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US lawmakers okay funding for Israel’s Iron Dome after controversy in House

In 420-9 vote, representatives approve $1 billion for missile defense system; Bennett, Lapid thank US after delay caused by opposition from progressive Democrats

Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system is launched to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip, above the southern city of Ashkelon, on May 17, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)
Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system is launched to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip, above the southern city of Ashkelon, on May 17, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

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

Bennett, Lapid thank US House for approving Iron Dome funding

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanks US House members after they overwhelmingly approve $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

“Thanks to members of the House of Representatives, Democratic and Republican alike, for the overwhelming support for Israel and the commitment to its security,” he tweets. “Whoever tries to challenge this security received a convincing answer today.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also releases a statement thanking the US House members who backed the bill.

US House okays Iron Dome funding in 420-9 vote after delay caused by ‘Squad’

The US House of Representatives votes overwhelmingly to pass the Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act, which will send an additional $1 billion in funding for Israel’s missile defense system.

HR 5323 passes with 420 votes in favor while eight Democrats — Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Cori Bush of Missouri, Andre Carson of Indiana, Marie Newman of Illinois, Jesus Garcia of Illinois and Raul Grivalva of Arizona — and one Republican, Representative Tom Massie of Kentucky, vote no.

Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Hank Johnson of Georgia are the lone lawmakers to vote “present.”

The Senate has yet to schedule a vote on the legislation needed for it to become a law.

Family marks 2,000 days since British woman jailed in Iran first arrested

LONDON — The husband of detained UK charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeals to the British government to be brave in its dealings with Iran as the family marked 2,000 days since her arrest there.

Richard Ratcliffe and the couple’s 7-year-old daughter Gabriella stand on top of a snakes and ladders game board in Parliament Square, symbolizing the dilemma of being caught between two governments. Zaghari-Racliffe is one of several people with British or dual-British nationality now being held there.

“It’s 2,000 days of ups and downs and twists and turns and false dawns, and snakes and ladders seemed to encapsulate that because we’re in the middle of a game between two governments, we’re just a bargaining chip in it,” he says.

The Foreign Office insists that the case is a priority for Liz Truss, who recently took over as foreign secretary. She raised the case before her Iranian counterpart yesterday.

“The government needs to be brave and just start doing things that will cause a rethink amongst those in charge of Iran’s hostage-taking action,” Ratcliffe says.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups vigorously deny. She was taken into custody at the airport after visiting her family in 2016 in Tehran. At the time, she was working for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

In May, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for having participated in a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.

Rashida Tlaib denounces Iron Dome funding bill for ‘apartheid’ Israel

Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan is the first lawmaker speaking on the US House floor to say she’ll vote against the Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act.

“I will not support an effort to enable war crimes and human rights abuses and violence. We cannot be talking only about Israelis need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system, and are dying from what Human Rights Watch has said are war crimes,” the Palestinian-American lawmaker says.

“The bill claims to be, quote, a ‘replenishment’ for weapons apartheid Israel used in a crisis it manufactured when it attacked worshippers at one of the most holiest Islamic locations, the al-Aqsa Mosque, committing again numerous war crimes,” she claims.

“Israel is an apartheid regime — [these are] not my words, but the words of Human Rights Watch and the words of Israel’s own human rights organization B’Tselem,” she adds. “I urge my colleagues to please stand with me in supporting human rights for all.”

After her remarks, Republican Representative Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee and Democrat Ted Deutch of Florida rise after another to accuse Tlaib of antisemitism.

“To advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world, when there’s no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s antisemitism and I reject that,” Deutch says in a fiery address.

TV report claims decision made to bar unvaccinated kids from schools; PM’s office denies it

An Israeli television report asserts students 12 and over will be barred from school if they don’t get vaccinated or display a negative coronavirus test result, a claim by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The network says the reported decision was made at a meeting today attended by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and top health officials.

“The report about the decision made at a deliberation led by the prime minister, according to which an unvaccinated student won’t be allowed to enter school, is not true,” Bennett’s spokesman says in a statement.

US House begins debate on bill to fund Israel’s Iron Dome

The US House of Representatives has begun debating HR 5323, the Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act.

The legislation was introduced after a group of progressives managed to get the $1 billion in funding for Israel’s missile defense system stripped from a stopgap emergency government funding bill earlier in the week.

Introducing the legislation, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut notes that Iron Dome is purely a defensive system in tacit criticism of the handful of progressive colleagues who have claimed the funding will be used to carry out offensive strikes in Gaza.

Progressive Representative Betty McCollum, who was among the group who threatened to vote against the government spending bill if it included the Iron Dome funding, says it was added at the last minute without any consultation from her panel. Nonetheless, she says she will support this new legislation, after receiving assurance from DeLauro that none of the funds can be used for offensive weapons by Israel.

One by one, the Republicans speaking on the House floor tear into Democrats for pulling the funding from the government spending bill earlier this week, though they too had been planning to unanimously vote against it, arguing that it included too much wasteful spending.

Gantz speaks with Pentagon chief ahead of US House vote on Iron Dome funding

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks with his American counterpart Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, thanking him for Washington’s military support ahead of a congressional vote on a proposal to supply Israel with Iron Dome interceptor missiles following May’s conflict in Gaza, which will cost the US roughly $1 billion.

“Defense Minister Gantz thanked the defense secretary for the continued support by the American administration and the Pentagon for Israel’s resupply and rearmament efforts in order to ensure its security,” Gantz’s office says.

Gantz’s spokesman says the two also discussed” the need to halt Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon” and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Hamas claims it has no investments in Sudan after assets seizure

Hamas denies it has any investments in Sudan and after authorities there seized assets linked to the Gaza-ruling terror group.

“We have no problems with any Sudanese agency,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem tells AFP.

The denial comes as a source at the center of a committee to recover public funds after the ouster of autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir tells AFP that the seized entities include: property firm Hassan & Al-Abed; the Al-Bidaya agricultural project; the highrise Paradise Hotel; Al-Fayha money transfer company.

“The committee seized businesses linked to Hamas,” the source says.

Taliban’s ex-vice chief says severe punishments, executions to return

KABUL, Afghanistan — One of the founders of the Taliban and the chief enforcer of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law when they last ruled Afghanistan says the hard-line movement will once again carry out executions and amputations of hands, though perhaps not in public.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi dismisses outrage over the Taliban’s executions in the past, which sometimes took place in front of crowds at a stadium, and he warns the world against interfering with Afghanistan’s new rulers

“Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments,” Turabi tells The Associated Press, speaking in Kabul. “No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

Since the Taliban overran Kabul on August 15 and seized control of the country, Afghans and the world have been watching to see whether they will recreate their harsh rule of the late 1990s. Turabi’s comments point to how the group’s leaders remain entrenched in a deeply conservative, hard-line worldview, even if they are embracing technological changes, like video and mobile phones.

Turabi, now in his early 60s, was justice minister and head of the so-called Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — effectively, the religious police — during the Taliban’s previous rule.

At that time, the world denounced the Taliban’s punishments, which took place in Kabul’s sports stadium or on the grounds of the sprawling Eid Gah mosque, often attended by hundreds of Afghan men.

US: ‘No indication’ Iran wants return to nuclear talks

UNITED NATIONS — The United States says today that Iran has given no hint that it wants to return to talks over reviving the Iranian nuclear deal.

“For now, certainly there’s no indication, positive indication that Iran is prepared to come back… and to try to close down the remaining issues,” a senior US official says.

Reported shooting at US military base was an exercise, official says

WASHINGTON — A reported shooting at the US Army’s highly secure Ft. Meade base north of Washington was just an exercise, with no casualties as originally reported, a base official says.

Andrew Arconti, chief of plans and operations at the base, tells AFP that the ostensible incident was a planned exercise for such emergencies, after another official had confirmed the incident to AFP.

“The reports of a shooting at Fort Meade are false. This was a planned exercise,” the base says in a subsequent statement.

Initially, various base officials had confirmed to US media that there had been an “active shooter” who had been “contained.”

The initial reports drew attention because Ft. Meade, in Maryland, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Washington, is home to the government’s largest and most secretive signals intelligence agency, the National Security Agency, as well as the US Cyber Command, which conducts offensive and defensive cyber operations.

4,314 new COVID infections recorded since midnight; serious cases at 713

Health Ministry figures show that there are 713 coronavirus patients hospitalized in serious condition, including 202 people on ventilators, a record during the current wave of morbidity.

The ministry says that another 4,314 infections have been recorded since midnight, with the number of active cases at 65,719. So far today, 5.45 percent of COVID-19 tests have come back positive.

The death toll stands at 7,602.

According to the ministry, 6,079,953 people have received at least one vaccine dose, 5,603,771 have gotten two shots, and 3,146,190 have been administered a third dose.

Several reported wounded in shooting at US military base near Washington

WASHINGTON — Five people were injured in a shooting today at the highly-secure Fort Meade army base north of Washington, an emergency official says.

“We had an active shooter at 9:46. We have five casualties,” Jeffrey McClendon, emergency manager with the base emergency operations center, tells AFP.

Mclendon says that the shooter was “contained” and that the status of those injured was unclear.

Expert panel urges further COVID restrictions: ‘Present course’ can’t continue

A panel of experts advising the government on its COVID-19 response calls for tighter coronavirus restrictions, including further limits on gatherings.

Among the measures the team wants is to cap attendance at 300 people for events in closed spaces, as it urges the government to put greater emphasis on reducing serious morbidity.

“The scale of the continued morbidity in the last month has exacted a heavy cost in life,” the experts are quoted as saying by Hebrew media.

They add: “Despite the hope for a decrease in morbidity from the vaccination campaign, it is impossible and unreasonable to continue on the present course, and a change in policy is needed.”

EU agency due to rule on Pfzier COVID vaccine boosters in early October

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The EU’s drug watchdog expects to decide in early October whether to approve booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for people over the age of 16, a senior official says today.

The European Medicines Agency is also set to rule at the same time on additional doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for immunocompromised people, its head of vaccine strategy Marco Cavaleri tells a press conference.

3 Zarzir residents arrested in suspected murder of Arab Israeli man

Police announce the arrest of three suspects in the killing of an Arab Israeli man in the northern town of Zarzir on Monday.

According to a police statement, the three suspects — residents of Zarzir, aged 21, 26 and 50 — fled the town after Fadi Grifat was fatally shot.

Police say that the three were caught in a car in central Israel and will be brought before the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court for a remanding hearing.

Gantz looks to form committee on reforming conscription rules

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says that he plans to form a committee to consider how to reform the country’s conscription policy, as only roughly half of potential recruits actually enlist in the military after high school.

“After the Sukkot holiday, we will form a government committee dedicated to the reformation of national and state service, which I have been working on and which the defense establishment has been working on for over a year,” Gantz says, following a meeting with religious soldiers.

Gantz and the director-general of his ministry, Amir Eshel, have both come out in favor of a universal national service model to replace the current system, which exempts Arab Israelis and nearly all ultra-Orthodox Israelis from having to perform either military or civil service.

Gantz says that this reform is necessary in order to both preserve the Israel Defense Forces as a “people’s army,” in which every citizen regardless of background is expected to serve, and to strengthen the country.

“There is no better alternative and I plan to act and to do whatever is necessary so that this reform goes forward,” he says.

Algeria bars Moroccan planes from its airspace, furthering diplomatic tensions

ALGIERS, Algeria — Algeria has closed its airspace to all Moroccan planes in the latest escalation of diplomatic tensions between the two North African neighbors.

Algeria’s High Security Council announces the decision following a meeting with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and top officials. The council cites Moroccan “provocations and hostile practices” to justify the measure.

There has been no official reaction from Morocco yet.

Both countries have a sizable expat community of the other’s citizens, who will suffer discomfort as a result of the measure. There are normally some 15 transit flights a day between Morocco and Algeria.

Last month, Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco. Algeria had cited Morocco’s support for the “supposed right to self-determination” of the Kabyle people, an Indigenous people of Northern Algeria. Algeria promised that its Moroccan expat community would not be impacted.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra also claimed that Morocco had carried out “massive and systematic acts of espionage,” a reference to allegations that the kingdom’s security services used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against its officials and citizens, according to Algerian news agency APS. Morocco denies the allegations.

Last month, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Saudi Arabia called for dialogue and mediation as tension rose between the Algeria and Morocco. Lamamra rejected those calls, stating that Algeria’s decision was “sovereign.”

Gantz touts Israel’s ‘deep’ security ties with US after Iron Dome funding controversy

Defense Minister Benny Gantz touts Israel’s security ties with the US, in his first apparent reference to $1 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system being pulled from a US government funding bill following pressure from progressive Democrats in the House.

“Our alliance with the United States is the product of deep ties between the security establishments, which are based on shared security interests and above all, shared values. This is how it was and this is how it will remain,” he says during a Sukkot event, according to a statement from his office.

Health minister says most serious COVID cases among unvaccinated

Visiting Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz says that the vast majority of coronavirus patients hospitalized there in serious condition are unvaccinated.

He says that this is also the situation at most other hospitals in Israel.

“Instead of arriving at the hospital in serious condition with high chances of mortality, get vaccinated and protect yourself,” Horowitz says in a video statement.

Sudan said to seize assets of Hamas-linked firms

Authorities in Sudan have seized at least 12 companies Hamas-linked companies, Reuters reports.

The news agency describes the seizures as part of an effort by Sudan to move toward the West after the overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019, in effect denying a safe haven for Hamas operatives to raise funds and move Iranian arms to Gaza.

Quoting officials in a taskforce involved in dismantling the Bashir regime, the report says that the confiscated assets — which it describes as “lucrative” — include real estate company shares, a hotel in a Khartoum, a television station and over a million acres in farmland, among others.

“They got preferential treatment in tenders, tax forgiveness, and they were allowed to transfer to Hamas and Gaza with no limits,” a task force member tells Reuters, on the condition of anonymity.

An unnamed source in Sudan’s ruling sovereignty council confirms the seizures to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster and says that all of the Gaza-ruling terror group’s assets in the country were confiscated.

The source also says that Sudanese authorities intend to seize any future assets belonging to Hamas.

Iran reports ‘serious progress’ in talks with rival Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN, Iran — Talks between Middle East regional rivals Tehran and Riyadh have led to “serious progress” on the issue of Gulf security, an Iranian foreign ministry official says.

“Serious progress has been made on the subject of security in the Gulf,” state news agency IRNA quotes ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.

Shiite-majority Iran and Sunni kingpin Saudi Arabia, on opposing sides in multiple regional conflicts, have been engaged in talks since April with the aim of improving relations, for the first time since cutting ties in 2016.

The discussions were launched under Iran’s moderate former president Hassan Rouhani, and have continued since his ultraconservative successor, Ebrahim Raisi, took office in August.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Khatibzadeh says that the talks were “good” and calls for countries to settle regional issues between themselves, without foreign interference.

In Yemen, Iran supports Shiite rebels who still control most of the north, including the capital Sanaa, despite more than six years of Saudi-led military efforts to oust them.

Tehran has also been the main regional backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad against Sunni rebels since civil war broke out in 2011.

In Lebanon, Iran-backed Shiite terror group Hezbollah plays a pivotal role in political life, while its fighters have been heavily involved in neighboring Syria in support of Assad’s government.

Saudi King Salman yesterday expressed hope that talks with Iran would “lead to tangible outcomes to build trust” and to the relaunch of bilateral “cooperation.”

Nobel Prize ceremonies to be curtailed for second year in a row due to pandemic

STOCKHOLM — The Nobel Prize ceremonies will be reined in and scaled-down for the second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic, the foundation behind the coveted prizes says.

The winners of this year’s prizes in chemistry, literature, physics, medicine and economics, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize, are set to be announced between October 4 and October 11.

“It is now also clear that this year’s Nobel festivities in December − when the laureates are honored in Stockholm and Oslo − will be a mixture of digital and physical events,” the Nobel Foundation says.

The laureates will receive their Nobel Prize medals and diplomas in their home countries, the foundation says. It says that the presentation events will be woven together with an awards ceremony at Stockholm City Hall on December 10, which is the anniversary of the death of prize founder Albert Nobel. The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, because Nobel wanted it that way for reasons he kept to himself.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is keeping open the possibility of welcoming the Nobel Peace Prize winner or winners to Oslo, the foundation says. The committee plans to announce the format of its festivities in mid-October.

“I think everybody would like the COVID-19 pandemic to be over, but we are not there yet,” Nobel Foundation Executive Director Vidar Helgesen says in a statement. “Uncertainty about the course of the pandemic and international travel possibilities is the reason why the 2021 laureates will receive their medals and diplomas in their home countries.”

Russia records 820 COVID deaths in past day, matching daily high

MOSCOW — Russia matches its record daily coronavirus death toll, as the Delta variant and a slowing vaccine drive push up infections.

A government tally reports 820 fatalities over the past 24 hours and 21,438 new cases. It previously reported the same death toll in late August.

Russia, the fifth worst-hit country globally in terms of the overall number of COVID cases, has seen infections climb since August as vaccinations stall.

The capital Moscow — the epicenter of Russia’s pandemic — has seen a spike over the past week with officials warning of rising hospital admissions.

Daily cases in the capital rose to 3,445, compared to 1,991 a day earlier.

Deputy mayor Anastasia Rakova says today that the increase is due in part to a seasonal spike in respiratory illnesses and contact between people after the summer vacation.

She says that the Delta variant now accounts for all COVID cases in Moscow.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Russia has registered more than seven million cases and 201,445 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.

Authorities have been accused of downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, have refrained from introducing new restrictions.

Union chief says teachers shouldn’t lose salaries under new COVID rules

Ran Erez, chairman of the Teachers’ Association, says that he opposes revoking the salaries of any teachers barred from teaching under new health rules that will prevent them from entering schools if they are not vaccinated or regularly present a negative COVID-19 test.

“The Teachers’ Association will do everything in its power to prevent economic harm to its members,” he is quoted as saying by the Walla news site.

The new Education Ministry guidelines are due to take effect on October 3.

Erez calls for any educational workers barred from teaching at schools under the rules to be provided “alternative work from home,” after the Education Ministry said that it would not allow remote work for those who won’t get vaccinated or uphold the testing requirements.

Moderna CEO predicts COVID pandemic will be over in a year

Stephane Bancel, the CEO of US biotech firm Moderna, predicts that the coronavirus pandemic will be over in a year as vaccine supplies increase, in an interview with Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung .

Bancel says that he believes there will be enough vaccines for everyone on earth by the mid-2020.

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