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Serious COVID cases fall below 500 for first time since mid-August

Experts predict number of patients hospitalized in serious condition could drop to as low as 250 by end of month, amid growing signs of waning morbidity

A coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Hamas, Egypt make progress in shoring up Gaza ceasefire – report

Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement meets with General Abbas Kamel, Egypt's intelligence chief, as he arrives for a meeting with leaders of Hamas in Gaza City. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Palestinian Hamas movement meets with General Abbas Kamel, Egypt's intelligence chief, as he arrives for a meeting with leaders of Hamas in Gaza City. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Hamas and Egypt have advanced agreements to strengthen the ceasefire between Israel and the terror group as senior Hamas officials meet with Egyptian intelligence in Cairo, Turkish state media reports.

The terror group and Egypt saw “progress” in “understandings to stabilize the truce in Gaza, speed up the pace of reconstruction, and efforts to ease the siege,” according to the Anadolu news agency.

A Hamas source tells Anadolu that the sides discussed a possible prisoner swap between the terror group and Israel, but did not make meaningful headway.

A Hamas official tells The Times of Israel that some movement in the talks had already been “expected” but adds: “These meetings are often just talk. But obligations are later borne out if each side does what it has pledged to do.”

Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect negotiations, moderated by Egypt, on stabilizing the fragile ceasefire since the 11-day battle between the two sides in May. Israel has vowed not to allow a full reconstruction of Gaza without a prisoner swap between the two sides.

In a rare scene, senior Hamas officials, including Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, gathered in Cairo on Sunday night for the current round of talks with Egyptian intelligence.

“When that many senior Hamas officials head for Cairo, there is already fertile ground for an agreement, and many matters have already been discussed,” another source close to Hamas says.

The Hamas official, however, suggested that there could be another reason for the Hamas leadership gathering — the recently concluded internal Hamas elections, which saw Haniyeh win a second four-year term as chief.

“It’s also an opportunity for everyone to meet, within the overarching political agenda, it connects to the organizational agenda,” the Hamas official says.

Army vet with PTSD who self-immolated begins speaking again

IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan. (Facebook)
IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan. (Facebook)

The condition of a former soldier with PTSD who has been hospitalized since April after self-immolating in an act of protest has further improved, with his family and other reporting that he is now speaking.

Itzik Saidyan, 26, was visited at the hospital today by Religious Zionism MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Ofir Sofer, as well as singer Aviv Geffen.

Saidyan remains in serious condition, but he has been gradually improving since being awoken from a coma late last month, his brother Avi tells the Kan public broadcaster,

“Itzik is a warrior and he fought for every citizen in the country and everyone owes him a debt. Don’t stop praying for him,” Avi Saidyan says.

Saidyan has been hospitalized since April following his self-immolation outside the Petah Tikva offices of the Rehabilitation Department for disabled soldiers, after years of struggling to receive the care he requested.

His act brought the Defense Ministry’s treatment of wounded veterans under intense scrutiny.

Saidyan served in the Golani Infantry Brigade during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. He participated in the Battle of Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.

German Jewish group decries hotel’s alleged denial of entry to singer wearing Star of David

A screenshot from video of singer Gil Ofarim posted to his Instagram account, on October 5, 2021. (Screenshot/Instagram)
A screenshot from video of singer Gil Ofarim posted to his Instagram account, on October 5, 2021. (Screenshot/Instagram)

BERLIN — A leading Jewish group in Germany says that it’s shocked by a German-Israeli singer’s report of being turned away from a hotel in the eastern German city of Leipzig because he was wearing a Star of David pendant.

Singer Gil Ofarim, who lives in Germany, shared a video on Instagram today showing him in front of the Westin hotel in Leipzig and saying that a hotel employee asked him to put away his necklace in order to check into the hotel.

The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, responds on Twitter, saying “the antisemitic hostility against Gil Ofarim is appalling.”

“One hopes that the Westin will take consequences regarding their staff,” Schuster tweets. “I also hope that in the future we will encounter solidarity when we get attacked.”

The Westin Leipzig tells The Associated Press in an email that it is “concerned and alarmed by the intolerable accusations by Mr. Ofarim.”

General manager Andreas Hachmeister writes that the hotel employee in question was put on leave while the hotel tries to reach Ofarim to shed light on the entire incident.

Ofarim’s manager, Yvonne Probst, can’t immediately be reached for comment. German news agency dpa quotes his management team as saying that Ofarim, 39, did not want to comment further publicly.

Ofarim is the son of Israeli singer Abi Ofarim, who performed with his first wife, Esther, during the 1950s and 1960s. The couple were known internationally for their renditions of folksongs and chansons.

Bennett didn’t update Gantz about decision to reveal Mossad ops for Ron Arad – TV

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right), Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (center) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset, on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right), Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (center) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset, on September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett did not update Defense Minister Benny Gantz on his decision to reveal that the Mossad has recently attempted to locate the remains of missing pilot Ron Arad, according to Israeli television reports.

Channel 12 news said that the premier told Gantz just before he made the revelation in a speech to the Knesset, with the defense chief lacking enough time to raise objections.

Bennett did, however, let Foreign Minister Yair Lapid know in advance, both Channel 12 and the Kan public broadcaster report.

Experts predict serious COVID cases could fall to as low as 250 by end of month

Hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, on September 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science are forecasting that serious coronavirus cases could fall to as low as 250 by the end of the month, according to the Haaretz daily.

Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute and a top adviser to the government’s coronavirus cabinet, tells the newspaper that if serious cases continue to decline at the current rate, they are expected to number between 250-350 by the end of October.

He credits the fall in the R-number — the number of new cases stemming from each coronavirus infection — to the rollout of booster shots and the inoculation of more people who weren’t previously vaccinated.

Segal also says that he believes the number of people who recovered from COVID could be as high as double the official figure of 1,252,077.

Auschwitz museum vandalized with antisemitic graffiti

This photo from October 19, 2012 shows the gate of the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
This photo from October 19, 2012 shows the gate of the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Police in Poland are investigating antisemitic vandalism at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

Spray-painted slogans in English and German, some of them “antisemitic in nature,” were found on the museum’s grounds recently, the institution writes in a statement today. There were “two references to the Old Testament, often used by antisemites, and denial slogans,” the statement also says.

The statement doesn’t include further information on the vandalism. The site has robust security and enforcement measures in place to prevent vandalism and other abuses, which are rare.

The perpetrators’ actions were “an outrageous attack on the symbol of one of the greatest tragedies in human history and an extremely painful blow to the memory of all the victims of the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau camp,” the museum says.

The Nazis and their collaborators killed at least 1.3 million people, including over a million Jews, at the former concentration camp.

In 2019, over 2 million people visited the museum, including 396,000 visitors from Poland, 200,000 from Great Britain and 120,000 from the United States.

Serious COVID cases fall below 500 for first time since mid-August

Police and light rail inspectors enforce coronavirus regulations on public transportation, on October 3, 2021,  in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Police and light rail inspectors enforce coronavirus regulations on public transportation, on October 3, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Updated Health Ministry figures show the number of serious coronavirus cases falling to 489, the lowest they have been since mid-August.

Since midnight, another 1,678 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, with active infections standing at 36,037.

There have been 1,296,125 verified infections since the pandemic began and 7,853 deaths.

According to the Health Ministry, 6,153,823 people in Israel have received at least one vaccine dose and 5,662,909 have gotten two shots. Another 3,606,065 have been administered a third dose.

Azerbaijan closes mosque linked to Iran’s supreme leader

TEHRAN, Iran — Azerbaijan has closed a mosque linked to Iran’s supreme leader, Iran’s Tasnim news agency reports, days after Tehran launched war games near their shared border in a move denounced by Baku.

“The mosque and representative office of Seyyed Ali Akbar Ojaghnejad, representative of supreme leader [Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei in Baku, were sealed and closed today by order of the authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” Tasnim says, without giving further details.

Ojaghnejad has held the post since 1996, according to the website of his office, which is located inside the mosque.

Azerbaijan’s interior ministry spokesman Eskhan Zahidov says in a statement that the move was necessary because of “a surge in COVID-19 cases in several locations in Baku,” and that the mosque’s operation had been “suspended temporarily.”

Iran’s embassy in Baku says in a statement that it has followed up on the matter via diplomatic channels, adding that there was no warning of the move in advance.

Since mid-September, tensions have soared between the two neighbors, who share a 700-kilometer (430-mile) border.

On Friday, the Iranian army’s ground forces began maneuvers near the frontier, a move criticized by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Bill to limit PMs to 8 years in office won’t be retroactive

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Amit Shabi/Pool)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Amit Shabi/Pool)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar releases the text of a bill to limit prime ministers to eight years in office.

The bill will not be retroactive and thus not apply to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served as premier for over 14 years in total.

“Overly long rule brings with it a concentration of power and the danger of corruption,” Sa’ar says.

Rights group accuses Taliban of killing 13 ethnic Hazaras

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban forces unlawfully killed 13 ethnic Hazaras, most of them Afghan soldiers who had surrendered to the insurgents, a prominent rights group says today.

The killings took place in the village of Kahor in Daykundi province in central Afghanistan on August 30, according to an investigation by Amnesty International.

Eleven of the victims were members of the Afghan national security forces and two were civilians, among them a 17-year-old girl.

The reported killings took place about two weeks after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in a blitz campaign, culminating in their takeover of Kabul.

At the time, Taliban leaders sought to reassure Afghans that they had changed from their previous harsh rule of the country in the late 1990s.

Some residents of Jerusalem apartment building evacuated over collapse fears

Police and rescue services evacuate some residents of an apartment building in Jerusalem after collapses were found in the building, raising concerns that it could collapse entirely.

A police statement says that residents of several apartments in the adjacent building were also evacuated as an engineer makes his way to the site.

The incident follows the collapse last month of an apartment building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon and the demolition of a residential building in Ra’anana last night over fears of its imminent collapse.

Ex-Facebook worker says social media giant’s wares hurt kids, fueled division

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen arrives to testify during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill, on October 5, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)
Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen arrives to testify during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill, on October 5, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON — A former Facebook data scientist tells Congress that the social network giant’s products harm children and fuel polarization in the US while its executives refuse to make changes because they elevate profits over safety.

Frances Haugen testifies to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. She is accusing the company of being aware of apparent harm to some teens from Instagram and being dishonest in its public fight against hate and misinformation.

Haugen has come forward with a wide-ranging condemnation of Facebook, buttressed with tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.

She also has filed complaints with federal authorities, alleging that Facebook’s own research shows that it amplifies hate, misinformation and political unrest, but the company hides what it knows.

Haugen says that she is speaking out because of her belief that “Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.”

“The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people,” she says in her written testimony prepared for the hearing. “Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

After recent reports in The Wall Street Journal based on documents she leaked to the newspaper raised a public outcry, Haugen revealed her identity in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday night. She insisted that “Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety.”

In Ukraine, Herzog says Europe ‘cannot tolerate’ antisemitism in any form

President Isaac Herzog (L) and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog (L) and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 5, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog notes the long history of Jews in Ukraine and cheers the establishment of ties between Israel and the Eastern European country 30 years ago, as he continues his visit to Kyiv.

“The relationship between us is based on past, present, and future. The Jewish People have a glorious past in this land: some of the greatest Jewish and Israeli characters were born and raised here — religious and spiritual leaders, statesmen, Zionist thinkers, and prominent cultural figures,” Herzog says in a statement to the media alongside his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Herzog is in Ukraine to mark 80 years since Babi Yar massacre, in which over 33,000 people — most of them Jews — were killed outside Kyiv when it was occupied by the Nazis during World War II.

“The Jewish People also have a tragic and painful history here in Ukraine. From pogroms in previous centuries to the horrific massacre at Babi Yar… In my view, this past leads us to the present: a present in which Ukraine bears the important responsibility for the memory and history of the space and culture of the Jewish community that lived here throughout the ages,” Herzog says.

He thanks Zelensky, who is Jewish, for the Ukrainian parliament’s approval of a law last month outlawing antisemitism.

“We must learn from history; the whole of humanity, and Europe in particular, cannot tolerate any form of antisemitism — not at protests, not in the erasure and denial of history, and not in the glorification of murderous figures from the past,” Herzog says.

Mossad took DNA from body in Lebanon to determine if it was Ron Arad — report

Air Force navigator Ron Arad, who went missing in 1986, in his flight suit. (Israeli Air Force)
Air Force navigator Ron Arad, who went missing in 1986, in his flight suit. (Israeli Air Force)

The Mossad spy agency allegedly examined a corpse in a northern Lebanese village to see if it was the remains of missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad, Al Arabiya reports.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced yesterday that the Mossad had recently embarked on a wide-ranging mission in search of information about Arad, who has been missing in action since 1986. He was last known to be in the custody of Lebanese terror groups.

According to the Saudi news site, the Mossad extracted DNA from the corpse interred in the northern Lebanese village of Nabi Chit, to test if it was the remains of Arad.

Al Arabiya also reports that the Mossad abducted an Iranian general from Syria to interrogate him about Arad’s fate. The news was first reported earlier today by the London-based Ra’i al-Yawm paper.

IDF chief vows to continue targeting Iran, including its nuclear program

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on the Israel Navy's Haifa Base, on September 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on the Israel Navy's Haifa Base, on September 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi vows military operations to counter Iran’s capabilities — including nuclear — will continue.

“Operations to destroy Iranian capabilities will continue, in any arena and at any time, and the operational plans against Iran’s nuclear program will continue to be developed and improved,” Kohavi says during a ceremony for new Military Intelligence chief Aharon Haliva.

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, the outgoing intelligence chief, says the Islamic Republic is currently stable but predicts it will eventually fall.

“Although it is an unjust totalitarian regime, which oppresses its citizens and will end up falling, it is stable for now,” he says.

“History has taught us what becomes of such dark regimes,” Hayman adds.

EU puts out strategy paper for addressing rising antisemitism

A picture taken on February 19, 2019, shows swastikas painted on graves at a Jewish cemetery in the French town of Quatzenheim close to the German border (Frederick Florin/AFP)
Illustrative: A picture taken on February 19, 2019, shows swastikas painted on graves at a Jewish cemetery in the French town of Quatzenheim close to the German border (Frederick Florin/AFP)

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, releases a strategy paper on “Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life” among the bloc’s member states.

“Antisemitism is incompatible with Europe’s core values. It represents a threat not only to Jewish communities and to Jewish life, but to an open and diverse society, to democracy and the European way of life. The European Union is determined to put an end to it,” the paper declares.

Noting rising antisemitic attacks in recent years and a drop in the EU’s Jewish population, the paper states the EU is “determined to significantly step up the fight against antisemitism” and that the strategy will rest on three pillars: Preventing and combating all forms of antisemitism; protecting and fostering Jewish life in the EU; and education, research and Holocaust remembrance.

“This strategy also seeks to place the EU firmly in the lead of the global fight against antisemitism,” the paper says.

Energy minister: Lebanon ‘cannot dictate the lines’ of maritime border talks

Energy Minister Karin Elharrar speaks at  a Yesh Atid party conference in Shefayim, September 22, 2021. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Energy Minister Karin Elharrar speaks at a Yesh Atid party conference in Shefayim, September 22, 2021. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar says Israel won’t allow Lebanon to set the terms of US-sponsored negotiations to resolve a maritime border dispute over natural gas exploration.

“We need to look for a solution that leads to a breakthrough and not try to think in the old ways of drawing lines,” Elharrar tells Reuters.

“We started (negotiations) at one line and then they (Lebanon) pushed the line. Pushing and pushing the lines literally,” she said. “It’s not the way to have a negotiation. They cannot dictate the lines.”

She also says she will soon speak with Amos Hochstein, the US State Department’s energy envoy, who has been tapped to mediate the talks between Israel and the Lebanese.

Government okays new public affairs chief at PM’s office

Elad Tene. (courtesy)
Elad Tene. (courtesy)

The government has approved the appointment of Elad Tene as the new head of public affairs in the Prime Minister’s Office, a post that has been unfilled since 2015.

“We will make sure that we are ready to tell our story to the world, both during routine periods and God forbid, war,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says in a statement from his office.

Tene has held senior editorial positions at a number of leading Israeli news outlets, including most recently as head of the Kan public broadcaster’s online division.

Rifles, rocket launchers, explosives and more stolen from IDF in recent years – report

A collection of guns and military gear seized in an IDF operation in Hebron on February 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: A collection of guns and military gear seized in an IDF operation in Hebron on February 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hundreds of guns, nearly 50 rocket launchers and numerous other types of weaponry were stolen from the Israel Defense Forces between 2013 and 2020, the Haaretz daily reports, citing official figures obtained via a freedom of information request.

According to the report, among the weapons stolen during that span were assault rifles and machine guns; various types of grenades; rocket launchers and explosives; and over 150,000 bullets.

Ex-Nazi death camp secretary, 96, freed from custody after fleeing before trial

A judicial officer in the courtroom prior to the trial of Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary for the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, in Itzehoe, Germany, September 30, 2021. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
A judicial officer in the courtroom prior to the trial of Irmgard Furchner, a 96-year-old former secretary for the SS commander of the Stutthof concentration camp, in Itzehoe, Germany, September 30, 2021. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

BERLIN — A 96-year-old former secretary at a Nazi death camp who tried to flee before her trial has been released from custody in Germany ahead of the next hearing, a court spokeswoman says.

Irmgard Furchner had been due in court last Thursday for the opening of her trial on charges of complicity in the murder of more than 10,000 people at Stutthof camp in occupied Poland.

But she failed to turn up after leaving her retirement home near Hamburg in a taxi, which took her to a subway station, from where she went missing.

Police detained her several hours later and she was remanded in custody before the resumption of her trial on October 19.

The court in the northern town of Itzehoe decides today that she can be freed under unspecified conditions.

“The court has suspended the arrest warrant and released the accused from custody under the condition of precautionary measures,” says court spokeswoman Frederike Milhoffer.

The spokeswoman declines to give details on the conditions but says “it is however assured that she will appear at the next appointment.”

Prosecutors accuse Furchner of having assisted in the systematic murder of detainees at Stutthof, where she worked in the office of camp commander Paul Werner Hoppe between June 1943 and April 1945.

Roughly 65,000 people died at the camp near Gdansk, among them “Jewish prisoners, Polish partisans and Soviet Russian prisoners of war,” according to the indictment.

Bennett: Israel seems to now have ‘upper hand’ against current COVID wave

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021.  (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett touts the recent drop in serious coronavirus cases and other indicators that the current wave of morbidity is receding.

“In the campaign against the coronavirus, it seems, at this stage, that we have the upper hand. All indicators are showing a gradual decline in morbidity,” he says at the start of the cabinet meeting.

The premier says, however, that “we cannot become complacent,” vowing to “continue the campaign all-out, even as we prepare for the next stage.”

He also says the government has been “standing strong in the face of external noise that is constantly pressuring for lockdowns and sweeping restrictions; we have stayed determined on this issue.”

“The idea that has guided us all along has been what tools we can give to the public – be they vaccines, large-scale testing, precise directives – before we decide to take away from the public freedoms, livelihoods, life and economic security,” Bennett says.

Government approves ministerial panel for advancing gender equality

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli leads a Labor party faction meeting at the Knesset on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli leads a Labor party faction meeting at the Knesset on October 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The government approves the formation of a ministerial committee that will formulate plans for advancing gender equality.

The so-called gender equality cabinet will be headed by Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and consist of nine members. The committee will also work on how government ministers can implement the plans it draws up.

“I am proud to announce to you that today a gender equality cabinet will be formed again. I am proud and excited to lead it and to bring the feminist struggle to the government,” Michaeli, who leads the Labor party, writes on Twitter.

UAE announces planned probe on asteroid between Mars, Jupiter

In this photo from February 9, 2021, Sarah Al Amiri, Emirati Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission speaks ahead of a live broadcast of the Hope Probe as it attempts to enter Mars orbit as a part of Emirates Mars mission, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
In this photo from February 9, 2021, Sarah Al Amiri, Emirati Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission speaks ahead of a live broadcast of the Hope Probe as it attempts to enter Mars orbit as a part of Emirates Mars mission, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates announces plans to send a probe to land on an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter to collect data on the origins of the universe, the latest project in the oil-rich federation’s ambitious space program.

The project targets a 2028 launch with a landing in 2033, a five-year journey in which the spacecraft will travel some 3.6 billion kilometers (2.2 billion miles).

The UAE’s Space Agency says it will partner with the Laboratory for Atmospheric Science and Physics at the University of Colorado on the project. It declines to immediately offer a cost for the effort.

The project comes after the Emirates successfully put its Amal, or “Hope,” probe in orbit around Mars in February. The car-size Amal cost $200 million to build and launch. That excludes operating costs at Mars.

The Emirates plans to send an unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2024. The country, which is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, also has set the ambitious goal to build a human colony on Mars by 2117.

Czech Republic signs $630 million deal for Israeli-made air defenses

A SPYDER surface-to-air missile is fired in a test in an undated photograph. (Defense Ministry)
A SPYDER surface-to-air missile is fired in a test in an undated photograph. (Defense Ministry)

PRAGUE — The Czech Republic signs a deal to buy a new air defense system for its military from the Israeli government, the Czech defense ministry says.

The SPYDER system, which is made by the Israeli state-run company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., is capable of providing protection against aircraft, helicopters, bombers, cruise missiles and other weapons.

The defense ministry says the deal to get four short-range air defense batteries is worth 13.7 billion Czech koruna ($630 million), with the delivery to be completed by 2026.

Czech Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar says the Israeli system will be key in the ongoing modernization of the Czech armed forces.

It will replace an obsolete anti-aircraft Soviet-era 2K12 KUB system to defend military and civilian centers such as industrial hubs, nuclear power plants, airports and other important facilities.

Amir Eshel, director-general of Israel’s Defense Ministry, was on hand for the signing of the agreement.

“The agreement that we signed today is yet another milestone in the strategic cooperation between our two countries,” he’s quoted as saying in a ministry statement. “This is the first time that Israel will deliver a full air defense system to a NATO country, and we are proud and thrilled that the Czech Republic is the one.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also lauds the deal, saying it “further deepens the excellent defense relations” between Israel and the Czech Republic.

“It is a strategic agreement with a NATO- member country, which will create job opportunities in both countries.”

Iran calls on UN to condemn Karaj nuclear site ‘sabotage’ blamed on Israel

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)
The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran urges the UN atomic agency to clearly condemn a “sabotage” attack on a nuclear facility west of Tehran that it has accused Israel of carrying out.

Tehran says on June 23 that it had thwarted the attack on the building belonging to its own nuclear agency near Karaj, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital.

At the time, it did not identify the nature of the attack, with state television saying only that “saboteurs failed to carry out their plan.”

On Sunday, Iran’s atomic agency chief Mohammad Eslami said the UN watchdog and Western powers had failed to condemn the “terrorist act” that “severely damaged” the site.

“The latest act of sabotage by the occupation regime in Jerusalem against our country’s nuclear program was the terrorist attack on the TESA complex in Karaj,” the official IRNA news agency says today.

It repeats Eslami’s accusation that the site was targeted by Israel, adding that the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency “must therefore clarify its position on this incident.”

The IAEA said on September 26 that it had been denied “indispensable” access to the TESA Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop contrary to an agreement with Iran.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, rejected the charge, saying it “isn’t accurate and goes beyond the agreed terms.”

“The IAEA representatives in both Teheran and Vienna have been informed that this center has been severely damaged, especially the cameras that were installed there,” Eslami said on Sunday.

“It is regrettable that neither the IAEA nor other countries that are blaming us do not condemn this terrorist act,” he added.

Iran has repeatedly accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear sites and killing a number of its scientists.

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