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Gantz expected to back proposal to dissolve Knesset — TV

Report says Blue and White likely to vote for bill to call early elections, after talks with Likud to reach compromise break down

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the Israel-Lebanon border on November 17, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the Israel-Lebanon border on November 17, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

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

Israel’s bio institute chief says regulation slowing down vaccine development

The head of the Defense Ministry’s Institute for Biological Research gripes that regulation is slowing down testing on the COVID-19 vaccine that it’s developing.

Prof. Shmuel Shapira tells a Knesset committee that the institute finished stage trials five days ago and is set to begin stage 2 trials within the next 10 days.

“If we hadn’t encountered excess regulation, we would’ve progressed more. We were meant to be in the third stage already and now we’ll only reach it in April,” he’s quoted saying in a statement from the Knesset.

Turkish ship at heart of energy feud with Greece back at port

ISTANBUL — The Turkish research vessel at the heart of an energy dispute between Turkey and Greece is back at port.

In a tweet, Turkey’s energy ministry says the Oruc Reis has returned to port in Antalya after completing two-dimensional seismic research in the Demre field. Ship tracker MarineTraffic shows the survey ship has docked.

Tensions between the two neighbors and nominal NATO allies escalated over the summer with a military build-up after Turkey sent the survey ship, escorted by navy frigates, into disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean.

The move prompted Greece to also send its warships, and both countries conducted military exercises to assert their claims. NATO intervened, organizing technical talks between the two countries’ militaries to prevent a potential armed conflict.

Ankara says the Greek and Greek Cypriot governments are impinging on the energy rights of Turkey and breakaway northern Cyprus by setting maritime boundaries according to their own interests and attempting to exclude Turkey from potential oil and gas reserves.

Turkey says maritime boundaries for hydrocarbon resources should be calculated from the mainland but Greece says the continental shelves of its islands dotting the Mediterranean should be included within its energy zone.

The competing claims have led to a diplomatic crisis and aggressive rhetoric. European Union members Greece and Cyprus, along with France, have called for sanctions on Turkey

— AP

In this photo taken August 10, 2020, Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, center, is surrounded by Turkish navy vessels west of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey. (IHA via AP)

EU official says infection surge leveling off, but too early to relax restrictions

BERLIN — The European Union’s latest surge of coronavirus infections is flattening or going down in some but not all countries across the continent but it’s too early to relax current virus restrictions, the head of the continent’s disease control center says.

It’s alarming that the death rate caused by COVID-19 is still rising across Europe — it was 95 per 1 million people last week compared to 84 the week before, says Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Ammon also notes that occupancy of intensive care units was at 91% last week, meaning that “some countries are probably already at the limit.”

She speaks at at a virtual gathering of lawmakers responsible for European affairs in all the EU member states and at the European Parliament.

Ammon also says there are still challenges when it comes to testing and contact tracing and that EU nations need to harmonize their medical data.

As of today, more than 13 million coronavirus cases have been reported in the 27-nation European Union and over 319,700 people in the bloc have died of COVID-19.

— AP

Moderna asking US, European regulators to okay its COVID vaccine

Moderna Inc. says it will ask US and European regulators today to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection — ramping up the race to begin limited vaccinations as the coronavirus rampage worsens.

Multiple vaccine candidates must succeed for the world to stamp out the pandemic, which has been on the upswing in the US and Europe. US hospitals have been stretched to the limit as the nation has seen more than 160,000 new cases per day and more than 1,400 daily deaths. Since first emerging nearly a year ago in China, the virus has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.

Moderna is just behind Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in seeking to begin vaccinations in the US in December. Across the Atlantic, British regulators also are assessing the Pfizer shot and another from AstraZeneca.

Moderna created its shots with the US National Institutes of Health and already had a hint they were working, but says it got the final needed results over the weekend that suggest the vaccine is more than 94% effective.

Of 196 COVID-19 cases so far in its huge US study, 185 were trial participants who received the placebo and 11 who got the real vaccine. The only people who got severely ill — 30 participants, including one who died — had received dummy shots, says Dr. Tal Zaks, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, company’s chief medical officer.

When he learned the results, “I allowed myself to cry for the first time,” Zaks tells The Associated Press. “We have already, just in the trial, have already saved lives. Just imagine the impact then multiplied to the people who can get this vaccine.”

— AP

In this July 27, 2020, photo, a nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, New York. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Netanyahu to give ‘special statement’ on elections amid coalition infighting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give a “special statement” at 3 p.m. on early elections, amid growing speculation Israelis will soon find themselves at the ballot box for the fourth time in under two years amid coalition infighting between the premier’s Likud party and Blue and White.

Netanyahu will speak at a Likud faction meeting.

Lapid urges Blue and White to back bill to dissolve Knesset

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid urges the coalition’s Blue and White party to back his proposal for dissolving the Knesset and calling new elections, which is slated to be voted on Wednesday.

“In 48 hours we can bring to an end the worst government in the history of the country. In 48 hours we’ll vote on a law to disperse the Knesset,” Lapid says during a Yesh Atid-Telem faction meeting.

He calls on Blue and White, which he ran with during three election campaigns but split from over party chief Benny Gantz’s decision to join a Netanyahu-led government, to stop being “accomplices” of the prime minister.

“You had good intentions, it didn’t work. Now it’s time to make amends,” Lapid says. “You’re not sitting in a unity government but in a bloated, corrupt government that’s causing incredible damage to the Israeli economy. Infection rates are increasing again… We need a government that will work for the citizens of Israel.”

Gantz calls to advance bills that lack coalition support

Defense Minister Benny Gantz orders his Blue and White party to prepare a number of contentious legislative proposals that do not have coalition backing, a move that could bring down the government amid growing talk of possible early elections.

The Blue and White announcement says Gantz instructed the party to advance three bills: “The Basic Law: Equality,” which Gantz says “aimed to enshrine the right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination”; “The surrogacy law” which would “evenly expand the circle of those entitled to surrogacy, expand the circle of women who can serve as surrogates and regulate the possibility of surrogacy outside Israel”; and “The Basic Law: The Declaration of Independence,” which would require judges to “interpret all Israeli legislation, including other Basic Laws, in light of the Declaration of Independence as a constitutional document.”

Bringing the proposals to the Knesset without specific agreement from Likud violates a clause in the coalition agreement between the parties, but seems designed to force Prime Minister Netanyahu to show his hand.

On Thursday, Netanyahu blamed his coalition partner for the apparently looming elections. “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 said.

— Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu says Likud will oppose dissolving Knesset, wants ‘unity’

Prime Minister Netanyahu says his Likud party will vote against a bill to dissolve Knesset, stressing its commitment to “unity” to address the coronavirus pandemic and to reach further normalization deals with Arab states.

“On Wednesday the opposition will try to drag Israel to unnecessary elections. Likud will vote against elections and in favor of unity,” he says during a faction meeting.

Netanyahu adds: “The citizens of Israel need a government that acts not for elections, not for politics, but rather for them.”

Over 2,000 new COVID cases recorded in West Bank, Gaza

There have been 2,062 new coronavirus infections among Palestinians in the past 24 hours, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.

Fifteen more Palestinians have died from the virus.

There are currently 19,928 active cases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to PA health ministry figures. Around 1,314 cases are recorded today in the West Bank, while 784 are identified in Gaza.

Around 24 percent of tests came back positive, the Health Ministry says.

While the Palestinian Authority announced a lockdown over the weekend, PA Interior Ministry official Ghassan Nimr estimated adherence to be around 60% in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio yesterday.

— Aaron Boxerman

Syria, Russia face pressure at meeting of chemical weapons watchdog

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Syria and Russia face renewed pressure over allegations of chemical weapons use as member countries of the global toxic arms watchdog meet today.

Moscow is urged by Western nations to “transparently” reveal the circumstances of the Novichok nerve agent poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Damascus meanwhile faces calls for sanctions at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons after investigators accused the Syrian regime of sarin attacks in 2017.

Russia and Syria have repeatedly denied the accusations, alleging that Western powers have politicized the Hague-based OPCW.

Syria had failed to meet 90-day deadline set in July to declare the weapons used in the attacks on the village of Lataminah and to reveal its remaining stocks, OPCW chief Fernando Arias says.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has not completed any of the measures,” Arias tells the meeting.

He says “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” remained in Syria’s account of its progress on its 2013 agreement to give up all chemical weapons following a suspected sarin attack that killed 1,400 people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

France proposed that the OPCW should “suspend the rights and privileges” of Syria for failing to meet the deadline, French ambassador Luis Vassy says, adding that the proposal was backed by 43 states.

These would include Syria’s voting rights in the OPCW, depriving it of a voice at a body where it has been deflecting allegations of toxic arms use for years.

Russia meanwhile comes under pressure over the poisoning of Navalny, which the politician and western governments have blamed on the Kremlin.

The OPCW has confirmed traces of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in samples taken from Navalny in hospital in Germany, where he is recovering.

— AFP

Blue and White on Netanyahu: If he weren’t on trial for graft, there’d be a budget

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party responds to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement that Likud won’t vote for new elections and backs “unity.”

“The public is done with buying Netanyahu’s lies. If there were no trial, there would be a budget,” Blue and White says, referring to Netanyahu’s corruption trial and the continued delay in approving a new state budget.

Foreign Ministry chief said to tell missions to up security measures after Iranian scientist’s killing

The director-general of the Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to all Israeli missions urging them to up their security protocols and remain alert following the assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Hebrew media reports say.

Citing the “events over the weekend,” Alon Ushpiz calls on missions to maintain “the highest possible level of preparedness and vigilance for any unusual activity in the area of the mission, at the homes of families and at Jewish and Israeli community centers,” according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Israeli flights to UAE may be scrapped if Saudi overflight permission not granted — TV

Israeli airlines may be forced to cancel scheduled flights to the United Arab Emirates as Saudi Arabia has still not granted them overflight permission, Channel 12 news reports.

US embassy in Hungary condemns article likening Soros to Hitler

BUDAPEST, Hungary — The United States Embassy in Budapest condemns an article published by a Hungarian official that drew parallels between American-Hungarian billionaire George Soros and Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.

The embassy posts on its Twitter account that it “strongly condemns” statements made in an article equating a debate over the European Union’s bid to bolster democratic standards within its member countries “with the horrific murder of millions of people during the Holocaust.”

On Saturday, Szilard Demeter, a ministerial commissioner for culture and the head of the Petofi Literary Museum in Budapest, wrote an opinion piece in pro-government news site Origo referring to Europe as “George Soros’ gas chamber,” and calling Soros “the liberal Führer (whose) liber-aryan army deifies him more than did Hitler’s own.”

In the piece, Demeter also noted the conflict over the European Union’s next budget, which Hungary and Poland are holding up over provisions that could block payments to countries that do not uphold democratic standards. He referred to the two countries, both of which are under EU investigation for undermining judicial independence and media freedom, as “the new Jews.”

Soros, who was born in Hungary and is a Holocaust survivor, is a frequent target of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who opposes Soros’ philanthropy which favors liberal causes.

The statements prompted strong reactions from several Hungarian Jewish groups and Hungarian opposition politicians while the Israeli embassy condemned the article. More than 12,000 people including numerous Hungarian public figures like Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony have so far signed a petition demanding Demeter’s resignation.

Demeter retracted the article yesterday following the backlash and said he would delete his Facebook account.

— AP

George Soros at the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/ Ronald Zak)

Blue and White minister reportedly rebuked for saying Gantz backs legalizing West Bank outposts

Blue and White lawmakers go after Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich for saying yesterday that party boss Benny Gantz supports legalizing West Bank settlement outposts, Hebrew media reports say.

According to leaks, Gantz says during a faction meeting today that Blue and White opposes illegal outposts and that he backs retaining the Jordan Valley and so-called settlement blocs.

“The Defense Ministry is working to regulate all the outposts that are on legal territories exactly in accordance with the regulations and laws. Any deviation from this line isn’t the line of Blue and White,” he’s quoted saying by the Walla news site.

MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich reportedly slam Yankelevich for her comments, saying they don’t reflect Blue and White or serve the party’s interest.

Yankelevich rejects the criticism and says “there are wonderful people there,” the news site says.

Illustrative: Blue and White party member Omer Yankelevich at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Biden formally taps Yellen as his nominee for treasury secretary

WASHINGTON — US President-elect Joe Biden selects former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen as his choice for Treasury secretary.

“Janet Yellen is nominated to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in its 231-year history,” Biden’s transition team says in a statement.

— AFP

Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen speaks with FOX Business Network guest anchor Jon Hilsenrath in the Fox Washington bureau in Washington, August 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

2 toddlers killed after being run over, apparently by relatives

A 2-year-old boy is pronounced dead after he was run over by a car in the northern Arab town of Ein Mahil.

The driver of the car is a relative of the toddler who was coming to visit when he struck the boy at the entrance to the family’s home, Hebrew media reports.

In a separate incident, a 1-year-old girl is pronounced dead after she was run over in the driveway of her home in the southern Bedouin village of Tarabin, apparently by her father.

Iran opposition group denies involvement in nuclear scientist’s killing

An exiled opposition group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, rejects as “rancor and lies” Tehran’s accusation that it was involved in nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

“Accusing the Mujahedin of killing the regime’s nuclear experts is nothing new and is a reaction to the exposure of the entirety of the mullahs’ nuclear structure and program,” the group says.

In Tehran, Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary, charged today that the Mujahedin were “certainly” involved, along with “the Zionist regime and the Mossad,” referring to the Israeli government and its spy agency.

Fakhrizadeh was fatally wounded Friday outside the capital as assailants targeted his car and engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards, according to the defense ministry.

The Mujahedeen, in a statement, dismiss “Shamkhani’s rage, rancor, and lies” against the outlawed group, while claiming credit for past revelations on Iran’s nuclear program and previously secret sites.

“For the first time in 2004, the PMOI (People’s Mujahedeen) identified Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as the official in charge of the regime’s bomb-making apparatus,” it says.

The group says it has “saved the world and the Iranian people from the danger of the mullahs’ speedy access to a nuclear bomb and blocked their path.”

— AFP

Israel said to ask US to press Saudis to grant overflight permission for Israeli airlines

Israeli officials have asked the United States to press Saudi Arabia to allow Israeli airlines flying to the United Arab Emirates to traverse Saudi airspace while flying to the United Arab Emirates, the Ynet news site reports.

Quoting an unnamed official familiar with the matter, the report says Israeli officials reached out to Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, who is set to travel to Saudi Arabia this week.

An Israir flight is scheduled to fly to Dubai tomorrow.

“I believe at the end of the day we can solve this problem. The Israelis who ordered tickets can fly safely above Saudi Arabia and return safely,” Transportation Minister Miri Regev tells Army Radio.

Saudi Arabia grants overflight permission to Israeli airlines

Saudi Arabia has granted permission for Israeli airlines to use its airspace, according to Hebrew media, allowing a scheduled Israir flight to Dubai tomorrow to go ahead.

IDF delegation to assist in Honduras after hurricane

Israel will send a Home Front Command delegation to Honduras to assist the Central American country that was battered by a powerful hurricane this month, the Defense and Foreign Ministries say in a joint statement.

The Israel Defense Forces says the delegation will include 15 reserve officers from the Home Front Command led by Col. (res.) Golan Wach, the commander of Israel’s national search and rescue unit. The spokesperson for Israel’s embassy in Mexico, Tal Yitzhakov, will also travel with the team.

Hurricane Eta struck the eastern coast of Central America earlier this month, causing over 200 deaths in total, nearly half of them — 94 — in Honduras.

“In the area hit by the hurricane, many thousands have been left without a home. Professional assistance is also needed in directing and rehabilitating the region,” the joint statement reads.

According to the IDF, the delegation will operate in the country’s northeast, which was hardest hit, and will assess the damage to the country’s infrastructure.

“The delegation will also assist the country in building a plan to prevent similar catastrophes in the future,” the military says.

The IDF adds that the team will adhere to the necessary coronavirus regulations to protect the health of the participants.

— Judah Ari Gross

WHO insists ‘will do everything’ to find origins of COVID

WASHINGTON — The World Health Organization insists it will do everything possible to find the animal origins of COVID-19.

“We want to know the origin and we will do everything to know the origin,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells reporters, urging critics who have accused the agency of handing the reins of the probe to China to stop “politicizing” the issue.

— AFP

Bahrain denounces assassination of top Iranian nuclear scientist

The Bahraini government says it condemns the assassination of nuclear scientist and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Brig. Gen. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed the need for concerted efforts to reduce tension, prevent escalation in the region and ensure stability and security. In light of the current situation in the region, the Kingdom of Bahrain calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid new levels of instability in the region that threaten peace,” the Bahraini Foreign Ministry adds in a statement carried by state media.

Among Gulf states, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Oman have all condemned the assassination. Israel is alleged to be responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death, although Jerusalem has stayed mum on the matter.

— Aaron Boxerman

Israel punches ticket to EuroBasket 2022 with win over Poland

The Israeli national team secures a spot in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 tournament, after defeating Poland 78-72 in a qualifying game.

Gantz expected to back proposal to dissolve Knesset — TV

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party is expected to back a bill to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections when it comes up for a vote Wednesday, Channel 12 news reports.

The network says talks between Likud and Blue and White have broken down.

Haifa prosecutor recommended to be next state attorney

A search committee recommends Haifa District Prosecutor Amit Aisman be appointed as the next head of the State Attorney’s Office.

UN watchdog says Iran has nothing to gain from halting nuclear inspections

VIENNA — Iran does not have anything to gain from ending inspections of nuclear facilities, the head of the UN’s nuclear agency tells AFP.

Responding to calls by Iranian MPs to end inspections following the assassination of a top nuclear scientist, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi says it is “essential to give the world the necessary and credible assurances that there is no deviation from the nuclear program to military uses.”

— AFP

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks during an AFP interview in Vienna on November 30, 2020. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Iran Guards commander killed in drone strike on Iraq-Syria border — reports

A senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has been killed in a drone strike along the Iraqi-Syrian border, according to reports circulating widely in Arabic-language media.

Iraqi security sources tell Saudi-based al-Arabiya News that a drone killed senior commander IRGC Muslim Shahdan in a targeted strike on his car. Other sources in the Iraqi security services tell Lebanese-based al-Hadath that three of his companions perished with him.

Shahdan’s reported assassination comes only three days after the killing of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsin Fakhrizadeh. Israel has been widely reported to be responsible for the targeted killing, although Jerusalem has stayed mum on the issue.

Fakhrizadeh’s death has put Israel and Jewish institutions around the world on high alert, as Iran has publicly vowed revenge and repeatedly claimed Israel stands behind the assassination.

— Aaron Boxerman

Israeli airlines said seeking permanent overflight permission from Saudi Arabia

The overflight permission granted by Saudi Arabia to Israeli airlines will only be in effect for four days and only for flights to Dubai, Channel 12 news report.

According to the network, Israeli airlines are seeking long-term permission to use Saudi airspace and also want the green light for flights to the Far East.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to grant permission came shortly before an Israir flight to Dubai tomorrow and only after reported US intervention.

Arizona certifies Biden’s victory over Trump

Arizona officials have certified Joe Biden’s narrow victory over US President Donald Trump in the state.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Governor Doug Ducey stand up for the integrity of the election even as lawyers for Trump are across town arguing without evidence to nine Republican lawmakers that the election was marred by fraud.

Ducey says, “We do elections well here in Arizona. The system is strong.”

Biden won Arizona by 0.3% of the nearly 3.4 million ballots cast, a margin of just under 10,500 votes. He is the second Democrat in 70 years to win the state.

The certification also paves the way for Democrat Mark Kelly to take his seat in the US Senate, formalizing his victory in a special election to replace the late John McCain. Kelly is scheduled to be sworn in on Wednesday in Washington.

— AP

Coronavirus cabinet restricts capacity at malls after crowding concerns

The high-level coronavirus cabinet votes to reduce capacity at malls, a joint statement from the Health Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office says, after crowding at shopping centers over the weekend raised concerns of an acceleration in the spread of COVID-19.

People shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan after it reopened, November 27, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
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