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Pfizer CEO says vaccine data on ages 5-11 will be filed to FDA within days

Albert Bourla announces key step toward approval of shots for kids; also predicts eventual annual COVID vaccine

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks during a press conference at Pfizer's factory in Puurs, Belgium. (John Thys/Pool/AFP)
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks during a press conference at Pfizer's factory in Puurs, Belgium. (John Thys/Pool/AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.

COVID czar says Bennett okayed limiting large gatherings, drawing denials

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

COVID-19 czar Salman Zarka tells Channel 13 news that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has given him a green light to limit large gatherings in soccer stadiums and elsewhere, a development that goes against Bennett’s stated policy of avoiding restrictions on the general population.

Zarka’s comment draws a denial from the Culture and Sports Ministry, which says no such steps are even being considered.

Associates of Bennett are cited by Channel 13 as acknowledging that he has given the okay for Zarka to examine the matter with the ministry and draw up a recommendation, but they are said to clarify that no change in policy is currently planned.

Progress reported in budget talks, as Liberman to divert billions toward Arab sector

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking at a press conference about the state budget, at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, August 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking at a press conference about the state budget, at the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem, August 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There has been significant progress in negotiations within the coalition regarding the state budget, with Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman agreeing to divert NIS 3.7 billion ($1.16 billion) from various ministries toward helping the Arab community, within five years, Channel 13 news reports.

Liberman has been pushing for acceptance of many demands made by Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas, who has been complaining that the coalition is not honoring its promises.

The gaps are now relatively small, making progress toward avoidance of a crisis that could see the government dissolve if it fails to pass the budget in the Knesset by November.

The report says the main progress was seen on the matter of building permits and enforcement of illegal construction in the Arab sector, an issue very important to Ra’am. Party officials are working with professionals and legal advisers to draw up new policy outlines, some of which will require changes to the law.

UN watchdog says Iran has violated deal on monitoring nuclear sites

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran has denied access to its inspectors who tried to service security cameras at the Karaj nuclear facility, saying that it is a violation of a deal struck earlier this month.

“The (IAEA) Director General (Rafael Grossi) stresses that Iran’s decision not to allow Agency access to the TESA Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop is contrary to the agreed terms of the Joint Statement issued on 12 September,” the IAEA says in a statement, according to Reuters.

German SPD party leader Olaf Scholz says voters want him to be ‘next chancellor’

German Finance Minister, Vice-Chancellor and the Social Democrats (SPD) candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz waves at the Social Democrats (SPD) headquarters after the estimates were broadcast on TV, in Berlin on September 26, 2021, after the German general elections. (Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)
German Finance Minister, Vice-Chancellor and the Social Democrats (SPD) candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz waves at the Social Democrats (SPD) headquarters after the estimates were broadcast on TV, in Berlin on September 26, 2021, after the German general elections. (Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)

Olaf Scholz, the chancellor candidate for the center-left Social Democrats in Germany’s general election, hails a “great success” for his party, after estimates showed his SPD narrowly ahead of the conservatives.

“It’s going to be a long election night, that’s for sure,” Scholz says. “But this is certain: many citizens have put their crosses next to the SPD because they want there to be a change in government and also because they want the next chancellor to be called Olaf Scholz.”

Olaf Scholz’s SPD takes narrow lead in post-Merkel election: estimates

German Finance Minister, Vice-Chancellor and the Social Democratic SPD Party's candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz holds a campaign meeting in his constituency in Potsdam, southwest of the German capital on September 25, 2021, one day ahead of the German federal elections. (Tobias Schwarz / AFP)
German Finance Minister, Vice-Chancellor and the Social Democratic SPD Party's candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz holds a campaign meeting in his constituency in Potsdam, southwest of the German capital on September 25, 2021, one day ahead of the German federal elections. (Tobias Schwarz / AFP)

Initial result estimates from Germany’s general election to pick a successor to outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel show the Social Democrats (SPD) of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz with a narrow lead over their conservative rivals.

Preliminary results published on public television after polling stations close find Scholz’s SPD with around 24.9 to 25.8 percent of the vote, followed closely behind by Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their candidate Armin Laschet on 24.2 to 24.7%.

Fire at IRGC research center in Tehran injures 3 — reports

Reports say a fire has broken out in a Tehran research center used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Three IRGC members have been wounded, the reports cite that organization as saying.

The blaze has allegedly been contained, with the reason for the fire not yet clear.

Pfizer CEO: Vaccine data on ages 5-11 to be filed in days; predicts annual vaccinations

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talks during a press conference after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at the factory of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in Puurs, Belgium, on April 23, 2021. (JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla talks during a press conference after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at the factory of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in Puurs, Belgium, on April 23, 2021. (JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

Pfizer’s CEO says, “It’s a question of days, not weeks” before the company and German partner BioNTech submit data to US regulators for federal authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for children age 5 to 11.

That would be an important step toward starting vaccinations for those youngsters, especially with kids back in school in many countries and the Delta variant resulting in a big jump in pediatric infections.

Pfizer said last week that its vaccine works for that age group and that it tested a much lower dose of the vaccine that is already available for those who are 12 and older. The company said that after children age 5 to 11 got their second dose during testing, they developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults getting the regular-strength shots.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says that if the Food and Drug Administration approves the company’s application, “we will be ready with our manufacturing to provide this new formulation of the vaccine.”

And when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, he tells ABC’s “This Week” that, within a year, “I think we will be able to come back to normal life. I don’t think that this means that variants will not be continuing coming. And I don’t think that this means that we should be able to live our lives… without having vaccinations, basically.”

Bourla also says, “We will have vaccines that… will last at least a year,” and that “the most likely scenario, it is annual revaccinations.”

Bennett appoints Keren Hajioff as international spokeswoman

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office announces the appointment of Keren Hajioff as the premier’s spokesperson to international media.

The Prime Minister’s Office says Hajioff has previously served in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit as spokeswoman, head of social media, and head of public diplomacy for the Northern Command.

The statement adds that she has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in political communications from Bar-Ilan University.

Hajioff immigrated from London at the age of 18.

Health Ministry said taking action against doctors posting vaccine fake news

The Health Ministry is taking measures against doctors publishing fake news about coronavirus vaccines, Channel 12 news reports.

A week after publishing a report focusing on the misinformation posted by Avshalom Carmel, Raphael Zioni and Rotem Inbar, the network says the ministry has summoned them for an inquiry.

Parties neck-and-neck in post-Merkel election: exit polls

Exit polls from Germany’s general election to pick a successor to outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel show her conservative party in a dead heat with the Social Democrats.

Surveys published on public television after polling stations close find Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their candidate Armin Laschet with around 24-25 percent of the vote, nearly tied with the Social Democrats on 25-26%.

Analysts say the trend could shift significantly as results come in, due to the large number of postal votes this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran said to deny IAEA access to nuclear site, 3 months after 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)

Iran earlier today denied access to UN inspectors who were seeking to visit the Karaj centrifuge assembly site, the Wall Street Journal reports, several months after a sabotage at the facility, which Tehran blamed on Israel.

Citing several unnamed sources, the report says that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors were seeking to replace and fix up cameras at the site as part of a deal struck earlier this month.

Iran is reportedly preparing to send a note to the IAEA explaining that the denial of access was due to safety issues at the site and the ongoing collection of forensic evidence there.

However, the report casts doubt on the response, citing sources saying that Iran has continued some activities at Karaj.

In June, Iran accused Israel of mounting a sabotage attack on the site, which makes components for machines used to enrich uranium. Without disclosing details of the assault, Iranian authorities acknowledged the strike had damaged the building.

Earlier this month, a confidential IAEA report revealed that the nuclear watchdog found one surveillance camera to be destroyed and a second severely damaged after their removal from the centrifuge manufacturing site in Karaj, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Tehran.

IDF chief hails West Bank arrest campaign, says many Hamas terror attacks foiled

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi (center)  at the scene of shooting attack in Tapuah Junction, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, on May 3, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi (center) at the scene of shooting attack in Tapuah Junction, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, on May 3, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi hails the military for thwarting “significant terror attacks” that could have been conducted within Israeli territory, following overnight raids targeting a Hamas cell throughout the West Bank.

“This is a significant achievement, a night of a series of preemptive raids of the utmost import that prevented — from our understanding — significant terror attacks. Such attacks could have been carried out in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Afula or anywhere else,” he says, speaking from the Israel Defense Forces’ Menashe Regional Brigade headquarters in the northern West Bank.

“This is an operational and intelligence achievement, and this was extraordinary cooperation between the IDF, the Shin Bet, and the [Israel Police’s counter-terrorism] Yamam unit — congratulations to you all,” he says.

According to the IDF, at least seven suspected members of the Hamas cell were arrested and at least five other suspected terrorists were killed after they opened fire at IDF troops during the arrest raids.

During one of these gun battles, two IDF soldiers — a captain and a staff sergeant — were seriously injured. The military believes the soldiers were hit by friendly fire during the exchange.

“There are things to investigate and things to learn, as is the case after every operational activity, but one thing is clear: there was engagement with the enemy and there was an operational outcome, which was the serious foiling of this network, which operated in the Menashe and Binyamin regions,” Kohavi says, referring to areas of the northern and central West Bank, respectively.

However, though the IDF believes it struck a serious blow to the cell, it does not yet know if all of its members have been taken off the streets and what threat it still represents.

Last Jew to leave Afghanistan divorces his wife after refusing for 20+ years

Zebulon Simantov (right), Afghanistan's last Jew, seen with one of his rescuers, after fleeing to a neighboring country. (Screenshot/Kan)
Zebulon Simantov (right), Afghanistan's last Jew, seen with one of his rescuers, after fleeing to a neighboring country. (Screenshot/Kan)

Zebulon Simantov, the last Jew in Afghanistan who recently fled the country following a military takeover by the Taliban, has granted his wife a divorce after refusing for more than 20 years.

The Jewish get has been granted by the Sydney Beth Din, headed by Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, according to Makor Rishon journalist Zvika Klein.

Klein publishes a screenshot from a Zoom conversation that also included Istanbul-based Rabbi Mendy Chitrik and businessman Moti Kahana, who has been pushing for Simantov to give a divorce since the perilous escape from Afghanistan earlier this month.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Orthodox rabbis have given their okay to divorce procedures held over Zoom in cases where a get is refused.

Several similar procedures were held in Israel, meaning Simantov’s divorce will likely be recognized by religious authorities as valid.

Sudanese FM downplays Israel ties, says no plans for Khartoum embassy

Sudan’s foreign minister downplays the country’s emerging ties with Israel, saying that there are currently no plans to establish an Israeli embassy in Khartoum.

In an interview with The National, 11 months after the announcement of normalization between the countries, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi says that there’s “not any sign of normalization with Israel.”

“There is no talk at any official level,” she says, adding that “abolishing a law on boycotting Israel does not mean that we consider opening an Israeli embassy in Khartoum.”

IDF veteran wakes up, 5 months after self-immolating in protest of state’s care

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

Itzik Saidyan, an IDF veteran who self-immolated in April in protest of the state’s treatment of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, has gained consciousness for the first time in more than five months, the hospital where he’s being treated says.

Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv says that Saidyan’s condition has improved, he has woken up and is responding to his surroundings.

On April 13, Saidyan doused himself in a flammable liquid and set himself on fire outside the offices of the ministry’s Rehabilitation Department in the central town of Petah Tikva.

Bennett’s UN speech will urge action on Iran, won’t focus on Palestinians — aide

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seated for a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington, on August 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seated for a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington, on August 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will refer to the Iranian nuclear program at some length in his first speech in front of the UN General Assembly tomorrow morning, sending a message that the time has come for concrete actions to stop Tehran, a senior member of his entourage says in New York City.

“The Iranian nuclear program should be dealt with through actions,” the adviser says, noting that speeches and international forums have their importance as well.

“The [message] will be that we are at a critical stage in the Iranian nuclear program,” the official says, pointing at Iran’s continued enrichment and the possible resumption of nuclear talks with world powers in Geneva.

Bennett will also address Iran’s support for regional terrorism and armed proxies, and he will speak briefly about Iran’s new hardline leadership headed by President Ebrahim Raisi.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi speaks before parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 25, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

He is expected to briefly address the Palestinian issue, but will not focus on it.

Israel’s relationship with the world is rich and multi-faceted, and should not be defined by the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, the adviser said.

Bennett took a particularly active role in crafting the address, according to the adviser.

“He decided at a certain stage that he wants it to be his speech, also because it’s his first speech, and he wrote it himself to a great extent,” the adviser says, adding that there was an intensive back-and-forth process of dialogue and edits.

In general, the speech will reflect “a new generation of leadership” and will seek to showcase a positive reflection of Israel’s ethos of dynamism and seeking solutions.

Israel’s COVID-19 response will be part of that message, explaining to the world how Israel is handling the pandemic without more oppressive lockdowns, and what lessons the Israeli experience has to offer the world.

“This is the time to tell the story of Israel,” says the adviser.

Bennett will also speak about the encouraging trends seen in the Abraham Accords normalization agreements signed last year with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Israel releases Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar after 2 years in prison

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar is greeted by supporters near the West Bank town of Tulkarem, on June 3, 2016. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)
Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar is greeted by supporters near the West Bank town of Tulkarem, on June 3, 2016. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Israel releases Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), after two years in prison.

Israel, the United States, and the European Union consider the PFLP, one of several member parties of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to be a terrorist organization.

Jarrar was elected in 2006 to the Palestinian legislature as a PFLP representative. She has long been a well-known PFLP politician, focusing on women’s rights and the affairs of security prisoners in Israeli jails.

After an October 2019 terror attack by the PFLP took the life of Rina Shnerb, a 17-year-old Israeli girl, Israel arrested dozens of the organization’s members.

But Israeli military prosecutors failed to prove a connection between Jarrar and the attack to the satisfaction of the court. She was ultimately convicted of belonging to the PFLP, which is an illegal organization under Israeli law.

Jarrar’s daughter, Suha, died during her mother’s prison term, leading some Palestinians to call for Jarrar’s early release in order for her to attend her daughter’s funeral.

Israeli authorities did not approve the request, with Public Security Minister Omer Barlev later explaining that it was not legally feasible.

Anti-LGBTQ messages scrawled on walls of Tel Aviv school

Graffiti messages against the LGBTQ community have been scrawled on the walls of Tel Aviv’s Tel Nordau elementary school, the oldest school in the city that is still operating.

“LGBT = brainwashing,” says one of the messages, which are all written alongside a star of David symbol.

“Extermination,” says another message.

IDF believes members of Hamas cell targeted in West Bank raid still on the loose

A member of Israeli security forces carries flags of the Hamas terror group that were seized during clashes with Palestinian protesters near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, on October 8, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
A member of Israeli security forces carries flags of the Hamas terror group that were seized during clashes with Palestinian protesters near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, on October 8, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Members of the Hamas cell that was targeted in a series of raids last night and early morning today are likely still on the loose, according to military assessments, The Times of Israel has learned.

Israeli security forces are currently reviewing the matter following the operations, in which at least five Palestinians were killed, four of them known members of terror groups. Two IDF soldiers were also seriously injured.

The fifth Palestinian fatality is believed to have been involved in a riot that broke out in the town of Burqin, following an arrest there.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said that the Hamas cell was planning to carry out terror attacks imminently.

The IDF is also investigating the circumstances in which the two soldiers were seriously injured, and increasingly believes that they were hit by friendly fire after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at them in Burqin.

The IDF raids were directed against a Hamas cell operating in the West Bank. Several other members of the group had been arrested in the preceding nights.

Though the military believes it struck a serious blow to the cell’s plans, it does not yet know if it has fully removed the threat posed by the cell.

Israel Prize-winning film director Judd Ne’eman dies aged 84

Film director Yehuda Judd Ne’eman has died, days before his 85th birthday, Hebrew media reports.

The Israel Prize-winning director was also a longtime researcher and lecturer at Tel Aviv University.

He was also a doctor and poet, who took part in the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

He created many feature and documentary films discussing Israel’s wars, its military control over the West Bank and Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. His most well-known movies include The Dress (1969), Paratroopers (1977) and Fellow Travellers (1982).

He is survived by his wife, neuroscientist Talma Hendler, and two daughters.

Swiss voters back same-sex marriage: projected results

Swiss voters have approved the government’s plan to introduce same-sex marriage, according to the first projections, following today’s referendum triggered by opponents of the move.

Shortly after the polls close at noon, market researchers GFS Bern, who has conducted the main polling throughout the campaign, projects that the “yes” vote is heading for victory, which would bring the Alpine nation into line with most of western Europe.

Alleged Russian airstrike kills Turkey-backed gunmen in north Syria

Warplanes have attacked Turkey-backed opposition fighters in northern Syria, killing and wounding about 20, an opposition war monitor and pro-government media say.

The airstrike earlier today struck a position in an area near the town of Afrin. It comes amid increasing tensions between government forces and insurgent groups who still have a stronghold in northwestern Syria, mainly in the province of Idlib.

The airstrike was carried out by Russian warplanes, opposition activists say.

The airstrike hit a center for a Turkey-backed group known as the Hamza Division, killing seven fighters and wounding 13, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Pro-government media also reports Russian airstrikes near Afrin, saying that a number of gunmen have been killed or wounded.

Russia joined the war in September 2015 helping tip the balance of power in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, while Turkey has been a main backer of the opposition.

Bennett lands in New York ahead of UN speech, will meet UAE, Bahrain ministers

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett lands at JFK airport in New York ahead of his speech at the UN tomorrow.

At 6 p.m. local time (1 a.m. Israel time), Bennett will meet with UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Qarqash and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani at his hotel.

Abbas pans terror operatives’ death, says ‘ugly crimes’ could cause ‘explosion’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, on May 5, 2020. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, on May 5, 2020. (Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the death of four Palestinian terror group members in firefights with Israeli soldiers, deeming the incidents “ugly crimes.”

“These crimes are the continuation of an ongoing series of violations and field executions of our people. Should this policy continue, it will cause the situation to explode,” Abbas’s office says in a statement carried by official PA media.

Hamas blames the PA for the death of its members, saying the operation was the consequence of joint efforts by Israel and PA security forces to crack down on terror activity in the West Bank.

“The death of today’s martyrs is the consequence of ongoing security coordination with the Zionist occupation. It is the fruit of normalization meetings which PA leaders held with Zionist ministers and Knesset members in Ramallah,” says Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou, referring to a recent sit-down between some PA officials and retired Israeli parliamentarians last week.

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