

US President Joe Biden will hold a summit with Vladimir Putin next month in Geneva, a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders that comes amid escalating tensions between the US and Russia in the first months of the Biden administration.

The White House confirms details of the summit. The two leaders’ scheduled meeting, set for June 16, is being tacked on to the end of Biden’s first international trip as president next month when he visits Britain for a meeting of Group of Seven leaders and Brussels for the NATO summit.

Biden first proposed a summit in a call with Putin in April as his administration prepared to levy sanctions against Russian officials for the second time during the first three months of his presidency.

Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, left, geatures as he meets Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 10, 2011.The talks in Moscow are expected to focus on missile defense cooperation and Russia’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

White House officials said earlier this week that they were ironing out details for the summit. National security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed details of the meeting when he met with his Russian counterpart, Nikolay Patrushev.

The White House has repeatedly said it is seeking a “stable and predictable” relationship with the Russians, while also calling out Putin on allegations that the Russians interfered in last year’s US presidential election and that the Kremlin was behind a hacking campaign — commonly referred to as the SolarWinds breach — in which Russian hackers infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine US agencies.

The Biden administration has also criticized Russia for the arrest and jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and publicly acknowledged that it has low to moderate confidence that Russian agents were offering bounties to the Taliban to attack US troops in Afghanistan.

Leeds educator sorry for calling Palestinian flag a ‘call to arms’

A Leeds school principal apologizes for calling the Palestinian flag a “call to arms” and “symbol of antisemitism.”

Mike Roper, head of the Allerton Grange High School in Leeds, was strongly criticized for his remark.

He later apologizes.

“I am deeply sorry that a particular example I used in that assembly referring to the Palestinian flag has caused such upset within the community. That was never my intention,” he says.

Indiana governor to visit Israel at Netanyahu’s invitation

Indiana’s governor is traveling to Israel in the wake of the ceasefire to the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office announces he will be in Israel Tuesday and Wednesday at the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Republican governor cites business and cultural ties between Indiana and Israel for making the trip.

“I stand in support of Israel and look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue forging an even stronger Israel-Indiana bond,” Holcomb says in a statement. “When I was invited, I did not hesitate to make this trip to meet in Israel during such an hour of need.”

The governor’s trip comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt to an attempt to secure the Gaza ceasefire.

Holcomb previously traveled as governor to Israel in 2018 for economic development meetings. The governor’s office says Holcomb will return to Indiana on Thursday and that the trip is being paid for by Imagine Indiana Inc., a nonprofit group whose directors include his 2016 and 2020 campaign managers.

PA receives over 100,000 COVID vaccine doses from UN-backed program

The Palestinian Authority says it has received 102,960 Pfizer doses through the UN-backed COVAX mechanism, amid a serious shortfall in available coronavirus vaccines in both the West Bank and Gaza.

According to PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila, 56,160 were allocated for the West Bank, while 46,800 have been sent to the Gaza Strip. COVAX is an international initiative that seeks to provide free vaccines for poor and middle-income countries.

While life in Israel has nearly returned to normal, the Palestinians have yet to reach anything close to herd immunity. In the West Bank, approximately 11% of the West Bank’s 2.1 million Palestinians have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Around 105,000 Palestinians with Israeli work permits were inoculated by Israeli medical teams at checkpoints across the area.

The Gaza Strip has seen far fewer Palestinians vaccinated. Only 2 percent of Gaza’s 2 million residents have been vaccinated. Health officials in the coastal enclave have said several factors — including limited supply, fear of the vaccine, and the fact that many Palestinians were already infected with the virus — play a role.

Islamophobia a ‘problem’ in UK’s ruling party, probe finds

Islamophobia within Britain’s ruling Conservative Party is a problem both at an individual level and beyond but falls short of “institutional racism,” an independent investigation concludes.

The center-right party has been dogged for years by accusations of anti-Muslim sentiment that have been leveled against members, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The former journalist’s comments comparing Muslim women in veils to letterboxes and bank robbers, in a newspaper column in 2018, contributed to a “widespread” perception that the Tories have a “Muslim problem,” the report said.

“Anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party. This is damaging to the party, and alienates a significant section of society,” the investigation led by Swaran Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, finds.

Singh says he believes the report was “going to be very uncomfortable for the party” and hopes it will “spur them into action.”

The investigation says since 2015 the “bulk” of discrimination complaints had been made over anti-Muslim allegations.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask to combat the spread of COVID-19, leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on May 19, 2021. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Of 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination, more than two-thirds of the incidents — 496 cases — related to Islamaphobia.

But while the report finds “there were examples of anti-Muslim discrimination by individuals and groups at local association level,” it says those problems fall short of claims of “institutional racism.

The report says there is no evidence that complaints related to Islam are treated differently from those related to other forms of discrimination.

Johnson tells Singh’s probe he was “sorry for any offense taken” over his 2018 column and adds he would not use “some of the offending language from my past writings” now that he is prime minister.

Israeli news outlets to Facebook, Twitter: Remove incitement against journalists

Over a dozen Israeli news outlets urge Facebook and Twitter to remove content inciting against journalists from the social media platforms.

“Journalists have become a target for incitement, which has put them in a clear and present danger,” the outlets urge in a letter sent to the social media giants. “There have been countless posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter calling for physical harm to Israeli journalists, or labelling them as traitors or enemies of the state in a manner that encourages or justifies violent actions against them.

“Facebook and Twitter have a public responsibility to monitor and immediately remove any posts distributed on their platforms, which encourage the physical harm of journalists. It is their responsibility to prevent incitement and inflammatory content from being distributed under the auspices of their platforms.

“If — or worse, when — bodily harm or loss of life occurs in connection with this incitement, Facebook and Twitter must know that in their failure to act and take a stand against the incitement, they enable, if not encourage, such violent acts,” the letter says.

Jordan summons Israeli envoy, protests arrest of 2 knife-wielding Jordanians

Jordan has summoned the Israeli ambassador to Amman for a dressing-down over the detention of two Jordanian nationals last week who crossed into Israel armed with knives.

Amman has called for their release, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian Authority news site,

The two knife-carrying Jordanian nationals were caught inside Israel on May 16 after apparently crossing the border from Jordan undetected and telling Israeli investigators that they were “heading to Jerusalem.” The incident occurred during fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups, as well as tensions in Jerusalem.

New York City school principal sorry for urging staff to support Palestinians

The principal of a Brooklyn middle school apologizes to her staff after sending an email last week calling on them to support Palestinian liberation — even as some of them say they did not think an apology was necessary.

Amanda Bueno, who heads M.S. 136, emailed teachers and administrators at her school last week amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, urging them to take action. The letter included several options, among them attending a vigil and calling on government officials to place sanctions on Israel, according to the New York Post, which broke news of the letter and has since covered the school’s saga closely.

Public employees in New York City are prohibited from using their roles or education department resources to engage in political activity, and Chancellor Meisha Porter, the head of the city’s Department of Education, criticized Bueno publicly over the weekend.

Shortly afterward, Bueno sent her staff an apology email, the Post reports.

“As the Principal of a diverse school community who is committed to social justice causes and human rights concerns, I want to apologize for using school email to strongly communicate my personal views and not being as inclusive and mindful of other perspectives as I could have been,” Bueno writes. “It was not my intention to inflame tensions on this sensitive issue. I apologize for any added hurt, anger, or misunderstanding my email may have caused.”

Some Jewish staff members had complained to the Post about the letter, and Jewish elected officials from the area publicly criticized it. M.S. 136, located in the Sunset Park neighborhood, enrolls few if any Jewish or Palestinian children.

Blinken meets Abbas, says US to reopen Jerusalem consulate to Palestinians

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says the United States will notify Israel of its intention to reopen its Jerusalem consulate to the Palestinians, during a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

“As I told both Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and President Abbas, the United States will go forward with the reopening of its consulate in Jerusalem. This is an important step,” Blinken says.

Blinken says the United States opposes unilateral actions which could undermine the prospects for a just, durable peace, “whether that is settlement activity, home demolitions, annexation of territory, incitement to violence or compensation of individuals who committed acts of terror.”

“As I told the president, I am here to underscore the commitment of the United States government to its relationship with the Palestinian Authority,” Blinken says.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) speaks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on May 25, 2021, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP)

Abbas thanks the US secretary of state for his support.

“We thank the American state for the support it has given to the State of Palestine,” Abbas says. “We hope that the future is full of diplomatic activities led by the United States and the Quartet, so as to reach a just, comprehensive solution based on international law.”

Blinken says he’s seeking $75 million from Congress for Palestinian aid

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that the Biden administration will ask Congress for $75 million in additional aid to the Palestinians.

Blinken says that $5.5 million will be for immediate relief in Gaza following recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas, as well as $32 million in additional humanitarian aid.

Blinken says he has informed both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the matter.

House Republicans denounce lawmaker for likening mask order to Nazi yellow star

Controversial US congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene doubles down on equating mask mandates with Nazis forcing Jews to wear yellow stars in war-era Germany, earning a stern rebuke from Republican leadership.

Greene, a freshman Republican from Georgia, tweets about a business making its employees who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus wear a vaccination logo on their name badge.

“Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s [sic] forced Jewish people to wear a gold star,” Greene wrote.

“Vaccine passports & mask mandates create discrimination against unvaxxed people who trust their immune systems to a virus that is 99% survivable.”

Greene is a fierce defender of former US president Donald Trump and promotes his baseless claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.

US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Republican of Georgia) arrives for a House Republican caucus candidate forum to replace outgoing conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney (Republican of Wyoming) at the Capitol on May 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Her five months in Congress have been repeatedly marked by controversy and rising frustration within her party over her extreme remarks.

But her recent comments linking mask rules to the Holocaust outraged some in her party, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who denounces her comments — but also accuses Democrats of antisemitism.

“Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling,” McCarthy says in a statement.

“Let me be clear: the House Republican Conference condemns this language,” he adds.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Republican of California) gives his assessment of the GOP’s performance in the election as he speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, DC on Nov. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With increased violence against Jews in the United States in recent weeks, “antisemitism is on the rise in the Democrat Party and is completely ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” McCarthy says.

“Americans must stand together to defeat antisemitism and any attempt to diminish the history of the Holocaust.”

The controversy began Sunday when Greene, speaking to a conservative podcast, compared Pelosi’s decision to maintain mask rules for lawmakers on the House floor to Nazi actions against Jews.

“You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany,” Greene said.

“This is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.”

Greene, who insisted she said nothing wrong, received fierce criticism from both sides of the political aisle, with fellow House Republican Liz Cheney calling the comments “evil lunacy.”

Several Democrats have said Greene is unfit to serve in Congress.

Blinken: US working with countries to provide 1.5 million COVID vaccines to Palestinians

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration will work with the international community to provide 1.5 million coronavirus immunizations to the Palestinians.

Palestinians have yet to see a widespread vaccination campaign. So far, only 11 percent of West Bank Palestinians and 2% of Gazans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Gunshots heard near George Floyd square on anniversary of death

The Minneapolis intersection where George Floyd died is disrupted by gunfire, just hours before it is to be the site of a family-friendly street festival marking the anniversary of his death at the hands of police.

Associated Press video from the scene shows people running and seeking cover as shots ring out. A police spokesman doesn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Journalist Philip Crowther, who was shooting live video from 38th and Chicago, reports hearing as many as 30 gunshots about a block east of the intersection. Crowther says a storefront window appeared to have been broken by a gunshot.

“Very quickly, things got back to normal,” Crowther says. “People here who spend a significant amount of time, the organizers, were running around asking, ‘Does anyone need a medic?’ It seems like there are no injuries.”

Police says they responded to reports of gunfire at about 10:10 a.m. at the 3800 block of South Elliot Ave. South. Callers tell police that a vehicle was seen speeding away from the area.

Soon after, someone goes to Abbott Northwestern Hospital with a gunshot wound. The victim is taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, and it’s believed the injury is not life-threatening. It isn’t immediately clear if that person was injured in the shooting near George Floyd Square.

Simon Cowell pulls out as judge on Israel’s ‘X Factor’

Simon Cowell, a judge on “America’s Got Talent,” has canceled his appearance on Israel’s “X Factor.”

A source close to Cowell confirms that “Simon won’t be going to Israel after all,” The Jewish News of London reports. The report does not indicate why the British music impresario nixed plans to participate in the show later this year, or whether it was connected to the 11-day exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that ended with a ceasefire on May 21.

“For a number of reasons, he just can’t be there in Israel to film the show now,” says the unnamed source. “Of course he is bitterly disappointed – but it was a decision he had to take.”

Cowell is Christian, but his late father, Eric, was Jewish, as is his current partner, Lauren Silverman, who recently gave birth to the couple’s first child.

Reality music show mogul Simon Cowell will no longer join the Israeli version of ‘X Factor’ as a judge in the new season. (Courtesy ‘X Factor Israel’)

151 antisemitic incidents reported in UK since Gaza ceasefire

Acts of antisemitism in the United Kingdom continue to rise this week, despite the ceasefire in hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The escalation had unleashed acts of anti-Jewish hatred around the world.

Over the past 17 days, at least 267 incidents of antisemitism have been reported in the UK – an increase of more than 500% compared to the previous 17 days, the Community Security Trust (CST) security group tells The Jewish News of London. CST says 151 of the incidents have come after May 20, when the ceasefire was announced.

Blinken in West Bank: I’m here to renew US-Palestinian ties

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy Assistant Secretary Hady Amr are meeting with Palestinian civil society leaders in the West Bank.

“One of the main purposes of my travel here at President [Joe] Biden’s request is to renew ties between the United States and the Palestinian people and to build on those ties going forward,” Blinken says at the meeting in Ramallah, according to a State Department readout. ”

One critical aspect of any democratic society is civil society, and that’s why I’m particularly anxious to have a chance to talk to you. Your voices, your experience, your insight, your advocacy I think are all critical components for the future.”

‘Change bloc’ officials urge Bennett to join them in government

Leaders in the so-called “change bloc” claim they can form a government — if Yamina’s Naftali Bennett signs on, Channel 13 reports.

“The government is almost sealed. We’re waiting for Bennett,” an unnamed official says.

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid has eight days remaining to form a government via his mandate from the president.

He is racing against the clock — against the coalition math — to cobble together a coalition in time, but admitted on Monday that it may not be possible.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Knesset building in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Bennett backed out of coalition talks with Lapid two weeks ago as the fighting with Hamas was underway, although Bennett is widely believed to still prefer a unity government with the center-left to a fifth election.

An easily formed coalition of Yesh Atid, Blue and White, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz would only have 45 seats.

To reach the majority required to vote in a government, Lapid must include some combination of right-wing parties Yamina and New Hope, or the Arab-majority Joint List and the Islamist Ra’am party — a difficult task in the best of times and considered near-impossible in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza fighting.

Prices of COVID tests at airport to be hiked starting next week

Coronavirus testing for travelers arriving at Ben Gurion Airport is set to be raised next week to NIS 140 ($43), according to Hebrew media reports.

The test upon landing is mandatory for all, including vaccinated passengers. The tests had previously been free.

Medical technicians test passengers for the coronavirus at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

TV: Israel conditions steps for Palestinians on ending ICC war crimes push

Israeli officials have told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that it’ll be “nearly impossible” to take steps benefiting the Palestinians while the Palestinian Authority cooperates with the International Criminal Court in a war crimes probe against Israel, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

So long as the Palestinians actively push for Israeli soldiers to be arrested abroad, “Israel won’t be able to advance confidence-building steps vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority,” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is quoted as telling Blinken.

Blinken: ‘Jury still out’ on whether Iran will return to compliance with nuke deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the reopening of the Palestinian mission in Washington, DC — shuttered during the Trump era — did not come up during meetings in Ramallah today.

As for the reopening of the US consulate in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, Blinken tells reporters in Jerusalem: “I can’t give you a timeline on how long that will take,” but says it’s important that it eventually reopens.

Blinken also addresses the Iran nuclear talks, as the fifth round of negotiations opens in Vienna. He says the US is keeping its allies, including Israel, fully informed on the progress of the negotiations.

“We have the same objective. Let’s see where things go in the next few weeks, but I can again tell you that we are fully, fully engaged with our partners here in the Middle East, making sure that they’re fully informed of what we’re doing,” says Blinken.

Blinken says the US remains committed to reentering the 2015 nuclear deal, but “the jury is still out” on whether the Iranians will return to compliance with the accord.

Blinken: If done correctly, Gaza rebuilding will cause ‘Hamas’ foothold to slip’

At a press conference in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the US-led efforts to rehabilitate Gaza aim to weaken the Hamas terrorist group that controls the enclave.

“If we do this right… far from empowering Hamas, it has the potential to undermine it,” he says.

“Hamas thrives, unfortunately, on despair, on misery, on desperation, on a lack of opportunity,” he says.

“What reconstruction and relief need to do is not just answer the immediate needs — and those needs are significant and they’re urgent, whether it’s water, whether it’s sanitation, whether it’s electricity — but they need to offer a genuine prospect for opportunity, for progress, for material improvement in peoples’ lives,” he says.

The US’s goal is to give the Palestinians, “including those in Gaza, a renewed sense of progress, of optimism, of real opportunity,” says Blinken.

If all partners in the region engage in the process, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority, “Hamas’ foothold in Gaza will slip. We know that. And I think that Hamas knows that.”

US opposes evictions, payments to terrorists, settlement activity, says Blinken

Asked about the potential eviction of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah under a court order, Blinken says both Israel and the Palestinians are being asked by the United States to remove “potential catalysts for a renewed cycle of violence.”

At the same time, efforts will be made to restore trust between the sides and rehabilitate Gaza, he says.

Stressing that this process will take time, Blinken says that if successful, “that may, I think produce a better environment in which ultimately, there’s the possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution which we continue to believe is the only way to assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state and, of course, to give the Palestinians the state that they’re entitled to.”

“Any steps that either side takes that either risks sparking violence or over time, ultimately undermine the prospect of returning to the pursuit of two states, we oppose — and that includes settlement activity, it includes demolitions, it includes evictions, it includes incitement to violence, it includes payments to terrorists — all of those things, I think, would on the one hand potentially be catalysts for renewed tension and certainly undermine the prospects of two states,” says Blinken.

Blinken says this was clarified to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during talks earlier today.

Abbas accidentally calls Blinken ‘Secretary Clinton’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accidentally referred to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as “Secretary Clinton” at the start of their meeting in Ramallah, according to a transcript from the State Department.

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (Via interpreter)  In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate, we would like to welcome Secretary Clinton, who visits us these – in these days —

STAFF:  Blinken.

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (Via interpreter) – Sorry – Blinken, who visits us in these days —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s an improvement. (Laughter.)

UN Human Rights Council to mull international probe after Gaza conflict

The UN Human Rights Council will consider launching a broad, international investigation into alleged abuses in the latest Gaza conflict and also into “systematic” abuses, according to a proposal.

The draft resolution will be discussed during a special session of the council Thursday, requested amid 11 days of deadly violence between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza this month.

The text, presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, calls for the UN top rights body to “urgently establish an ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry… in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel.”

The investigators, the text says, should probe “all alleged violations and abuses” of international law linked to the tensions that sparked the latest violence.

A Palestinian woman walks past a destroyed building in the al-Rimal commercial district in Gaza City on May 22, 2021, following a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

But the draft text goes far beyond the most recent conflict, also calling for investigators to probe “underlying root causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity.”

The investigation should focus on establishing facts and gather evidence and other material that could be used in legal proceedings, and as far as possible should identify perpetrators to ensure they are held accountable, it says.

“Long-standing and systemic impunity for international law violations has thwarted justice, created a protection crisis and undermined all efforts to achieve a just and peaceful solution,” the draft text says.

It remains unclear whether there will be enough support at the Human Rights Council to pass the resolution.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

Twenty of the council’s 47 members were among the 66 countries that backed holding Thursday’s special session, which was requested by Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority.

The rights council holds three regular sessions each year, but can hold special sessions if at least a third of members support the idea.

Thursday will mark the 30th extraordinary meeting of the United Nations’ top rights body since its creation 15 years ago, and it will be the ninth focused on Israel.

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