The Times of Israel is liveblogging Sunday’s events as they unfold.
Former US presidential candidate, 5-term senator Bob Dole dies at 98
Bob Dole, who battled back from severe injuries in World War II to become a five-term US senator and the Republican Party’s 1996 presidential nominee, has died, his family foundation announces. He was 98.
“It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep,” the Elizabeth Dole Foundation tweets. “At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”
US climate envoy John Kerry heading to Jordan
Former US secretary of state John Kerry, currently the White House envoy on climate change, is heading on a trip to Jordan, says the State Department.
Kerry is departing today for Amman to meet his government counterparts in an effort “to accelerate global climate action” following last month’s UN climate change conference in Glasgow.
“Secretary Kerry will discuss how the region can collaborate to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change,” the State Department says.
Kerry played a significant role in helping to broker a recent deal between Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, which will see the construction of a major solar power plant in the Hashemite Kingdom to generate electricity for the Jewish state while a desalination plant established in Israel will send water to Jordan.
Confirmed cases of COVID Omicron variant in Israel rise to 11
At least 11 people in Israel have been infected with the COVID Omicron variant, the Health Ministry confirms.
The number rose from an earlier figure of seven that was confirmed on Friday. The new cases involve two travelers arriving from France who had three Pfizer vaccine doses, one traveler from the United States who had three Moderna vaccines and one traveler from South Africa who had three Pfizer vaccines.
The Health Ministry suspects an additional 24 people may also be infected with the variant, pending lab confirmation.
Fears over the new Omicron variant led Israel to shut its borders to tourists last week and ban Israelis from traveling to most African nations.
Taliban denies allegations it is executing former Afghan security personnel
Afghanistan’s Taliban government rejects condemnation by Western nations over dozens of alleged “summary killings” of former security force personnel documented by rights groups since the Islamists returned to power.
The US, other Western nations and allies said yesterday that they were “deeply concerned” by allegations by Human Rights Watch and others that point to “serious human rights abuses.”
Alleged summary killings and enforced disappearances “contradict” an amnesty declared by the Taliban for former security force personnel after the Islamists defeated a Western-backed regime and retook control of the country in mid-August, the State Department said in a statement also signed by the European Union, Australia, Britain, Japan and others.
But the Taliban’s Interior Ministry rejects both the Western rebuke and rights groups’ allegations.
“These reports and claims are not based on evidences,” spokesman Qari Sayed Khosti says in a video statement released by the Taliban. “We reject such claims.”
Many ex-regime security personnel “who had martyred hundreds of mujahideen and civilians are living peacefully” in the country on the basis of the general amnesty the Taliban granted, he adds.
Israel frees Palestinian prisoner two weeks after he ends hunger strike
Israel frees a prominent Palestinian prisoner, two weeks after striking a release deal that ended his marathon 131-day hunger strike, says a prisoner rights group.
Kayed Fasfous, 32, had remained in an Israeli hospital since ending his strike on Nov. 23. He was the symbolic figurehead of six hunger strikers protesting Israel’s controversial policy of “administrative detention,” which allows suspects to be held indefinitely without charge.
The Palestinian Prisoners Club, a group representing former and current prisoners, confirms that Fasfous has returned home. Later, online footage showed the former prisoner in a wheelchair celebrating his return to his southern hometown of Dura.
Bennett to host leaders of Cyprus, Greece for trilateral meeting in Jerusalem
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will host the president of Cyprus and the prime minister of Greece for a tripartite meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will attend the meeting to discuss “challenges in the Middle East,” promoting cooperation and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Bennett will also meet separately with both leaders to discuss a range of issues.
All travelers to UK now required to show COVID PCR test before departure
The UK government announces that those arriving in the country will now need to show a negative coronavirus test pre-departure.
Beginning at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, anyone traveling to the UK will have to show evidence of a negative lateral flow or PCR test taken within the last 48 hours before boarding a flight, the health ministry says.
This will apply to travelers over age 12 arriving from any country. Currently, passengers only have to take a PCR test within two days after arrival in the UK.
The UK earlier banned flights from South Africa and put 10 African countries on its red list, meaning only UK and Irish citizens or UK residents can travel from there to the UK. Nigeria will join the list starting tomorrow.
3 IDF soldiers suspected of carrying Omicron COVID variant
According to the IDF Home Front Command, three IDF soldiers who recently returned from abroad are suspected of being infected by the COVID Omicron variant.
So far, 7 Israelis have been confirmed to have the new variant, which has prompted global travel bans and led Israel to shut its doors once again to tourists. Several dozen more are suspected of potentially having the mutation, pending final lab results.
The three soldiers purportedly returned recently from a vacation to France, and are currently staying in a quarantine hotel and awaiting their results.
Minister accuses Bennett of making COVID exception for ‘white countries’ in Africa
Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata accuses Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of banning only African nations with black populations over COVID concerns.
Last month, Israel added most nations in Africa to its list of “red countries” — to which Israelis are not allowed to enter, and from which returnees must complete full quarantine. According to Hebrew media reports, Tamano-Shata — a native of Ethiopia — accuses Bennett on “only making exceptions for white countries in Africa.”
Northern African nations including Egypt, Algeria and Morocco are only listed as “orange” on the Health Ministry’s rankings.
Bennett reportedly responded that the steps were necessary in order to protect against the concerning Omicron variant, which was believed to originate in South Africa.
Students required to show negative COVID test before post-Hanukkah return to school
The government approves a plan to require students returning to classrooms following the Hanukkah vacation to present a negative rapid COVID antigen test.
Students were also requested to do so following the summer break as well as the break in September for the High Holidays. Most students in Israel have been on vacation for the entire Hanukkah holiday, which began last Sunday.
Under the terms of the government plan, children in preschools and grades 1-6 will have to present a statement signed by their parents proclaiming that they tested negative for COVID before being allowed to enter their schools on Tuesday.
New US ambassador presents his credentials in Jerusalem
US ambassador Tom Nides presents his credentials to President Isaac Herzog at the president’s residence in Jerusalem.
Herzog thanks US President Joe Biden for his “longstanding genuine friendship to Israel.”
“You are coming to a more hopeful region,” says Herzog, saying that the full potential of the Abraham Accords must be realized.
Herzog also says that “Israel will welcome a comprehensive, diplomatic solution which permanently solves the Iranian nuclear threat.”
“In the case of a failure to achieve such solution, Israel is keeping all options on the table,” adds Herzog, “and it must be said that if the international community does not take a vigorous stance on this issue — Israel will do so. Israel will protect itself.”
Nides says that the two countries will work closely to counter the threat Iran poses to Israel and the region, and that the US will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon.
He also says that the US will support Israel’s agreements with Arab countries but that they cannot serve as a replacement for a peace process with the Palestinians.
Nides also says he will work on Israel joining the US visa waiver program.
“I will stand up against all efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel internationally,” Nides pledges in a firm rejection of BDS.
“Chag same’ach, and todah raba,” he concludes in Hebrew.
Nides’s Hebrew school teacher from Duluth, Minnesota, is present as a surprise for Nides. Nides and Herzog will light the candles for the 8th night of Hanukkah together after their private meeting.
Cab driver who brought terrorist to attack site remanded into custody
A cab driver accused of driving the terrorist who carried out an attack in Jerusalem yesterday is remanded into custody for an additional five days.
The man, a resident of the “triangle” of Arab towns in northern Israel in his 40s, is suspected of assisting the terrorist, who stabbed a civilian on Saturday afternoon before being shot dead by Border Police officers.
His remand was extended at the request of the police.
Israel said to consider 4th COVID vaccine dose for immunocompromised
Israel will consider authorizing a fourth COVID booster vaccine dose to immunocompromised citizens, reports Channel 12 news.
According to the report, health officials will discuss the potential of administering yet another dose of the vaccine to the most at-risk populations with the spread of the new, worrying Omicron variant.
Israelis with compromised immune systems — including those undergoing cancer treatments — were the first to receive a third booster dose of the COVID vaccine back in July.
The UK announced last week that its immunosuppressed population could receive a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Top Sudan general says military officials won’t run in upcoming election
Sudan’s top general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on Sunday denies that military and paramilitary members of the transitional administration could run for the country’s July 2023 elections.
“The president of the Sovereign Council denied what the Agence France-Presse reported about the participation of the military in the upcoming elections,” his office says in a statement.
Sudan has been run by a joint military-civilian ruling council since August 2019, but civilian members were changed following a coup in October this year.
AFP asked Burhan in an interview on Saturday whether the military components and the paramilitary members of the transitional Council will be able to participate in elections planned for 2023.
Burhan responded by saying the August 2019 deal had “included a clear clause that all participants of the transitional period will not be allowed to take part of the period that directly follows it.”
But a landmark 2020 peace deal with rebel groups “granted some participants to the transitional period the right to become part of the government” that followed the transition, he said.
The statement issued on Sunday said Burhan meant that only ex-rebel groups that signed a peace deal in 2020 could be candidates in the planned elections.
Death toll rises to 13 in Indonesia volcano eruption
The death toll following the eruption of the highest volcano on Indonesia’s most densely populated island of Java has risen to 13, with seven people still missing, officials say, as smoldering debris and thick mud hampered search efforts.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash more than 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) into the sky, and searing gas and lava flowed down its slopes after a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rains. Several villages were blanketed with falling ash.
A thunderstorm and days of rain, which eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop the 3,676-meter (12,060-foot) Semeru, triggered the eruption, says Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey center.
He says flows of searing gas and lava traveled up to 800 meters (2,624 feet) to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday. People were advised to stay 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from the crater’s mouth, the agency says.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari says at least 13 villagers have died from severe burns and 57 are hospitalized, including 16 in critical condition with burn injuries. He says rescuers are still searching for seven residents and sand miners along a river in Curah Kobokan village who were reported missing.
Entire houses in the village were damaged by volcanic debris and more than 900 people fled to temporary government shelters, says Muhari.
Jordan sentences hospital chief to prison over COVID deaths
A Jordanian court sentences the director of a state hospital to three years in jail over the deaths of 10 patients at the facility, which treated coronavirus patients.
Abdel Razak al-Khashman and four aides have been convicted of “causing the deaths” at the Salt state hospital where the patients died after it ran out of oxygen.
The verdict can be appealed within 10 days, according to an AFP correspondent.
The deaths in March sparked public anger in Jordan and led to the resignation of health minister Nazir Obeidat.
After the tragedy, King Abdullah II visited the state hospital where hundreds of people rallied outside to vent their wrath.
French police on high alert for first rally by far-right candidate Zemmour
French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour will hold his first official campaign rally at a stadium outside Paris on Sunday, with police on high alert over the risk of clashes with protesters.
Zemmour, a 63-year-old author and television pundit — the son of Jewish immigrants to France — announced Tuesday that he would run in next April’s election, joining the field of challengers seeking to unseat centrist President Emmanuel Macron.
“It’s incredible the level of enthusiasm, while other candidates have been in half-empty rooms,” Antoine Diers, a spokesman for the Friends of Eric Zemmour group, told AFP on Friday. “We’re expecting a lot of people.”
Around 19,000 people have signed up for the event, according to Zemmour’s campaign, leading him to swap a concert hall for a larger capacity exhibition space in the Villepinte suburb northeast of the capital.
Police are on alert for far-left activists and anarchists who disrupted Zemmour’s trip last weekend to the southern of port city of Marseille, which ended with the candidate showing the middle finger to a woman who was protesting.
Around 50 trade union and civil society groups have also called for a demonstration in Paris to denounce Zemmour, an anti-Islam and anti-immigration polemicist who is sometimes called “France’s Trump” and has two convictions for hate speech.
Several thousand people are expected to gather.
PM Bennett: Don’t underestimate the Omicron COVID variant
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that it is too early to downplay the Omicron COVID variant.
“The fact that Israel is an island of functionality and health, of an open economy and a normal life, is the result of our tight management,” says Bennett at a meeting of the cabinet. “Therefore, I suggest that we not underestimate Omicron.”
“We need to be circumspect,” Bennett adds, pointing to a recent case of 50 Omicron infections at a Christmas party in Norway. “This is a strain that we do not yet know enough about, although we do know with a high level of certainty that it is very contagious. We are still in a foggy period… and we are still studying.”
Bennett adds that the government is daily “reassessing the situation –- on the basis of the data we know at the time –- regarding measures to ease restrictions or make them more stringent. Everything is according to the data.”