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US envoy for Iran says Trump plans steady sanctions increase in coming weeks

Elliott Abrams predicts Biden will have difficulty reentering nuclear deal, stresses efforts to hit Tehran with more sanctions have ‘nothing to do with the elections’

Elliot Abrams, special representative for Iran and Venezuela at the State Department, attends a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on US Policy in the Middle East, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Elliot Abrams, special representative for Iran and Venezuela at the State Department, attends a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on US Policy in the Middle East, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

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

Netanyahu warns no further easing of restrictions without drop in infections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns the government won’t ease additional lockdown measures until coronavirus infection rates further decline, amid concerns of a potential rise in new cases.

Speaking during a visit to a new COVID-19 testing station at Ben Gurion Airport, Netanyahu says ministers will convene in the coming days to deliberate whether to move to the third stage of the multiphase plan for rolling back restrictions put in place to contain the virus.

“If there’s no improvement in the figures, we won’t enter the third stage. Together we’ll take the steps that will ensure morbidity doesn’t rise because if it does, it rises like an airplane or missile taking off to the skies,” he says.

Iran says no change in ties with US unless Biden steps off ‘wrong path’

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran says that nothing will change between it and arch-enemy the United States under president-elect Joe Biden unless his administration takes three steps to correct America’s “wrong path.”

Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing sanctions.

Biden, who defeated Trump at the ballot box last week, says during campaigning that he plans to embark on a “credible path to return to diplomacy” with Iran. He also raises the possibility of returning to the nuclear deal.

Iran’s foreign ministry says there is still enough time for the United States to “turn back from this wrong path.”

“We will certainly look closely at the actions and words of the next US administration,” says ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh.

“There are three important changes that must come to be before anything can happen,” he tells a weekly news conference.

They entail a “change in the thought and mentality of US decision-makers, change in words and speech and the type of speech with the world and Iran, and (taking) correct actions, turning back from the wrong path and making up for the past.”

Khatibzadeh denies Iran has had any contact with the incoming US administration, and says Tehran will observe their actions rather than words.

“First, a government must be formed in the US and then take its own actions and we observe it,” he say.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that the result of the November 3 presidential election in the United States would have “no effect” on Tehran’s policies towards Washington.

— AFP

UNRWA says it lacks funds to pay full Palestinian salaries

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, hammered by US cuts, says it lacks the funds to pay full November salaries but is confident President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will restore support.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) “never recovered” from the total funding cut imposed by US President Donald Trump in 2018, agency spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai tells AFP.

Before Trump’s cuts the US had been providing UNRWA $300 million a year, roughly a third of its core annual budget.

Alrifai says 2019 shortfalls were filled by additional support from several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Both the European Union and individual European states, notably Germany, also helped close the gap, she says.

This year, “financial support waned,” Alrifai addes, noting that the coronavirus pandemic “didn’t help,” as key donors faced increased domestic financial pressures.

“The agency needs to raise US$70 million by the end of the month if it is to pay full salaries for the months of November and December,” an UNRWA statement says.

The funding shortfall affects 28,000 staffers, spread across Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Only those whose work is covered by special emergency budgets could be spared, Alrifai says.

— AFP

Pfizer reports COVID-19 vaccine 90% effective in Phase 3 trial

PARIS — A vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections in ongoing Phase 3 trials, the companies announces.

Protection in patients was achieved seven days after the second of two doses, and 28 days after the first, according to preliminary findings.

“The first set of results from our Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19,” Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla says in a statement.

“We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.

“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most,” Bourla adds.

Across much of the globe, COVID-19 infections rates are soaring to record highs, with hospital intensive care units filling up and death tolls mounting as well.

Based on supply projections, the companies say they expect to supply up to 50 million vaccine doses globally in 2020, and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

— AFP

Netanyahu attends Knesset committee hearing on violence in Arab society

In a rare visit to a parliamentary committee, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the Knesset Committee on Combating Violence in Arab Society that he sees himself as “the prime minister of all citizens of Israel.”

Netanyahu highlights what he characterizes as “a great improvement” in closing gaps between the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel, saying that he has invested far more funding for this purpose than past governments.

The last time Netanyahu participated in a Knesset discussion on combating violence in Arab communities was in 2012. In the past eight years, the number of homicides among Arab Israelis has skyrocketed. Arab Israelis constitute 20 percent of the country’s population, but accounted for 67% of the country’s homicides in 2019, according to the Haaretz daily.

“Let’s place the good intentions on a timescale which will allow for their implementation…and realize all of the potential in this plan,” Committee chairman MK Mansour Abbas (Joint List) says, thanking the prime minister for his attendance.

At the same meeting, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana calls organized crime “the tragedy of Arab society” and pledges to improve policing. Arab Israelis have long contended that police don’t enforce the rule of law in their communities, leaving them without police protection.

— Aaron Boxerman

Thousands attend Jerusalem funeral of Orthodox rabbi in breach of virus rules

A few thousand people in Jerusalem are attending a funeral for prominent American Orthodox Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, in violation of restrictions meant to contain the coronavirus.

Police unsuccessfully try to block mourners, some of whom call the officers “Nazis,” according to the Walla news site.

Police knew in advance the funeral would be held but made no effort to disperse it, the report says.

Officers arrest two people for allegedly scuffling with officers and damaging a police car, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Funerals are currently limited to 20 people under government mandated lockdown measures.

Feinstein, 91, died Friday in New York and was brought to Jerusalem for burial.

France to host video summit on EU response to terror

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron will host a video summit tomorrow about an EU-wide response to recent attacks in Europe blamed on Islamist radicals, his office says.

He will first meet in Paris with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and both will then be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council chief Charles Michel and Commission head Ursula von der Leyen via video links, the Elysee Palace adds.

— AFP

Iran records over 10,000 coronavirus cases in new daily high

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s daily novel coronavirus infections has crossed the 10,000 mark, the health ministry announces today, setting a new record as fatalities remained close to their all-time high level.

The latest official figure of 10,463 positive COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour period comes only three days after the Islamic Republic exceeded 9,000.

Iran’s coronavirus caseload now stands at 692,949, the ministry says.

The virus also claimed 458 lives in the past day, raising the country’s overall number of fatalities to 38,749.

The previous fatality record of 459 came yesterday, according to official figures.

Iran recently imposed several rounds of short-lived restrictions across the country to contain the virus, but the rising deaths and infections have prompted calls by experts and officials for a full lockdown.

Tehran’s governor Anoushirvan Mohseni-Bandpey said today that the lockdown proposal was no longer on the agenda as a new set of measures had since been unveiled, state news agency IRNA reports.

The measures, announced on Saturday and set to last a month from tomorrow, force the closure of non-essential businesses such as malls, small retailers, cinemas and gyms from 6 p.m. until the next morning.

It will apply to Tehran, provincial capitals and certain highly populated cities, according to the national anti-virus taskforce.

Iran has not imposed a full lockdown since it was hit by COVID-19 in February, with President Hassan Rouhani arguing the country’s sanctions-hit economy cannot afford to be shut down for an extended period.

— AFP

A woman, mask-clad due to the coronavirus pandemic, browses on a cellphone as she walks past a shop along a street in Iran’s capital Tehran on November 8, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Trump hails ‘great news’ on Pfizer coronavirus vaccine

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump hails the “great news” that a vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infections.

“STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!” Trump tweets minutes after Pfizer announced the development and days after he lost the US presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden.

His defeat was blamed, in part, on his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, with infections surging across the US in recent days.

— AFP

Stocks in Israel, around globe surge over COVID vaccine hopes

Stocks in Israel and elsewhere around the globe surge on coronavirus vaccine hopes following successful trials.

Already up strongly on Joe Biden’s US election win, markets massively accelerate gains after Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine was 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections.

The two benchmark indexes on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange are each up by over 3.5 percent on the day.

London’s benchmark FTSE 100 surges 5.5% in midday deals and in the eurozone, Frankfurt jumps 6.0%, Paris soars 7.1%, Milan wins 6.2% and Madrid 9.4%.

Dow Jones futures are up 5.4% ahead of the Wall Street open.

“Stock markets surged on some extremely positive news from Pfizer and Biontech,” says Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com.

“The Dow is now seen up 1,300 points (at the official open). Coming on top of the wave of relief from Joe Biden’s victory, it’s proving a spicy cocktail for stocks.”

New York crude advances 8.5 percent and Brent North Sea oil was up 7.8%.

The dollar is steady versus the euro and pound — and up more than one percent against the yen.

— with AFP

Acting police chief says some violence among Arab Israelis ‘a matter of culture’

Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen tells the Knesset Committee on Combating Violence in Arab Society that some violence among Arab Israelis is “a matter of culture.”

“Arab society, what is its place and its responsibility in relation to this area, the matter of the culture within Arab society,” Cohen says while elucidating reasons for high levels of crime in Arab towns and cities.

Lawmakers from the predominantly Arab Joint List respond angrily to the remark.

“This is not a matter of culture, this is a matter of giving cover to certain organizations… we’re talking about organized crime, illegal weapons, a lack of employment,” says Joint List MK Iman Yassin-Khatib.

This isn’t the first time the debate over the roots of elevated rates of violence in Arab society has used such terms. Former public security sinister Gilad Erdan attributed a the wave of violence in Arab Israeli communities to culture, drawing accusations of racism.

“It’s a very, very — and another thousand times — very violent society,” Erdan told Jerusalem Radio in October 2019. “It’s connected to the culture there.”

— Aaron Boxerman

Shin Bet accuses Hamas of enlisting minors to carry out attacks, kidnappings

The Shin Bet security service accuses the Hamas terror group of recruiting minors to carry out attacks on Israeli targets, saying it recently arrested two such suspects.

“The investigation determined that the minors were recruited through an online network to advance terrorist activities by Hamas officials from the [Gaza] Strip,” the security agency says.

According to the Shin Bet, the underage suspects were arrested in October but details of the case were barred from publication until they were indicted earlier this month.

The suspects told interrogators that they had planned to kidnap an Israeli citizen from a settlement near their village. They had also been instructed to carry out a variety of missions on behalf of Hamas, including gathering intelligence on nearby Israeli settlements and carrying out shooting attacks, the Shin Bet says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu hails announcement of Pfizer vaccine effectiveness as ‘an important development’

Prime Minister Netanyahu weighs in on Pfizer’s announcement that the COVID-19 vaccine it’s developing with BioNTech is 90% effective in stopping infections.

Netanyahu hails the announcement as “an important development,” according to the Ynet news site.

“I’m vigorously working with world leaders on bringing the vaccine [to Israel]. I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says, echoing past remarks.

Biden: Pfizer vaccine news gives ‘hope,’ but long battle ahead

WILMINGTON, Delaware — US President-elect Joe Biden hails as a cause for “hope” the news that a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is 90 percent effective — but warns of a long battle still ahead.

“I congratulate the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope,” Biden says in a statement, adding that he received advance notice of the announcement last night.

“At the same time, it is also important to understand that the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away,” he adds — stressing the continued importance of mask-wearing for the foreseeable future.

— AFP

Putin won’t congratulate Biden until legal challenges resolved

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t congratulate President-elect Joe Biden until legal challenges to the US election are resolved and the result is official, the Kremlin announces.

Putin is one of a handful of world leaders who have not commented on Biden’s victory, which was called by major news organizations on Saturday. But President Donald Trump’s team has promised legal action in the coming days and refused to concede his loss, while alleging large-scale voter fraud, so far without proof.

When Trump won in 2016, Putin was prompt in offering congratulations — but Trump’s challenger in that election, Hillary Clinton, conceded the day after the vote. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters today that this year is different.

“Obviously, you can see that certain legal procedures are coming there, which were announced by the incumbent president — therefore this situation is different, so we consider it correct to wait for the official announcement,” he says.

The leaders of China, Brazil and Turkey also are holdouts in offering congratulations. And Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also said he would wait to comment until the legal challenges over the vote were resolved.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin offered a similar explanation of why President Xi Jinping has stayed silent.

— AP

Then US Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Arab Israelis make up 39% of infections over past day — report

Arab Israelis account for 39 percent of new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, even though only 16% of the country’s tests were conducted in Arab towns and cities, according to a new report by the Arab Emergency Commission.

Just a month ago, Arab Israelis seemed like a major success story in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. According to deputy coronavirus czar Ayman Seif, Arab Israelis constituted only 7% of the country’s infections in early October. Since then, however, the numbers have skyrocketed, with weddings and travel to the West Bank blamed as the main cause.

While Arab Israelis constitute around 20% of the country’s population, the community now accounts for 37.9% of Israel’s active coronavirus infections, today’s report says. The data doesn’t include Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

— Aaron Boxerman

A Magen David Adom paramedic tests a woman for the coronavirus at drive-thru testing site in the northern city of Tamra on March 31, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Israir to begin offering direct flights to Bahrain on January 31

Israir announces it will begin offering direct flights from Israel to Bahrain on January 31, after the two countries inked an aviation agreement as part of their deal to normalize diplomatic ties.

Tickets will cost $249 and there will initially be two flights a week, according to Hebrew media reports.

The announcement comes a day before the Knesset is expected to vote on the normalization agreement with Bahrain. If a majority of MKs approve the deal, as is likely, it will go to the government for final ratification.

Illustrative: An Israir flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv, September 3, 2015 (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

Israel in talks with Pfizer to acquire COVID vaccine — TV

Israel is in talks with Pfizer to acquire the vaccine it is developing with BioNTech, Channel 12 news reports, citing Israeli sources.

Pfizer announced earlier today that initial data signaled its vaccine was 90% effective in preventing coronavirus infections during Phase 3 trials.

National Security Council urges action to prevent rise in infections

The National Security Council is urging the high-level coronavirus cabinet to take action to prevent a rise in COVID-19 infections.

“Morbidity is again rising and we’re not responding to it as quickly as necessary,” a NSC document distributed to ministers says, according to Hebrew media reports.

The NSC calls for weighing measures such as overnight curfews, local lockdowns and closures on weekends.

Ukraine’s Zelensky tests positive for coronavirus

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, his office says.

“Unfortunately, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has tested positive for the coronavirus infection,” his office says in a statement on Facebook.

It adds that Zelensky “is feeling well” and will self-isolate and continue to perform his duties.

— AFP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv, Ukraine, March, 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

WHO chief hails Pfizer COVID vaccine news as ‘encouraging’

WASHINGTON — The World Health Organization chief hails as “encouraging” Pfizer and BioNTech’s announcement that the vaccine they have jointly developed is 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in ongoing Phase 3 trials.

“We welcome the encouraging vaccine news from @pfizer & @BioNTech_Group & salute all scientists & partners around the who are developing new safe, efficacious tools to beat #COVID19,” WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says in a tweet.

— AFP

Top health official confirms talks with Pfizer on vaccine

Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, confirms Israel is in talks to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

“We’re in contacts toward signing with Pfizer,” Levy tells Army Radio.

He also warns of an uptick in the basic reproduction number for the virus and says “if we continue like this,” there won’t be a further rollback of lockdown measures.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mike Pence heading to Florida vacation island week after US election

One week after Election Day, US Vice President Mike Pence appears ready to take some time off.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Pence is scheduled to travel to Sanibel, Florida, Tuesday through Saturday. Pence has vacationed on the island along Florida’s Gulf Coast several times previously. Pence’s office doesn’t immediately comment on the trip.

The trip comes as US President Donald Trump has pledged to continue trying to contest the outcome of the election and as President-elect Joe Biden is ramping up his transition efforts.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are being briefed virtually on the coronavirus pandemic by a task force of experts their transition team announced Monday.

— AP

Biden warns US facing ‘dark winter’; urges Americans to wear masks

US President-elect Joe Biden is warning the United States that the country is “still facing a very dark winter” as he unveils plans for addressing COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as hopes of a vaccine lifted stocks, Biden says another 200,000 lives could be lost before it is widely available. Biden implores Americans to “wear a mask.”

Biden says he would be guided by science in laying out the framework of a pandemic response, starting with members of a task force to prepare for his administration’s transition to overseeing it.

— AP

US President-elect Joe Biden listens during a meeting with his COVID-19 advisory council, November 9, 2020, at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

US envoy for Iran says Trump plans steady sanctions increase in coming weeks

The Trump administration will continue to steadily increase sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks as has long been planned, but will not dramatically escalate punitive measures against the regime, US Special Representative for Iran Elliott Abrams says.

“We have a maximum pressure sanctions program. This will continue in November and December, because it’s unrelated to politics, it has nothing to do with the elections. It’s the foreign policy of the US, and it’s based on Iran’s conduct,” he tells Israeli reporters during a briefing in Tel Aviv.

Abrams, a veteran of hawkish US administrations, says that while it is too early to declare who won the presidential elections, he is optimistic that Joe Biden would leverage Iran’s dire economic situation, which resulted from the outgoing administration’s sanctions regime into forcing the Islamic Republic into concessions.

He also says that it would be difficult for Biden to quickly reenter the 2015 nuclear deal.

“It doesn’t really matter who is president on January 20 in the sense that there’s going to be a negotiation with Iran anyway. That was the intention of the Trump administration; that’s not a source of disagreement,” he says. “Whether it’s possible to rejoin the JCPOA remains to be seen.”

Abrams, who met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz before heading tomorrow to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, says that he thinks it would be “extremely difficult” for the Trump administration to broker a deal in the 70 days before Inauguration Day.

— Raphael Ahren

Elliott Abrams, US special representative for Iran and Venezuela, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 8, 2020. Out of view is David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem)

82 years after Kristallnacht, Rivlin says ‘plague of anti-Semitism’ still exists

President Reuven Rivlin holds an event at his official residence in Jerusalem marking 82 years since Kristallnacht, a Nazi-backed pogrom in which nearly 100 German Jews were murdered and tens of thousands disposed and sent to concentration camps.

“We remember its victims and remind ourselves how extremist hate propaganda, when it reaches the heights of divisiveness, can shatter the very foundations of society — of humanity and human rights — into a thousand fragments. To sow destruction, catastrophe, to allow the descent into the darkest recesses, beyond any imagination,” Rivlin is quoted saying in a statement from his office.

Rivlin notes the World Holocaust Forum held in Jerusalem earlier this year, during which world leaders pledged to stand up against anti-Semitism and racism.

“In the months since then, the whole world has been dealing with the deadly coronavirus. Even dealing with the new virus, which demands solidarity and collaboration, has not managed to obliterate the old plague, the plague of anti-Semitism,” he says. “The virus of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia is tougher than coronavirus. It changes shape, takes cover and threatens to break out through any crack. But there can and there must be a vaccine for it, too.”

A man looks at the wreckage of a Jewish shop in Berlin on November 10, 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht. (AP Photo)

Also speaking at the event are Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeir.

“The November pogroms did not mark the beginning of the persecutions of German Jews. They were a nauseating outburst of violence following on from many years of discrimination, harassment and hostility. They foreshadowed the unspeakable crimes of the Shoah committed by my compatriots a few years later. And they offer a stark warning for our times,” Steinmeir says.

While he is happy to see “Jewish life is again flourishing in Germany,” Steinmeir laments rising anti-Semitism there.

“I am ashamed that Jews do not feel safe wearing a kippah on the streets. I am ashamed that Jewish places of worship need protection. I am ashamed that only a heavy wooden door prevented a deadly attack on the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur last year,” he says, referring to last year’s deadly shooting attack.

Trump says US defense chief Esper ‘has been terminated’

US President Donald Trump announces that he has fired US Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

“Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service,” he tweets.

Trump says Christopher Miller, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, will fill in as acting defense secretary.

No reason is given for the move, but the announcement comes after reports said Esper was readying for possibility that Trump could ax him.

Then-US defense secretary Mark Esper speaks during a press briefing about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WHO chief: World may be tired, but virus ‘not tired of us’

GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s chief calls on everyone to keep fighting COVID-19, warning that, while we may be sick of battling the pandemic, the virus is “not tired of us.”

Speaking to WHO’s main annual assembly, which resumed today after being cut short in May, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also hails the election of Joe Biden as the next US president, voicing hope it could signal tighter global cooperation to end the pandemic.

It was vital, he says, for people to follow the science and resist the urge to turn a blind eye to the virus.

“We might be tired of COVID-19. But it is not tired of us,” he says.

Tedros, speaking from quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, warns that the virus preys on weakness.

“It preys on those in weaker health, but it preys on other weaknesses too: inequality, division, denial, wishful thinking, and willful ignorance,” he says.

“We cannot negotiate with it, nor close our eyes and hope it goes away.”

“It pays no heed to political rhetoric or conspiracy theories,” he says.

“Our only hope is science, solutions, and solidarity.”

His comment comes after COVID-19 has killed more than 1.25 million people and infected over 50 million worldwide, since it first surfaced in China late last year.

— AFP

375 infections recorded since midnight, positive test rate at 1.9%

The Health Ministry says 375 new coronavirus cases have so far been recorded today, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 319,784.

The death toll remains at 2,676.

The number of active cases drops to 7,945, with 332 people in serious condition, including 144 on ventilators. Another 93 are in moderate condition, and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

Of the 19,839 tests performed today, 1.9 percent have come back positive.

Health minister withdraws bill turning Eilat, Dead Sea into ‘tourist islands’

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein withdraws a bill that would have turned the Red Sea resort of Eilat and the Dead Sea hotels into “tourist islands,” exempt from some coronavirus restrictions, as voting on the proposal was underway.

Edelstein pulls the bill after his proposal to prevent other localities from being defined as “tourist islands” is rejected.

As a result of the move, hotels in Eilat and the Dead Sea will be barred from reopening, despite government promises.

Both coalition and opposition lawmakers criticize Edelstein over the move.

Trump weighing running again for US president in 2024 — report

US President Donald Trump is considering running again for president in 2024, the Axios news site reports, indicating the president is inching closer to admitting defeat in the race.

The report by Axios, which quotes two sources familiar with discussions on the matter, says Trump expressed interest in the idea in conversation with his advisers. As a one-term president, Trump can again seek the presidency for an additional term at a future date. If he runs again in 2024, he’ll be 78 years old — seven months older than Joe Biden, the oldest president-elect in US history, is now.

US President Donald Trump pumps his fist after speaking during election night in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, early on November 4, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Ivanka said urging Trump to concede race, eyeing future White House run

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump is urging her father, US President Donald Trump, to concede the 2020 race to President-elect Joe Biden, the Daily Mail reports.

According to the British tabloid, Ivanka is worried that vocally backing the president’s unsubstantiated claims of illegal voting, as her brother Donald Trump Jr. has done, could jeopardize her political future.

“Ivanka has her own agenda. She’s has had her eyes on the desk behind the Oval Office since day one and she’s not about to burn any bridges by mouthing off like Don Jr. who keeps lashing out on Twitter,” the Daily Mail quotes “an insider with close ties to the Trump family” as saying.

The “insider” adds: “Everything she puts out is calculated and well thought out because she’s always looking at the big picture.”

The report came a day after the Associated Press said that Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner had told others that he had approached Trump about conceding, but his entreaties have so far been in vain.

Ivanka Trump, daughter and adviser to US President Donald Trump, removes her mask as she takes the stage before a campaign event in Sarasota, Florida, October 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

3 Israelis reportedly sick after returning from Denmark, are tested for mink mutation

Three Israelis who recently returned from Denmark, where an apparent coronavirus mutation was found in minks, have become sick with COVID-19, the Kan public broadcaster says.

Swab samples have been taken from the three for a genetic test to determine if they are sick with the mutated strain, according to the report.

The results of the tests are expected in the coming days.

Esper’s firing won’t affect deal reaffirming commitment to Israel’s military edge — Gantz spokesperson

A spokesperson for Defense Minister Benny Gantz says the firing of Mark Esper as US secretary of defense “will not affect” a recent agreement signed between the two reaffirming the United States’ commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge in light of the proposed sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.

Earlier in the evening, outgoing US President Donald Trump announced via tweet that Esper had been “terminated” from his position, and would be replaced by Christopher Miller, director of the US National Counterterrorism Center.

— Judah Ari Gross

Defense Minister Benny Gantz shows then-US secretary of defense Mark Esper an Iron Dome missile defense battery at Ben Gurion International Airport on October 29, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

International observers see no fraud in US vote

International observers from the Organization of American States say they saw no instances of fraud or voting irregularities in the US presidential election.

The delegation included 28 experts and observers from 13 countries who observed the election process in in Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan and the District of Columbia. COVID-19 prevented a broader coalition of experts.

The OAS says the Election Day was peaceful, although there were efforts to intimidate poll workers as the votes were counted, and says the country’s mail-in ballots were a secure system.

The report says the OAS supports “the right of all contesting parties in an election, to seek redress before the competent legal authorities when they believe they have been wronged.”

“It is critical however, that candidates act responsibly by presenting and arguing legitimate claims before the courts, not unsubstantiated or harmful speculation in the public media,” the OAS says.

AP

Demonstrators supporting a full ballot count gather outside the Philadelphia Convention Center three days after the US presidential election polls closed as they await tabulation results, November 6, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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WHO chief hails Pfizer COVID vaccine news as ‘encouraging’

WASHINGTON — The World Health Organization chief hails as “encouraging” Pfizer and BioNTech’s announcement that the vaccine they have jointly developed is 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in ongoing Phase 3 trials.

“We welcome the encouraging vaccine news from @pfizer & @BioNTech_Group & salute all scientists & partners around the who are developing new safe, efficacious tools to beat #COVID19,” WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says in a tweet.

— AFP