The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour party refuses to re-admit his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn to its parliamentary ranks as a row over anti-Semitism intensifies.
“Since I was elected Labour leader, I have made it my mission to root out anti-Semitism from the Labour Party,” Keir Starmer tweets, after a disciplinary panel yesterday decided to revoke Corbyn’s suspension from the party. “I know that I will [be] judged on my actions, not my words.”
He says Corbyn’s “actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle anti-Semitism.”
And he says “The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community. That became clear once again yesterday.
“In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review.”
In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) November 18, 2020
Saudi Arabia hosts the G20 summit Saturday in a first for an Arab nation, but the scaled-down virtual format could limit debate on a resurgent coronavirus pandemic and crippling economic crisis.
The two-day meeting of the world’s wealthiest nations follows a bitter US election the results of which remain disputed by President Donald Trump and comes amid criticism of what campaigners call the group’s inadequate response to the worst recession in decades.
Held under the shadow of a raging pandemic, the summit, which is usually an opportunity for one-on-one engagements between world leaders, is reduced to brief online sessions on pressing global issues — from climate change to growing inequality.
Discussions are expected to be dominated by the “implications of the pandemic” and “steps for reviving the global economy,” a source close to the Saudi organizers says.
Iraq and Saudi Arabia have reopened the main border crossing for trade between the two nations after three decades of closure, Iraq’s border authority says.
The Arar crossing was shuttered in 1990s, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait after which Riyadh cut all ties with Iraq. The crossing remained closed, reflecting the unease in Baghdad-Riyadh ties with successive governments.
But diplomatic ties were restored in 2015, following several high-level meetings that lead first to the reopening of Riyadh’s embassy in Baghdad. Later, in 2017, a bilateral coordination council was established to improve ties.
Arar’s reopening represents a key step toward firming relations and deepening Iraq-Saudi economic cooperation. Previously, the crossing would open just once a year for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Pfizer says that more interim results from its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study suggest the shots are 95% effective and that the vaccine protects older people most at risk of dying from COVID-19.
The announcement, just a week after Pfizer first revealed promising preliminary results, comes as the company is preparing within days to formally ask US regulators to allow emergency use of the vaccine.
Pfizer initially had estimated its vaccine, developed with German partner BioNTech, was more than 90% effective after 94 infections had been counted. With Wednesday’s announcement, the company now has accumulated 170 infections in the study — and says only eight of them occurred in volunteers who got the actual vaccine rather than a dummy shot. One of those eight developed severe disease, the company says.
The company has not yet released detailed data on its study, and results have not been analyzed by independent experts.
Gaza health authorities have identified 600 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, setting a new record for daily infections in the coastal enclave for the third consecutive day.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says that 22 percent of tests came back positive in the past 24 hours, indicating that the virus could be spreading widely undetected. As recently as a week and a half ago, only 5%-10% of tests were coming back positive.
There are currently 3,806 active coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip, the Health Ministry says. Around 234 have been hospitalized and 61 are critically ill, according to Gaza health official Majdi Daher. Hamas has previously said that it has around 500 ICU beds in its health care system.
Four Gazans died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. According to the Health Ministry, 54 Gazans have died of the virus since March.
— Aaron Boxerman
Bahrain has okayed Israel’s request to establish an embassy in Manama and is in turn seeking authorization to open an embassy in Israel as well, the Gulf country’s foreign minister says, during a short visit to the Jewish state.
This process should be completed by the end of the year, his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi says at a joint press appearance at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
“I was pleased to convey to Minister Ashkenazi the Kingdom of Bahrain’s formal request to open an embassy in Israel, and to inform him that Israel’s reciprocal request for an embassy in Manama has been approved,” Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani says.
“This is a process which I hope can now move forward relatively quickly.”
He is the first-ever Bahraini minister to visit Israel.
— Raphael Ahren
Former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud has urged US President-elect Joe Biden not to repeat the “mistakes” of the first nuclear deal with Iran.
Speaking at the National Council on US-Arab Relations yesterday, Faisal said Biden “is not new to politics. He is an experienced statesman and well-familiar with the important issues in the world and our region. However, we must wait to see to know about his vision, his team and his foreign policy conduct.
“While we all aspire to have Iran back as a normal peaceful nation-state within the international community, the last forty years’ experience with the Iranian regime is not encouraging.”
Thus, reentering the Iran nuclear deal, as Biden has said he wishes to do, “would not do service to stability in our region. Rejoining and then negotiating the other important issues would trap diplomacy and subject it to Iranian blackmail.”
He said any non-comprehensive agreement “will not achieve lasting peace and security in our region.” He said the nuclear deal “did not rationalize Iranian destructive behavior in our region,” which is no less of a threat than its nuclear aspirations.
Saudi Arabia is seen to be wary of Biden’s upcoming presidency, fearing he will take a far harsher stance toward the nation than the current administration on various issues.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Israel for a farewell visit as the chief diplomat of the strongly pro-Israeli Trump administration.
Palestinians have protested as Pompeo is expected to become the first US top diplomat to visit a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where the Psagot vineyard has named one of its wines after him.
Pompeo — who has so far backed Donald Trump in refusing to concede defeat to US President-elect Joe Biden — is on a Europe and Middle East tour that has taken him to France, Turkey and Georgia.
He flies to Israel on the same day as the foreign minister of Bahrain, one of several Arab states that have agreed under US-brokered pacts to normalize relations with the Jewish state. The two are to have a tripartite meeting with the Israeli prime minister.
— with AFP
US regulators clear the Boeing 737 MAX to take to the skies again, ending its 20-month grounding after two fatal crashes.
The carrier’s workhorse gets the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration but will not fly right away.
Regulators in other countries also want to re-certify the plane. And the FAA says it must approve 737 MAX pilot training program revisions for each US airline operating the MAX.
The plane was grounded after two crashes that killed a total of 346 people last year. The company has since worked to fix a problem with a safety system that was supposed to keep the plane from stalling as it ascends. Instead it caused the noses of 737 MAX planes to point down and led to those crashes.
President Reuven Rivlin meets with Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani.
“The world is full of hate. The world is full of war. But I’m so very proud and I’m so very honored and yes even excited… that our two nations have shown the world that there is also a time for peace,” Rivlin says. “The whole world should come and see the flags of Israel and Bahrain flying together today.”
He says: “This is a new era of friendship, of cooperation, of partnership.”
He also says he wants to “make clear” to Palestinians that Israel desires peace. “President Abbas, we want to live in peace,” he says, in reference to the Palestinian Authority leader.
Al-Zayani says “there will be challenges that we have to work together as partners to overcome, and show the fruits and benefits of peace among nations.
“The people of the Middle East deserve no less than achieving peace for all.”
The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency confirms reports that Iran has begun operating centrifuges installed at an underground site, but says they were moved from another facility so the country’s overall uranium-enriching capabilities have not increased.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, tells reporters in Vienna that the 174 centrifuges were moved into a new area of the Natanz nuclear site and had recently begun operating.
He says that operation of centrifuges of that type is in violation of the nuclear deal Iran had signed with world powers in 2015 — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — but would not lead to a greater overall output of enriched uranium.
Iran is already far past the deal’s limits on enriched uranium, he noted.
“It is already beyond the limits of the JCPOA but in general terms there is no significant increase in the volumes,” Grossi says. “So it’s a nuance.”
Israel is developing a strategy to influence the incoming Biden administration on any new deal with Iran on its nuclear program, Walla news reports, citing two senior officials and two Knesset members with knowledge of the matter.
The report says Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told a top Knesset committee last week: “We don’t want to be left outside again.”
Israel publicly fought the Obama administration as it negotiated the 2015 deal, leading to a nadir in US-Israeli ties.
The report says Ashkenazi has lamented that this approach left Israel irrelevant to the process. His ministry has now formed a team to keep Israel involved and able to affect the outcome of any fresh negotiations.
An Iranian scientist has developed a “self-sterilizing” nano-coating that can be used to clean surfaces of any potential coronavirus contamination, the Fars News Agency reports.
“We have managed to produce a nano-based surface coating that inhibited the growth of bacteria [or viruses] on the surface; the product depends on visible light to become active. It both sterilizes itself and eliminates infections in the air in the presence of light. Over time, the product loses its dependence on light, and other capabilities have been added to it so that it could turn the surface into bacteria-fighting agents,” inventor Ashkan Seza says.
“This product has 2 features; first, it normally destroys the outer protein membrane of the virus. The second property of the product is photocatalysis and the virus is damaged in contact with the surface when exposed to visible light.”
Iran is known for making dubious claims about scientific and military breakthroughs.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani are giving a joint statement as part of a meeting in Jerusalem.
Watch it here.
Netanyahu thanks Pompeo for his “unwavering friendship.”
He adds: “I don’t say that as lip service. Unwavering friendship — constant at all times.”
He says Israel and Bahrain “have had many contacts over the years, but very frankly this day would not have happened, these Abraham Accords would not have been signed, without President Trump’s crucial support and leadership.”
He asks that Pompeo convey to Trump “my deep appreciation and the appreciation of our grateful nation for all he and his administration have done for the State of Israel and for peace.”
Pompeo says the new normalization agreements “set down a marker, a marker for the future of the Middle East” with “a common vision for peace, security and prosperity.”
He hails the newfound peace between Israel and Bahrain as “a wonderful opportunity for all the nations of the world.”
Bahrain’s Al-Zayani says it is “my pleasure to make this historic first visit to Israel.”
He thanks Israel for the “warm welcome and generous hospitality.” He says he is “greatly encouraged” by his meetings with Israeli officials today.
Al-Zayani says he will be discussing with Netanyahu and Pompeo “how we can achieve the objective of the Abraham Accords in practical terms.”
He says it is obvious that all sides are eager to ensure “the peace we are pursuing will be a warm peace that will deliver clear benefits to our peoples.”
“These agreements open up wonderful opportunities for commerce and economic development,” Pompeo says of the Abraham Accords.
“These agreements also tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that their influence in the region is waning and that they are ever more isolated in this and shall forever be until they change their direction.
“They also advance religious freedom. Muslims will be able to more easily pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque thanks to the new flights through Abu Dhabi and Manama.”
Bahrain’s foreign minister says that true peace in the Middle East requires a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I continue to emphasize, in all my meetings, that in order to achieve and consolidate such peace, the Palestinian-Israel conflict needs to be resolved,” Al-Zayani says.
“I therefore call for both parties to get around the negotiating table to achieve a viable two-state solution, as is also sought by the international community.”
A right-wing activist has apologized for saying he wished the family of a fallen Israeli soldier would lose another child, because they allegedly hosted a group of anti-Netanyahu protesters at their home.
Ephraim Grif tells Channel 12: “There are not comments that should be made to a bereaved family. I apologize. You don’t say the things I said last night, but we are human and we make mistakes. It shouldn’t have happened; it was said in a storm of emotions.”
Grif had been heard saying: “There is a God and he punished her. I wish upon her another [lost child].”
Demonstrators had hurled insults at neighbors of the prime minister in Caesarea. A message reportedly circulated on WhatsApp ahead of the protest complained that the family “commits terrorism in front of the Netanyahu family’s home.”
Their actions were condemned by the prime minister, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu comments on Israel’s strikes in Syria overnight following an attempted attack on the Golan Heights.
“In the early morning, the air force struck significant targets of the Iranian Quds Force in Syria, as well as [targets] of the Syrian army,” he says.
“We will not allow Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria against us, and we won’t allow any attempt to attack us from Syria. Whoever attacks us — on their own head be it.”
House Democrats nominate Nancy Pelosi as the speaker to lead them into Joe Biden’s presidency, but she’ll be guiding a smaller and ideologically divided majority as she tries shepherding his agenda toward enactment.
Democrats used a voice vote to make Pelosi their choice to serve two more years in her post. Scattered around the country, it was the party’s first virtual leadership election, a response to the coronavirus pandemic. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and No. 3 party leader Jim Clyburn are also on track to retain their positions.
“Let us all be advocates for unity in the Democratic party, where our values are opportunity and community,” Pelosi, the first female speaker, wrote to Democrats this week.
The prime minister says Israel is on the verge of an agreement with pharmaceutical company Moderna to increase the number of vaccines to be delivered to the Jewish state.
“This is the beginning of the end for coronavirus,” Netanyahu says in a video posted to social media.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz praises the Palestinian Authority’s decision to resume security cooperation with Israel, saying the move benefits both Israelis and Palestinians.
“Over the past few weeks I dedicated considerable efforts to renewing the security cooperation with the Palestinians. Yesterday, after weeks of disconnect, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun informed me that the Palestinian Authority was interested in restoring them,” Gantz says.
“Coordination is a shared interest, beneficial to the security of Israel’s citizens and critical to the welfare and economic wellbeing of the Palestinians. Over the coming days, we will get procedures in place to support the resumption of coordination,” Gantz states.
The defense minister also calls for the PA to restart peace talks with Israel. “I once again call upon the Palestinian leadership to get back to the negotiating table, which is both a primary Israeli security interest and the most promising route to a more stable and prosperous future for our region,” he says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Iran will impose “severe restrictions” across many areas of the country on Saturday in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, President Hassan Rouhani says.
The Islamic Republic has not imposed a full lockdown since it reported its first COVID-19 cases in February.
The country is the worst hit in the Middle East by the pandemic, and official deaths and infection figures have hit several new records in recent weeks.
“We are on the verge of a new stage of social responsibility over the growing spread of the coronavirus,” Rouhani says during a televised cabinet meeting. “As of Saturday, severe restrictions will be imposed in the country.”
Specific details on the new measures, first mentioned by Rouhani last Saturday, have yet to be announced.
The Knesset approves the reopening of zoos as well as the opening of restaurants and attractions inside the so-called “tourism islands” in Eilat and the Dead Sea.
The approval comes after debates on the latest easing of restrictions approved by the cabinet.
Prosecutors demand life behind bars for a man accused of killing two people in an anti-Semitic attack in the German city of Halle last year.
Stephan Balliet, 28, is accused of trying to storm a synagogue filled with worshippers in the attack on October 9, 2019 during Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
After failing to break down the door, the attacker shot dead a female passer-by and a man at a kebab shop instead.
“The attack on the synagogue in Halle was one of the most repulsive anti-Semitic acts since World War II,” prosecutor Kai Lohse tells a court in Magdeburg.
Lohse says Balliet had acted on the basis of a “racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideology” to carry out an attack against not only those he killed but “Jewish life in Germany as a whole.”
The events that unfolded were like a “nightmare”, he adds.
In an irregular move, the Israel Defense Forces releases footage of some of its strikes on Iranian and Syrian targets in southern Syria early this morning in response to an attempted explosive attack by Iranian-backed operatives against Israeli troops on the Golan Heights.
In the video, three sites can be seen being destroyed by incoming Israeli missiles. The military does not identify the targets of the strikes.
The military says it bombed “warehouses, command posts and military complexes, as well as batteries of surface-to-air missiles.”
The IDF generally maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its activities against Iran and its proxies in Syria, refusing to publicly acknowledge its actions, with the exception of retaliations to attacks, as was the case this week. On Tuesday, the IDF uncovered and disarmed three anti-personnel mines inside Israeli territory near the Syrian border, which the military believes were planted there by Syrian nationals acting on behalf of Iran.
— Judah Ari Gross
The United Nations Middle East special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, tells the Security Council that amid the coronavirus pandemic, “Gaza remains the most immediate and pressing concern.”
He explains: “Its crumbling infrastructure, poor living conditions and fragile healthcare system make it ill-equipped to face a major spike in cases.”
The territory has been setting daily infection records, registering 600 new cases Wednesday.
Mladenov also welcomes the Palestinian Authority’s decision to renew ties with Israel.
And he condemns Israeli demolitions in the West Bank in the wake of a recent operation that left dozens homeless.
“I reiterate my call on Israeli authorities to cease demolitions, seizures of Palestinian property and efforts to relocate communities in the occupied West Bank,” he says. “Such actions are contrary to international law and could undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.”
In its evening update, the Health Ministry says 426 new coronavirus cases have been diagnosed so far today, in some 1.7 percent of tests.
The national total stands at 326,200 since the start of the pandemic, with 8,148 active cases.
The death toll stands at 2,738, with one new death reported today.
The United States hits Iran with new sanctions, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes the case that undoing the actions of the Trump administration will be foolish and dangerous.
The Treasury and State departments announce they have targeted a leading Iranian charity and numerous of its affiliates for human rights violations. At the same time, Pompeo releases a statement titled “The Importance of Sanctions on Iran,” which argues that the Trump administration’s moves against Iran make the world safer and should not be reversed.
The sanctions announced Wednesday target Iran’s Mostazafan Foundation and roughly 160 of its subsidiaries, which are alleged to provide material support to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for malign activities, including the suppression of dissent.
“While [it] is ostensibly a charitable organization charged with providing benefits to the poor and oppressed, its holdings are expropriated from the Iranian people and are used by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to enrich his office, reward his political allies, and persecute the regime’s enemies,” the Treasury says in a statement.
Also targeted was Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, who it says “played a central role in the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses against Iranian citizens.”
US President Donald Trump’s campaign has paid $3 million for a recount of two heavily Democratic Wisconsin counties, saying that they were the site of the “worst irregularities,” although no evidence of wrongdoing has been presented and state elections officials have said there was none.
Trump paid for the recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties overnight Tuesday and plans to submit the required paperwork to trigger the recount today, the campaign says in a statement.
In the two counties Trump chose for the recount, Democrat Joe Biden received 577,455 votes compared with 213,157 for Trump. Biden won statewide by 20,608 votes, based on canvassed results submitted by the counties.
“The people of Wisconsin deserve to know whether their election processes worked in a legal and transparent way,” says Wisconsin attorney Jim Troupis, who is working with the Trump campaign. “Regrettably, the integrity of the election results cannot be trusted without a recount in these two counties and uniform enforcement of Wisconsin absentee ballot requirements. We will not know the true results of the election until only the legal ballots cast are counted.”
Republican US senators are urging President Donald Trump to move to label products from Israeli settlements as “Made in Israel,” Axios reports.
In a letter to Trump, Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio say the move is necessary to fight efforts to boycott Israel.
The two note that according to current, unenforced law, such products are to be labeled “Made in West Bank.” They cite concern that “a future administration could choose to enforce these rules.
“This decision would be yet another achievement by your administration that would support Israel and would push back against anti-Semitism and the BDS movement.
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) November 18, 2020
Defense Minister Benny Gantz appears set to move to form an investigative committee in the ministry to look into the so-called submarine affair, also known as Case 3000, Channel 12 reports.
Case 3000 revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. The scandal has embroiled several close associates of Netanyahu, as well as high ranking military officials, and led to multiple indictments, but has the premier himself has not been accused.
An investigation, long demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics and opponents, is likely to inflame tensions between the two.
In October the state prosecution told the High Court of Justice that it believes there is no justification to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu over the matter.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani tells Walla news he hopes the incoming Biden administration will consult with Gulf states before he moves to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.
“The situation in the Middle East has changed in the past four years,” Al Zayani says during a visit to Israel. “The dynamic has changed. We are certain that a safe and stable region is in the American interest.”
He adds that his country has “no quarrel with the Iranian people. It is the behavior of the Iranian government and regime [we take issue with].”
He said Bahrain was conferring with Israel and other Gulf nations on the matter and says he believes the new administration will ask for Bahrain’s position prior to taking any significant steps.
The Palestinian Authority has quietly returned its ambassadors to Manama and Abu Dhabi, according to reports in the Palestinian media.
The PA recalled its ambassadors to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain after both countries signed normalization accords with Israel in August and September, respectively.
The normalization accords angered Ramallah, which accused the two Arab states of “betrayal” and stabbing them in the back.
A spokesperson for PA Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Maliki has not immediately responded to a request for comment.
— Aaron Boxerman
Defense Minister Benny Gantz responds to reports that his ministry is opening an investigation into the decision-making process behind a contentious purchase of submarines from Germany, which has already led to legal action against some of those involved.
Gantz confirms that his office is considering opening the probe, but says no final decision has been made about the matter.
“As the defense minister has said a number of times, in his own voice, the defense establishment has been instructed to consider the option of forming an investigatory committee,” his office says.
“When the deliberation ends and a decision is reached — we will update you.”
In response to the report, Likud says: “Just four months ago Gantz said there was no reason to investigate the recycled submarine affair… and suddenly he’s ‘weighing’ the matter. What’s changed?
“The answer is Blue and White is collapsing in the polls and is looking for a way to scrounge up votes with empty tricks.”
— with Judah Ari Gross
Prime Minister Netanyahu has appealed to US President Donald Trump to give a green light for construction in Atarot, in northern Jerusalem, beyond the green line Kann news reports.
“I will ask the secretary of state to advance thousands of homes,” Netanyahu has reportedly told associates.
Sources who spoke to Netanyahu tell Kann the premier wants to establish facts on the ground before Joe Biden becomes president.
Earlier it was reported that Netanyahu is facing pressure to take advantage of the outgoing administration’s goodwill toward settlements to authorize a slew of illegal West Bank outposts.
Exiled Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan criticizes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to resume security coordination with Israel at the present moment, saying that the PA gave up a “valuable negotiation card” in dealings with the new US administration.
The Palestinian Authority ended security coordination with Israel in May in protest of an Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank. Although the plan was suspended following a normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August, the PA did not resume coordination with Israel until last night.
Dahlan, a bitter rival of Abbas who has resided in exile in Abu Dhabi since 2011, says that the real reason that the PA chose to return to coordinate with Israel is financial. As part of ending coordination, the PA refused over $100 million in tax revenues which Israel collects on its behalf. The so-called “clearance revenues” constitute over 60 percent of the Palestinian budget.
With a gaping hole in the Palestinian budget, hundreds of thousands of civil servants did not receive full salaries for months.
“If the financial, administrative and personal needs were the real motive, as it seems, then we can ask why the Authority originally stopped receiving clearance funds, which are funds belonging purely to the Palestinian people,” Dahlan says.
— Aaron Boxerman
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