Russia vaccine study data ‘highly unlikely’ to be correct — experts
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Israel reports record virus death, infection tallies as lockdown options mulled

In grim new highs, country passes 4,000 virus cases, 22 fatalities in a day; number of patients in serious condition spikes to 488, with 143 of them on ventilators — also a record

Magen David Adom ambulance workers wearing protective clothing seen outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Magen David Adom ambulance workers wearing protective clothing seen outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Ministers debate nationwide Rosh Hashanah lockdown

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several ministers reportedly in favor of imposing a nationwide lockdown are meeting in Jerusalem with Israel’s virus czar Ronni Gamzu before a full meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet.

According to the Ynet news site, Gazmu told the ministers that a lockdown over the upcoming Rosh Hashanah festival was “a necessity.”

The cornavirus cabinet is set to meet this afternoon.

Russia slams ‘unacceptable’ US claims over Navalny

Russia condemns a US statement that senior Russian officials may have been behind the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The 44-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner fell ill last month after boarding a plane and was treated in Siberia before medical evacuation to Germany, where doctors said he was poisoned.

“We consider unacceptable any direct or indirect suggestions that Russian officials were involved in this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says, responding to claims made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it was likely senior Russian officials ordered the poisoning of the top Kremlin critic with Novichok nerve agent.

“I think people all around the world see this kind of activity for what it is,” Pompeo said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

Peskov says that Russia had “an interest in finding the reasons for what happened” to Navalny.

— AFP

Congress questions sale of US residence in Israel to Adelson

The State Department has informally confirmed to Congress that Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson is the buyer of the US ambassador’s official residence in Israel, a congressional aide tells The Associated Press.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are now looking into whether the deal complied with regulations.

The US Embassy in Israel announced the deal this week — a sale that is meant to cement President Donald Trump’s controversial move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But the embassy refused to identify the buyer or disclose the sale price of the sprawling beachfront compound in the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya.

US President Donald Trump pats Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson on the arm before speaking at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida, December 7, 2019. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Israeli business newspaper Globes has identified the buyer as Adelson, a strong supporter of both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It said the price was over $80 million, making it the most expensive residential real-estate transaction in Israeli history. Representatives for Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

A congressional aide says the State Department has confirmed public reports of the sale to Adelson. The aide says the “biggest question” now is how much rent will be paid by US taxpayers while Friedman remains at the property. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private information.

— AP

Coronavirus cabinet meeting begins

The so-called coronavirus cabinet, made of various ministers and government officials, is currently meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the possibility of imposing a nationwide lockdown over the Rosh Hashanah festival next week.

 

Minister visits family of slain Bedouin man, promises compensation

Visiting the relatives of a Bedouin teacher shot dead by police in 2017, Economy Minister Amir Peretz apologizes on behalf of the government for branding him a terrorist, and promises to form a team that will decide on compensation for the family.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly apologized on Tuesday night for the Israeli government’s claim that Yaqoub Abu al-Qia’an — fatally shot by police during the demolition of his home — was a terrorist. The apology came a day after a TV report accused police and prosecutors of a cover-up in various cases, including this one, to avoid tarnishing their name while investigating Netanyahu.

Peretz says he welcomes Netanyahu’s apology, as well as President Reuven Rivlin’s, but distances himself from the premier’s accusations that police and prosecutors only called Abu al-Qia’an a terrorist to harm Netanyahu.

“These are two very different things, and we mustn’t allow them to be linked because that will only harm the message,” Peretz says. “This incident should be used to foster coexistence and mutual recognition between the entire Israeli society and the Arab community in general, and the Bedouin community in particular.”

Asian football cup canceled, Champions League further delayed due to virus

Asia’s soccer body cancels this year’s AFC Cup because of the coronavirus pandemic — and also announces further delays to Champions League matches in what it said were “tough times” for the sport.

The Asian Football Confederation had hoped to restart its long-delayed Cup competition next month in four host countries, but following a meeting of the executive committee they blew the whistle on the plans.

“These are tough times for everyone connected with football — and sport in general,” says AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa.

Officials also say some matches in the Champions League — the region’s showpiece tournament, which resumes next week in Qatar — would be further delayed.

— AFP

Coronavirus czar recommends wide-ranging restrictions over High Holidays

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is reportedly recommending to government ministers that Israel introduce a series of wide-ranging restrictions over the upcoming period of Jewish festivals in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

According to the recommendations currently being presented to the so-called coronavirus cabinet, Israelis would be limited to their city of residence for each festival — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the first and last days of Succot — from the day before until the day after each one, Ynet reports. Public gatherings within cities would also be banned.

During the entire period, which lasts from next week through the first 10 days \ of October, there would be no school across the country and the commercial workforce would be limited to 30-50 percent, according to the report.

In addition, for two weeks after the holiday period, only children in fourth grade and below would attend school and public gatherings would be limited in certain cities.

Finance minister said to oppose lockdown in coronavirus cabinet

Finance Minister Israel Katz and other Treasury officials tell the coronavirus cabinet that they oppose imposing a nationwide lockdown due to the damage it will cause to the economy, Channel 12 news reports.

Ministers are currently meeting to discuss restrictions to be put in place over the upcoming Jewish festivals.

Liberman, other Yisrael Beytenu MKs enter quarantine

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman and party MKs Yevgeny Soba and Oded Forer enter quarantine until September 22 due to having met earlier this week with Shomrom Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Russia vaccine study data ‘highly unlikely’ to be correct — experts

The Lancet medical journal says it has asked authors of a study on a potential Russian COVID-19 vaccine for clarifications after their research came under scrutiny.

Russia announced last month that its vaccine, named “Sputnik V” after the Soviet-era satellite that was the first launched into space in 1957, had already received approval. This raised concerns among Western scientists over a lack of safety data, with some warning that moving too quickly on a vaccine could be dangerous.

Russian researchers published their trial findings last week in the Lancet, meaning their research had undergone review from a selection of their peers.

It said that the vaccine had proven to be “safe and well-tolerated” among a few dozen volunteers.

However an open letter signed this week by more than 30 Europe-based experts cast doubt on the findings, pointing towards “potential data inconsistencies.”

The researchers identified what they said appeared to be a number of duplications in figures presented and concluded that the data within the study was “highly unlikely” to be correct.

— AFP

UN calls for ‘quantum leap’ in funding for virus fight

The United Nations is calling for an immediate “quantum leap” in funding for global programs to combat the coronavirus and restore prosperity.

“Either we stand together or we will be doomed,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tells a virtual meeting of the ACT-Accelerator, calling the virus the “number one global security threat.”

Guterres urges countries to find $15 billion over the next three months to fund the ACT-Accelerator program, a global collaboration to hunt for a vaccine and treatments led by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

“We need a quantum leap in funding to increase the chances of a global solution to get the world moving, working and prospering again,” he says.

— with AFP

20 virus patients were at anti-government demonstrations in last month — report

At least twenty coronavirus patients are known to have attended anti-government demonstrations over the past month, the Health Ministry ha determined, although it is not known whether they became infected at the rallies or had passed on the virus to other protesters, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have repeatedly urged that the weekly mass rallies, which have in some cases been attended by more than 10,000 people, be banned or at least severely limited due to concerns they could become a hive of virus infections.

The first official figures on virus patients known to have attended demonstrations found that at least 20 were at anti-government rallies over the past month and at least 55 over the past three months, the Kan report says, stressing that the figures are only partial statistics.

EU court consultant says countries should not be allowed to ban kosher and halal meat

The advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union advises the court to prohibit governments from banning kosher and halal slaughter.

The advice by Gerard Hogan is “an important development that could spell the end of attempts to ban shechitah in the entire European Union,” Hans Knoop, a spokesperson for the Forum of Jewish Organizations in Belgium, tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, using the Hebrew word for ritual slaughter.

Shechitah,which involves slashing the animal’s throat with a very sharp knife, and the Muslim variant, Dbiha, preclude stunning the animal before the slaughter. Animal welfare activists find this cruel. Opponents of Muslim immigration and of Jewish presence in Europe also protest ritual slaughter, sometimes citing animal welfare arguments.

The Luxembourg-based court “should find that Member States are not permitted to adopt rules” […] for a prohibition of the slaughter of animals without stunning,” Hogan says, responding to a lawsuit last year by several Jewish groups from Belgium after two of the three autonomous states that make up the federal kingdom of Belgium banning slaughter without stunning.

— JTA

IDF completes surprise West Bank exercise

The Israel Defense Forces completes a surprise exercise in the West Bank simulating a kidnapping and subsequent outbreak of violence throughout the region, a scenario similar to that which preceded the 2014 Gaza war.

Troops from four West Bank regional brigades, the Air Force, Military Intelligence, Teleprocessing Corps, Shin Bet security service and Israel Police took part in the three-day drill, the military says.

“The forces practiced a scenario of [violence] escalating following a kidnapping incident, of making an effort to locate and free the captives, making use of General Staff resources, and examining inter-agency work methods,” the IDF says in a statement.

During the exercise, the IDF carried out a series of arrest raids around the city of Hebron, detaining dozens of Hamas members. The exercise is the fourth such surprise drill conducted by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

— Judah Ari Gross

Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning screenwriter of ‘The Pianist,’ dies at 85

Screenwriter Ronald Harwood, who won an Academy Award in 2003 for “The Pianist,” has died.

Harwood died Tuesday of natural causes at his home in Sussex, England. He was 85.

He also was nominated for Oscars for his screenplays for “The Dresser” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” The South Africa native received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 2010.

Ronald Harwood attends the ‘Quartet’ premiere during the 56th BFI London Film Festival at the Odeon Leicester Square on October 15, 2012, in London, England. (Tim Whitby/Getty Images for BFI)

“The Pianist” was based on a Holocaust memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman, a survivor. The critically acclaimed film also won Oscars for Adrien Brody for best actor and Roman Polanski for best director.

Harwood, who was born Ronald Horwitz, moved from Cape Town to London in 1951 to pursue a stage career. He changed his surname after moving to Britain, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

— JTA

Kosher deli chef will compete on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’

Kosher-keeping chef Shalom Yehudiel of The Humble Toast in Teaneck, New Jersey, is set to be a contestant on “Chopped,” a competition cooking show on the Food Network.

“When they approached me, I called my rabbi to consult,” Yehudiel told NorthJersey.com. “I run a kosher restaurant, so I just don’t want to say yes if I can’t cook kosher.”

The restaurant’s menu features traditional Jewish deli foods like potato knishes and a pastrami sandwich on rye alongside more modern additions like a truffle burger or a cheeseburger (with vegan cheese, of course).

Shalom Yehudiel is one of a handful of kosher-keeping chefs to compete on the cooking competition show ‘Chopped.’ (Courtesy of The Humble Toast)

“Chopped” contestants prepare a three-course meal but must use a selection of specific ingredients in each course. The mystery ingredients can pose problems for kosher-keeping contestants who will not eat certain ingredients or combine meat and milk.

Yehudiel will be the latest contestant on the show to have a mashgiach, a kosher supervisor, certifying that his ingredients are kosher. Rachel Goldzal of Staten Island, New York, won the competition in 2018 at just 12 years old. Producers worked with Rachel to ensure all the ingredients would be kosher and provided her with all new kitchen utensils, according to the Orthodox news site Vos Iz Neias.

The episode featuring Yehudiel will air at 9 p.m. on September 22.

— JTA

UAE sounds warning after virus cases jump five-fold

The United Arab Emirates says that daily coronavirus cases have jumped five-fold compared with a month ago, and warns residents and citizens to abide by measures designed to curb the disease.

The daily tally of cases hit 930 on Thursday, said Farida al-Hosani, spokeswoman for the Emirates’ health sector, compared with 179 on August 10.

“This is the highest number recorded in four months,” she says during a televised conference. “Those who violate the preventive measures in place, whether an individual, shops, or restaurants, will be held accountable.”

Hosani said 12 percent of cases were among residents or citizens returning to the UAE from abroad, even though they received negative tests from their destination countries — which are a requirement for entry.

The remainder of the cases were among those infected as a result of social events, contact in the workplace, or other gatherings.

— AFP

Morocco busts IS-linked cell plotting suicide attacks

Morocco has dismantled an Islamic State group-affiliated cell that was planning suicide bombings, police say, adding that explosive belts had been seized and five men arrested.

The five “extremists,” aged between 29 and 43, were detained in simultaneous operations at sites in Tangiers and the Rabat region, says Morroco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations.

Explosive belts, three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of ammonium nitrate, electronic equipment and bladed weapons were seized in raids on homes and businesses of the suspects, the bureau says.

The cell’s alleged leader “had planned with his accomplices to target sensitive installations and sites with explosive devices and belts to destabilize… the kingdom,” it adds.

— AFP

Lebanon claims to shoot down IDF drone

The Israel Defense Forces confirms that a small drone crashed as it was conducting “routine operations” along the Lebanese border.

The Lebanese military says it shot down the drone. This is not immediately confirmed by the IDF.

The military says there is no risk that intelligence can be taken from the aircraft.

The IDF refuses to comment on the claim made by the Lebanese Armed Forces that the drone was flying some 200 meters north of the border.

The incident comes amid lingering tensions along the border as the Hezbollah terror group has vowed revenge for the death of one of its fighters in an airstrike in Syria in July that was widely attributed to Israel.

Israir announces direct flights to Abu Dhabi

Israir announces that it will begin offering direct flights from Ben Gurion Airport to Abu Dhabi, in what will likely make it the first Israeli airline to service tourists from the Jewish state heading to the United Arab Emirates.

The airline says it will begin operating the flights– which will take three and a half hours and cost $300 each way — immediately, pending final approval from Israeli and Emirati authorities.

Israel passes new grim milestone with 22 deaths, over 4,000 virus cases, in 24 hours

The Health Ministry announces that a total of 4,015 new coronavirus cases have been recorded since yesterday night, a new record and the first time that daily cases have passed the 4,000 mark.

The ministry says that the death toll from the virus has risen to 1,075, up 22 from yesterday — also a new daily record.

In total, there have been 144, 267 cases of coronavirus in Israel.

The number of patients in serious condition has spiked to 488, with 143 of them on ventilators, matching a record high.

Netanyahu: Hospital heads raised ‘red flag,’ said action must be taken now

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the heads of Israel’s hospitals have advised the co-called coronavirus cabinet to take drastic and immediate action to stem the high rates of infection before medical centers are overwhelmed.

In a statement sent during a meeting of the ministerial committee, Netanyahu says that Israel’s coronavirus czar “Prof. Gamzu and the heads of the hospitals came to the coronavirus cabinet today and waved a red flag.”

“They said that although the number of serious patients in Israel is still relatively low, it can change in an instant, then the hospitals will not be able to treat them and there will be many serious [cases] and many dead,” he says, shortly after the Health Ministry announced that Israel had seen over 4,000 new cases in the past 24 hours.

“They say that action must be taken,” Netanyahu continues, “but we must take action carefully, not recklessly, so it takes many hours, and on the other hand [we must make a decision] early enough so that we can all get organized for the holidays.”

Norway remands custody of suspect linked to 1982 Paris attack

Norway on Thursday detained a suspect linked to a 1982 attack in a Jewish neighborhood in Paris that left six people dead and 22 injured, pending a decision on his extradition to France, a court says.

Walid Abdulrahman Abu Zayed, who has been living in Norway since 1991 and became a citizen in 1997, is being remanded in custody by an Oslo court after he was arrested on Wednesday following a French extradition request.

File photo of Walid Abdulrahman Abu Zayed, alias ‘Souhail Othman’ as he gestures outside his home in the Norwegian town of Skien some 130 km south of Oslo, March 4, 2015. (Tomm W. CHRISTIANSEN/AFP)

On August 9, 1982, a group — three men according to the European arrest warrant issued by France — threw a grenade into the Jo Goldenberg restaurant in a historically Jewish quarter of Paris, then opened fire inside the establishment and on passers-by.

The attack has been attributed to the Abu Nidal Organization, which splintered from the militant Palestinian Fatah group.

— AFP

PM and wife to fly to US on private plane for fear of contagion — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara will reportedly fly to next week’s signing ceremony of the Israel-UAE normalization deal in Washington on a private plane, separate from the rest of the Israeli delegation and press corps.

His office says this is to avoid contagion from COVID-19.

While the delegation will fly on a normal chartered plane, the premier and his wife will be flying alone due to fear of contracting the coronavirus while in the air, Channel 13 news reports.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara boarding a plane at Ben Gurion Airport before departing to Moscow, Russia, on July 11, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Prime Minister’s Office denies that the decision will increase taxpayer costs.

“The prime minister is reducing contacts as much as possible due to the epidemic and the flight to Washington is a complex operation that includes capsules to prevent infection on the flight or in the United States. Adding the private flight will not increase costs because the tender for the general delegation plane will open to other airlines,” the PMO says in a statement to the network.

Iranian currency hits new record low against the dollar

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s currency drops to its lowest value ever against the dollar, and has seen its value fall by 30% since June amid severe US sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Money exchange shops trade the Iranian rial 262,000 for a dollar. The rial had traded at 256,000 to $1 on Thursday, and markets were closed yesterday, the start of the weekend in Iran.

The rial has tumbled from a rate of 200,000 in late June. Iran’s currency was at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The currency unexpectedly rallied for some time after US President Donald Trump’s decision more than two years ago to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal and reimpose crippling trade sanctions on Iran.

The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply.

Yesterday, the head of Iran’s central bank Abdolnasser Hemmati said the government was trying its best to control the situation in the currency market.

Iranian officials for months have warned exporters to bring their foreign earnings home from abroad or face having their export licenses revoked, and central bank has warned it would publish the names of violators.

In June, the central bank reported that Iranian companies export more than $40 billion in non-oil products per year, and officials say some 50% of that remains abroad.

— AP

AstraZeneca resumes coronavirus vaccine trial after getting green-light from UK

LONDON — Pharma giant AstraZeneca says it has resumed a COVID-19 vaccine trial after getting the all-clear from British regulators, following a pause caused by a UK volunteer falling ill.

“Clinical trials for the AstraZeneca Oxford coronavirus vaccine, AZD1222, have resumed in the UK following confirmation by the Medicines Health Regulatory Authority (MHRA) that it was safe to do so,” the company says in a statement.

AstraZeneca announced on Wednesday it had “voluntarily paused” its trial of the vaccine, developed alongside Oxford University, after the volunteer developed an unexplained illness.

An independent committee was drafted to review safety, in what the company and the World Health Organization described as a routine step.

The committee “has concluded its investigations and recommended to the MHRA that trials in the UK are safe to resume”, AstraZeneca says.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is one of nine around the world currently in late-stage Phase 3 human trials.

— AFP

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Russia vaccine study data ‘highly unlikely’ to be correct — experts

The Lancet medical journal says it has asked authors of a study on a potential Russian COVID-19 vaccine for clarifications after their research came under scrutiny.

Russia announced last month that its vaccine, named “Sputnik V” after the Soviet-era satellite that was the first launched into space in 1957, had already received approval. This raised concerns among Western scientists over a lack of safety data, with some warning that moving too quickly on a vaccine could be dangerous.

Russian researchers published their trial findings last week in the Lancet, meaning their research had undergone review from a selection of their peers.

It said that the vaccine had proven to be “safe and well-tolerated” among a few dozen volunteers.

However an open letter signed this week by more than 30 Europe-based experts cast doubt on the findings, pointing towards “potential data inconsistencies.”

The researchers identified what they said appeared to be a number of duplications in figures presented and concluded that the data within the study was “highly unlikely” to be correct.

— AFP