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PA accuses Israel of spying on its foreign ministry with NSO Group’s Pegasus

In a statement, Palestinian Authority says it now has ‘evidence and legal documents’ that prove Israel has been using spyware to monitor its activities

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

A branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, on August 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
A branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, on August 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

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

Suspect in 2018 murder of French Jewish woman sentenced to life in prison

A photograph of murdered Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll is placed along with flowers on the fence surrounding her building in Paris on March 28, 2018. (Francois Guillot/AFP)
A photograph of murdered Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll is placed along with flowers on the fence surrounding her building in Paris on March 28, 2018. (Francois Guillot/AFP)

Yacine Mihoub, the main suspect in the 2018 murder of French Jewish woman Mireille Knoll, is sentenced to life in prison for her killing.

The partly burned body of Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was found in her apartment in central Paris after she had been stabbed 11 times and her home was set on fire.

The second suspect in the case, Alex Carrimbacus, was acquitted of the murder but sentenced to 15 years for robbing her following the killing.

Under questioning, Carrimbacus accused Mihoub of yelling “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic) while stabbing Knoll, and of justifying the attack by saying “Jews have money.” But Carrimbacus later walked back his testimony.

“They’re monsters,” Knoll’s son, Daniel Knoll, told reporters at the start of the trial last month. “We are expecting a very severe verdict.”

PA’s foreign ministry accuses Israel of using NSO’s Pegasus spyware against it

A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021. (Mario Goldman/AFP)
A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021. (Mario Goldman/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority foreign ministry says some of its employees’ phones were hacked by Pegasus, a controversial spyware application made by the Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group.

An investigation by the rights groups Front Line Defenders, Citizen Lab and Amnesty International alleged on Monday that six Palestinians had their cellphones hacked by the software. Three of the Palestinians worked at organizations Israel recently declared to be terror groups, drawing an international outcry.

The Palestinian rights group Al-Haq had previously declared that some foreign ministry civil servants had also been hacked. But the PA body did not comment until today.

“We always expected that our telephones were infiltrated by the occupation authorities and that all we said and sent was listened to and monitored. But now, we have evidence and legal documents that acknowledge the existence of this Israeli intrusion,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.

NSO Group activities have sparked controversy in recent months. The company has been dogged by accusations that the Pegasus software was used by dictatorships to track dissidents and human rights activists.

PA’s Shtayyeh says only a two-state solution can end Israeli ‘apartheid’

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh holds a briefing with foreign press at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 10, 2021. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh holds a briefing with foreign press at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, November 10, 2021. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority’s prime minister warns that Israel’s refusal to accept a two-state solution will perpetuate a system of “apartheid” and eventually result in a one-state reality in which Israel loses its Jewish character.

At a press conference with foreign reporters, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accuses Bennett of “three no’s”: No to meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, no to peace negotiations and no to a Palestinian state.

“If you have three no’s, what are your yes’s?” Shtayyeh asks.

Shtayyeh reiterates the Palestinians’ longstanding demands for a negotiated peace agreement that would create a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. He calls on the United States and the international community to do more to revive the long-dormant peace process.

“If we lose the two-state solution we are slipping into a one-state reality,” Shtayyeh says, echoing remarks made by Abbas at the UN General Assembly in September. “Israel is an apartheid state today and Israel will continue to be tomorrow as well,” he adds. “If they think that we are losing tomorrow, they will be losing after tomorrow.”

Bennett, Netanyahu to address 5th annual Christian Media Summit

Israel will host the fifth annual Christian Media Summit tomorrow in Jerusalem in conjunction with more than 150 news executives and opinion leaders in Christian media, according to the Government Press Office.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and a range of other Israeli officials will address the gathering, which will be livestreamed on the GPO website and its Facebook page.

“We know that we can count on you, dear friends and allies in the Christian world, to stand with us in the fight against terror and to be our partners in the efforts to counter the lies and spread the truth about Israel, as well as to be our partners in promoting the spirit of peace in the Abraham Accords,” says Herzog in a GPO press release.

Bennett notes that: “In the Middle East, there is only one place that fully protects Christian life, where the Christian community is growing, thriving and prospering, and that’s in the State of Israel… And today more than ever, Israel stands united with Christians, we are brothers and sisters, we are united, and we won’t let anyone extinguish our light.”

Woman pleads guilty to embezzling funds from West Bank charity for terror group

Israeli security forces arrest suspected PFLP members as part of a broad crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank, in an undated photograph released on December 17, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli security forces arrest suspected PFLP members as part of a broad crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank, in an undated photograph released on December 17, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

A Spanish-Palestinian woman pleads guilty to embezzling funds from a West Bank charity on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, which Israel recently accused of using six other non-governmental organizations as fronts for its terrorist activities, the military says.

Israeli politicians hail the conviction, believing it justifies a deeply contentious decision by the Defense Ministry and the military to outlaw the six groups, prompting harsh international opposition.

Under the deal, Juani Rishmawi admitted to working in the service of a proscribed organization — the PFLP — and illegally bringing money into the West Bank in exchange for a reduced sentence, which will be issued next week.

“According to the facts that she admitted, for years the accused worked to raise money, amounting to millions of shekels, from countries in Europe, for the Health Work Committee, which worked on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” the military says.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the money was embezzled using forged documents and by defrauding funders, and it was used “to fund the activities of the Popular Front.”

Israel to hold national drill to prepare for future COVID variants

Illustrative. A coronavirus ward at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, at the height of the COVID crisis. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Illustrative. A coronavirus ward at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, at the height of the COVID crisis. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel will hold a nationwide drill tomorrow to prepare for the possibility of future coronavirus variants, the prime minister’s office says.

“The State of Israel is in an excellent situation, we defeated the fourth wave and we are on the verge of exiting the Delta variant,” says Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “But, at the same time, we are always looking to the future and preparing for the continuation of the campaign.”

Bennett says that the government and health officials “are not packing up our equipment and not shutting down our management bodies and our virus-fighting forces. Rather the opposite — we’re continuing to be prepared and challenge ourselves.”

The drill, to be run out of a situation room in Jerusalem, will be a simulation that deals with coordinating various high-level officials and bodies to prepare for a new COVID strain, nicknamed the “Omega” strain for the purposes of the drill.

The gathered officials will deal with a wide range of scenarios and work to coordinate and make decisions related to the restriction of movement, quarantine, education, air travel and more.

Serious COVID cases drop below 150 for the first time in months

Empty beds are seen in the intensive care unit at the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Empty beds are seen in the intensive care unit at the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Serious cases of COVID-19 have dropped below 150 — for the first time since late July — according to the latest Health Ministry statistics.

As of this evening, there are just 6,450 active coronavirus cases in Israel, with 201 of those hospitalized, 147 in serious condition and 101 on ventilators.

The positivity rate of those tested for COVID has continued to drop steadily over the past six weeks, standing at just 0.59% this evening.

More than 4 million Israelis have already received a third booster dose of the COVID vaccine. Health Ministry officials are expected to approve the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 later this evening.

PA prime minister: US does not need Israeli permission to reopen consulate

View of the US Consulate building in Jerusalem on October 27, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the US Consulate building in Jerusalem on October 27, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The United States does not need Israel’s “permission” to reopen its consulate for the Palestinians in Jerusalem, says the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, urging Washington to honor its diplomatic pledges.

President Joe Biden’s administration has said it would reopen the diplomatic mission historically responsible for Palestinian affairs that was closed by his predecessor Donald Trump.

Briefing foreign reporters in Ramallah, Shtayyeh says, “the United States does not need the permission of anybody” to reopen its mission.

“Ramallah is not Jerusalem, and Ramallah is not the capital of Palestine,” Shtayyeh says. “It is our hope that what [the US] promised will be fulfilled.”

Separately, days after the World Bank raised concerns about the PA’s budget deficit, expected to reach $1.36 billion in 2021, Shtayyeh says he asked for help from a US congressional delegation that visited Ramallah today.

“The United States also used to support our budget deficit over the year,” he says. “I did ask them today to really help us with that issue.”

Bloomberg pledges $120 million to fight drug overdose epidemic

Then-Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at a campaign event in Providence, Rhode Island, February 5, 2020. (David Goldman/AP)
Then-Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at a campaign event in Providence, Rhode Island, February 5, 2020. (David Goldman/AP)

Michael Bloomberg will spend $120 million in an effort to reduce the soaring numbers of deaths from drug overdoses, he announces at a healthcare summit he organized.

The pledge more than doubles the $50 million philanthropic commitment he made toward the same goal in 2018.

Bloomberg’s pledge follows a preliminary finding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 93,000 people had died from drug overdoses in 2020, the majority of them from using opioids. The number of deaths during the first calendar year of the pandemic grew 30% over the total for 2019 and is the highest for a single year on record.

“We’re clearly going in the wrong direction,” says Kelly J. Henning, who leads the public-health program at Bloomberg’s grant-making organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Henning believes the work supported by Bloomberg’s original commitment, called the Overdose Prevention Initiative, has helped improve the situation.

The philanthropy’s new commitment will provide $10 million a year for five years to programs in Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Wisconsin. It will also add $4 million each to the continuing efforts in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Ra’am Knesset member booed for voting with opposition

MK Mazen Ghanaim seen at the Knesset ahead of the opening session of the new government, on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)
MK Mazen Ghanaim seen at the Knesset ahead of the opening session of the new government, on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim is booed in the Knesset plenum for voting with the opposition in favor of establishing a hospital in the northern Arab city of Sakhnin. The legislation passes 51-50 in its first reading, in a blow to the coalition.

Ghanaim, a member of the governing coalition, breaks rank in order to vote with the opposition, against the official position of the government and his own party. His “yes” vote is met with boos from MKs from his own party, who voted against the legislation.

The legislation was proposed by the Joint List, and received support of many opposition MKs who are believed to have voted in favor of the bill simply to embarrass the coalition.

There are currently no public hospitals in Arab cities in Israel, and the proposed Sakhnin facility would become the first.

Italy to expand its COVID booster shot campaign to those over 40

An Israeli woman receives a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit clinic on September 1, 2021 in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An Israeli woman receives a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit clinic on September 1, 2021 in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Italy is expanding the number of people eligible for a booster vaccine as the 4th wave in the COVID-19 pandemic grips Europe.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza tells lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies that anyone 40 years or older can get the booster shot starting Dec. 1.

Italy has already offered boosters to those 60 years old and older who received their last vaccine dose at least six months earlier.

Announcing the expansion of booster eligibility to those 40 years and up, Speranza called the boosters “an essential piece of our strategy to combat COVID.”

The minister added that “the more this country succeeds in bolstering itself in speeding up the administrating of the third dose, the more we will be able to manage the end of autumn and winter, which pose a wide open challenge and won’t easy to handle.”

So far nearly 40% of people already eligible for the boosters in Italy have gotten the third dose, according to Italian government figures.

Police investigating 27-year-old killed in violent incident in East Jerusalem

Israel Police working at the site of a violent incident in East Jerusalem on November 10, 2021. (Israel Police)
Israel Police working at the site of a violent incident in East Jerusalem on November 10, 2021. (Israel Police)

Police say they are investigating after a 27-year-old resident of Issawiya succumbed to wounds following a violent incident in East Jerusalem.

The man in question arrived at Hadassah Medical Center in Mount Scopus earlier today with stab wounds and bruises, and was later declared dead by medical workers.

Police say that the man appears to have been killed during a violent clash in Issawiya. When police arrived at the scene to investigate, they encountered residents who threw rocks at officers, according to an Israel Police statement.

Taliban claims that Islamic State in Afghanistan is ‘under control’

Afghan men carry the dead body of a victim to an ambulance after a bomb attack at a mosque in Kunduz on October 8, 2021. (AFP)
Afghan men carry the dead body of a victim to an ambulance after a bomb attack at a mosque in Kunduz on October 8, 2021. (AFP)

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers say that the threat posed by the Islamic State group in the country is “more or less under control,” despite recent bloody attacks that have killed dozens.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tells a news conference that IS is “not a great threat,” adding that around 600 members or sympathizers have been arrested since the Taliban seized control of the country in mid-August.

He says there were even a few women among those captured, who would be questioned by other women.

“They are not many in Afghanistan, because they do not have the support of the people,” says Mujahid, adding that the Taliban are continuing operations against their Islamist foes.

Mujahid says that unlike its counterpart in the Middle East, IS-Khorasan was mostly made up of local fighters, and that its presence in Afghanistan is not a threat to other countries.

Iran says it won’t sign climate deal while still under sanctions

A gas station is seen standing empty because the pumps are out of service, in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
A gas station is seen standing empty because the pumps are out of service, in Tehran, Iran, on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran won’t ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change while the Islamic Republic remains under sanctions, says the head of its environment department.

“For Iran to sign and commit, the first condition is for the oppressive sanctions to be lifted,” Ali Salajegheh is quoted as saying by state-run IRNA news agency.

Iran is party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change but never signed the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming. That same year, Iran struck a landmark deal with major powers to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Th e nuclear agreement has been on life support since 2018, when then US president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out and reimposed crippling sanctions.

“Our principal message in this summit is that countries commit to discussing lifting the sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran as a priority,” Salajegheh was quoted saying in Glasgow, on the sidelines of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference.

He also said about his oil-rich country that “Iran’s condition for reducing greenhouses gases by four percent by 2030 was the lifting of all sanctions, as it would cost Iran $56 billion dollars to achieve this objective.”

Kazakh jiujitsu competitor kneels during ‘Hatikvah’ after losing to Israeli

A Kazakh jiu jitsu competitor kneels while the Israeli national anthem, 'Hatikvah ' plays during a medal ceremony at the World Championships in Abu Dhabi on November 9, 2021. (Screenshot)
A Kazakh jiu jitsu competitor kneels while the Israeli national anthem, 'Hatikvah ' plays during a medal ceremony at the World Championships in Abu Dhabi on November 9, 2021. (Screenshot)

Israeli jiujitsu competitor Amit Burshtein won gold yesterday at the youth World Championships in Abu Dhabi.

But when the Israeli national anthem “Hatikvah” began to play during the medal ceremony, Burshtein’s Kazakh opponent — who took home bronze in the round — knelt on the podium as if to disrespect the anthem. Another Kazakh competitor, who took home silver, remained standing in video of the incident posted on social media.

Israeli athletes frequently face opponents in international sporting competitions who refuse to compete against them or refuse to shake hands or directly address their Israeli competitors. Many athletes from Arab nations have been punished for unsportsmanlike conduct for such incidents, including at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year.

Health Ministry panel to meet tonight for final ruling on COVID shots for kids

A mother poses with her son in front of a picture of Dr. Anthony Fauci, after the boy received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in San Jose, California, November 3, 2021. (Noah Berger/AP)
A mother poses with her son in front of a picture of Dr. Anthony Fauci, after the boy received a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in San Jose, California, November 3, 2021. (Noah Berger/AP)

Senior Health Ministry officials will meet tonight behind closed doors to give the final stamp of approval to providing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5-11.

After holding a five-hour hearing open to the public last week on the topic, health officials opted to carry out the final decision in private.

The panel is widely expected to approve opening up the vaccine to children under age 12, following in the footsteps of the US Federal Drug Administration. The White House said earlier today that close to one million children ages 5-11 have already gotten the shot since it was approved last week.

PA holds memorial ceremony on 1st anniversary of Saeb Erekat’s death

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, in Washington, October 28, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks at the J Street National Conference, in Washington, October 28, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The Palestinian Authority leadership gathers in Jericho to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat from coronavirus.

“We feel a deep sadness at your loss, especially in the difficult circumstances which the Palestinian cause now faces,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas tells the crowd in a video statement from his office in Ramallah.

Erekat, a prominent but controversial member of the ruling Fatah party, was the lead negotiator for years in peace talks with Israel. He was well-respected by some of his Israeli counterparts, who believed he seriously wanted peace.

Others saw Erekat as a bitter opponent of Israel, as he masterminded several attempts to exert diplomatic pressure on the Jewish state in international forums. He was especially reviled on the Israeli side for his tendency to make poorly supported claims about alleged Israeli atrocities that later turned out to be false.

Erekat died last November in Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, where he was being treated for coronavirus complications. The post of chief negotiator with Israel has remained vacant since his death.

US ambassador to the UN to make first visit to Israel next week

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a news conference at United Nations headquarters, March 1, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield during a news conference at United Nations headquarters, March 1, 2021. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield will visit Israel next week alongside her Israeli counterpart, Gilad Erdan.

It will be the first visit to Israel for Thomas-Greenfield, who is expected to meet with President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other officials, reports Ynet.

Thomas-Greenfield met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in New York in late September, when he addressed the UN General Assembly.

She has consistently defended Israel at the UN since she took office earlier this year, and criticized the UN Security Council for its disproportionate focus on Israel.

White House: Close to 1 million kids have already received the COVID vaccine

Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

About 900,000 children aged 5-11 will have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in their first week of eligibility, the White House says, providing the first glimpse at the pace of the school-aged vaccination campaign.

Final clearance for the shots was granted by federal regulators on Nov. 2, with the first doses to kids beginning in some locations the following day. Now nearly 20,000 pharmacies, clinics and physicians’ offices are administering the doses and the Biden administration estimates that by the end of today, more than 900,000 of the kid doses will have been administered. Additionally about 700,000 first-shot appointments are also scheduled for the coming days.

About 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine at a dose that’s a third of the amount given to teens and adults. Kids who begin the two-dose regimen by the end of next week will have full vaccine protection by Christmas.

Israel is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for ages 5-11 in a meeting of Health Ministry officials later today.

Hotovely thanks UK government for support after angry protest at London event

Tzipi Hotovely at her office in Jerusalem, February 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Tzipi Hotovely at her office in Jerusalem, February 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely expresses thanks to British government officials for their support after an incident at the London School of Economics last night.

“I’m thankful for all the support I have received from the British government, many friends and partners,” tweets Hotovely. “I had an excellent event at #LSE and I will not be intimidated. I will continue to share the Israeli story and hold open dialogue with all parts of British society.”

Hotovely was evacuated under heavy security from an event at the London School of Economics last night amid a large protest by pro-Palestinian activists against her presence. Video from the scene showed security guards rushing Hotovely, who was clutching a bouquet of flowers, into a vehicle, while others tried to fend off a group of jeering activists, who chanted, “Aren’t you ashamed?”

“This is deeply disturbing, I am so sorry Ambassador Hotovely,” tweeted Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative MP.

WHO: Coronavirus cases declining everywhere except Europe

Commuters, some wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, wait for an underground train to leave from a station in central London, on October 19, 2021. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)
Commuters, some wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, wait for an underground train to leave from a station in central London, on October 19, 2021. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

The World Health Organization reports that coronavirus deaths have risen by 10% in Europe in the past week, making it the only world region where both COVID-19 cases and deaths are steadily increasing.

It marks the sixth consecutive week that the virus has risen across the continent.

In its weekly report on the pandemic, the UN health agency says there were about 3.1 million new cases globally, about a 1% increase from the previous week. Nearly two-thirds of the coronavirus infections — 1.9 million — were in Europe, where cases rose by 7%.

The countries with the highest numbers of new cases worldwide were the United States, Russia, Britain, Turkey and Germany. The number of weekly COVID-19 deaths fell by about 4% worldwide and declined in every region except Europe.

Out of the 61 countries WHO includes in its European region, which includes Russia and stretches to Central Asia, 42% reported a jump in cases of at least 10% in the last week.

In the Americas, WHO said that new weekly cases fell by 5% and deaths declined by 14%, with the highest numbers reported from the United States.

Human Rights Watch warns that Iran population growth law will endanger women

Head-to-toe veiled Iranian women walk at the shrine of Saint Saleh in northern Tehran, Iran, April 6, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)
Head-to-toe veiled Iranian women walk at the shrine of Saint Saleh in northern Tehran, Iran, April 6, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Human Rights Watch warns that a new Iranian law aimed at raising the birth rate would put women’s lives at risk by denying them access to reproductive health care.

The bill, which is expected to become law later this month, provides various additional benefits to families with children and outlaws sterilization and free distribution of contraceptives in the public health care system unless a pregnancy threatens a woman’s health.

“Iranian legislators are avoiding addressing Iranians’ many serious problems, including government incompetence, corruption and repression, and instead are attacking women’s fundamental rights,” says HRW’s senior Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far. “The population growth law blatantly undermines the rights, dignity and health of half of the country’s population, denying them access to essential reproductive health care and information.”

Over the past decade, Iran has shifted its population policy from providing family planning and access to contraception, to seeking to boost population growth by limiting women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care.

HRW said that several articles in the new legislation further limit already restricted access to safe abortion.

Currently, abortion can be legally performed during the first four months of pregnancy if three doctors agree that a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life or the fetus has severe physical or mental disabilities that would create extreme hardship for the mother.

Police say imprisoned cult leader rabbi Berland ordered 1980s murder

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, November 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing in Jerusalem, November 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police say that imprisoned rabbi Eliezer Berland was involved in the kidnapping and murder of a Haredi teenager in the 1980s.

During a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, a police representative tells the court that Berland — who is currently serving a prison sentence for fraud, and was previously convicted of sexual assault — ordered the murderers to kill 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit.

Berland, the head of the Shuvu Bonim cult, is linked to the three other suspects arrested for their involvement in the crime, which went unsolved for 35 years. Until recently, police had not definitively ruled that Shitrit was murdered, and his body was never recovered.

According to the police representative in the courtroom, one of the suspects stabbed Shitrit, one oversaw the incident and a third drove the car.

Shitrit was allegedly beaten by the sect’s “religious police” four months before he was last seen in January 1986. In a documentary released by Kan in 2020, one of Berland’s former disciples said that the religious police murdered the boy, dismembered him and buried his body in Eshtaol Forest near Beit Shemesh.

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