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Deputy health minister denies Israel will mandate coronavirus vaccine

Yoav Kisch says government has no plans to advance legislation forcing all Israelis to get vaccinated, following news reports on proposal

Illustrative: A nurse prepares to inject a vaccine in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Illustrative: A nurse prepares to inject a vaccine in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.

Pompeo becomes first top US official to visit West Bank settlement

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo becomes the first US top diplomat to visit a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where a vineyard has named one of its wines after him.

Pompeo arrives at the Psagot winery, near the settlement of Psagot, according to a State Department official.

On the way there, he made a stop at Qasr el Yahud, revered as the site of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan Valley, according to the same official.

Israeli winemaker Yaakov Berg holds a bottle of his red blend named after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Psagot Winery in the settlers industrial park of Sha’ar Binyamin (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Dozens of Palestinians demonstrate near the winery, and some throw stones at soldiers guarding the entrance to the settlers’ industrial zone.

Pompeo said a year ago that the United States no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be contrary to international law.

He is set to visit the Golan Heights later today. The Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in 2019.

with AFP

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launches aircraft-carrying ship

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard says it launched a heavy warship today capable of carrying helicopters, drones and missile launchers amid ongoing tensions with the US.

Photographs of the ship, named after slain Guard naval commander Abdollah Roudaki, shows it carrying truck-launched surface-to-surface missiles and anti-aircraft missiles. It also carries four small fast boats, the kind the Guard routinely uses in the Persian Gulf. Sailors man deck-mounted machine guns.

The Guard says the ship has a length of 150 meters (492 feet). By comparison, a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier has a length of 332 meters (1,092 feet). The Guard’s ship does not have a runway, but includes a landing pad for a helicopter.

The commander of the Guard’s navy, Adm. Ali Reza Tangsiri, suggests his forces wanted to move beyond the waters of the Gulf into deep-water patrolling. Typically, the Guard covers the waters of the Persian Gulf, while Iran’s navy patrols the Gulf of Oman and beyond.

“Presence and assignments in the Indian Ocean is our right,” Tangsiri says.

AP

Mink virus mutation ‘most likely eradicated,’ Denmark ministry says

A mutated version of the new coronavirus detected in Danish minks that raised concerns about the effectiveness of a future vaccine has likely been eradicated, Denmark’s health ministry says.

“There have been no new cases of the ‘Cluster 5’ mink mutation since September 15, which has led to the Danish infectious disease authority SSI to conclude that this variant has most likely been eradicated,” the ministry says in a statement, after the government ordered a cull of all the country’s 15 to 17 million minks in a bid to halt the spread of the variant.

AFP

Minks look out from their cage at the farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen as they have to kill off their herd, which consists of 3,000 mother mink and their cubs on their farm near Naestved, Denmark, on November 6, 2020. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP)

Khamenei aide: US attack on Iran could set off a ‘full-fledged war’

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader who is a possible 2021 presidential candidate is warning that any American attack on the Islamic Republic could set off a “full-fledged war” in the Mideast in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Hossein Dehghan strikes a hard-line tone familiar to those in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, a force he long served in before becoming a defense minister under President Hassan Rouhani.

“We don’t welcome a crisis. We don’t welcome war. We are not after starting a war,” Dehghan says. “But we are not after negotiations for the sake of negotiations either.”

While discussing the world Iran finds itself in, Dehghan’s points mirrors many of Khamenei’s. The former head of the Guard’s air force who achieved the rank of brigadier general says any negotiations with the West could not include Iran’s ballistic missiles, which he described as a “deterrent” to Tehran’s adversaries.

Illustrative: An Iranian cleric looks at domestically built surface-to-surface missiles at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Propaganda involving Iran’s missile program has surged in recent weeks. The front page of the English-language Tehran Times on Wednesday showed a map of Iran’s missile ranges with red stars marking American bases across the region under the words “Back off!” printed in big, bold letters. A headline above warned Iran would respond to “any melancholy adventure by Trump.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not negotiate its defensive power … with anybody under any circumstances,” Dehghan says. “Missiles are a symbol of the massive potential that is in our experts, young people and industrial centers.”

While stressing he wanted to avoid conflict, Dehghan claims Israel was expanding its military presence in the region, in what he described as a “strategic mistake.” Israel just reached normalization deals with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

“It is opening an extensive front,” he alleged. “Just imagine every Israeli in any military base can be a target for groups who are opposed to Israel.”

Iran is involved in conflicts across the Middle East, backing fighters in Iraq and Yemen, and funding the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group as well as Palestinian terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

AP, with Times of Israel staff

Settler leader thanks Pompeo for West Bank visit

The head of the Binyamin Regional Council in the West Bank cheers US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to a Jewish settlement.

Yisrael Gantz says the visit “signifies the commitment and friendship between the settlement movement” and the United States.

He thanks the Trump administration for its support for “the State of Israel, the Jewish people and the holy land.”

Pompeo departs West Bank settlement, heads to Golan — footage

Mike Pompeo has departed the West Bank winery at Psagot, concluding the first visit to a Jewish settlement by a top American official, according to video clips from the scene.

No reporters are accompanying Pompeo.

State Department: Israeli settlement products can be labeled ‘Made in Israel’

The US State Department announces that products from Israeli settlements can be labeled “Made in Israel,” breaking with longstanding policy.

The move is announced shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited a settlement in the West Bank, a first by a top US diplomat.

The State Department says the change in the labeling policy is “consistent with our reality-based foreign policy approach.”

AP

WHO warns of deadly wave of virus across Middle East

As winter nears and coronavirus cases surge across the Middle East, the regional director for the World Health Organization says the only way to avoid mass deaths is for countries to quickly tighten restrictions and enforce preventative measures.

In a press briefing from Cairo, Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, which comprises most of the Middle East, expresses concern that countries in the area were lowering their guard after tough lockdowns imposed earlier this year.

The fundamentals of pandemic response, from social-distancing to mask wearing, “are still not being fully practiced in our region,” he says, adding that the result is apparent throughout the region’s crowded hospitals.

Noting that the virus had sickened over 3.6 million people and killed more than 76,000 in the region over the past nine months, al-Mandhari warns “the lives of as many people — if not more — are at stake,” urging action to “prevent this tragic premonition from becoming a reality.”

Mourners carry the body of a person who died from COVID-19 at the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, Nov. 1, 2020 (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

More than 60% of all new infections in the past week were reported from Iran, which has seen the worst outbreak in the region, as well as Jordan and Morocco, he says. Cases are also up in Lebanon and Pakistan. Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon have reported the biggest single-day death spikes from the region.

While al-Mandhari cautiously welcomes news of viable vaccine candidates, he says the pandemic is far from over.

“We cannot — and should not — wait until a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available for all,” he says. “We simply do not know when this will be.”

AP

Oxford scientists expect COVID-19 vaccine data by Christmas

University of Oxford scientists expect to report results from the late-stage trials of their COVID-19 vaccine by Christmas, a key researcher says as he discusses the team’s latest findings.

Dr. Andrew Pollard, an expert in pediatric infection and immunity at Oxford, says research was slowed by low infection rates over the summer, but the Phase III trials are now accumulating the data needed to report results as a renewed surge of the pandemic hits countries around the world. Oxford is developing its vaccine in conjunction with the drugmaker AstraZeneca.

“I think we’re getting close, and it’s definitely going to be before Christmas based on the progress,” Pollard says in an interview with the BBC.

Pollard discusses progress in the late-stage trials as Oxford releases a study based on earlier research that found the vaccine was well tolerated and produced a strong immune response in people over 70. This is important because vaccines often don’t work as well in older people, Pollard says.

“The reason that we’re so delighted is the we’re seeing the immune responses look exactly the same, even in those who are over 70 years of age,” Pollard says.

Brazilian pediatric doctor Monica Levi, one of the volunteers who received the COVID-19 vaccine, works at the Specialized Clinic in Infectious and Parasitic Diseases and Immunizations (CEDIPI), in Sao Paulo, Brazil, July 24, 2020. (NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP / File)

The findings were based on a so-called phase II trial of 560 people, including 240 over the age of 70. The results of the peer-reviewed study were published Thursday in the Lancet, an international medical journal.

Phase II vaccine trials provide important preliminary data but don’t prove whether they ultimately prevent people from getting sick. Oxford and AstraZeneca are waiting for the results of phase III trials on thousands of people around the world to show whether their vaccine is safe and effective.

Two other drugmakers, Pfizer and Moderna, this week reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing that their COVID-19 vaccines were almost 95% effective.

Pollard says there is no competition between the various research teams, because several vaccines will be needed to bring the global pandemic under control and allow life to return to normal.

AP

With vaccine in sight, IMF warns world’s economic recovery ‘remains difficult’

The global economy faces a hard road back from the COVID-19 downturn, and nations should remove trade barriers on medical technologies to aid the recovery, the IMF chief says.

“While a medical solution to the crisis is now in sight, the economic path ahead remains difficult and prone to setbacks,” IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva says in a blog post ahead of this week’s G20 leaders summit held virtually.

AFP

JNF-KKL taps new chair: Former World Zionist Organization head Avraham Duvdevani

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has approved a new chairman: Avraham Duvdevani.

Duvdevani, 75, is a former head of the World Zionist Organization. He previously served as co-chair of JNF-KKL.

“The elected chairman has vast experience in Zionist activity in the Diaspora and is highly familiar with Jewish communities around the world,” a statement from the organization says.

KKL, established in 1901 to buy and develop land for Jewish settlement and best known for the hundreds of millions of trees it has planted throughout Israel, serves as the Jewish people’s custodian for 13 percent of the land in Israel. A kind of nonprofit officially registered as a company for the benefit of the public, it works in the fields of forestry, water, education, community development, tourism, and research and development.

It is a major environmental force in Israel, worth billions of shekels, only a fraction of which comes from fundraising. KKL’s 2019 financial report (in Hebrew) shows that it spent NIS 85 million ($25 million) while raising just under NIS 93 million ($27.5) million). Its wealth, and the eager attempts by governments to get hold of some of these riches, offer massive clout to whoever sits in the chairperson’s seat.

Illustrative: Enjoying a walk in a KKL JNF Jewish National fund forest outside Jerusalem, April 21, 2011. (Miriam Alster/Flash90).

with Sue Surkes

Opposition leader cheers Pompeo’s branding of BDS as anti-Semitic

Opposition leader Yair Lapid welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the United States government will formally designate the anti-Israel boycott movement “anti-Semitic” and immediately start cracking down on groups affiliated with it.

“I welcome the American government’s decision to declare BDS an anti-Semitic movement and intensify the fight against it. In the war against those who hate Israel, we are all partners,” says Lapid in a tweet.

IDF chief in quarantine, again, after exposure to COVID

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi will enter quarantine due to exposure to a COVID-19 carrier, the military says.

Kohavi “spent time near a citizen who was verified as sick today,” according to an Israel Defense Forces statement.

The military says Kohavi feels well, has no symptoms and will soon be tested, adding that he will maintain a regular schedule “as much as possible” while in quarantine.

Kohavi has previously quarantined after exposure to coronavirus carriers.

Alex Fulbright

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center, and the rest of the IDF General Staff watch the Ghost Unit during training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Pompeo, in settler winery guestbook, hopes other US top diplomats visit

During his visit to the Psagot winery in the West Bank, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signs the guestbook.

“It is a blessing to be here in Judea and Samaria,” he writes, using the biblical term for the West Bank, according to a photo by the Kan public broadcaster. “May I not be the last secretary of state to visit this beautiful land.”

Ireland plans to cull mink over virus fears, though no cases found

Ireland is planning a nationwide cull of mink over fears they may carry a mutated version of the coronavirus detected in the animals in Denmark, a government spokesman says.

An agriculture ministry spokesman says that testing of Ireland’s mink herd has yielded no positive Covid-19 tests to date.

But the Republic’s department of health “indicated that the continued farming of mink represents an ongoing risk of additional mink-adapted [coronavirus] variants emerging,” he says in a statement.

“Therefore, it has recommended that farmed mink in Ireland should be culled to minimize or eliminate this risk.”

National media reports that there are three mink farms housing around 100,000 animals across Ireland.

The agriculture department says it “continues to engage with the mink farmers to consider the next steps.”

Earlier this month Denmark — the world’s largest producer of mink fur — announced a nationwide cull of 15 million to 17 million animals after a mutated version of the coronavirus was detected in farms and spread to humans.

On Thursday the nation’s health ministry said the mutation, which raised concerns over the effectiveness of any future vaccine, has likely been eradicated.

AFP

Palestinians agree to accept tax money from Israel, easing financial crisis

The Palestinians will accept millions in tax funds collected by Israel on their behalf, for the first time since May, according to a Palestinian official.

The announcement came days after the Palestinians agreed to resume security cooperation after six months.

“Today I held a meeting with the Israeli side. We emphasized that the bilateral agreements signed, which are based on international legitimacy, are what governs this relationship,” says PA liaison with Israel Hussein al-Sheikh, according to the official Wafa news agency.

“It was agreed to transfer all financial dues to the PA, and we rejected the settlement policy, demolishing homes and lands confiscation. It was agreed to hold another meeting soon.”

The so-called “clearance revenues” constitute around 60 percent of the PA’s budget. Ramallah had ceased accepting the tax transfers from Israel in late May in protest of its West Bank annexation plans. Without the tax money, the PA suffered an acute financial crisis. The Authority has not paid its employees full salaries for months. Public sector salaries constitute around 20% of the West Bank’s GDP. Without them, many West Bank residents struggled to get by.

PA condemns Pompeo’s settlement visit, US shift on labeling

The Palestinians condemn US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unprecedented visit to a Jewish settlement in the West Bank as well as Washington’s decision to label exports from settlements as Israeli.

“The decision blatantly violates international law,” says Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, dismissing it as yet another biased, pro-Israeli move by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

AFP

Trump targets vote certification in late bid to block Biden

Getting nowhere in the courts, US President Donald Trump’s scattershot effort to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is shifting toward obscure election boards that certify the vote as Trump and his allies seek to upend the electoral process, sow chaos and perpetuate unsubstantiated doubts about the count.

The battle is centered in the battleground states that sealed Biden’s win.

In Michigan, two Republican election officials in the state’s largest county initially refused to certify results despite no evidence of fraud, then backtracked and voted to certify and then on Wednesday flipped again and said they “remain opposed to certification.” Some Republicans have called on the GOP statewide canvassers to do the same. In Arizona, officials are balking at signing off on vote tallies in a rural county.

The moves don’t reflect a coordinated effort across the battleground states that broke for Biden, local election officials say. Instead, they seem to be inspired by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric about baseless fraud and driven by Republican acquiescence to broadsides against the nation’s electoral system as state and federal courts push aside legal challenges filed by Trump and his allies.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump listen to a speaker during a pro-Trump rally in Washington, Nov. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Still, what happened in Wayne County, Michigan, on Tuesday and Wednesday was a jarring reminder of the disruptions that can still be caused as the nation works through the process of affirming the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.

There is no precedent for the Trump team’s widespread effort to delay or undermine certification, according to University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas.

“It would be the end of democracy as we know it,” Douglas says. “This is just not a thing that can happen.”

Certifying results is a routine yet important step after local election officials have tallied votes, reviewed procedures, checked to ensure votes were counted correctly and investigated discrepancies. Typically, this certification is done by a local board of elections and then, later, the results are certified at the state level.

But as Trump has refused to concede to Biden and continues to spread false claims of victory, this mundane process is taking on new significance.

US President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, November 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Among key battleground states, counties in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin have all made it through the initial step of certifying results. Except for Wayne County, this process has largely been smooth. Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia still haven’t concluded their local certifications.

Then all eyes turn to statewide certification.

Some in the Republican president’s orbit have held out hope that by delaying certification, GOP-controlled state legislatures will get a chance to select different electors, either overturning Biden’s victory or sending it to the House, where Trump would almost surely win.

But most advisers to the president consider that a fever dream. Trump’s team has been incapable of organizing even basic legal activities since the election, let alone the widescale political and legal apparatus needed to persuade state legislators to try to undermine the will of their states’ voters.

AP

Belarus adds opposition Telegram group founders to terror list

Belarusian authorities add the creators of the Nexta Live opposition Telegram channel, which mobilized protesters during the country’s ongoing post-election rallies, to a list of terrorists.

Protests in the ex-Soviet country broke out in early August after strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko won a disputed reelection for a sixth term. The opposition believe political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was the true winner of the election and demand Lukashenko’s resignation.

Nexta Live — a Telegram channel with more than 1.7 million subscribers — has helped coordinate the mass demonstrations that have been ongoing for over three months.

Nexta founder Stepan Putilo, 22, and 25-year-old Roman Protasevich, who until recently was the channel’s editor, appeared on the Belarus KGB list of “individuals involved in terrorist activity” when it was updated Wednesday.

According to the document available online, Putilo and Protasevich were included on the list based on earlier charges of causing mass unrest, an offense that can lead to up to 15 years of imprisonment.

AFP

Protesters with old Belarusian national flags march during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/TUT.by)

Pompeo: Settlement businesses hurt by ‘pernicious EU labeling efforts’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweets about his visit earlier to the Psagot winery in the West Bank and the State Department’s decision — announced around the same time — to label settlement products as “Made in Israel.”

“Enjoyed lunch at the scenic Psagot Winery today. Unfortunately, Psagot and other businesses have been targeted by pernicious EU labeling efforts that facilitate the boycott of Israeli companies. The US stands with Israel and will not tolerate any form of delegitimization,” he tweets.

https://twitter.com/SecPompeo/status/1329426393969664003

IRGC hints it could carry out attacks abroad to defend Iran’s ‘vital interests’

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are not tied to “a specific geographical area” in defending the “vital interests” of the Islamic Republic, its commander says, in an apparent retort to Washington.

Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami, quoted on the official Guards website, Sepahnews, speaks after The New York Times on Monday said that Donald Trump had recently asked top aides about the possibility of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But senior US officials dissuaded Trump “from moving ahead with a military strike,” warning that such an attack could escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of his presidency, the Times wrote.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami speaks during a pro-government rally in the capital Tehran’s central Enghelab Square on November 25, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Salami notes Iran’s position in the energy-rich Gulf, calling it a “strategic region for the world economy” in which Iran has “a privileged and unique role in ensuring the safety of the maritime expanse.”

Salami speaks at the inauguration of a new warship equipped with “missile systems,” a helipad and capabilities to launch drones from, as well as to transport speedboats, Sepahnews says.

“We are not limited to a specific geographic area to defend our security and our vital interests,” Salami says.

“If some want to threaten the interests of this great nation and country, they will certainly not be safe anywhere on Earth,” he adds.

He insists Iran would not make the first move of aggression towards another country, but says that our “defense strategy is always accompanied by offensive tactics.”

AFP

WHO says virus cases easing slightly in Europe, but tough 6 months ahead

The World Health Organization’s Europe director says there is a “small signal” the latest resurgence of coronavirus cases in the region is slowing.

There were 1.8 million coronavirus cases last week, a slight dip from more than 2 million cases the previous week.

Dr. Hans Kluge says, “We should all see light at the end of the tunnel, but it will be six tough months.”

Kluge says people could avoid stricter outbreak control measures if they were more willing to adhere to recommended measures.

“If mask wearing reached 95%, lockdowns would not be needed,” he says. “But with the current 60% or lower mask use, it is hard to avoid lockdowns.”

Kluge warns countries that releasing lockdowns too quickly without other measures in place could lead the coronavirus to rebound. He calls for a tiered system that would spell out clear measures depending on transmission in the community.

AP

Commuters wearing face masks walk on the platform, of a Paris subway, Oct.25, 2020 (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

Pompeo in Golan: You can’t deny it, this is part of Israel

Mike Pompeo becomes the first US secretary of state to visit the Golan Heights, hours after becoming the first to visit a West Bank settlement.

“You can’t stand here and stare out at what’s across the border and deny the central thing that President Donald Trump recognized… This is a part of Israel,” Pompeo says during his visit to the area on Israel’s border with Syria.

with AFP

Pompeo scoffs at European, US ‘elite’ who want Golan returned to Syria

During his visit to the Golan Heights, Pompeo also ridicules calls for Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights to Syria.

He condemns what he described as calls from “the salons in Europe and in the elite institutions in America” for Israel to return the Golan, seized in the Six Day War.

“Imagine with (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad in control of this place, the risk of the harm to the West and to Israel,” Pompeo says.

with AFP

Health Ministry chief urges 5th, 6th-grade teachers to get tested

The director-general of the Health Ministry is urging teachers of fifth and six grades to go get tested for coronavirus, ahead of the resumption of in-person studies in those grades next week.

Chezy Levy makes the plea in a briefing to journalists.

Levy says the basic reproduction rate, which measures the transmission of the virus, around the country currently stands at 1.08, indicating it is spreading. This is higher than health officials would like, he says.

Levy says infections are seeing a slight rise but cases among schoolchildren are “stable.”

He says the country has yet to register flu cases.

Virus cases among Palestinians soar; 22% of tests return positive in West Bank

The West Bank sees the highest number of diagnosed coronavirus cases in months, with 742 infections identified by the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry over the past 24 hours.

Around 22% of tests came back positive, suggesting that many more cases are spreading among West Bank Palestinians who have not yet been tested.

While East Jerusalem and Hebron previously became outbreak zones for Palestinians during the coronavirus’s second wave, at 1,688 cases Nablus now has the most infections of any Palestinian governorate. A nightly curfew has been in place since this Sunday, but infections have continued to rise.

Gazans saw 389 new coronavirus infections confirmed today and around 15% of tests come back positive, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas health authorities have said that the coastal enclave could return to lockdown if the number of active cases increases.

The West Bank currently has 5,402 active coronavirus cases, and the Gaza Strip has 3,827.

Aaron Boxerman

IDF fires flares near Lebanon border; breach suspected — reports

Hebrew media reports say flares have been fired near Metula, along the northern border with Lebanon, amid suspicions of possible infiltration.

Residents are told to remain alert, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Deputy health minister denies government will mandate virus vaccines

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch denies the government plans to pass a law forcing all Israelis to get a coronavirus vaccine.

“There is no intention to advance legislation” of this kind, Kisch tells Channel 12, acknowledging that there will be some Israelis who refuse the shot, if and when developed.

He says he spoke to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein earlier today, following reports on the proposal. Kisch says Edelstein told him the reports are “false and misleading” and that he doesn’t support the bid.

The deputy health minister says he believes the reports stemmed from a “misunderstanding” after health officials consulted with legal representatives on the possibility of forcing coronavirus testing.

A medic in a protective suit and mask holds an injection syringe and vaccine. (oshcherban via iStock by Getty Images)

IDF investigating possible infiltration attempt from Lebanon

The military says it is looking into an incident on the Lebanese border as troops reportedly fire flares near the town of Metula during an apparent attempt by hostile elements to cross into Israel.

Alex Fulbright

Georgia recount expected to affirm Biden victory

Georgia is due to release results of a hand recount of presidential election votes — with President-elect Joe Biden expected to be reaffirmed as the first Democrat to win the southern US state in almost three decades.

President Donald Trump has claimed baselessly that the recount of some five million ballots is rigged and the state would “flip” to him if authorities conduct a fairer process.

But Georgia officials have defended the integrity of the audit and say there is no evidence that the recount will change the outcome.

Biden was declared the winner in Georgia last week after a tumultuous election that saw the veteran Democrat prevail overall by 306 electoral votes to 232, denying Trump a second term.

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks about economic recovery at The Queen theater, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Trump’s legal team has launched dozens of challenges — several of which have already been dismissed — in battlegrounds like Michigan and Pennsylvania, and requested recounts in Wisconsin.

In Georgia, Biden’s original margin of victory was just over 14,000 votes.

AFP

US government recommends not traveling over Thanksgiving

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions Americans against traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, as the coronavirus spreads out of control.

“CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period,” Henry Walke, a CDC doctor working on the pandemic, tells reporters. “It’s not a requirement. It’s a strong recommendation.”

AFP

IDF gives all-clear at border with Lebanon

Residents near the Israel-Lebanon border are given the all-clear by the army, following an apparent false alarm. Earlier, there were suspicions of a possible border infiltration.

Travelers from Israel to UK won’t need to self-isolate

Israel will be added to the United Kingdom’s “travel corridor” list, exempting Israelis from quarantine upon arrival in Britain.

The directive is effective from Saturday at 4 a.m.

Malls threaten revolt, warn they’ll open against regulations

Malls are threatening to reopen their doors in violation of the pandemic regulations.

Malls have been closed since mid-September under lockdown rules. Street-front stores have recently been allowed to reopen, with a cap on the number of customers.

Illustrative: People shop at the Malha Mall in Jerusalem on July 29, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry records 210 virus cases since midnight, 781 on Wednesday

The Health Ministry records 210 new coronavirus cases since midnight, and 781 infections on Wednesday.

According to the ministry, there are currently 8,518 active cases. The ministry said 314 are in serious condition, 126 on ventilators. Another 81 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

The death toll stands at 2,740, up by one fatality since the morning.

The ministry said 1.7% of test results returned positive yesterday.

Israeli Tal Flicker wins silver at European Judo Championships

Israel’s Tal Flicker has picked up a silver medal at the European Judo Championships, in the under-66 kg category.

Israel’s Tal Flicker (Up) competes against Georgia’s Vazha Margevelashvili during the men’s under-66kg weight category semi-final match of the European Judo Championship 2020 in Prague, on November 19, 2020. (Michal Cizek / AFP)

Syria condemns Pompeo’s ‘provocative’ visit to Golan Heights

The Syrian government condemns what it called a “provocative” visit by Mike Pompeo to the Golan Heights, the first such visit by a US secretary of state.

“Pompeo’s visit is a provocative step before the end of the Trump administration’s term, and a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic,” says a foreign ministry statement, carried by state news agency SANA.

AFP

Nazareth expected to be locked down; health officials fret over infections

Health officials are warning Israel is heading to a third national lockdown, calling for the immediate reimposition of some restrictions to prevent such a scenario, according to Channel 12.

The report comes after Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy hints that additional rules may be imposed during next month’s Hannukah holiday.

The health officials are also concerned about next week’s reopening of schools for fifth and sixth graders, warning it’s premature and will drive up infections, according to the network.

Meanwhile, Nazareth is expected to be placed under local lockdown amid soaring coronavirus infections in the northern city.

Will Jonathan Pollard be allowed to immigrate to Israel as parole expires?

Jonathan Pollard’s parole expires on Friday, five years after his release, enabling him to immigrate to Israel — unless the US government renews the restrictions.

It remains unclear whether Pollard will be relieved of his parole restrictions, or hit with an extension of the rules at the last minute.

“I’d characterize the situation as one of cautious optimism,” says attorney Alan Dershowitz, who was involved in the case, according to Haaretz.

US Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi tells the daily, “To the best of our understanding, the restrictions are ending.”

Jonathan Pollard speaks to Channel 12 at his home. (screenshot)

According to the Kan public broadcaster, however, Pollard has yet to receive any official notice on his parole expiring, raising questions on whether the issue was final.

Pollard, a former civilian US Navy analyst, was given a life sentence in 1987 for passing secrets to Israel. His imprisonment was a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations, with Israeli and Jewish leaders petitioning their US counterparts for years in order to secure his release.

After his release in November 2015, Pollard was given a five-year probation period, during which he is not allowed to travel outside the United States. The parole terms also require him to stay in his New York home from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., to submit any computer he uses for inspection, and to wear a GPS monitoring device at all times.

The 66-year-old was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and says he wants to settle in the Jewish state with his family.

IS claims, without evidence, that it blew up Israel-Egypt gas pipeline

The Islamic State terror group claims to have blown up a gas pipeline between Israel and Egypt, according to the Reuters news agency.

No evidence is provided. The claim of responsibility is posted on an IS Telegram channel.

There is no immediate acknowledgment of the claim by the Israeli military.

Channel 13 quotes a senior energy official denying the pipeline has been damaged in any way.

The terror group has made similar unsubstantiated claims in the past.

750 Jewish and Holocaust scholars protest new Yad Vashem head

A broad coalition of Jewish studies scholars and directors of Jewish and Holocaust museums has signed a petition opposing the proposed appointment of Effi Eitam, a far-right Israeli politician, to chair Israel’s Holocaust museum.

The petition, which has 750 signers, is the latest protest against Eitam. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies advanced Eitam’s candidacy earlier this year to be the next chairman of Yad Vashem, which serves as a Holocaust museum, memorial and research center. Eitam is a former decorated general in the Israel Defense Forces and was a government minister who led a right-wing religious Zionist party.

His critics say he is unfit to lead the institution because he called for most Palestinians in the West Bank to be expelled and for Arab Israelis to be excluded from the country’s political system. Eitam also was reprimanded by the IDF’s chief of staff because soldiers under his command beat a Palestinian to death. His supporters point to his experience as a general and political leader.

Effie Eitam speaks during the Gush Katif conference at the Tel Aviv Museum on March 23, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israeli politicians, Holocaust survivors and the Anti-Defamation League have called for his name to be withdrawn. Now they have been joined by the hundreds of scholars, including Susannah Heschel and Deborah Lipstadt. The list also includes the current or former directors of the Buchenwald memorial and Jewish museums in Budapest, Warsaw, Munich and elsewhere.

“Eitam’s hateful rhetoric towards Israeli Arabs and Palestinians stands in opposition to the stated mission of Yad Vashem,” the petition reads. “Appointing Effi Eitam as Chair of Yad Vashem would turn an internationally respected institution devoted to the documentation of crimes against humanity and the pursuit of human rights into a mockery and a disgrace.”

JTA

December vaccine rollout possible, BioNTech CEO says

BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin says the frontrunner COVID-19 vaccine his German firm is developing with Pfizer could be rolled out before the year is over in the United States or Europe.

“We are working at full speed,” he tells AFP in a Zoom interview, confirming that the companies planned to apply for emergency use authorization of their jab in the US on Friday, while European regulators will receive another batch of data “next week.”

“There is a chance that we can receive approval from the US or Europe or both regions this year still,” says Sahin, 55, who is also BioNTech’s chief executive.

“We may even start delivering the vaccine in December,” he added, “if everyone works together very closely.”

The BioNTech/Pfizer shot and another one being developed by US firm Moderna have taken the lead in the global chase for a vaccine, after large-scale trial data this month showed that their jabs were around 95 percent effective against COVID-19.

Uğur Şahin (Kuebi; Armin Kübelbeck; Wikipedia)

The twin breakthroughs have lifted hopes for an end to a pandemic that has infected more than 56 million people and caused more than 1.3 million deaths worldwide since the virus first emerged in China late last year.

The US, the European Union and a slew of other nations, including Israel, have already placed orders for hundreds of millions of doses of the top vaccine candidates in development.

Health workers, carers and people considered at high risk for severe COVID-19 are set to be first in line for the jabs.

AFP

Beirut begins clearing dangerous containers from port, months after deadly blast

Lebanon has signed a deal with a German company to dispose of 49 containers of flammable chemicals from Beirut’s port, months after a deadly and devastating blast, officials say.

Combi Lift, a German heavy-lift transport company that was already working in the port, started clearing the containers soon after the contract was signed on November 11, the prime minister’s office tells AFP.

The containers, which include corrosive acids, have been stored in an open-air cargo zone for over a decade under the supervision of Lebanon’s customs authority, a spokesperson says.

Combi Lift will ship the chemicals in special containers as part of a $3.6 million deal, with the port authority reportedly to pay $2 million of that.

A view shows the damaged site and grain silo following the massive August 4 blast in Beirut’s port area, on August 31, 2020. (GONZALO FUENTES / POOL / AFP)

Interim port chief Bassem al-Kaissi says that removing the chemicals was a necessary “preemptive step,” warning that if they caught fire “Beirut will be wiped out.”

The containers sparked concern after the mammoth August 4 disaster — Lebanon’s worst in peace-time — killed more than 200 people, injured at least 6,500 others and ruined swathes of the capital.

Authorities say the blast was caused by a shipment of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that caught fire, years after it was impounded at the port.

AFP

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PA condemns Pompeo’s settlement visit, US shift on labeling

The Palestinians condemn US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unprecedented visit to a Jewish settlement in the West Bank as well as Washington’s decision to label exports from settlements as Israeli.

“The decision blatantly violates international law,” says Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, dismissing it as yet another biased, pro-Israeli move by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

AFP