The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells his cabinet that Israel may halt moves to ease the nationwide lockdown and may even put more restrictions in place, as the nation continues to see virus numbers on the rise.
Netanyahu says Israel is better placed than other developed countries experiencing a second wave now, but “I’m telling you straight, we are in danger if we do not act immediately.”
“If there is a need, we will stop the easing and even tighten those that have already been made,” he says, urging citizens to stick to social distancing and mask-wearing rules.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is leaving Ramallah by helicopter for Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah II today in the southern city of Aqaba.
This will be the first state trip Abbas has taken since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. He is expected to travel tonight to Cairo for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi scheduled for tomorrow.
الرئيس الفلسطيني محمود عباس يغادر مقر المقاطعة في رام الله متوجها الى عمان حيث سيلتقي العاهل الأردني الملك عبد الله الثاني في قمة ثنائية اليوم في مدينة العقبة،قبل ان يغادر مساء الى القاهرة ليلتقي غدا نظيره المصري عبد الفتاح السيسي pic.twitter.com/fYrXXjYOvK
— sami abed alhamid سامي عبد الحميد (@samiaah10) November 29, 2020
— Aaron Boxerman
Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen tells Army Radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not hinting at Israeli involvement in the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh when he released a statement in which he boasted about not being able to speak about all of his achievements.
“He was referring to his talks with countries Israel has no ties with,” he says, seemingly referring to the premier’s secret trip to Saudi Arabia.
But Cohen does say he is not shedding any tears over the death of Fakhrizadeh. “His removal from the world contributed to the Middle East and the whole world. Anyone who takes an active part in creating a nuclear weapon is a dead man walking,” he warns.
Britain is “concerned” about the possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist earlier in the week, foreign minister Dominic Raab says.
“We are concerned about the situation in Iran and the wider region. We do want to see de-escalation of tensions,” Raab tells Sky News when asked about the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
“We’re still waiting to see the full facts, to address the full facts of what’s happened in Iran but I would say that we stick to the rule of international humanitarian law which is very clear against targeting civilians,” adds Raab.
Asked if Israel, which has been alleged to be behind the killing, may have been justified, he answers, “I have no idea. I don’t have any of the facts that would enable me to answer that question at this point.”
— with AFP
The Iranian parliament has passed a bill demanding that the country’s atomic agency stockpile at least at least 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent at the Fordo nuclear facility, and increase enrichment at the Natanz nuclear facility as well, both of which are suspected Iranian nuclear weapons sites, the Tasnim news agency reports.
The moves would be the latest violations of enrichment curbs set out by the 2015 nuclear deal.
Lawmakers, who kick off the session with chants of “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” also issue a statement demanding that Iran restrict access to UN inspectors at nuclear sites.
“Such atrocity entails an immediate and regret-inducing response,” including through “the revival of the country’s brilliant nuclear industry by ending its voluntary adherence to the Additional Protocol,” the statement reads, according to Press TV.
A bill brought for review to the parliament Sunday would stop inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency under the so-called additional protocol, which have provided an unprecedented, real-time look at Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
— with AP
A government-appointed cultural commissioner in Hungary is being condemned for comparing liberal billionaire George Soros to Hitler in an article about Hungary and Poland’s row with the EU over rule of law.
“Europe has become the gas chamber of George Soros… George Soros is the liberal Fuhrer,” Szilard Demeter wrote on the pro-government news-site Origo.hu on Saturday.
Poles and Hungarians “are the new Jews,” said Demeter in the article that addressed the ongoing deadlock between the EU, and Hungary and Poland over their veto of the bloc’s funding due to its rule of law criteria.
“These ‘Liberaryans’ are now aiming at excluding us Poles and Hungarians from the one last political community where we still have rights,” he said.
Jewish and Holocaust memorial groups at home and abroad condemn the tirade from Demeter, a 44-year-old writer appointed in 2018 as head of a prestigious literary museum and in 2019 as a cultural commissioner.
“We utterly reject the use and abuse of the memory of the Holocaust for any purpose,” the Israeli Embassy in Hungary says in a statement.
“There is no place for connecting the worst crime in human history, or its perpetrators, to any contemporary debate, no matter how essential,” it adds.
French churches, mosques and synagogues can open their doors again to worshipers, but only a few of them, as France cautiously starts reopening after a second virus lockdown.
Some churches may defy the 30-person limit which they believe is too unreasonable, and other sites may stay closed until they can fully reopen.
Farid Kachour, secretary general of the association running the mosque of Montermeil, a heavily immigrant suburb northeast of Paris, says that his mosque simply wouldn’t open as long as there is a 30-person limit.
“We can’t choose people” allowed to enter for prayer. “We don’t want to create discontent among the faithful,” he says.
Kachour notes that Muslims pray five times a day and that the mosque would need 40 services a day to allow all the faithful to pray.
Some malls that have been given the go-ahead to open as part of a pilot program may defy orders to close if they are handed down.
The threat from the head of Ofer malls group, which was allowed to open shopping centers around the country Friday, comes after a source close to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed horror at the crowds that descended on them over the weekend and threatened that “if there is not an immediate and radical change, we will mull closing them immediately,” according to Channel 12 news.
“I’m not closing the malls, because malls are safe places,” says Ofer CEO Moshe Rosenbloom. “I won’t keep stores from opening.”
He says that Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda outdoor market also saw large crowds, and the existence of a roof over part of it makes it indoors as well, with a lower roof than a mall has.
“The regulators should look at what is actually happening before they harm people trying to do good for the economy and keep all the rules,” he says, before calling for all stores everywhere to be allowed to open in order to cut down on crowding.
A senior aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says Iran’s response to the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh will be “calculated and decisive.”
“Undoubtedly, Iran will give a calculated and decisive answer to the criminals who took Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh from the Iranian nation,” says Kamal Kharrazi in a statement carried by Iranian media, according to a translation by Reuters.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered officials to take unspecified actions to “prevent and counter” anti-Iranian acts following the slaying of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Rouhani “ordered the necessary follow-up to prevent and counter such terrorist acts that endanger Iran’s security,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news outlet reports.
The comments come at a special cabinet meeting.
Iran has blamed the Friday killing on Israel. Israel has refused to comment.
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi has issued a threat against Iran while meeting top army officials near the frontier with Syria.
“Our message is unequivocal: We will continue to act with as much strength as is required against Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and will continue to maintain full readiness against any show of aggressiveness toward us,” he says.
The visit comes amid increased tensions on the border following a reported uptick in airstrikes against Iran in Syria attributed to Israel, and as the country braces for possible retaliation for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which has been blamed on Israel.
While he does not mention the death of a man which Israel has called the “father” of Iran’s nuclear program, he does bring up a recent Israeli strike in Syria against Iranian forces, which followed the discovery of bombs placed on the border, which Israel has blamed on Tehran.
Store owners insist that Israel’s consumer economy is collapsing due to the coronavirus crisis, but reported figures from a group that processes credit card transactions says Israelis spent only slightly less on Black Friday than the year before.
According to Automated Banking Services Ltd. Israelis spent nearly NIS 882 million ($266 million) on retail goods and services on Friday, down 3.6 percent from 2019, when they spent just over NIS 912 million ($276 million by today’s exchange rate), Ynet reports.
The figures do not include cash transactions.
Friday saw the government allow 15 malls to open as part of a pilot program, with thousands of people going shopping and attempting to take advantage of sales while maneuvering around coronavirus restrictions on crowding. Health officials have reportedly expressed dismay at the crowding seen.
According to the report, Israelis spent 20% more on purchases abroad than they did last year.
A weekend attack on a village in northeast Nigeria blamed on the Boko Haram jihadist group left at least 110 dead, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the country says.
“At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack,” Edward Kallon says in a statement after initial tolls indicated 43 and then at least 70 dead from Saturday’s massacre by suspected Boko Haram fighters.
“The incident is the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year,” Kallon says, adding: “I call for the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act to be brought to justice.”
The bloodletting took place in the village of Koshobe near the main city of Maiduguri, with assailants targeting farmers on rice fields.
Borno Governor Babaganan Umara Zulum attended the burial Sunday in the nearby village of Zabarmari of 43 bodies recovered on Saturday, saying the toll could rise after search operations resumed.
Israeli rhythmic gymnast Linoy Ashram is the European champion of the sport.
Ashram has taken the gold medal at the European Championships in Kiev, days after her teammates won the gold in the all-around.
Ashram, one of the top competitors in the world and among Israel’s brightest Olympic hopes, ties with Alina Harasko of Belarus, but is given the gold due to technical deductions, the organizer says in a tweet.
Linoy Ashram does it … European Champion!!!! pic.twitter.com/LSXAnS8kEj
— European Gymnastics (@UEGymnastics) November 29, 2020
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has asked Defense Minister Benny Gantz to hold off on his probe into the submarine scandal.
Mandelblit says Gantz should wait until a criminal probe into the naval acquisitions scandal can be completed.
There is no immediate comment from Gantz, whose move was seen as a shot across the bow of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alleged to have been involved in possible shady dealings surround the purchase of submarines and other vessels from German firm Thyssenkrup.
More details about Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s request for Benny Gantz to delay the start of an inquiry into the submarine affair.
In a letter to Gantz, Mandelblit explains that there are some areas that the commission will look into that overlap with areas his criminal probe is covering.
It’s not clear how much longer Mandelblit’s probe, already several years old, will still take.
Gantz’s inquiry panel had been scheduled to hold its first meeting Tuesday, and was slated to meet three times a week, in order to have a report prepared by early March.
While the panel lacks the teeth of a state commission of inquiry, the timing, which would place the report’s release just ahead of possible elections in March, had been seen as one of Gantz’s calculations in launching the probe.
The probe was seen as one of the factors leading to a rift between Likud and Blue and White that has many predicting the collapse of the government next month. Since then, some reports have indicated the sides are moving toward a compromise deal to keep the gang together.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirms a planned visit later this week by Bahrain industry, trade and tourism minister Zayed al-Zayani.
Zayani is slated to arrive on Tuesday and leave on Thursday. While here he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Industry Minister Amir Peretz.
Ashkenazi had been slated to fly to Manama this week but his visit was canceled late last week. According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Manama requires that ministers only visit after the head of state or government does so, though it does not appear to be actual Bahraini policy. In general around the world, lower level visits are expected to precede one by a head of state or government, not vice versa.
Netanyahu had said he was planning to go to Bahrain — reportedly as early as this week — but the kingdom asked him to wait until he could visit the UAE as well.
According to Walla News, joining al-Zayani will be some 40 Bahraini business leaders.
There have been several low and mid-level delegations between the countries since they agreed to normalize ties earlier this year.
The attack that killed the alleged architect of Iran’s nuclear weapons program on Friday was carried out from afar using a remote-controlled machine gun attached to a car some 500 feet away, according to a leading Iranian news site.
The semi-officials Fars news site reports that the entire operationswas conducted with no human agents present at the scene whatsoever, a significantly different description of the attack than has been presented until now.
According to the outlet, the assault took place over the course of three minutes as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a brigadier general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a key figure in the country’s military research-and-development program, traveled toward the resort town of Absard, east of Tehran.
The operation kicked off when the lead car in Fakhrizadeh security detail traveled ahead to inspect the security at his destination. At that point, a number of bullets were fired at Fakhrizadeh’s armored car, prompting him to exit the vehicle as he was apparently unaware that he was under attack, thinking that the sound was caused by a collision or some problem with the car, according to Fars news.
At that point, a remote-controlled machine gun in a Nissan that had been parked some 150 meters (492 feet) away opened fire, striking Fakhrizadeh twice, once in the side and once in the back, severing his spinal cord. Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguard was also hit by the gunfire. The Nissan then exploded.
According to Fars, the owner of the Nissan left the country on November 8. It was not clear if the car was remotely controlled as well or how the car got to the area of the attack.
Fakhrizadeh was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Until now, reports from Iran indicated that the explosion occurred first, forcing Fakhrizadeh’s car to stop, and then armed agents opened fire at him and his security detail, killing them, before they fled.
— Judah Ari Gross
US President Donald Trump is continuing to insist that votes cast for Joe Biden were fraudulent, and is accusing the courts of refusing to hear his case, in a first interview since his failed reelection bid over three weeks ago.
“We’re not allowed to put in our proof. They say you don’t have standing,” Trump tells Fox News. “I would like to file one nice big beautiful lawsuit, talking about this and many other things, with tremendous proof. We have affidavits, we have hundreds and hundreds of affidavits.”
Trump claims that, as president, he should have standing in all cases regarding allegations of voter fraud.
“We’re trying to put the evidence in, and the judges won’t allow us to do it,” he says. “We have so much evidence.”
Trump’s legal team has made wide-ranging claims of voter fraud effecting hundreds of thousands or millions of votes, but has offered no evidence and has only filed lawsuits dealing with matters unlikely to overturn enough votes to significantly change the outcome of the election.
The interview comes a day after Trump said that Fox News was “virtually unwatchable,” and urged followers to change the dial to outlets that have given him and his allegations full-throated backing.
He also claimed that Joe Biden needed to prove all of his votes were legal before he could become president. There is no such onus in US law.
Freshly crowned European rhythmic gymnastics champion Linoy Ashram tells Kan from Kiev that she had not been in high-level competition for nearly a year, due to the coronavirus crisis.
“I was really worried I would not have a place to practice,” she says, before describing efforts to make sure that she could continue despite the pandemic.
Ashram tells the station that during competition she “tries to think as little as possible about the scores…. I managed to get there as prepared as possible and I’m happy I managed to do four routines without any errors.”
According to the Rishon Lezion native, she is the first non-Russian to win the title in decades.
Russia did not participate in the competition this year, along with other teams, due to the pandemic.
Nonetheless, Israeli media reports describe her win as “historic,” and “a huge achievement for Israel.”
Ashram tells Kan she is looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics, but has other competitions before then.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense attorneys have asked the Jerusalem District Court to throw out the criminal indictment against the premier, claiming law enforcement “invented” the corruption charges.
In their 200-page request, the prime minister’s lawyers allege that police investigators used illegitimate means to secure evidence, thus disqualifying the criminal charges, and asked the Jerusalem District Court to throw out the case.
“The investigation materials reveal serious actions [by law enforcement] that require the indictment to be canceled — they did not investigate a crime, they invented a crime,” his lawyers allege, according to Hebrew media reports.
The number of coronavirus patients on ventilators has fallen below 100 for the first time since early August, with 92 people being treated with oxygen, according to the Health Ministry.
However, the ministry announces that there have been 10 more coronavirus deaths since this morning, bringing the toll since the start of the pandemic to 2,864.
It confirms a test positivity rate of 3.3% on Saturday and says Sunday is shaping up to look similar, with 3.1% of tests coming back positive so far, notching over 500 new cases thus far today.
Despite that, the number of active cases has fallen to 9,601. A total of 263 patients remain in serious condition.
Wisconsin has finished its recount of votes cast in this month’s presidential election, with only miniscule changes in the results that saw Democrat Joe Biden defeat Republican Donald Trump in the battleground state.
Dane County, which includes the state capital of Madison, reports only small changes in its vote totals, mirroring the earlier results of the recount conducted in Milwaukee County. Trump gained 45 votes in Dane County, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Biden won the state by nearly 20,600 votes, and his margin in Milwaukee and Dane counties was about 2-to-1.
“As we have said, the recount only served to reaffirm Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin,” Danielle Melfi, who led Biden’s campaign in Wisconsin, says in a statement to The Associated Press.
Trump’s next move in Wisconsin will likely be in court. Trump campaign officials are not immediately responding to AP requests for comment.
Trump paid to have a recount in both counties and his attorneys appear ready for a legal challenge seeking to toss tens of thousands of ballots.
Channel 12 news reports that Jerusalem fears Israelis visiting the UAE may be targeted by Iran seeking retaliation for the assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh alleged to be the father of the country’s nuclear weapons program.
The UAE, which also considers Iran an enemy, lies less than 100 miles across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
Channel 13 reports that meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is staying put and canceling any “movements,” fearing that he may be next on the US-Israeli hit list.
Nasrallah has thought to be a target of Israel for years, where some officials have mocked him for staying in a “bunker” and only making very rare public appearances. Such a hit by Israel would likely seriously inflame the region.
“Fakhrizadeh’s activities had to be stopped. The world is a safer place without him,” Channel 13 quotes an Israeli source saying.
Channel 13 news says it spoke to regular Iranians to get their take on the killing of Fakhrizadeh, and shockingly, they all seem to be happy he is gone.
One man says that if Israel killed “this freeloader, I kiss her hands”; a woman claims that “80 percent of the Iranian people are happy over the elimination of someone who wanted to take millions of lives in the future”; a third person says the killings of Fakhrizadeh and Quds Force head Qassem Soleimani are “the greatest security failure[s] in the past 41 years of the Islamic regime.”
The channel, which earlier this month reported that Iranian leaders were worried that they would be targeted by the US or Israel, says that the Iranians are now worried that their response to the killing, which they blame on Israel, could push the Trump administration to carry out more aggressive action, and are thus treading carefully.
Reports indicate that Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau has updated its travel warning for the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, amid concerns that Iran may seek to attack Israelis there as retaliation for the killing of a top Iranian military nuclear scientist, which Tehran blames on Israel.
The travel warnings, which were updated today, say there is a “basic concrete threat” in the countries. This is the third highest advisory issued by the bureau, after “very high concrete threat” and “high concrete threat.”
However, it appears the travel warnings were not updated Sunday and are not linked to fears over possible reprisal attacks. This post has been updated to reflect that.
Israelis are not technically barred from visiting these countries — which only said it would begin allowing Israeli passport holders to enter recently, after normalizing ties with the Jewish state — but are meant to dissuade people from traveling there.
— Judah Ari Gross
The body of a Palestinian man shot by a Border Police officer who believed him to be committing a ramming attack with terrorist motives will be returned to his family tonight for a small funeral, his lawyer tells The Times of Israel.
Nur Jamal Shuqeir, a 30-year-old resident of East Jerusalem, was pulled over by police officers at the Al-Za’im checkpoint outside of the capital. While being questioned, Shuqeir drove his car quickly toward a border guard, hitting and lightly injuring him, police reported at the time. Shuqeir was shot by other officers at the scene, fatally wounding him.
The incident was initially reported as a suspected terror attack, although authorities revised that assessment as more details emerged.
Israeli authorities have controversially adopted a policy of detaining the bodies of suspected terrorists as part of an attempt to deter future acts of violence and as bargaining chips in negotiations with terror groups.
That Shuqeir’s body is being returned makes it likely that his case is no longer being formally investigated as a terror incident.
A spokesperson for the Israel Police has not responded to a request for comment on the incident.
A spokesperson for the Police Internal Investigations Division tells The Times of Israel that the officers’ behavior during the incident is being “examined, but an investigation has not yet been opened.”
— Aaron Boxerman
Reports of a travel warning from the Counter-Terrorism Bureau for the UAE and Bahrain, including in ToI, appear to have been premature.
While the bureau did update its warnings on Sunday, the changes do not appear to affect the UAE and Bahrain or be linked to fears of reprisal for the killing of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. The countries remain at the level of “basic concrete threat.”
However, Channel 12 news reports that Israeli officials have “begun to act to protect Israelis” there, without offering details.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi had been slated to visit Bahrain this week and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also reportedly planning a trip, both of which were canceled late last week.
Security has also been stepped up at Israeli diplomatic missions around the world for fear of attack, according to the report.
New York City will reopen its school system to in-person learning and increase the number of days a week many children attend class, even as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies in the city.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says that some elementary schools and pre-kindergarten programs will resume classes December 7. Others will take longer to reopen their doors. The announcement marks a major policy reversal for the nation’s largest school system.
It comes just 11 days after de Blasio announced that schools were shutting down because of a rising number of cases. The plan for reopening middle and high schools is still being developed.
Some elementary schools and pre-kindergarten programs will resume classes December 7, a week from Monday, the mayor says. Others will take longer to reopen their doors.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Israel Katz submit a draft budget for 2020 and 2021 to the Knesset for approval.
In the letter, Mandelblit says the draft needs to be submitted before the start of the year it deals with, and lawmakers need enough time to hold a debate on it.
Israel has been without a budget for all of 2020, and few moves have been made to advance one for 2021, which many analysts attribute to Netanyahu dragging his feet in order to keep from handing power to Gantz under a rotation agreement.
If no 2020 budget is passed by December 23, the government is set to fall and new elections will be called. Under the terms of a power-sharing deal, a budget for both years was supposed to have been passed by now.
A 2021 budget is expected to be presented to the cabinet on Monday, according to Reuters. The NIS 426 billion budget is based on a growth estimate of 5 percent, well above the 8% Israel’s economy is actually expected to shrink.
According to Channel 13 news, Gantz, head of Blue and White, is considering supporting a no confidence motion to bring down the government on Wednesday, after becoming frustrated with what his party has described as Likud foot-dragging over the budget.
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