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Trump says 5-10 more Arab countries to normalize with Israel after US elections

‘It’s peace in the Middle East with no money and no blood,’ US president enthuses, predicting agreements with both ‘big and smaller’ nations

US President Donald Trump talks to reporters as first lady Melania Trump listens before boarding Air Force One for a day of campaign rallies in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska, October 27, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump talks to reporters as first lady Melania Trump listens before boarding Air Force One for a day of campaign rallies in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska, October 27, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s news as it unfolded.

State-owned company, 5 executives face trial over massive Arava oil spill

The state prosecution announces that the state-owned Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), along with five current and former senior employees of the company, could stand trial, pending a hearing, over their alleged role in an oil spill that devastated a nature reserve in southern Israel.

Last year, a settlement was reached in a class action suit determining that EAPC will pay NIS 100 million ($28 million) in damages over the December 2014 oil spill, considered the worst ecological disaster in the country’s history.

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, some 5 million liters of crude oil were spilled when a pipeline belonging to EAPC ruptured, causing significant environmental damage to the Arava desert and Evrona Nature Reserve.

According to a statement released by the Environmental Protection Ministry today, on December 3, 2014, during work to relocate a pipe there was an engineering fault that caused the pipe to rupture, precipitating the oil spill, which caused some NIS 100 million in damage.

It says that according to suspicions, the accident was mainly due to faulty implementation of EAPC’s own regulations, including failure to draw up a detailed plan for the work and a lack of coordination between the relevant departments in the company.

Israel, UAE soccer leagues sign cooperation agreement

Soccer leagues from the United Arab Emirates and Israel have signed a cooperation agreement, the first such deal between an Arab country and the Jewish state, the clubs announce.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) comes after UAE in September became the first Gulf nation to officially establish relations with Israel.

“The terms of the MoU include holding joint workshops to discuss ways to develop the marketing and promotional side of the competitions, in addition to keeping pace with everything related to sports and football development technology, as well as developing the technical aspect in the football sector,” the UAE Pro League says in a statement.

The announcement comes after Al-Nasr club of Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, for the first time signed an Israeli soccer player , Diaa Sabia.

The agreement, signed yesterday, “will contribute towards the promotion of peace and strengthen cooperation and friendship in a way that serves the interest of [soccer] in both countries,” says Abdulla Naser al-Junaibi, chairman of the UAE Pro League, according to the statement.

Erez Halfon, chairman of the Israeli Professional Football League, also lauds the agreement.

“We hope that soon we will have the opportunity to continue to forge collaborations in the field of [soccer] with our other neighbors as well,” he says, according to the statement.


Gantz says ‘positive voices’ in Lebanon talking about peace with Israel

Defense Minister Benny Gantz sounds an optimistic note on the prospect of an eventual peace deal with Lebanon, amid indirect talks on demarcating the maritime border between the two countries.

“I also hear positive voices in Lebanon that are maybe talking about peace and relations with Israel,” he says during a tour of an Israel Defense Forces exercise along the northern border.

“There are welcome words,” Gantz adds. “The citizens of Lebanon must know that Hezbollah, not Israel, is their problem, because if Hezbollah attacks the State of Israel, Lebanon will pay the price.”

While Lebanon has reiterated that the border talks with Israel are purely a technical issue and do not herald any sort of normalization, the daughter of Lebanese President Michel Aoun has been drawing outrage in her country for backing the idea of peace with Israel.

Claudine Aoun, a well-known Lebanese public figure in her own right, first remarked on the subject last month and has since repeated her comments on national television several times. She tweeted about the issue again on Sunday in comments widely shared and critiqued in Lebanon.

“Before talking about peace, we must demarcate the borders and solve the problems related to our land,” she wrote on September 24, referring to the maritime border dispute, and several minor land disputes.

Israel has also downplayed the significance of the border talks, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on October 15 that the contacts might eventually lead to a peace deal.

Turkey’s Erdogan sues Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker for insults

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is suing Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders after the anti-Islam politician posted a series of tweets against the Turkish leader, including one that described him as a “terrorist.”

The state-run Anadolu Agency says Erdogan’s lawyer filed a criminal complaint today against Wilders at the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s office for “insulting the president” — a crime in Turkey punishable by up to four years in prison.

Wilders posted a cartoon depicting Erdogan wearing a bomb-resembling hat on his head, with the comment: “terrorist.”

Wilders continued posting tweets targeting Erdogan this week amid a growing quarrel between Turkey and European countries sparked by Erdogan’s sharp comments against French President Emmanuel Macron, including remarks questioning Macron’s mental health over his stance on Islam.

Erdogan has persistently sued people for alleged insults since he took office as president in 2014. Thousands have been convicted. More than 29,000 people were prosecuted on charges of insulting Erdogan last year, according to the Birgun newspaper.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference, in Ankara, Turkey, October 26, 2020. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

The complaint against Wilders, whose political career has been based largely on his strident anti-Islam rhetoric, accuses him of using language “insulting the honor and dignity of our president and of targeting Erdogan’s personality, dignity and reputation,” according to Anadolu.

Wilders, who leads the largest opposition party in the Dutch Parliament, shrugs off the Turkish criminal complaint and describes Erdogan as a “loser.” Wilders has lived under tight security for 16 years due to death threats following his anti-Islam rhetoric.

Yesterday, Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper, which is close to Erdogan, printed pictures of Wilders and Macron, with the headline: “the two faces of hatred and racism in Europe.”

— AP

Palestinians announce 576 new virus cases in last 24 hours

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry announces that 576 new cases of coronavirus have been identified among Palestinians in the past 24 hours.

According to the PA, 199 cases were recorded in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the highest single-day increase since the pandemic hit the coastal enclave in late August. Another 377 cases were identified in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank.

The number of daily coronavirus infections has been high but relatively stable over the past few months, ranging mostly between 400 and 600 new cases per day.

Even Palestinian health officials, however, have publicly acknowledged that the official numbers do not match the reality on the ground. While the West Bank has a population of nearly 3 million Palestinians, the PA Health Ministry only conducts 3,000-5,000 tests per day.

The Health Ministry says it conducted 4,212 tests in the past 24 hours, for an overall positivity rate of 14 percent.

— Aaron Boxerman

At least seven killed in blast at Pakistan religious school

At least seven students were killed and scores more wounded today in a bomb attack on a Quran study class at a religious school in northwestern Pakistan, officials say.

More than 60 people had been mid-lesson when the explosion tore through the madrassa in Peshawar, about 170 kilometers (around 100 miles) west of Islamabad, said Waqar Azim, a senior police official says.

“The blast took place in a seminary during a Quran class. Someone took a bag inside the seminary,” Azim tells AFP.

He adds that the person who had brought in the bag left the lecture hall before the blast at the Jamia Zuberia seminary.

Rescue workers collect remains at the site of a blast in a religious school in Peshawar on October 27, 2020. (Abdul MAJEED / AFP)

Mohammad Ali Gandapur, another senior police official, says at least seven people were killed with more than 50 wounded.

The death toll is confirmed by Mohammad Asim Khan, a spokesman at a local hospital, who tells AFP that seven bodies and 70 wounded people had been taken to the facility.

“Most of those killed and injured were hit by ball bearings and some were badly burnt,” he said.

All of the dead were men aged between 20 and 40, he says. Teachers and boys as young as 7 are among the wounded.


France tightens security amid fallout from teacher beheading

PARIS — France is increasing security at religious sites as the interior minister says that the country faces a “very high” risk of terrorist threats, amid growing geopolitical tensions following the beheading of a teacher who showed his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

French diplomats are trying to quell anger in Turkey and Arab nations amid anti-France protests and calls for boycotts of French goods in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s firm stance against Islamism in the wake of the October 16 beheading. European allies have supported Macron, while Muslim-majority countries are angered by his defense of prophet cartoons they consider sacrilegious.

France’s national police have called for increased security at religious sites around the All Saint’s holiday this coming weekend, particularly noting online threats from extremists against Christians and moderate French Muslims.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says on France-Inter radio that the terrorist threat remains “very high, because we have a lot of enemies from within and outside the country.”

He reiterates plans to try to disband Muslim groups seen as peddling dangerous radical views or with too much foreign financing. He accuses Turkey and Pakistan in particular of “meddling in France’s internal business.”

“There is a battle against an Islamist ideology. We must not back down,” he says. But he insists that “the Muslim faith has all its place in the republic.”


Pensioners’ Party planning comeback ahead of next elections

Out with the old, in with the… old. The Pensioners’ Party, which rode a swell of disaffection to score a shock electoral upset in 2006, is planning a comeback, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, Zman, reports.

The exclusive report says the initiative is being led by former Knesset member and Mossad chief Danny Yatom, journalist Peerli Shahar and others.

The reconstituted party is planning to enlist a roster of high-profile names, including retired Israeli-American basketball star Tal Brody and singer Yehoram Gaon.

Maccabi Tel Aviv 1977 European champions reunite. Back row: Moti Aresti, Lou Silver, Aulcie Perry, Shuki Schwartz; Front row: Miki Berkovich, Tal Brody, Aryeh Davidesco, Ruti Klein (widow of coach Ralph Klein). (Avner Gera)

Academic Avi Bitzur, who is also among the leaders of the initiative, tells Zman that the party will focus on the plight of elders in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The time has come, especially in the wake of the coronavirus disaster, for pensioners to get everything [they need] using political clout, just like the Haredim do,” he says.

“That is the way to battle all the tragedies that occurred in retirement homes, so that such things won’t happen again, so that thousands of innocent people won’t be executed again.”

Speculation has swirled that new elections will take place sometime in the first half of next year, amid a seemingly insurmountable impasse between the ruling Likud and the Blue and White party over the state budget.

Huge anti-France rally in Bangladesh capital over Macron’s cartoon defense

Tens of thousands of protesters march through the Bangladesh capital in the biggest anti-France rally since President Emmanuel Macron defended cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Muslims across the world have reacted furiously to Macron’s robust defense of the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher who had shown his pupils cartoons of the prophet.

Protesters in Dhaka set alight an effigy of Macron during the march in which 40,000 people take part, according to police.

Hundreds of armed officers use a barbed-wire barricade to stop the demonstrators, who disperse without violence before they can get close to the French embassy in the Bangladeshi capital.

The rally, called by Islami Andolon Bangladesh (IAB), one of the country’s largest Islamist parties, starts at the biggest mosque in the nation, which is around 90 percent Muslim.

“Boycott French products,” demonstrators chant as they call for Macron to be punished.

Ataur Rahman, a senior Islami Andolon member, tells the rally at the Baitul Mukarram national mosque: “Macron is one of the few leaders who worship Satan.”

Rahman calls on the Bangladesh government to “kick out” the French ambassador while another protest leader, Hasan Jamal, says activists will “tear down every brick of that building” if the envoy is not ordered out.

“France is the enemy of Muslims. Those who represent them are also our enemies,” says Nesar Uddin, a young leader of the group.

Even after the rally is halted, demonstrators march down other streets chanting, “Boycott France” and “Macron will pay a high price.”

Activists and supporters of the Islami Andolon Bangladesh, a Islamist political party, hold a protest march calling for the boycott of French products and denouncing French President Emmanuel Macron for his comments over Prophet Mohammed caricatures, in Dhaka on October 27, 2020. (Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP)


Greece, Israel eye closer cooperation amid East Med tension

ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government says it wants to expand trade, energy, and military partnerships with Israel and other countries in the region to counter what it considers the hostile policy of neighbor Turkey.

Greece, Israel and Cyprus, which all are at odds with Turkey over energy boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, hold regular meetings to promote cooperation in defense and energy.

They pledge to increase cooperation.

“Our region is not going back to the 19th century,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias says after meeting in Athens with his counterparts from Israel and Cyprus, Gabi Ashkenazi and Nikos Christodoulides.

Cooperation projects include a planned electricity grid interconnection between Israel, Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete by undersea cable by the end of 2023.

Tension in the region has spiked since the summer after Turkey expanded its oil and gas maritime research missions to waters in which Greece says it has jurisdiction.

Ankara argues that it has been largely excluded from regional energy exploration, insisting that Greek islands near its coastline should not project maritime zones for commercial exploitation.


Health minister hails incoming virus czar for taking on ‘challenging role’

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein wishes Israel’s incoming coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, success in his new role.

“I thank him for his willingness to take on this challenging role,” says Edelstein during a tour of the Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed.

He also addresses yesterday’s cabinet decision to allow the reopening of businesses that can cater to one customer at a time, starting Sunday.

“Many people who were without a livelihood for weeks — and I’m talking about cosmeticians, private tutors, driving teachers and the like — will go back to work,” he says, according to Channel 12.

Edelstein urges Israelis to adhere to the guidelines — notably regarding social distancing and mask wearing — so that the country will not have to reimpose the lockdown regulations that were already lifted.

“As you can see, the [infection] numbers aren’t growing as they did in the beginning,” he says. “We’re monitoring with concern and trying to exit the lockdown gradually so as to avert a third lockdown.”

Watchdog says Israel to approve 31 settler homes in Hebron

Israel is set to approve construction of Jewish settler homes in a flashpoint area of the West Bank city of Hebron for the first time since 2002, the anti-occupation group Peace Now says.

It condemns what it calls an attempt to “squeeze in” the approvals before next week’s US presidential election when Donald Trump faces Democratic challenger Joseph Biden, who views such settlements as illegal.

Peace Now, which tracks settlement construction in the West Bank, says Israeli military authorities have given the green light to the construction of 31 settler housing units “in the heart of Hebron.”

The Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, COGAT, took steps to approve new settler housing units in central Hebron in 2017.

Peace Now and the Hebron municipality challenged that project in court.

In 2018, the government allocated more than NIS 21 million ($6.2 million) to the project, according to Peace Now.

The Jerusalem District Court had told the state that the project cannot go ahead until the legal challenge is resolved, with a hearing set for January 31, Peace Now said.

But Israeli authorities told the court on Sunday that they would issue the permits within a week, the non-government group said.

“The state was quick to issue the building permit even though the court has explicitly ruled that work should not start until the… hearing takes place,” says Peace Now’s statement.


South African Jews celebrate first criminal conviction over online anti-Semitism

South African Jews this week celebrated what they say is the first time someone was convicted for anti-Semitism in their country over two Twitter posts.

On Friday, the Randburg Magistrates Court found Matome Letsoalo guilty of crimen injuria — a crime defined as “unlawfully and intentionally impairing the dignity or privacy of another person” — for two tweets targeting the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

“This was the first-ever criminal verdict in an antisemitism case in South Africa,” the group says in a statement.

The sentence is expected to be handed down on Friday.

In June 2018, Letsoalo had tweeted: “@SAJBD The #Holocaust Will be like a Picnic When we are done with all you Zionist Bastards. Fuck All Of You,” together with images of Holocaust victims and a swastika.

In a second tweet, Letsoalo — a man in his 20s from Polokwane, the north of the country — wrote that the SAJBD “Must get Decimated. We Can’t have Scandinavian Rats, Fake Jews, Zionist Bastards Running our Economy.”

Screenshots of two anti-Semitic tweets that have since been removed (screen grab)

The SAJBD pressed charges against him at the time, leading Twitter to suspend the account. This week, the Jewish umbrella group hailed the court’s verdict as a vindication of its efforts.

“This outcome sends a strong message that threatening and hate-filled attacks on our community will not be tolerated and that the SAJBD will do everything necessary to bring those responsible to justice, no matter how long it takes,” the group’s chairwoman, Wendy Kahn, says.

Raphael Ahren

Health Ministry urges teachers to take virus tests ahead of school reopening

The Health Ministry urges teachers to get tested for the coronavirus ahead of the reopening of grades 1-4 in Israeli schools on Sunday.

In a brief statement in its Telegram channel, the ministry notes that teachers who get tested do not have to enter quarantine — unlike those who are tested because they are displaying symptoms or were in contact with a confirmed carrier.

Tax Authority demands some businesses repay advances on virus grants

Dozens of businesses receive letters from the Tax Authority demanding that they repay advances they received on government grants doled out to help them weather the coronavirus crisis, according to Channel 13.

The report says the letters, sent out today, request sums of up to hundreds of thousands of shekels per business, including interest.

Among the reasons the Tax Authority gives to business owners is that the advances were found to cover the entire sums for which they were eligible in 2020.

Facing complaints, the Tax Authority tells Channel 13 that only businesses that were found to have failed to qualify for the grants were asked to return the money. It emphasized that business owners were allowed to appeal the decisions in their case.

Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk tests positive for virus

Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk announces that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The results of the test showed that I have been infected, although I have good health, thank God,” Abu Marzouk, who runs the terror group’s international relations department, writes on Twitter.

Abu Marzouk is the latest in a series of senior Palestinian officials to be infected with the virus in recent weeks. Hamas deputy chief Salih al-Arouri was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus earlier this month before making a full recovery.

Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Palestine Liberation Organization chief negotiator Saeb Erekat remains at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem in critical but stable condition after complications from his coronavirus infection earlier this month. PLO Executive Committee members Hanan Ashrawi, Azzam al-Ahmad, and Ahmad al-Majdalani have also tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks.

Abu Marzouk recently traveled to Cairo on a delegation with a number of other senior Hamas officials, including deputy Gaza chief Khalil al-Hayya. As of press time, there was no official update on whether they were being tested or quarantined.

— Aaron Boxerman

UN watchdog: Iran building an underground nuclear facility

BERLIN — Inspectors from the UN’s atomic watchdog have confirmed Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant after its previous one exploded in what Tehran called a sabotage attack over the summer, the agency’s head tells The Associated Press.

Iran also continues to stockpile greater amounts of low-enriched uranium, but does not appear to possess enough to produce a weapon, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, tells the AP in an interview in Berlin.

Following the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site, Tehran said it would build a new, more secure, structure in the mountains around the area. Satellite pictures of Natanz analyzed by experts have yet to show any obvious signs of construction at the site in Iran’s central Isfahan province.

“They have started, but it’s not completed,” Grossi says. “It’s a long process.”

He will not give further details, saying it’s “confidential information.” Iran’s mission to the United Nations does not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Natanz hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium.


Turkish court sentences US consulate staffer on terror charges

A Turkish court sentences a local US consulate employee to over five years in prison on charges of aiding a movement Ankara said orchestrated a failed 2016 coup.

The state news agency Anadolu says Nazmi Mete Canturk, a Turkish citizen who worked at the Istanbul consulate as a security officer, has been sentenced to five years, two months and 15 days.

But a diplomatic source tells AFP Canturk will remain free pending an appeal.

Another employee, Metin Topuz, a Turkish citizen who worked as a liaison officer for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul, was sentenced to nearly nine years on the same charge in June.

Canturk and Topuz were convicted of having links to US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which Ankara has proscribed as a “terrorist” organization.

Both men denied the charges during their trials.

The prosecution of the two men strained relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington, which were already tense over multiple issues including the United States’ failure to extradite Gulen to Turkey.

Gulen vehemently denies any link to the attempted putsch.


Video shows cop manhandling maskless teens, while failing to wear one himself

Video has emerged of a policeman in the northern city of Tiberias clashing with teens who were not wearing face masks — while failing to wear one himself.

Sunday’s incident evolved into a violent confrontation, with the cop seen manhandling one of the teens, as they question why he does not have a mask on.

In the video, a filming teen repeatedly asks the officer: “Why don’t you have a mask?” The policeman replies with “scram” and “get out of here.” He eventually dons a mask before appearing to assault the person filming, and then attempts to arrest another and push him into the squad car.

Police say the teens hurled rocks at the cop and “when he attempted to arrest one of them, the stone barrage intensified. The young man fled with the help of his friends who continued to hurl rocks and curse the team.”

They say one of the teens was later brought in for questioning.

But police say the policeman was also be fined for his failure to wear a mask.

Mask-wearing is currently mandatory in all public spaces as Israel attempts to emerge from a second-wave national lockdown. The fine for failing to do so stands at NIS 500 ($150).

Active virus cases continue to decline, along with number of seriously ill

There are currently 12,586 active coronavirus cases in Israel of a total of 311,622 confirmed carriers since the start of the outbreak, the Health Ministry says in its evening roundup.

That number includes 836 diagnosed yesterday and 480 cases detected so far today.

The ministry says the number of seriously ill patients is at 464 — 19 fewer than this morning — of whom 196 are on ventilators. Of the remaining active cases, 123 are in moderate condition and the rest are showing mild or no symptoms.

The death toll is at 2,463 — 11 more than this morning.

The Health Ministry adds that 26,172 tests for the virus have been conducted so far today, with a positivity rate of 1.8 percent for results received today.

‘Borat’ lawsuit from Holocaust survivor’s daughter is dismissed

A judge in Georgia dismisses a lawsuit by the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who appears in “Borat 2.”

Judith Dim Evans’ daughter claimed that her mother, who teaches the title character about the Holocaust in the film, was “horrified and upset” at learning after filming that Sacha Baron Cohen’s film was a comedy. Evans’ daughter sought to have the scene cut from the film, which debuted on Amazon Studios on Friday.

Evans died earlier this year.

Cohen and Amazon said that Evans was clued into the film’s running gag style — which tricks unknowing people into doing things on camera — right after the scene was filmed, and that she signed a waiver form that authorized the use of her scene.

Cohen devotes a large portion of his new film to mocking anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. He dedicated the movie to Evans’ memory, something he has not done with any of his previous films.

Sacha Baron Cohen in the trailer to the Borat sequel. The trailer was released by Amazon on October 1, 2020. (Amazon Studios)


Hadassah hospital closes two coronavirus wards as cases decline

Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel’s largest city, which has consistently seen the highest number of coronavirus infections nationwide, announces that two departments set up to treat coronavirus patients will close after over half a year.

“Today is a special day,” tweets Prof. Dror Mevorach, head of internal medicine at the hospital.

“I am closing the two coronavirus wards that were open for around six or seven months. There are fewer than 30 patients in the coronavirus departments and two wards will remain open to treat them. I am pleased to close the departments and also with the constant efforts of the [medical] team that enlisted.

“I am staying realistic that we may need to reopen them, but in the meantime, we can be a little happy.”

AG announces fresh set of charges against MK Haim Katz of Likud

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says he will file a second indictment against Likud MK Haim Katz, pending a hearing, on suspicion he failed to pay millions of shekels in taxes he owed for rent payments he earned on a number of apartments.

Katz, who already faces fraud and breach of trust charges, is alleged to have hidden income totaling NIS 2.2 million (around $650,000) over the course of 12 years.

Responding to the charges, Katz says, “I hope that after the hearing we will leave behind us all of the false accusations against me and that will be the end of this persecution.”

He further claims that “the issue of the taxes has been blown out of proportion. No other Israeli citizen has been indicted under similar circumstances. I am certain [the] justice will out.”

In February, Katz received parliamentary immunity to shield himself from the earlier charges of fraud and breach of trust, which center on allegations that he allegedly advanced a bill on corporate bond repayment pushed by a financial consultant who was a close friend and financial adviser to him.

Mandelblit has urged the High Court of Justice to overturn the decision and allow the former welfare minister to be prosecuted.

Pfizer says it could yet deliver a COVID-19 vaccine in 2020

Pfizer executives express measured optimism over the prospect of providing a coronavirus vaccine in 2020 as the pharma giant reports lower third-quarter profits due to disruption in healthcare that dented drug demand.

Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla says the drug giant could supply some 40 million doses in the United States in 2020 if clinical testing proceeds as expected and regulators approve a vaccine.

“If all goes well, we will be ready to distribute an initial number of doses,” says Bourla, who points to a US government contract for Pfizer to supply 40 million doses by the end of this year and 100 million doses by March 2021.

But Bourla says the company still has not reached key benchmarks in assessing vaccine efficacy. Pfizer has said previously that it could have the data in October.

Bourla says the company expects to file for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine in the third week of November, roughly in line with earlier timetables.

Asked if he is “bullish” the vaccine will work, Bourla says: “I’m not bullish a vaccine will work. I’m cautiously optimistic that the vaccine will work.”

Israel, Lebanon to talk twice this week on maritime border, Energy Ministry says

Israeli and Lebanese officials will meet on Wednesday for further talks aimed at settling a maritime border dispute between the countries, which are technically at war, the Energy Ministry says.

An Israeli delegation will travel to a UN peacekeeping force base in the Lebanese border town of Naqura, where negotiations will be mediated by US ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher, the ministry says in a statement.

It will be the second such session following a similar meeting earlier this month.

“The purpose of the delegation in the meetings is to examine the possibility of reaching an agreement on the determination of the maritime border between the countries in a way that will enable the development of natural resources in the region,” the ministry says.

A third meeting is expected to take place on Thursday, the ministry says.

Similar to the first round of talks, Israel’s delegation will be led by Energy Ministry Director-General Udi Adiri, who will be accompanied by the energy minister’s chief of staff Mor Halutz, as well as Aviv Ayash, the minister’s international adviser.

Trump supporters rally at US Embassy in Jerusalem

A convoy of cars decorated with American flags and Trump 2020 banners drives from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, holding a rally outside the US Embassy in support of the American president ahead of next week’s election.

Some two dozen vehicles join the procession, which was organized by Republicans Overseas Israel.

While Jews in the United States are expected to vote overwhelmingly for Democrat Joe Biden, Donald Trump is a popular figure in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described him as the “greatest friend” Israel has ever had in the White House.

An Israeli supporter of the re-election of US President Donald Trump waves American and Israeli flags from a car at a rally outside of the US Embassy, in Jerusalem, October 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Most of the people in today’s convoy appear to be American immigrants, though there are also some activists from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“More and more people are wakening and seeing who Donald Trump truly is — that he’s for the people and for the Jewish people,” says Jacob Lieberman, who wears a Trump 2020 baseball hat and covers his face with an American flag.

“What he has done for the Jewish people, there are no words, no words to explain. Exceptional president.”


Trump says 5 to 10 more Arab countries set to normalize with Israel

US President Donald Trump says at least five more Arab countries will “definitely” sign normalization agreements with Israel, and predicts that figure will almost certainly swell to ten.

Before boarding a flight to the Midwest, where he is set to hold several campaign rallies, Trump is asked about the prospects of further deals to compound the ones already announced between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

“We have five but we really have probably nine or ten that are right in the mix,” he says. “We’re going to have a lot — I think we’ll have all of them — eventually.”

Asked when those prospective deals will likely be finalized, Trump says, “It’ll be largely after [the election].

“We’re doing a lot of work right now and I’m involved in all of those deals. The beauty is it’s peace in the Middle East with no money and no blood,” he says.

“There’s no blood all over the sand, and it’s happening. No, we have five definites and I think we’ll have another five [that are] pretty much definites.”

Trump does not say which countries he means, only that the normalization prospects relates to “all of them — the big ones [and] the smaller ones.”

Arab Israelis, Palestinians protest Macron’s defense of Mohammad cartoons

Scattered groups of Arab Israelis and Palestinians demonstrate for the second consecutive day against what they consider offensive remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron against Islam and its prophet, Mohammad.

Several dozen Arab Israeli demonstrators protest in front of the French Embassy in Tel Aviv during the afternoon, with protesters chanting “with spirit and blood, we’ll redeem you, oh Mohammad.” Some demonstrators hold signs comparing Macron to a medieval crusader.

“We are going before the French Embassy in Tel Aviv to make our voice heard. We hate no one. But we hate those who aggress against our prophet. We will side with no one who [does] that. The prophet did not insult anyone, so why he should be insulted?” says Al-Aqsa Association President Safwat Freij in a video statement.

“God’s prophet lives within us. Our cities teem with activities as we chant our love for the prophet, and that he truly is ‘mercy unto the world,” Freij says, quoting a well-known Qur’anic description of Mohammad.

Palestinians also gather in al-Manarah Square in Ramallah, holding signs criticizing Macron and even burning photographs of the French president.

Arab Israeli Muslim demonstrators, mask-clad due to the coronavirus pandemic, hold up signs depicting French President Emmanuel Macron as a medieval crusading knight, during a protest against comments by Macron defending cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, near the French embassy in Tel Aviv on October 27, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

— Aaron Boxerman

Israel and US to extend scientific cooperation to West Bank, Golan Heights

The US and Israel will expand their scientific cooperation agreement to include the West Bank and the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announces.

The pact will be updated and signed by Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony tomorrow in the northern West Bank city-settlement of Ariel.

The updated agreement represents the latest nod of legitimacy by the Trump administration to Israeli settlements, which much of the international community considers illegal.

Washington has avoided criticizing Israel for settlement expansion and in November 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo softened his government’s official position on the matter. He repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.”

— Jacob Magid

Iran’s Rouhani warns insulting Mohammed may encourage ‘violence’ after Macron defends cartoons

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warns that insulting the Prophet Mohammed may encourage “violence and bloodshed” following Paris’ defense of the publication of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet.

“Insulting the prophet is no achievement. It’s immoral. It’s encouraging violence,” Rouhani says in a televised speech during the weekly cabinet meeting.

“It’s a surprise that this would come from those claiming culture and democracy, that they would somehow, even if unintentionally, encourage violence and bloodshed,” he adds.

French President Emmanuel Macron has strongly defended secular values and the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Macron’s comments triggered protests and a call to boycott French goods in some Muslim-majority countries.

Rouhani says that “the West should understand that… insulting the prophet is insulting all Muslims, all prophets, all human values, and trampling ethics.”

He adds that “every single European is in debt to the prophet, as he was the teacher of humanity.”

Rouhani also calls on the West to “stop interfering in Muslims’ internal affairs” if it “truly seeks to achieve peace, equality, calm and security in today’s societies.”

Iran yesterday summoned a senior French envoy, the charge d’affaires, to protest the “unacceptable behavior of the French authorities,” after a chorus of criticism aimed at Macron by top Iranian officials in recent days.


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