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100 Israelis die of virus in week; Bnei Brak expected to be declared ‘red zone’

Health Ministry will reportedly include ultra-Orthodox city on list of highly infected areas, restricting gatherings and closing schools; over 1,500 new cases recorded in 24 hours

Medical staff wearing protective clothes as they work at the coronavirus ward of Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh), in Be'er Ya'akov, southeast of Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Medical staff wearing protective clothes as they work at the coronavirus ward of Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh), in Be'er Ya'akov, southeast of Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Officials board Israeli flight as UAE trip comes to a close

Israeli and US officials in the UAE are boarding their flight back to Israel, which will again fly over Saudi Arabia en route to Tel Aviv, as a historic visit to the Emirates comes to a close.

The El Al flight’s return journey has been named 972, in a nod to Israel’s area code. The departing flight was named 971, in tribute to the UAE’s area code.

The plane — the first non-cargo route to make the direct return journey from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv — is expected to fly over Saudi Arabia.

Israel and UAE clinch first MOU on banking and finance

Israel and the United Arab Emirates have signed a first formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) on banking and finance, including preventing terror financing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says.

A statement by the Prime Minister’s Office says the MOU was signed by the PMO’s acting director-general Ronen Peretz and by the governor of the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates, Abdulhamid Saeed.

According to the MOU, Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi will form a joint committee to promote cooperation in finance and investments. That will entail removing financial obstacles currently preventing mutual investment between the countries, and advancing joint investments in the capital market.

The countries will also discuss promoting cooperation in banking and payment regulation.

They will “create a special work group to create the conditions for joint investments that meet international standards, including in fighting money laundering and terror financing,” according to the PMO statement.

“I welcome the first understandings signed in Abu Dhabi,” says Netanyahu. “These understandings will help us promote mutual investments and broad collaborations. We will soon announce additional agreements on aviation, tourism, trade and more.”

In 1st reaction to normalization deal, Iran’s Khamenei accuses UAE of ‘betrayal’

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accuses the United Arab Emirates of betraying the Muslim world with its agreement to normalize relations with Israel.

“The #UAE betrayed the world of Islam, the Arab nations, the region’s countries, and #Palestine,” Khamenei says, according to his official Twitter account.

“Of course, this betrayal won’t last long but the stigma will stay with them,” he adds in a series of tweets.

“I hope the Emiratis soon wake up and compensate for what they have done,” Khamenei says.

“The UAE rulers opened the door of the region to the Zionists, and they have ignored and normalized the question of Palestine.”

It is Khamenei’s first reaction to the agreement between the UAE and Israel that US President Donald Trump announced on August 13.

AFP

As school year begins, some closed by virus, others open in defiance of rules

Two teachers in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have fallen ill with COVID-19, prompting two schools to close their doors on the day the school year began.

Some 2.4 million students went back to school on Tuesday, while highly infected areas were instructed to keep their schools closed, for now.

Not all have heeded the Health Ministry order, however, with at least one school in Beitar Illit and schools in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem with high infection rates opening in defiance of the health regulations.

Southern rabbi accused of sex crimes named

The rabbi who has been accused of sex crimes is identified as Netanel Shriki of the southern town of Netivot.

Two women who sought counsel from Shriki have accused him of sexual assault.

He was arrested and his remand is extended by a court for another three days.

Bye bye, Abu Dhabi: Israel-bound El Al flight takes off

The return flight to Israel from the UAE is taking off from Abu Dhabi.

The plane will fly over Saudi Arabia for a second time as it makes its way back to Tel Aviv, shaving hours off the flight time.

The flight time is estimated at 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Iran nuclear deal parties meet in Vienna amid US sanctions pressure

The signatories to the faltering Iran nuclear deal kick off a meeting in Vienna as the United States is bidding to restore international sanctions on the Islamic Republic and extend an arms embargo.

Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are struggling to save the landmark 2015 accord with Iran, which has been progressively stepping up its nuclear activities since last year.

In a boost to Tuesday’s talks, the Iranian atomic energy last week agreed to allow inspectors of the UN nuclear watchdog to visit two sites suspected of having hosted undeclared activity in the early 2000s.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi had traveled to Iran on his first trip since taking up the top post last year and after months of calling for access.

Results from any site visits are, however, expected to take three months, according to a diplomat familiar with the matter, so “it risks being a problem then with the Iranians” if anything undeclared and nuclear-related is found.

The Tuesday meeting is chaired by EU senior official Helga Schmid with representatives from Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia attending.

AFP

After long delay, Poland accepts German envoy whose father was Nazi officer

Poland has accepted the appointment of a new German ambassador after an unusual delay of three months, reportedly rooted in Polish grievances over World War II.

Polish media have reported that the country’s conservative and nationalist ruling party, Law and Justice, resisted accepting Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven as an ambassador because his father served as a military officer for Nazi Germany during the war.

Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland 81 years ago Tuesday sparked World War II, in which nearly 6 million Polish citizens died.

The three-month delay in Poland approving the agrément, or official diplomatic approval, for von Loringhoven had caused some tensions between Poland and Germany. The ties were already strained by other issues, including the Polish government’s anger over critical coverage of President Andrzej Duda in some independent media outlets with partial German ownership.

Jürgen Hardt, a foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc in parliament, welcomes the step but calls it “overdue.” He notes that the news reached him on the anniversary of the start of the war.

“It remains incomprehensible to us that the Polish government delayed the granting of the agrément for so long,” Hardt says. “Ambassador Freytag von Loringhoven is an experienced diplomat who has worked all his life for a close and trusting cooperation with Poland.”

AP

French president marks Lebanon’s centennial ahead of government talks

French President Emmanuel Macron plants a cedar tree in a forest north of Beirut, marking Lebanon’s centenary ahead of talks with officials on ways to help extract the country from an unprecedented economic crisis and the aftermath of last month’s massive blast that ripped through the Lebanese capital.

The visit is Macron’s second since the devastating August 4 explosion — the most destructive single incident in Lebanon’s history — that killed at least 190 people and injured more than 6,000. This time Macron’s visit, packed with events and political talks aimed at charting a way out of the crisis, also comes as Lebanon celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Macron arrived late Monday, a few hours after Lebanon’s Ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib was appointed by the president, Michel Aoun, to form a new government after winning the backing of major political parties and leaders in Lebanon.

But the 48-year-old diplomat, little known to the public before he emerged abruptly as a consensus candidate, faces a mammoth task and has been rejected by activists and a public demanding that long-ruling politicians stand down.

France and the international community have said they will not provide financial assistance to Lebanon unless it implements reforms to fight widespread corruption and mismanagement that have brought the tiny nation to the brink of bankruptcy. Adib, a dual Lebanese-French citizen, promised to carry out the mission as he prepared to form a new Cabinet, saying he will work on reaching a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund.

The International Monetary Fund welcomed Adib’s nomination, hoping a new government will be formed shortly “with a mandate to implement the policies and reforms that Lebanon needs to address the current crisis and restore sustainable growth.”

Ahead of his second visit, Macron warned Lebanon’s political class, telling POLITICO that he wants credible commitments from political party leaders on reforms, including a concrete timetable for changes and parliamentary elections within “six to 12 months.”

The next three months will be “fundamental” for real change to happen, and if it doesn’t, Macron said he would switch tack, taking punitive measures that range from withholding a vital international financial bailout to imposing sanctions against the ruling class.

“It’s the last chance for this system,” he told POLITICO while en route from Paris to Beirut on Monday evening.

AP

Organizations plan Jewish education, Jewish summer camps in UAE as ties warm

The Jewish Agency’s Chairman Isaac Herzog says the quasi-government agency — along with the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod — will invest in Jewish education in the United Arab Emirates, as the Gulf nation’s ties with Israel warm.

In coordination with the local Jewish community, the organizations will work on establishing “Jewish education, preserving Jewish identity, community life, summer camps and will consider sending an emissary,” says Herzog in a tweet, thanking Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the head of the community for his “cooperation and for writing another chapter in the history of the Jewish people.”

A statement from the Jewish Agency says: “A special joint team from The Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Federations of North America will be established in the coming days to work with the Chief Rabbi of the UAE to determine the needs of the Jewish community in the region.

“The Jewish community in the UAE totals over 1,000 members, centered in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s the first new Jewish community that’s being built in the Arab world in centuries and is comprised of Jews coming from all over the globe, including: Europe, North America, South Africa and the Arab world. Community members work in a variety of fields, serving as teachers, technicians, software developers, nurses and businesspeople.”

 

 

Kushner hopeful another Arab state will forge ties with Israel within ‘months’

Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner predicts another Arab country could establish diplomatic ties with Israel within months.

“Let’s hope it’s months,” he tells UAE’s WAM news agency, when asked whether such a step was foreseeable in months, or years.

He doesn’t name the country.

“Obviously anything could happen, but the reality is that a lot of people are envious of the move that the United Arab Emirates has made,” says Kushner.

“We don’t solve problems by not talking to each other. So, normalizing relations and allowing people-to-people and business exchanges will only make the Middle East stronger and a more stable place,” adds the senior US official, during his trip to Abu Dhabi with an Israeli delegation.

Asked whether he believes all 22 Arab states will eventually recognize Israel, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law replies: “100%.”

“I believe that it is logical for them to do it and I believe it is the right thing to do over time,” he says.

“I think thanks to the UAE leadership there will be a much bigger coalition. [There will be] what I call ‘a vocal majority’ that will be in favor of normalizing. I think the vocal minority who have been against it will be more and more isolated in the region,” he says.

Kushner also says the issue of Israeli annexation will be raised again “in the future” but “not in the near future,” without elaborating on a timeframe.

Israel suspended its West Bank annexation plans in exchange for normalization with the UAE.

Macron defends upcoming meeting with Hezbollah representatives for gov’t talks

Representatives of the powerful Hezbollah movement, designated by the US as a terrorist group, will be among those meeting French President Emmanuel Macron for government talks in Lebanon.

The French president has justified his openness to “talk with everyone,” including Hezbollah, by saying the Iran-backed group sworn to Israel’s destruction is “a political force that is represented in parliament” in Lebanon.

with AFP

Israel, UAE hope to start direct flights within weeks

Israel and the United Arab Emirates hope to establish direct flights between the countries within weeks, Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz says, adding that both sides also want to open mutual embassies “quickly.”

Asked in an interview with Army Radio whether direct flights would happen within several seeks, Ushpiz says: “I can definitely tell you that that is the goal. We need to get this over with quickly because both sides want it, but also because this should be a peace deal whose dividends should be felt in the people’s daily lives, no matter where they live.”

He says that work had been done to agree on direct flights between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi — and possibly also Dubai — and enabling Israelis to get visas for both tourism and business.

Ushpiz says the mutual opening of embassies has been the “top priority” for both sides in the talks. He declines to provide an estimated timeframe for that, but says the UAE’s foreign minister and Foreign Ministry employees all expressed hope the opening of embassies would happen “quickly.”

Turkey says it captured top IS member

Turkey has captured a top member of the Islamic State terror group responsible for operations on its territory, the interior minister announces.

The jihadist group has claimed responsibility for a spate of deadly attacks in Turkey, including an assault on an upscale Istanbul nightclub during New Year’s Eve festivities just minutes into 2017, which left 39 people including an Israeli tourist dead.

“Daesh’s so-called Turkey emir (commander) has been captured and detained,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweets, praising the Turkish police.

The minister was using a pejorative Arabic acronym for the extremist group.

Speaking to reporters later, Soylu identifies the suspect as Mahmut Ozden, adding that he was captured after the August 18 arrest of another IS member who was allegedly planning an attack in Istanbul.

The suspect received orders from Syria and Iraq and was also asked to organize small-scale protests in Turkey, Soylu says in televised remarks.

The minister says police had also uncovered plans for several IS attacks, including a kidnapping plot.

“There’s an ongoing operation” to locate other suspects, he says.

with AFP

4 suspects, 2 of them minors, to be charged with rape of teen in Eilat

Four suspects, two of them minors, are to be indicted Wednesday in connection with the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.

The two main suspects are 27-year-olds from Hadera who are to be indicted on rape and other charges, according to Channel 12.

Two minors from southern Israel will also be hit with rape charges, while 5-7 other suspects are expected to face charges as accomplices and over their failure to stop the violent assault, the network says.

Hamas leader Haniyeh visits Beirut, for first time in 27 years

For the first time in 27 years, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has returned to Beirut, a spokesperson for the terror group says.

Haniyeh’s visit was suddenly canceled last night before being put back on the agenda this morning. Along with a number of Palestinian factions based in Beirut, Haniyeh will participate by videoconference in a planned meeting of Palestinian leaders hosted by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Haniyeh was last in Lebanon in 1993, after Israel banished 415 Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists to Lebanon for a period of one and a half to two years. The exile was eventually shortened after pressure from the Clinton administration and debate within Israel over whether the action was legal.

The United Nations Security Council also condemned the mass deportation at the time, calling it a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Aaron Boxerman

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh attends a meeting with foreign reporters at al-Mat’haf hotel in Gaza City, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/ Adel Hana)

2 Gazans enter Israel with knives, are sent back by IDF

IDF troops capture two Palestinians who crossed into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the military says.

The two men were armed with knives, according to the IDF. After questioning they were sent back to the Palestinian enclave, the army says.

Judah Ari Gross

Deri: With Gaza deal, Israel missed opportunity for prisoner swap

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, a member of the high-level security cabinet, laments that a ceasefire deal with Gaza rulers Hamas to stop the violence against Israel does not include the return of two Israeli captives and the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in 2014.

“I am very sorry that we reached an agreement with Hamas without bringing back the captives and missing to Israel,” tweets Deri. “This was an excellent opportunity and it’s a great pity that it was squandered. A humane response to Hamas and our heeding of its demands has not proven itself until now.”

The Hamas terror group said it accepted a ceasefire agreement with Israel on Monday night, ending nearly a month of low-level violence along the Gaza border. Israel did not explicitly confirm the existence of a deal, but in a tacit acknowledgment said it would fully reopen the fishing zone off the coast of the Strip and the enclave’s border crossings beginning Tuesday.

Hamas is holding Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, two Israelis who entered Gaza, and the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, both killed in the 2014 war in the Strip.

Clockwise from top left: Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. (Flash 90/Times of Israel)

Hamas said to get virus testing equipment as part of truce with Israel

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says it has received coronavirus testing equipment as part of its ceasefire deal with Israel, according to the Ynet news site.

After being spared an outbreak for months, the enclave has seen a sharp rise in virus cases in recent weeks.

IDF: 100 Hamas targets bombed over past month in response to balloon attacks

Israeli tanks, fighter jets, attack helicopters and other aircraft carried out strikes on roughly 100 Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip over the past three weeks in response to rocket launches and airborne arson attacks by terror groups in the coastal enclave, the Israel Defense Forces says.

The announcement comes after Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire agreement on Monday night, as a result of which terrorists in the Strip halted the violence along the border and Jerusalem reopened Gaza’s fishing zone and border crossings.

The military says the targets of its strikes included 20 observation posts, 30 tunnel openings and tunnel construction facilities, 35 munitions caches and weapon-manufacturing sites, along with 10 locations connected to Hamas’s aerial capabilities — both drones and anti-aircraft weaponry — and several sites used by its naval commando unit.

“These strikes represent significant damage to the military infrastructure and armaments of the Hamas terror group,” the IDF says in a statement.

Though the IDF has reported on its near-nightly reprisal raids from August 12 to 30, the military had not revealed the specific targets of its strikes until Tuesday, after the ceasefire was announced.

Judah Ari Gross

A firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire started by an incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on the border with Gaza, August 24, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Jewish man beaten at supermarket in Uman, Ukraine

An Orthodox Jewish man was beaten in the face at a supermarket in the Ukrainian city of Uman.

The incident happened Monday evening as the man, who has not been named in the Ukrainian media, left the store with a friend. Two men approached the Orthodox shoppers and one hit the victim in the nose, causing some bleeding.

The alleged attacker and his friend fled, the head of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, Michael Tkatch, wrote on Facebook.

Police are investigating whether the incident was an anti-Semitic assault.

JTA

23 residents of Ra’anana nursing home contract COVID-19

Twenty-three residents of a nursing home in the central city of Ra’anana have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, Army Radio reports.

The outbreak is detected after testing is conducted at the elder care facility as part of a national survey, the radio reports.

The facility is not named in the report.

After UAE visit, Kushner meets Bahrain king

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner travels to Bahrain, where he meets the king.

A statement by the official Bahrain News Agency has leader Hamad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa thank Kushner for his Middle East peace efforts, in a likely reference to the Israel-UAE normalization deal, but does not suggest it will follow in Abu Dhabi’s footsteps.

El Al plane lands back in Israel after historic UAE trip

Flight 972 has landed in Tel Aviv, ending the historic trip to the UAE by a US and Israeli delegation.

Rivlin thanks Qatari envoy for Gaza ceasefire efforts

President Reuven Rivlin speaks with Qatar’s envoy to the Gaza Strip and thanks him for his efforts to broker a ceasefire between the Hamas terrorist group and Israel, which was announced yesterday.

 

Minister: Virus czar’s position on Uman stoked anti-Semitism there

Likud Minister Ze’ev Elkin appears to suggest the actions of coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu to prevent Israelis from visiting the Uman pilgrimage site over pandemic fears have stoked anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

“Unfortunately in the past few days, we’ve witnessed a pretty serious outbreak of violence there [in Uman],” Elkin told the Kan public broadcaster, referring to a spate of attacks on Jewish worshipers in Ukraine.

“Gamzu’s letter appears to have become a hit among anti-Semites in Uman and outside of it. It could end in bloodshed,” he says.

Ukraine has closed its borders to foreigners to prevent a mass gathering at Uman over Rosh Hashanah, which this year begins on September 18. The decision followed intervention by Gamzu and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke to Ukraine’s leader about a ban, amid fears of a serious coronavirus outbreak there.

Following an outcry over the decision, Elkin has been tasked with finding a compromise to allow restricted travel to Uman.

Several thousand worshipers, many of them Israeli, are already believed to be at the burial site of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav.

Macron to make 3rd trip to Lebanon in December to push reforms

French president Emmanuel Macron will return to Lebanon in December for his third visit to the crisis-hit country since a devastating August explosion in Beirut, the French presidency tells AFP.

Macron, who landed in the Lebanese capital on Monday for a two-day trip, has taken center stage in an international push for long-overdue reforms.

This was his second visit since the August 4 explosion at Beirut’s port killed more than 180 people, wounded at least 6,500 and laid to waste swathes of the capital.

On Tuesday, Macron says he is ready to organize an international aid conference for Lebanon in October which, if it happens, would be the second such effort to be led by Paris since the August 4 blast.

Speaking to French news outlet Brut, Macron says he will “follow up” on progress made by Lebanese leaders towards enacting reform “in October and then in December.”

“I will personally commit myself to it,” he adds, vowing to block aid money donors have pledged to Lebanon if changes are not made.

AFP

Main suspect in Eilat gang rape said to pose as medic

Hebrew media reports offer new information on the alleged gang rape of a teenage girl in Eilat which has shocked the country.

According to the reports, the main suspect, 27, hit on the 16-year-old girl at the hotel pool and was spurned, with the teenager noting he was too old for her.

Several hours later, when the girl was not feeling well after drinking alcohol, he offered help and claimed to be a medic. He then led the girl to his hotel room and raped her, the reports say.

At least 16 people were documented next to her hotel room during the alleged gang rape, which police say lasted hours, according to the reports.

Charges are expected to be filed on Wednesday.

Study: Chinese bus outbreak offers new evidence of airborne coronavirus spread

A person on a poorly ventilated Chinese bus infected nearly two dozen other passengers with coronavirus even though many weren’t sitting close by, according to research published on Tuesday that offers fresh evidence the disease can spread in the air.

Health authorities had initially discounted the possibility that simply breathing could send infectious micro-droplets into the air, but did a U-turn as experts piled on pressure and evidence mounted.

The article published Tuesday in JAMA Internal Medicine probes the threat of airborne infection by taking a close look at passengers who made a 50-minute trip to a Buddhist event in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo aboard two buses in January before face masks became routine against the virus.

Researchers believe a passenger, whose gender was not identified, was likely patient zero because the person had been in contact with people from Wuhan, the city where the contagion emerged late last year.

The scientists managed to map out where the other passengers sat, and also test them for the virus, with 23 of 68 passengers subsequently confirmed as infected on the same bus.

What is notable is that the sickness infected people in the front and back of the bus, outside the perimeter of 1-2 meters (three-six feet) that authorities and experts say infectious droplets can travel.

On top of that, the sick passenger was not yet showing symptoms of the disease, such as a cough, when the group made their trip to a religious event.

Researchers also noted the air conditioning simply recirculated the air inside the bus, which likely contributed to spreading of the virus.

“The investigations suggest that, in closed environments with air recirculation, SARS-CoV-2 is a highly transmissible pathogen,” they write, referring to the name of the virus.

“Our finding of potential airborne transmission has important public health significance.”

Their study, which includes a diagram showing where each infected passenger sat, adds to the evidence of airborne transmission, including research into how the virus spread between diners’ tables at a restaurant in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

AFP

Israel, UAE discuss possible joint space mission — report

Israeli and UAE officials discussed the possibility of a joint space mission during talks in Abu Dhabi on scientific cooperation, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The proposals included space research as well as satellite launches, the report says.

“This is a start of a beautiful friendship,” says Science Ministry Director General Shai-Lee Spigelman.

“They were very impressive, open, with a willingness to cooperate,” she tells Kan of her UAE counterparts. “It was very moving.”

The countries will continue to examine the issue in the coming months.

Bnei Brak expected to be declared virus ‘red zone’

The central Israel city of Bnei Brak is expected to be declared a coronavirus “red zone,” according to Hebrew-language reports.

The designation by the Health Ministry would mean gatherings would be restricted and schools closed, due to the large number of local COVID-19 cases.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews study in small groups at a Gur yeshiva in Bnei Brak, June 16, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Egypt reopens ancient sites for first time since March

Egypt reopens its ancient sites in Cairo and elsewhere in the country for the first time since they were closed in March to stem the coronavirus.

The reopening came despite a recent upward trend in new infections. Antiquities Minister Khalid el-Anany says museums, temples and other sites are reopened at 50% capacity.

In the southern ancient city of Luxor, tourists from France and Ukraine visited the famed Karnak Temple, arriving from the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, according to the ministry.

Since July, Egypt lifted most of its restrictions in place against the pandemic, reopening cafes, clubs, gyms, theaters and worship houses.

Egypt’s health ministry has reported more than 98,900 confirmed cases and 5,421 deaths.

AP

Third virus vaccine reaches major hurdle: Final US testing

A handful of the dozens of experimental COVID-19 vaccines in human testing have reached the last and biggest hurdle — looking for the needed proof that they really work.

AstraZeneca announces that its vaccine candidate has entered the final testing stage in the US. The Cambridge, England-based company says the study will involve up to 30,000 adults from various racial, ethnic and geographic groups.

Two other vaccine candidates began final testing this summer in tens of thousands of people in the US. One was created by the National Institutes of Health and manufactured by Moderna Inc., and the other developed by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech.

“To have just one vaccine enter the final stage of trials eight months after discovering a virus would be a remarkable achievement; to have three at that point with more on the way is extraordinary,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says in a statement.

NIH Director Francis Collins tweets that his agency “is supporting several vaccine trials since more than one may be needed. We have all hands on deck.”

AstraZeneca says development of the vaccine known as AZD1222 is moving ahead globally with late-stage trials in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. Further trials are planned in Japan and Russia. The potential vaccine was developed by the University of Oxford and an associated company, Vaccitech.

AP

After Vienna talks, Iran nuclear deal members resolve to preserve agreement

Representatives of Iran and the world powers working to save the nuclear deal with Tehran agree Tuesday in Vienna to do everything possible to preserve the landmark 2015 agreement in their first meeting since the United States announced a bid to restore United Nations sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Helga Schmid, the European Union representative who chaired the meeting, says afterwards on Twitter that the “participants are united in resolve to preserve the #IranDeal and find a way to ensure full implementation of the agreement despite current challenges.”

Iranian representative Abbas Araghchi does not comment after the day of talks, but ahead of the meeting said the US move would “definitely be an important discussion” topic with delegates from France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China.

AP

All 25 suspects identified in Beirut blast probe are in custody

All 25 suspects identified by a probe into the devastating August 4 Beirut explosion are now in the custody of Lebanese authorities, a judicial source tells AFP.

Authorities had already detained 21 suspects over the portside blast, which killed more than 180 people, wounded at least 6,500 others and wreaked devastation across the capital.

On Tuesday, lead investigative judge Fadi Sawan issued arrest warrants against the final four suspects after interrogating them, the judicial source says.

They include the head of military intelligence at the port, a major with the State Security agency, and two members of the General Security agency, he adds.

The two security agencies, along with the army and Lebanon’s customs authority, are the main bodies responsible for overseeing security at the port.

Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer, had been stored in a warehouse for at least six years, it emerged after the explosion.

That sparked widespread outrage over alleged official negligence that many said was to blame for the blast.

AFP

Pentagon says China planning to double its nuclear arsenal

China likely plans to double its stockpile of nuclear warheads in this decade, including those designed to be carried atop ballistic missiles that can reach the United States, the Pentagon says in a report released Tuesday.

Even with such increases, China’s nuclear force would be far smaller than that of the United States, which has an estimated 3,800 warheads in active status and others in reserve. Unlike the US, China has no nuclear air force, but the report says that gap may be filled by developing a nuclear air-launched ballistic missile.

The Trump administration has been urging China to join the US and Russia in negotiating a three-way deal to limit strategic nuclear arms, but China has declined. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have said China’s arsenal is too small to be included in negotiated limits and that by pressing China to join in such talks the Trump administration has created a pretext for walking away from the existing US-Russia arms treaty known as New START. That deal is due to expire in February but could be renewed for up to five years if Moscow and Washington agree.

In its annual “China Military Power” report to Congress, the Pentagon says the modernization and expansion of China’s nuclear forces is part of a broader effort by Beijing to develop a more assertive position on the world stage and to match or surpass America by 2049 as the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific region.

“China’s nuclear forces will significantly evolve over the next decade as it modernizes, diversifies, and increases the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms,” the report says. “Over the next decade, China’s nuclear warhead stockpile — currently estimated to be in the low 200s — is projected to at least double in size as China expands and modernizes its nuclear forces.”

Within that force, the number of nuclear warheads on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of threatening the United States — currently about 100, according to the report — “is expected to grow to roughly 200 in the next five years,” it says.

AP

With 10 more deaths, coronavirus toll rises to 956

The Health Ministry records another 10 coronavirus deaths since this morning, bringing the death toll to 956.

It says another 1,526 virus cases have been diagnosed since Monday night.

Of the 20,960 active cases, 415 are in serious condition, 117 of them on ventilators. Another 178 are in moderate condition with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

The ministry says 31,705 tests were conducted yesterday.

According to ministry data, 47 people have died of the virus since Sunday — and 100 in the past seven days.

TV: Lockdown possible in 23 virus hotspots

Channel 12 reports that coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu is formulating new restrictions for so-called “red” cities and towns, where coronavirus infection rates are high.

“A lockdown is on the table” in these areas, the TV network reports.

But it says ultra-Orthodox politicians will likely strongly resist the plan.

Twenty-three cities and towns have been classified as “red” under the Health Ministry’s new designation. Most are Arab-majority locales, a handful are Haredi areas, with just two exceptions: Tiberias and Kfar Aza. The ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak is expected to join the list.

Report: Arrivals from ‘red’ countries breeze through airport, not ordered to isolate

Arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport from countries with high coronavirus infection rates were not asked their origin or ordered into quarantine upon landing in Israel, Channel 12 reports.

“They didn’t ask us where we came from,” one passenger is quoted saying.

Another traveler, who also was not identified, says authorities did not ask to see their ticket or inquire where they had come from.

Those entering Israel from countries classified as “red” due to high infection rates are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Population and Immigration Authority, responding to the report, denies the claim, saying all arrivals are asked about their origin and given instructions on quarantine.

 

Gantz speaks to Cyprus defense minister; they agree to meet

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to his Cypriot counterpart and the two agree to meet “as soon as possible.”

The call comes amid eastern Mediterranean tensions with Turkey over its oil resources, though the statement does not address this.

“I just spoke with my colleague in Cyprus, Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides. We talked about the strong defense ties between Israel and Cyprus and our broad joint activity,” tweets Gantz. “I told him that I am certain that our cooperation will continue to expand, as will the ties of friendship between our nations. We agreed that we would meet in Jerusalem or Nicosia as soon as possible.”

US court blocks release of Trump tax returns amid latest appeal

A federal appeals court blocks a New York prosecutor from obtaining Donald Trump’s tax returns while the president’s lawyers continue to fight a subpoena seeking the records. The three-judge panel rules after hearing brief arguments from both sides.

Trump’s lawyers had asked for a temporary stay while they appeal a lower-court ruling that granted Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office access to Trump’s tax returns. A lawyer for Vance’s office had argued that further delays would only impede their investigation.

“The question at this juncture is quite simple but also quite important,” Trump lawyer William Consovoy said. “Will the president be given an opportunity to appeal that ruling before his personal records are disclosed to the grand jury and the status quo is irrevocably changed?”

A hearing on the merits of Trump’s latest appeal will be held on September 25, after both sides agreed to an expedited schedule — meaning it’s possible the matter could be decided before November’s election.

Trump’s lawyers appealed to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals last month after a district court judge rejected their renewed efforts to invalidate a subpoena issued to his accounting firm. Judge John M. Walker Jr. said at Tuesday’s hearing that the subpoenas cover 11 entities engaged in business dealings as far away as Europe and Dubai.

Trump has blasted the long-running quest for his financial records as a “continuation of the most disgusting witch hunt in the history of our country” and predicted the case would again end up before the Supreme Court.

AP

Trump denies suffering ‘series of mini-strokes’

US President Donald Trump denies unfounded rumors that a series of mini-strokes were behind his unscheduled visit to the Walter Reed Medical Center last year, calling the claims “fake news.”

Trump made the surprise visit to the hospital in November. The fact that it was not scheduled, a departure from established protocols, ignited speculation at the time of a serious health issue, but the White House insisted he was just doing parts of his annual health exam ahead of time.

However, CNN reported Tuesday that a new book by a New York Times journalist claims Vice President Mike Pence was put “on standby to take over the powers of the presidency temporarily” if Trump had to undergo anesthesia during the visit.

CNN, which obtained a copy of the as-yet-unreleased book by Michael Schmidt, says the author did not specify the sourcing for the claim.

If true, it raises fresh questions about the visit.

The report quickly ignited claims on social media — made without any evidence — that Trump had suffered a stroke and had to be rushed to hospital, prompting the president to take to Twitter Tuesday.

AFP

Trump arrives in Kenosha to tour damage

US President Donald Trump has arrived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he prepares to tour damage from protests and violence that followed the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Trump’s visit comes despite pleas from Wisconsin’s Democratic governor to stay away for fears of sparking further tumult. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson greets the president when Air Force One touches down in nearby Waukegan, Illinois.

Blake’s family says he’s paralyzed after police shot the 29-year-old Black man seven times in the back. Demonstrators have called for the officer who shot Blake to be fired and face attempted murder charges.

The president has brought along Attorney General William Barr and acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.

Along the motorcade route, a mix of people waved Black Lives Matter signs and many Trump supporters waved Trump 2020 signs.

AP

Outgoing Finance Ministry budget chief fiercely denounces Minister Israel Katz

The Finance Ministry’s budget chief Shaul Meridor — who announced his resignation earlier this week — lashes Finance Minister Israel Katz in a prime-time television interview.

“It can’t be that the moment someone in the room says something counter to what the minister wants, he [Katz] starts to threaten them, to yell at them, and to create an atmosphere of terror,” says Meridor. “I’m not very affected by this, but I’m not alone. There are 15 people there. What do the junior people think? Will they dare open their mouths the next time they have something to say that they think the minister doesn’t want to hear?”

“It cannot be that the discussions are held this way,” he continues. “We present our professional materials and he has no attention span, he looks at his phone or starts talking about something else.”

Facebook nabs Russia-linked campaign to fuel US chaos

Facebook says it has caught a budding Russia-linked campaign to fuel political chaos in the US, working off a tip from the FBI in its latest take-down of coordinated inauthentic behavior at the leading social network.

The small network of 13 Facebook accounts and two pages posing as journalists and targeting left-wing progressives was removed for violating a policy against “foreign interference” at the platform.

The investigation that uncovered the covert operation, which was linked to the Internet Research Agency in Russian (IRA), started with a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.

The network was in the early stages of building an audience, with little engagement from users, Facebook says.

“They put substantial effort into creating elaborate fictitious personas, trying to make fake accounts look as real as possible,” Gleicher says while briefing reporters.

The group posted on topics “including social and racial justice in the US and UK, NATO and EU politics, alleged Western war crimes and corruption, environmental issues, the founder of Wikileaks, tensions between Israel and Palestine, the coronavirus pandemic, criticism of fracking, French influence in Africa, the Biden-Harris campaign, QAnon, President Trump and his policies, and the US military policies in Africa,” Facebook says.

Profile photos were generated using computer software to appear more realistic, and unwitting freelance writers were recruited to write material to be posted online, according to Facebook.

The Facebook pages were said to be crafted to drive viewers to websites of the social network, and their operators were working diligently to get approval to run targeted ads.

“It follows a steady pattern where particularly Russian actors have gotten better at hiding who they are, but their impact is smaller and smaller and they are getting caught earlier,” Gleicher says.

“These actors are caught between a rock and hard place: Run a large network that gets caught quickly or run a small network that has limited reach.”

AFP

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Report: Arrivals from ‘red’ countries breeze through airport, not ordered to isolate

Arrivals at Ben Gurion Airport from countries with high coronavirus infection rates were not asked their origin or ordered into quarantine upon landing in Israel, Channel 12 reports.

“They didn’t ask us where we came from,” one passenger is quoted saying.

Another traveler, who also was not identified, says authorities did not ask to see their ticket or inquire where they had come from.

Those entering Israel from countries classified as “red” due to high infection rates are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

The Population and Immigration Authority, responding to the report, denies the claim, saying all arrivals are asked about their origin and given instructions on quarantine.