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Ministers to reportedly weigh nightly curfew as drop in infections seems to slow

But Health Ministry said to oppose measure, questioning it’s effectiveness in curbing morbidity; education minister calls for immediate reopening of grades 5-6, 11-12

People wearing face masks in the Old City of Jerusalem on November 13, 2020, after coronavirus restrictions preventing the opening of shops were eased. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
People wearing face masks in the Old City of Jerusalem on November 13, 2020, after coronavirus restrictions preventing the opening of shops were eased. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

Weekly anti-Netanyahu protests held at sides across Israel

Demonstrators gather at sites across Israel for the weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his indictment on corruption charges and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahead of the demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, which has been the center of the anti-Netanyahu protests, police close a number of surrounding streets.

Protesters at the Chords Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem report a rock was thrown at them, as do demonstrators at a junction outside the central city of Ramat Hasharon, according to the Haaretz daily.

The rock thrown near Ramat Hasharon broke the rear windshield of a car.

The newspaper also says a bottle was thrown at a protester on Route 4 in the north, hitting him in the head. There is no word on his condition.

US sets new daily record with 184,514 positive COVID tests

BALTIMORE — The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus has soared to a new daily high in the United States.

Data from Johns Hopkins University indicates the number of confirmed cases reached 184,514 yesterday, as the number of people infected continues to surge.

The Johns Hopkins data shows the seven-day rolling average for virus-related deaths reported daily in the US rose over the past two weeks from about 828 on October 30 to 1,047 on Friday, an increase of about 26%

The seven-day rolling positivity rate also rose over the past two weeks from 6.4 to 9.6, an increase of about 50%, even as the number of tests performed has grown.

— AP

US Army identifies 5 American soldiers killed in Sinai helicopter crash

WASHINGTON — The US Army identifies the five American soldiers killed in a helicopter crash this week while on a peacekeeping mission in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The soldiers were part of an international force that monitors the four-decade-old Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. The Multinational Force and Observers said the soldiers were on a routine mission when the Black Hawk helicopter crashed Thursday near Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular Egyptian resort on the Red Sea.

A French peacekeeper and Czech officer also were killed, and a sixth American on the helicopter was injured.

The Army says the cause of the crash is still under investigation. On the day of the crash, the MFO said at that point there were no signs of an attack and it appeared to have been an accident.

The Army identifies the dead as Capt. Seth Vernon Vandekamp, 31, from Katy, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dallas Gearld Garza, 34, from Fayetteville, North Carolina; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Marwan Sameh Ghabour, 27, from Marlborough, Massachusetts; Staff Sgt. Kyle Robert McKee, 35, from Painesville, Ohio; and Sgt. Jeremy Cain Sherman, 23, from Watseka, Illinois.

Thirteen countries contribute troops to the peacekeeping force, with the United States making up the largest contingent. The responsibilities include monitoring troop levels along the border and ensuring the freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran.

— AP

New Pentagon chief to US troops: ‘It’s time to come home’

WASHINGTON — Newly appointed Pentagon chief Christopher Miller signals he could accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the Middle East, saying, “It’s time to come home.”

“All wars must end,” Miller, named acting defense secretary by President Donald Trump on Monday, says in his first message to the US armed services.

He says the US is committed to defeating al-Qaeda, 19 years after the September 11 attacks on the United States, and is “on the verge of defeating” the group.

“Many are weary of war — I’m one of them,” he writes in the message, dated yesterday but posted early today on the Defense Department’s website.

“But this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role,” he says.

“Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”

Illustrative: US Army soldiers speak to families in rural Anbar on a reconnaissance patrol near a coalition outpost in western Iraq, January 27, 2018. (Susannah George/AP)

Miller doesn’t mention specific US troop deployments, but the reference to al-Qaeda appeared to single out Afghanistan and Iraq, where US troops were deployed after the September 11 attacks.

The former US special forces officer and counterterrorism expert was named to lead the Department of Defense after Trump fired Mark Esper.

Trump, who lost to Democrat Joe Biden in the November 3 election, has been pressing to pull US forces out of both countries since he came into office four years ago.

— AFP

Likud on anti-Netanyahu protests: When will a vaccine be found for ‘just not Bibi?’

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party denounces the months-long protests against the premier, as demonstrators rally against him at sites across the country.

“After Prime Minister Netanyahu brought three peace deals, millions of [coronavirus] vaccines and is maintaining Israel’s high credit rating with the backing of the majority of the citizens of the State of Israel, it’s unfortunate the opposition led by Yair Lapid continues to divide and incite without pause,” Likud says in a statement.

“Apparently a vaccine will be found for the coronavirus. The question is when a vaccine will be found for ‘just not Bibi?'” the party adds, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Netanyahu and his political allies have frequently lashed out at the protesters, who are calling for the prime minister to resign over his indictment on corruption charges.

A protester wearing a mask depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wearing a prisoner’s uniform is detained during a demonstration on November 14, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

IDF detains suspect who crossed into Israel from Lebanon

Israeli troops detain a suspect who crossed the border into Israel from Lebanon, the military says.

The suspect is caught near the border fence close to the Lebanese village of Ghajar and taken for questioning, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces.

The suspect is apparently a migrant, according to Hebrew media reports, which say soldiers used flares to help track down the suspect.

Lapid fires back at Netanyahu: He tried to brag 32 countries to get Pfizer’s vaccine before us

Yair Lapid fires back at Prime Minister Netanyahu after Likud slammed him over the protests against the premier.

“Netanyahu’s criticism of me this evening is meant to divert attention from the embarrassment caused by his press conference. Netanyahu tried to boast that 32 countries proceeded us in ordering Pfizer’s [coronavirus] vaccine and will receive it before us. This is further proof of his complete failure to deal with the virus,” Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, writes on Twitter.

Lapid is referring to a press conference Netanyahu gave Friday to announce Israel signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase the US pharma firm’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Al-Qaeda No. 2 was planning terror attacks on Israelis, Jews when he was killed — TV

Al-Qaeda No. 2 Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who The New York Times reported was shot dead in Tehran by Israeli agents at the behest of the US, was planning attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets when he was killed, according to Channel 12 news.

Western intelligence sources quoted by the network says Abdullah, who used the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was tracked for over a year and that the operation was pulled off without a hitch.

“Abu Muhammad al-Masri also began planning attacks against Israelis and Jews in the world,” the sources say, explaining that’s why Israel and the US had a shared interest in killing him.

The report says the gunman were Mossad agents.

A Channel 13 report, by contrast, says the gunmen were likely “foreign agents activated by Israel.”

Abdullah was accused of being a top planner of the major attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed 224 people. An Israeli intelligence officer told The New York Times that he was also alleged to have orchestrated the 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya which killed 13 — including three Israeli tourists — and injured 80.

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah’s FBI wanted poster (FBI)

Netanyahu calls Bennett ‘a little dog’ in 2018 recording

Channel 13 news airs a recording from 2018 of Prime Minister Netanyahu calling his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett “a little dog.”

The recording was made by Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu aide who later turned state’s witness in a series of graft cases that the premier was indicted in, according to the network.

The recorded conversation between Netanyahu and Hefetz was reportedly held after Bennett, who was then the education minister, criticized the prime minister following the police recommendation in February 2018 that he face criminal charges.

Hefetz: “By the way, Bennett really came out a loser.”

Netanyahu: “Yeah, well, he’s a little dog.”

Hefetz: “Yeah.”

Netanyahu: “Are there any statements about him?”

Hefetz: “No, no, it’s nothing… he [Bennet] sent a message back to me. I didn’t call so as not to annoy you. He told me,  ‘listen, we gave you a big break, don’t start with us, we also know how to fight.”

Netanyahu: “So what?”

Hefetz: “(Laughs). Alright. it’s stupid. You know what, it’s stupid.”

Netanyahu: “Yeah.”

Hefetz: “The correct political consideration for him is to be quiet, to do what [Moshe] Kahlon does.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Nir Hefetz, left, arrive at the weekly cabinet meeting held in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 13, 2009. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Cops who operated water cannons at anti-Netanyahu protests won’t be investigated as suspects — TV

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department has decided that officers who injured anti-Netanyahu protesters while operating water cannons won’t be investigated as criminal suspects, Channel 12 news reports.

A protester filed a complaint with PIID after he was struck in the face by a high-powered burst of water fired from one of the cannons during a protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in July, knocking him to the ground and injuring him.

The moment a demonstrator is hit in the face with a stream of liquid from a water cannon at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

Senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad contracts coronavirus

Senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the terror group announces.

Hammad is widely considered to be a hardliner even by the standards of Hamas, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel. In an infamous speech in July 2019, he called for members of the Palestinian diaspora to kill Jews wherever they could.

“All of you 7 million Palestinians abroad, enough of the warming up. You have Jews everywhere and we must attack every Jew on the globe by way of slaughter and killing, if God permits.

Several Hamas officials have been infected with the novel coronavirus, including deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri. All have survived the virus without any reported complications.

— Aaron Boxerman

Senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Europe tightens virus restrictions as global death toll tops 1.3 million

VIENNA — A swathe of new restrictions to curtail a second wave of coronavirus infections are announced or come into force from Austria to Greece, Italy to Portugal as the global death toll climbs above 1.3 million.

More than 53 million have been infected worldwide by COVID-19, which is running rampant throughout America and Europe, forcing governments to take more drastic action despite the potential economic devastation.

Austria joins a growing trend announcing schools and non-essential shops would close from Tuesday, just two weeks after a partial lockdown was imposed.

“There are still many who say that infections don’t happen at school, in shops or services,” Chancellor Sebastien Kurtz tells a news conference.

“But the truth is the authorities can no longer trace 77 percent of new infections, which means they no longer know where contamination is happening.”

Greece, battling a saturated national health system, announces it will shut all schools after imposing a nationwide night curfew last night.

“Closing elementary schools was the last thing we wanted to do. This is a measure of how serious the situation is,” Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias says. Secondary schools had already been shuttered.

In Italy, the regions of Tuscany and Campania — of which Florence and Naples are the respective capitals — plunge into “red zones” of tough restrictions, which now cover 26 million of the 60 million population.

“There is no other way if we want to reduce the numbers of dead,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza sats, as the country’s death toll rises by 544 to 44,683, one of Europe’s worst.

New anti-virus curbs also come into force in Ukraine today, with all non-essential businesses ordered closed for the weekend.

And Lebanon enters a new two-week lockdown, with hospitals in the crises-wracked country almost at capacity.

— AFP

Police said to be probing threatening WhatsApp messages by Netanyahu backers about AG

Police have opened an investigation into threatening WhatsApp messages made by supporters of Prime Minister Netanyahu about Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Channel 13 news reports.

“We need 60 or 80 people to break past the security he [Mandelblit] has there. Get the dog outside, take him with us and negotiate,” a member of the WhatsApp group reportedly wrote. “It sounds delusional to you. I’m ready to go for it.”

The network says another user wrote that Mandelblit should be “given a field trial… like they did to Ceausescu and his wife,” referring to the communist dictator of Romania who was killed by a firing squad after he was deposed in 1989.

Mandelblit has received death threats since announcing last year he would indict Netanyahu in a series of graft cases, a decision the premier decried as an “attempted coup.”

Egypt unveils ancient coffins, statues found in Saqqara necropolis

CAIRO — Egyptian antiquities officials announce the discovery of at least 100 ancient coffins, some with mummies inside, and around 40 gilded statues in a vast Pharaonic necropolis south of Cairo.

Colorful, sealed sarcophagi and statues that were buried more than 2,500 years ago are displayed in a makeshift exhibit at the feet of the famed Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara.

Archaeologists opened a coffin with a well-preserved mummy wrapped in cloth inside. They also carried out X‐raying visualizing the structures of the ancient mummy, showing how the body had been preserved.

Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anany tells a news conference that the discovered items date back to the Ptolemaic dynasty that ruled Egypt for some 300 years — from around 320 BCE to about 30 BCE, and the Late Period (664-332 BCE).

He says they will move the artifacts to at least three Cairo museums including the Grand Egyptian Museum that Egypt is building near the famed Giza Pyramids. He says they will announce another discovery at the Saqqara necropolis later this year.

People look at ancient sarcophagi on display, discovered in a vast necropolis in Saqqara, Giza, Egypt, November 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The discovery at the famed necropolis is the latest in a series of archaeological finds in Egypt. Since September, antiquities authorities revealed at least 140 sealed sarcophagi, with mummies inside most of them, in the same area of Saqqara.

Egyptian archaeologists found other “shafts full of coffins, well-gilded, well-painted, well-decorated,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, tells reporters.

The Saqqara site is part of the necropolis at Egypt’s ancient capital of Memphis that includes the famed Giza Pyramids, as well as smaller pyramids at Abu Sir, Dahshur and Abu Ruwaysh. The ruins of Memphis were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1970s.

Egypt frequently touts its archaeological discoveries in hopes of spurring a vital tourism industry that has been reeling from the political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The sector was also dealt a further blow this year by the coronavirus pandemic.

— AP

Education minister calls for grades 5-6, 11-12 to immediately return to school

Education Minister Yoav Gallant calls for the immediate resumption of classes for grades 5-6 and 11-12.

“For the Israeli people, the children come first,” he writes on Facebook.

After students in those grades return to school, Gallant says he’ll push to reopen junior high schools.

Since Israel began rolling back a national lockdown last month, only preschools, kindergartens and grades 1-4 have reopened.

Ministers to reportedly weigh nighttime curfew as drop in infections appears to level off

The high-level coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss further rolling back lockdown measures when it convenes tomorrow, despite signals that the decline in new infections was slowing.

Among the measures set to be discussed are reopening grades 5-6 and 11-12, allowing malls to reopen and imposing a nighttime curfew, according to the Ynet news site.

The Health Ministry is skeptical of a curfew, however, arguing it is ineffective in bringing down infections if it doesn’t take force between 7 and 8 p.m., the report says.

The ministry also reportedly remains opposed to reopening malls, museums and gyms.

Roads around PM’s residence in Jerusalem reopen after anti-Netanyahu rally

Roads around the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem have reopened following this evening’s protest against Benjamin Netanyahu.

Several protesters are reportedly detained for sitting in the street and refusing to move.

Blue and White officials reportedly open to compromise on budget impasse

Senior officials in Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party tell Channel 12 news they’re willing to reach a compromise on the state budget impasse, but accuse Prime Minister Netanyahu of wanting elections.

The government has until December 23 to pass a budget or the Knesset will dissolve. Blue and White has suggested it could back new elections if a budget that runs through 2021 isn’t passed, with Netanyahu insisting on a budget that only covers 2020.

A failure to pass a budget would allow Netanyahu to avoid handing over the premiership to Gantz as part of their power-sharing deal if elections are called.

The unnamed Blue and White officials say they’re ready to compromise if Netanyahu makes a serious offer, without further elaborating.

Likud, however, is saying that the disagreements with Blue and White go beyond the budget, such as on legal matters, according to the network.

Egyptian intelligence to hold talks with Hamas after Gaza rocket fire — report

Egyptian intelligence will hold talks with the Hamas terror group in light of “the tense atmosphere” in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources tell the Kan public broadcaster.

Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired two rockets at Israel overnight, prompting retaliatory strikes on targets linked to Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Strip.

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Cops who operated water cannons at anti-Netanyahu protests won’t be investigated as suspects — TV

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department has decided that officers who injured anti-Netanyahu protesters while operating water cannons won’t be investigated as criminal suspects, Channel 12 news reports.

A protester filed a complaint with PIID after he was struck in the face by a high-powered burst of water fired from one of the cannons during a protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in July, knocking him to the ground and injuring him.

The moment a demonstrator is hit in the face with a stream of liquid from a water cannon at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)