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New coronavirus czar says pandemic could last another year

Nachman Ash urges Israelis to prepare for another 12 months of restrictions, warns a third nationwide lockdown possible as cases rise

Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash at the Jerusalem Municipality, on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash at the Jerusalem Municipality, on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.

Netanyahu: No doubt elections are on the way unless Blue and White changes approach

In a sign of the nearing of the long-expected fall of the government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there is “no doubt that elections are on the way” if the agreements between coalition parties are not kept.

“When agreements are not respected on the part of Blue and White, there is no doubt that we are on the way to elections,” he says in response to a question about the snowballing rift between his Likud party and its coalition partner.

“If we see a different approach from the Blue and White direction and cooperation within the government, we can continue to work together. If not, everyone can understand that this leads to elections,” the prime minister says, blaming Benny Gantz’s party for the breakdown in relations within the coalition.

with Raoul Wootliff

Blue and White hits back, blames Netanyahu for coalition crisis

In response to Netanyahu, the Blue and White party says the prime minister is to blame for the looming collapse of the government, which would trigger the fourth round of elections in two years.

“If there was no trial, there would be a budget,” says the party, referring to Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges, and the budget crisis, which is widely seen as a bid by the prime minister to avoid a handover of power to Blue and White’s Benny Gantz next year.

Netanyahu greets first Dubai-Tel Aviv commercial flight at airport

A flight operated by budget airline flydubai lands in Tel Aviv, the first scheduled commercial service between the two cities following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on hand for the arrival of the inaugural flight after its nearly four-hour trip, called it “a moment of history.”

“As-salaam alaikum (Peace be upon you),” he says to arriving passengers. “Come again and again and again.”

The United Arab Emirates in September signed a landmark US-brokered deal to formalize relations with Israel, the first such agreement by an Arab state in the Gulf.

AFP

An airplane of budget airline flydubai lands at Israel’s Ben Gurion aiport near Tel Aviv on November 26, 2020 on the first scheduled commercial service between the two cities, following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Heavy rains flood military bases in central Israel

Heavy rains in central Israel cause significant flooding at military bases in the Tel Aviv area, causing damage to buildings and equipment, the Israel Defense Forces says.

According to the military, the flooding occurred in the IDF’s headquarters, known as the Kirya, in central Tel Aviv and in the Gelilot base north of the city, which houses many intelligence units.

“Damage was caused to structures and to communications systems. There is no harm to operational capability,” the IDF says.

Judah Ari Gross

Abbas mourns death of soccer star Diego Maradona

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas releases a statement mourning the death of soccer star Diego Maradona.

“It is with great sadness that we received the news of the death of the international sports star Diego Maradona, who entertained millions with his impressive athletic abilities. He was a milestone in world sports, and a loving friend to Palestine and its people,” Abbas says in a statement.

A hero to many in Israel and across the world for his flashes of brilliance on the soccer field, Maradona was also an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights.

Maradona met Abbas in Russia during the 2018 World Cup. The two embraced, and Maradona told the PA president: “In my heart, I’m Palestinian.”

Aaron Boxerman

Diego Maradona (R) embraces Palestinian Authority Preident Mahmoud Abbas on July 14, 2018. (Diego Maradona/Instagram)

Heavy rains cause flooding in central Israel, southern cities

Cities in central and southern Israel are experiencing flooding as a result of heavy rains.

Dozens of firefighters and teams of divers are called to Hod Hasharon after houses, parking lots, and elevators are flooded.

Israel Railways announces that train service will be temporarily unavailable to the central city of Herzliya due to severe flooding in the area. Three women who were trapped at the station were rescued by firefighters on an inflatable raft.

https://twitter.com/kann_news/status/1331916952462352387

Flooding is also reported on highways in central Israel, and in the southern city of Ashkelon.

In clarification, Likud says not seeking early elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party releases a clarification of the premier’s remarks, saying he is not personally seeking elections, though an early vote may be inevitable.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that there is no reason to go to elections, but said that if Blue and White continues to have a government within a government, they will drag Israel to elections,” the party says.

Earlier, Netanyahu said: “When agreements are not respected on the part of Blue and White, there is no doubt that we are on the way to elections. If we see a different approach from the Blue and White direction and cooperation within the government, we can continue to work together. If not, everyone can understand that this leads to elections.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. Behind Netanyahu is cabinet secretary Tzahi Braverman (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

EU fines Teva over delaying cheap sleep disorder drug

European Union regulators fine Israeli drug-maker Teva on Thursday for colluding to delay a cheaper generic version of modafinil, a blockbuster sleep disorder drug.

The European Commission says Teva was in breach of EU antitrust rules after it effectively agreed with drug-maker Cephalon, a company it now owns, to keep the cheaper drug off of the market.

Teva and Cephalon were fined a combined 60.5 million euros ($72 million), but the company can appeal this through the European courts.

The EU launched the case in 2011 and pressed charges in July 2017.

The logo for Teva on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Oct. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Under the alleged agreement, Teva committed not to market a cheaper generic version of modafinil, Cephalon’s drug for sleep disorders, the EU says.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager says Teva’s “pay-for-delay” agreement “harmed patients and national health systems, depriving them of more affordable medicines.”

AFP

Maradona to be buried Thursday outside Buenos Aires

Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona will be buried Thursday on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, a spokesman says.

Maradona, who died of a heart attack Wednesday at the age of 60, will be laid to rest in the Jardin de Paz cemetery, where his parents were also buried, Sebastian Sanchi tells AFP.

AFP

A father and her daughter, fans of Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona, mourn as they gather by the Obelisk to pay homage on the day of his death in Buenos Aires, on November 25, 2020. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

As virus soars, France allows ski resorts to open… but not ski lifts

French winter sport resorts are free to open for the Christmas holiday season, Prime Minister Jean Castex says, but ski lifts will have to remain shut.

President Emmanuel Macron warned Tuesday that coronavirus risks made it “impossible” to allow winter sports to resume quickly, adding he hoped that restrictions could be lifted in January.

France’s 350 ski resorts have been up in arms over the decision, saying the weeks around Christmas and New Year are crucial for their survival as they account for up to a quarter of their annual revenues.

Castex says mountain holidays were still on the cards but downhill skiing — by far the most popular pastime for crowds of French and foreign skiers in Alpine and Pyrenees resorts — is effectively ruled out.

In this file photo taken on October 17, 2020 people ski on the opening day of the Les 2 Alpes French resort. (JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

“Naturally, everybody is free to travel to resorts to enjoy the clean air of our beautiful mountains, and the shops which will be open, although bars and restaurants won’t be,” Castex tells a news conference.

“But all ski lifts and collective infrastructures will be closed to the public,” he says.

Cross-country skiing, sledding and snowshoe hikes are among snow activities that do not usually require mechanical lifts.

AFP

Turkey hands down life sentences to 475 people over failed 2016 coup

A Turkish court sentences hundreds of military and civilian personnel at an air base to life prison sentences, proclaiming them guilty of involvement in the 2016 failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

A total of 475 defendants, including some generals and fighter jet pilots at the Akinci air base, on the outskirts of the capital, Ankara, had been on trial for the past three years, accused of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including a section of Turkey’s parliament.

The massive trial was one of two main trials against suspected members of a network led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed attempt.

Gulen, who was also named among the defendants, has denied involvement in the coup that resulted in around 250 deaths and injured thousands. About 30 coup-plotters were also killed.

Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, September 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Selahattin Sevi, File)

The court convicts four men — civilians accused of liaising between Gulen’s movement and some military officers — of crimes against the state, attempts to kill the president as well as 77 counts of murder, and sentences them to 79 separate “aggravated” life sentences without the possibility of parole. Fifteen officers, including one-star generals, are also sentenced to the same term.

All 19 are held responsible for the deaths of nine people who were killed by gunshots and 68 people who died in aerial attacks on the parliament building, a police special operations headquarters, the Ankara police department and an area close to Erdogan’s presidential complex.

A total of 337 other defendants are also sentenced to life prison terms. The court acquits 70 of the defendants of all charges. Other defendants received prison terms ranging between six and 16 years.

The court rules that Gulen, an alleged top operative in his movement and four other defendants still wanted by the Turkish authorities, should be tried separately over the charges.

The defendants are expected to appeal Thursday’s verdicts, which were welcomed by members of Erdogan’s ruling party.

AP

AG to High Court: Order government to appoint police commissioner

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asks the High Court of Justice to issue an injunction forcing the government to appoint a new police commissioner.

Mandelblit has previously said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can’t be the one to appoint top law enforcement officials due to a conflict of interest, as he’s facing criminal charges.

Netanyahu’s lawyers have pushed back against the attorney general’s instructions, prompting the High Court of Justice earlier this month to instruct Netanyahu to explain within 30 days why he claims he is not obligated by Mandelblit’s conflict of interest arrangement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with then-Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, September 21, 2014. (AP/Menahem Kahana, Pool/File)

The Israel Police has been without a commissioner since December 2018, when Roni Alsheich’s term ended. Alsheich was a key figure in Netanyahu’s criminal probes and thus reviled by the prime minister and Likud as one of the figures the premier claims was involved in an attempted coup against him. Motti Cohen has been acting police chief since Alsheich’s departure and has had his tenure extended several times.

Gantz calls for appointment of police commissioner ‘as soon as possible’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz calls for the immediate appointment of a police commissioner and the filling of other law enforcement roles, following the attorney general’s request to the High Court to force the government to appoint a top cop.

“We can’t leave the country waiting: I call for the appointment of a police commissioner, state attorney, and to complete all the other appointments as soon as possible,” says Gantz.

The process for appointing a state attorney has been kicked off.

Amid pandemic, WHO pushes more physical activity

The World Health Organization says people need to get more active, warning that up to 5 million deaths worldwide could be avoided each year if people were. That’s despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The UN health agency, launching updated guidelines on sedentary behavior Thursday, is pointing to figures that one in four adults don’t get enough physical activity — a situation complicated by the COVID-19 crisis that has shut many people indoors.

The agency recommends at least 2 1/2 hours of “moderate to vigorous aerobic activity” for adults per week, and an hour per day for kids and teens.

A lack of physical activity leads to extra health care costs of $54 billion per year, plus another $14 billion in lost productivity, the Geneva-based WHO says.

AP

A man wearing a face mask jogs along a track in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province, January 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Arek Rataj)

Immigration minister to head to Ethiopia to review airlift preparations

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata will travel to Ethiopia on Saturday night, ahead of the airlifting of 2,000 new immigrants from the war-torn country within the next two months, her office says.

Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopia-born minister in Israel’s history, will be accompanied by representatives from the Jewish Agency.

Thousands of people with Jewish roots are waiting in Ethiopia to come to Israel, but the government has approved the airlifting of just 2,000 in January, despite the pandemic and the recent outbreak of a war in the northern Tigray region.

Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata welcomes new immigrants to Israel on August 3, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem)

Some 9,000 have been waiting for 15 or more years to immigrate, local activists say. About a quarter of that number, located in the capital Addis Ababa, have been waiting for more than 20 years, they say, while the rest, in Gondar city, have been hanging on for 15 to 20 years.

“Unfortunately, many in the community are waiting, are living in difficult conditions and their situation has worsened due to the coronavirus crisis,” says Tamano-Shata in a statement. “It is moving for me to reunite families that have been separated for many years, and I plan to implement… the government’s decision [to airlift 2,000] as quickly as possible.”

Rivlin hosts delegation from Bahrain coexistence center

President Reuven Rivlin hosts representatives from Bahrain’s King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Coexistence at his Jerusalem residence, his office says.

The delegation is led by a member of the royal family, Sheikh Khaled al-Khalifa Dubaij al-Khalifa, who is president of the board of governors at the center, which was established in 2018.

“Both Israel and Bahrain value freedom of religion and tolerance, and see the different communities that make up their societies as a source of strength. As the His Majesty King Hamad said so beautifully in his declaration, religion must be a power for harmony and cooperation around the world. We must not allow religion to be an excuse for violence,” says Rivlin during the meeting.

The meeting comes two months after Israel and Bahrain established diplomatic relations.

https://twitter.com/PresidentRuvi/status/1331948947393433600

Monitor claims 19 Iran-backed fighters killed in alleged Israeli raids in Syria

Airstrikes likely carried out by Israel killed at least 19 pro-Iran fighters in war-torn eastern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

The early morning strikes hit positions of Iran-backed militias outside the town of Albu Kamal in Deir Ezzor province, killing mostly foreign fighters, the Observatory says.

Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes but the Observatory has accused it of launching two other aerial attacks against pro-Iran forces in Syria since Saturday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is a pro-Syrian opposition organization of uncertain funding. The group has regularly been accused by Syrian war analysts of inflating casualty numbers, as well as inventing them wholesale.

AFP, with TOI staff

Rights group: 44 Palestinians displaced by Israeli demolitions of illegal homes

Forty-four Palestinians — including 22 children — were rendered homeless yesterday in a wave of demolitions of illegally built homes across the West Bank and the Jordan Valley, the B’Tselem rights group charges.

Homes were demolished in Luban al-Sharqiya, a small village outside of Ramallah; Fasa’il, in the Jordan Valley; and Khillet al-Daba, in the South Hebron Hills.

The Israeli Civil Administration is responsible for authorizing planning and construction in 60% of the West Bank, known as Area C. The Civil Administration often demolishes homes which it says are built without permits. Palestinians argue that Israeli authorities rarely grant them construction permits and that they thus have no choice but to build illegally.

Israeli forces also demolished two kilometers of water infrastructure in the area of Musaffer Yatta in the South Hebron Hills. The state contends that the residents’ presence in the area is illegal, as the army has declared the area a military firing zone. Musaffer Yatta residents have argued in court that the area was declared a firing zone in order to expel them rather than for training purposes.

Aaron Boxerman

Millions of Americans risk traveling over Thanksgiving despite warnings

Millions of Americans take to the skies and the highways ahead of Thanksgiving at the risk of pouring gasoline on the coronavirus fire, disregarding increasingly dire warnings that they stay home and limit their holiday gatherings to members of their own household.

Those who are flying witness a distinctly 2020 landscape at the nation’s airports: plexiglass barriers in front of the ID stations, rapid virus testing sites inside terminals, masks in check-in areas and on board planes, and paperwork asking passengers to quarantine on arrival at their destination.

While the number of Americans traveling by air over the past several days was down dramatically from the same time last year, many press ahead with their holiday plans amid skyrocketing deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed infections across the US.

Some are tired of more than eight months of social distancing and determined to spend time with loved ones.

“I think with the holidays and everything, it’s so important right now, especially because people are so bummed out because of the whole pandemic,” says 25-year-old Cassidy Zerkle of Phoenix, who flew to Kansas City, Missouri, to visit family during what is traditionally one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

Travelers walk through Portland International Airport on November 25, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images/AFP)

She brought snacks and her own hand sanitizer and said the flight was half full. She had a row of seats to herself.

“As long as you’re maintaining your distance, you’re not touching stuff and you’re sanitizing your hands, people should see their families right now,” she says.

The US has recorded more than 12.7 million coronavirus infections and over 262,000 deaths. The country is still missing about eight infections for every one counted, according to a new government report Wednesday. Many people don’t get tests, especially if they don’t have symptoms.

More than 88,000 people in the US — an all-time high — were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, pushing the health care system in many places to the breaking point, and new cases of the virus have been setting records, soaring to an average of over 174,000 per day.

Deaths have surged to more than 1,600 per day, a mark last seen in May, when the crisis in the New York area was easing.

AP

Lithuania finds coronavirus in minks at one farm

Lithuanian authorities have detected novel coronavirus in minks at a farm in the central part of the Baltic EU state, officials say.

The Baltic state’s veterinary agency says that one person who works in the farm also tested positive for coronavirus.

“The results show that a farm worker could have transmitted the virus SARS-CoV-2 to mink,” agency chief Darius Remeika says in a statement.

The veterinary service says that dozens of minks will be culled but no mass cull is planned for now.

Lithuania has 86 mink farms with a total of around 1.6 million minks.

Minks look out of a cage at a fur farm in the village of Litusovo, northeast of Minsk, Belarus, December 6, 2012. (AP/Sergei Grits)

It started testing mink farms earlier this month after coronavirus cases in minks were reported in other European countries.

Denmark has already killed around two-thirds of its stocks of 15 to 17 million minks while Ireland also says it is planning a nationwide cull over similar virus-related fears.

There have also been positive cases at mink farms in Poland.

AFP

Narcolepsy fiasco during swine flu outbreak spurs COVID vaccine fears in Sweden

Take a vaccine developed in haste? Never again, says Meissa Chebbi, who, like hundreds of other young Swedes suffered debilitating narcolepsy after a mass vaccination campaign against the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic.

The experience has shaken Swedes’ confidence in any future vaccine against the new coronavirus, compounding fears about unknown long-term side effects.

“I will never recommend that,” 21-year-old Chebbi tells AFP when asked about taking a speedily developed vaccine. “Unless you really have to take it because of life-threatening circumstances.”

The Swedish case highlights the complex task governments face in rolling out vaccines against the coronavirus, especially at a time when rabid social media misinformation is feeding skepticism in state institutions and even about the disease itself.

The trauma over vaccines is particularly notable in Sweden, which normally boasts participation of more than 90 percent in its voluntary children’s vaccination program.

But a recent survey conducted by the Novus polling institute suggested that 26 percent of Swedes do not plan to take any of the COVID-19 vaccines being developed and 28 percent are undecided.

Forty-six percent said they would get a jab.

Of those opposed, 87 percent said it was due to fears over as-yet unknown side effects.

Health authorities in the Scandinavian country in 2009 urged the public to voluntarily take the Pandemrix vaccine against swine flu, made by British drug company GlaxoSmithKline.

More than 60 percent heeded the call — the highest level in the world.

But Chebbi and hundreds of others, primarily children and young adults under 30, were later diagnosed with narcolepsy as a side effect of the vaccine.

A link was eventually established to an adjuvant, or booster, in the Pandemrix vaccine which was intended to strengthen the immune response.

Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder of the nervous system that causes excessive and often uncontrollable drowsiness.

“I have sleep attacks all the time in all kinds of situations and at inappropriate times… In my food, at job interviews, at lectures, seminars, at university. I’ve fallen asleep at my workplace, I fall asleep on buses and everywhere,” Chebbi says.

“It has destroyed my life.”

AFP

Tens of thousands line up to bid farewell to Maradona in Argentina

Tens of thousands of fans eager to honor Diego Maradona line up to file past the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic soccer star, some confronting police who tried to maintain order at the country’s presidential mansion.

Some throw bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police near the Casa Rosada in the heart of Buenos Aires. Officers at one point use tear gas to try to control them.

Fans blow kisses as they pass Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential building, some striking their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go Diego.”

The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the No. 10 shirt he famously wore for the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different soccer teams tossed in by weeping visitors were scattered on and around the casket.

Maradona died on Wednesday of a heart attack outside of Buenos Aires where he was recovering from a November 3 brain operation.

Aerial view of people queueing along Avenida de Mayo avenue to reach the Casa Rosada presidential palace to pay tribute to late Argentine football legend Diego Maradona in Buenos Aires in November 26, 2020. (Ivan PISARENKO / AFP)

Open visitation started at 6:15 a.m. local time (0915 GMT) after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafañe came with Maradona’s daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Verónica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.

Jana, who Maradona recognized as his daughter only a few years ago, also attended the funeral.

AP

56 people said rescued from flooding

Fifty-six people have been rescued from flooding around the country, according to Channel 12.

There are no reports of injuries from the heavy rainfall.

The rains also downed trees and damaged homes and cars.

British PM taps World Jewish Relief chair as his chief of staff

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appoints a low-profile former Treasury official as his new chief of staff to steady the Downing Street ship after the stormy exit of his Brexiteer righthand man.

Dan Rosenfield will formally take over the prime minister’s office on January 1, according to a Downing Street statement, potentially handing him a poisoned chalice as Britain quits a post-Brexit transition period out of the European Union.

Since 2016, Rosenfield has been global head of corporate clients for Hakluyt, a London-based strategic advisory firm that was founded by former operatives of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6.

On its LinkedIn site, Hakluyt emphasizes the collegial nature of its office environment and says: “Sharp elbows and arrogance are simply not tolerated.”

In this file photo taken on November 10, 2020, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives back at Downing Street in London after chairing the weekly cabinet meeting (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

That stands in contrast to the notoriously abrasive Dominic Cummings, who masterminded the “Vote Leave” campaign in Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum.

He stormed out of his job as Johnson’s senior adviser — and effectively chief of staff — this month after a power struggle among the prime minister’s top team.

There was speculation that Johnson would opt for a senior politician such as former finance minister Sajid Javid as chief of staff.

But instead he has favored behind-the-scenes experience in the low-key Rosenfield, suggesting a more consensual style after Cummings.

Prior to Hakluyt, Rosenfield was a managing director at Bank of America following 11 years at Britain’s Treasury department, including four as a top aide to two finance ministers.

He is also chairman of World Jewish Relief, the leading humanitarian charity for Britain’s Jewish community.

AFP

Blue and White mulls supporting no-confidence vote next week, toppling gov’t

A Blue and White minister says his party is weighing whether to support a no-confidence vote next week that would bring down the government and trigger new elections.

Chilli Tropper makes the comments in an interview with Channel 12, amid a spiraling coalition crisis over the budget.

The no-confidence vote, floated by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, is scheduled for December 2.

Israeli man briefly held by Palestinian police after entering West Bank village

An Israeli man entered the West Bank Palestinian village of Biddya by accident and was arrested by Palestinian police, according to a security source.

After being arrested, the IDF entered the village and removed him by force, according to Hebrew-media reports.

“The man has been freed,” the security source says without elaborating.

A spokesperson for the IDF denied its involvement when asked by The Times of Israel. A spokesperson for Palestinian police says that the Israeli had been held by their Customs Enforcement division but declines to elaborate.

Aaron Boxerman

2nd Blue and White minister says party could bring down government next week

Blue and White’s Izhar Shay, the science minister, says there’s a “good chance” the centrist party will support next week’s no-confidence motion and bring down the government.

He makes the comments in an interview with Army Radio.

Dutch populist who quit in anti-Semitism row ‘backed Soros virus conspiracies’

Dutch populist Thierry Baudet backed conspiracy theories accusing George Soros of being behind the coronavirus pandemic, a lawmaker says after Baudet quit the Forum for Democracy party over an anti-Semitism row.

Discussing the scandal over pro-Nazi messages sent by party youth members, Baudet also proclaimed that “almost everyone I know is an anti-Semite,” senator Nicki Pouw-Verweij says in a letter quoted by Dutch media Thursday.

The senator says she is revealing the alleged comments made by Baudet at a dinner of senior party members last Friday because they were concerned that he had become “radicalized” and supported conspiracy theories.

The suave Baudet — whose resignation as Forum for Democracy leader on Tuesday deprives the party of its founder and figurehead just months before elections — denied making the statements or holding anti-Semitic views.

The row has split one of the Netherlands’ fastest-rising parties, which launched in 2016, won two seats in elections in 2017, then saw support surge in senate and EU elections in 2019.

Dutch right-wing leader of the Forum for Democracy (FVD) party Thierry Baudet (C) speaks to the press in the Senate of the Netherlands, on February 5, 2020, in the Hague. (Photo by Sem VAN DER WAL / ANP / AFP)

In her letter, quoted by many Dutch newspapers and broadcasters, Pouw-Verweij says that during the dinner Baudet “proclaimed that corona had been brought into the world by George Soros and others… to take away our freedom and start a new world domination.”

Soros, the Jewish billionaire supporter of liberal causes, has been the target of repeated conspiracy theories promoted by right-wing groups and labeled anti-Semitic by critics.

The conversation then turned to the scandal over party youth workers sharing online chats containing anti-Semitic material and praising the Nazis.

Former academic Baudet rejected expelling the youth members, saying they “have a very high IQ”, and telling Pouw-Verweij that “almost everyone I know is anti-Semite.”

Two other party members who attended the dinner confirmed her account, broadcaster NOS says.

Baudet has since said that he has a “completely different memory” of the dinner.

“I deny that I made those statements and that I have anti-Semitic views,” NOS quoted him as telling a talk show.

The row in the party has escalated to farcical levels, with Baudet refusing to give up control of its social media account, while the party leadership changed the locks on its office to keep him out.

AFP

Israel frees Palestinian prisoner who waged 103-day hunger strike

Israel released a Palestinian who waged a 103-day hunger strike to protest Israeli rules allowing his detention without charge, the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club says.

Maher al-Akhras, arrested over alleged membership of a terror group, was transferred from a Tel Aviv hospital to Nablus’s Al-Najah University Hospital in the West Bank, the prisoners’ rights group says in a statement.

A decision on releasing him to return home will follow “a medical assessment of his condition,” Al-Najah hospital medical director Abdul-Karim Al-Barqawi says.

Akhras, 49, was arrested near Nablus in July and put in administrative detention, a policy that Israel uses to hold suspected terrorists without charge.

Parliamentrians from the largely Arab Joint List bloc gather in Palestinian security detainee Maher al-Akhras’ room in Kaplan Hospital on Friday, November 6, 2020 to wish him well on the end of his hunger strike (Joint List spokesperson)

He is suspected of links to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The father of six launched his fast to protest a four-month detention order, which had been due to end on November 26.

Akhras, who has been arrested by Israel several times previously, ended his hunger strike after Israeli authorities committed to not extending his detention beyond that date.

AFP, with TOI staff

AstraZeneca may run another global study on vaccine after admitting error — CEO

AsraZeneca may run another international clinical trial on its coronavirus vaccine, after its results come under scrutiny.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.

“Now that we’ve found what looks like a better efficacy we have to validate this, so we need to do an additional study,” CEO Pascal Soriot tells Bloomberg.

He says it would likely be another “international study, but this one could be faster because we know the efficacy is high so we need a smaller number of patients.”

In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90% effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62% effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70% effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.

with AP

Hospital chiefs said unanimous: 3rd virus wave just a matter of time

The Health Ministry holds a meeting with the heads of hospitals around the country on the coronavirus. During the videoconference, according to Channel 12, all of them agree a third surge of infections is coming.

The hospital officials issued the warning to the ministry’s director-general, Chezy Levy, the report says.

They also discussed the vaccination of medical staff, the network says.

The warning comes as Israel surpasses 1,000 virus cases a day, for the first time in a month.

Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing seen outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, on October 11, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Flydubai plane returns after inaugural service to Tel Aviv

A flydubai aircraft lands in Dubai from Tel Aviv, the first scheduled commercial flight between the two cities following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.

“Welcome to Dubai,” an immigration officer said as the passengers from Israel filed off the plane and into the glitzy Gulf city, some of them waving and giving the peace sign.

AFP

PA says it conveyed to Biden administration interest in return to peace talks

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki tells the Mediterranean Dialogues Forum that the PA is willing to return to negotiations with Israel on the basis of international law resolutions.

“We are committed to a two-state solution, negotiations without preconditions, on the basis of international law,” al-Maliki says, adding later that the PA has passed the message along to US President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.

Al-Maliki expressed cautious optimism about a Biden presidency, although he acknowledges that the Palestinian cause was unlikely to be a top priority.

“At the same time, we know that the Biden administration is likely to be focused on internal rather than external matters,” al-Maliki says.

Al-Maliki adds that Ramallah is seeking to purchase a coronavirus vaccine from several European countries, without elaborating.

Aaron Boxerman

Ethiopian PM says troops ordered to move on Tigray capital

Ethiopia’s prime minister says the army has been ordered to move on the embattled Tigray regional capital after his 72-hour ultimatum ended for Tigray leaders to surrender, and he warns the city’s half-million residents to stay indoors and disarm.

Instead, “an increasing number of people continues to leave Mekele” even after the deadline expired, UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu says. They join tens of thousands of newly displaced people throughout the region, which remains almost completely sealed off from the world, beyond the reach of desperately needed food and other aid.

The military offensive “has reached its final stage” after three weeks of fighting, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office says. That means tanks and other weaponry can close in on Mekele, whose residents were warned of “no mercy” if they didn’t move away from the defiant Tigray leaders in time.

That caused international alarm as rights groups said such wording could violate international law and put civilians in further danger. “We will take utmost care to protect civilians,” Abiy’s statement says. It also asserts that thousands of Tigray militia and special forces surrendered during the 72-hour period.

Tigray regional leaders couldn’t immediately be reached. With communications and transport links severed, it remains difficult to verify claims in the fighting that erupted Nov. 4 between Ethiopian forces and the heavily armed forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which once dominated Ethiopia’s government but has been sidelined under Abiy’s rule. The two governments now regard each other as illegal.

The fighting threatens to destabilize Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa, and even its neighbors.

AP

Former Mossad chief says state inquiry needed over submarine sale to Egypt

Former director of the Mossad intelligence agency Tamir Pardo is calling for a state commission of inquiry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s green-lighting of a German sale of advanced submarines to Egypt, according to Channel 12.

In an affidavit to the High Court of Justice, part of a petition seeking a probe into the so-called submarines affair, Pardo lashes out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for keeping top defense officials in the dark on Israel’s approval for Germany to sell the weapons to Egypt several years ago.

That is “unacceptable, extremely unreasonable” and requires a state commission of inquiry, Pardo writes.

“There cannot be secrets that the Defense Ministry or IDF chief don’t know about,” he adds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with then-outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo during a farewell ceremony in Tel Aviv on January 5, 2015. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

During a rare and contentious interview with Channel 12 news in March 2019, Netanyahu said only a select few officials were briefed in real time about the reason for Israel not objecting to the 2014 and 2015 submarine deal with Egypt, which has been tied to a corruption scandal involving several of the prime minister’s associates, but not Netanyahu himself.

“Whoever needed to know, knew,” Netanyahu said, adding that Moshe Ya’alon, the then-defense minister who is now a Knesset member with the Yesh Atid-Telem party, was not among them. Then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, the leader of Blue and White, was also kept in the dark.

According to reports, defense officials and others raised concerns about the sale of the advanced weaponry by German firm Thyssenkrupp to Israel’s neighbor and former foe. Germany does not require Israeli approval for such a sale, but had evidently been open to hearing Israeli concerns. The US and some other allies will only sell advanced arms to Middle Eastern countries that are either a generation removed from the weapons sold Israel, or will run the sale by Jerusalem first, as a way of protecting the Jewish state in any future conflict.

Pardo writes that the decision to keep the approval under wraps harmed Israel’s security. “I’ve never encountered this sort of concealment from the most senior defense officials in the State of Israel, and the matter demands explanation,” writes Pardo.

New coronavirus czar says pandemic could last another year

The new coronavirus czar, Prof. Nachman Ash, says it could take a full year until the coronavirus pandemic ends.

“It will take time. There are difficult days ahead…. It won’t be easy, it won’t be short. My working assumption is that the coronavirus will remain with us for the next year,” he says in his first press briefing.

An effective vaccination campaign of the population could, optimistically, end in mid-2021, but may only be completed “toward the end of next year,” he says.

He urges Israelis to prepare for another full year of life under pandemic restrictions.

Ash says the health authorities will start granting a “green passport” to Israelis who are less likely to be infected or transmit the virus, including those who have recovered from the disease. He says HMOs will start conducting antibody tests, with those who receive confirmation of antibodies granted the documentation. Ash doesn’t elaborate on what benefits those with a “green passport” will have.

He also says a third nationwide lockdown is possible.

The current figures are “worrisome,” he says, adding, “there is no room for complacency.”

With the reopening of more schools and malls, “there is likely to be a deterioration that will lead to a lockdown,” he says, adding that he won’t hesitate to take the step.

Israel’s coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash seen during a visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lockerbie bombing appeal ends, judges mull ruling

Five senior judges begin deliberating their ruling in a posthumous appeal against the conviction of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmet Al-Megrahi.

Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Justice General Colin Sutherland, says the panel will issue a written opinion “as soon as it possibly can” after three days of submissions.

The former Libyan intelligence officer Megrahi was the only person convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.

A total of 270 people were killed, including 11 on the ground, in what remains Britain’s worst terrorist attack.

Megrahi was jailed for life in 2001 but maintained his innocence until his death in 2012. His family has taken on the case and in March won the right to take it back to court.

AFP

Hours after the event, policemen stand near the wreckage of the 747 Pan Am airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. (Roy Letkey/AFP)

Hamas chief phones Iran’s FM to condemn killing of nuclear scientist

The head of the Hamas terror group Ismail Haniyeh has phoned Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to condemn the killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, according to the Hamas-linked Al-Resalah website.

“The assassination reflects a criminal mentality that allows murder in broad daylight. The policy of assassinations, just as it didn’t succeed with the resistance in Palestine, will fail with Iran and the entire ummah and resistance axis,” Haniyeh is quoted as telling Zarif.

Iran has blamed Israel for the killing.

US Navy says return of aircraft carrier to Gulf not linked to any ‘specific threats’

WASHINGTON — A US aircraft carrier group has moved back into the Gulf region, but a navy spokeswoman says its return wasn’t triggered by any “threats” after the killing in Iran of a top nuclear scientist.

Tensions in the region are extraordinarily high after the assassination Friday of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an act still unclaimed but which Iran has blamed on close US ally Israel.

But naval commander Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the US 5th Fleet, tells AFP the return Wednesday of the carrier group led by the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz was unconnected to any “specific threats.”

“There were no specific threats that triggered the return of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group,” she says in a statement.

“The return of Nimitz is centered on maintaining CENTCOM’s ability to remain postured and prepared to help preserve regional stability and security,” Rebarich says, referring to the US Central Command.

The Pentagon said earlier that the carrier group would be providing combat support and air cover as the military withdraws thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, under orders from US President Donald Trump.

— AFP

The USS Nimitz (US Navy/Wikipedia)
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