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The Times of Israel is liveblogging Thursday’s events as they unfold.
Saudi Arabia and UAE deny Pegasus spyware allegations
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dismiss allegations that they used Israeli-supplied Pegasus spyware to spy on journalists and human rights activists.
A statement by the UAE’s Foreign Ministry says “allegations… claiming that the UAE is amongst a number of countries accused of alleged surveillance targeting journalists and individuals have no evidentiary basis.”
Saudi Arabia’s official SPA news agency reports that “a Saudi official denied the recent allegations reported in media outlets that an entity in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia used software to monitor phone calls.”
“The source added that such allegations are untrue, and that KSA’s policies do not condone such practices,” the report adds.
Biden nominates David Cohen as US ambassador to Canada
David Cohen — a Comcast executive, and former vice chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia — is US President Joe Biden’s pick to be the US ambassador to Canada, the White House announces.
In addition to being a lobbyist for the communications giant, Cohen is a longtime Democratic fundraiser, who was chief of staff to Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell in the 1990s. He also served as head of diversity and inclusion efforts at Comcast.
Cohen grew up in Highland Park, a New Jersey town with a high percentage of Jewish residents.
“Federation involvement is in my DNA,” he told the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia in 2013. “In my family, it would be unthinkable not to be involved in Federation and the Jewish community.”
March of the Living, Maccabiah launch ‘Olympic’ antisemitism campaign
A day ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the March of the Living, Maccabi World Union and the Maccabiah launch a campaign to combat the global rise in antisemitism, with the participation of Olympic medal winners.
The campaign is branded with the slogan “Athletes say no to antisemitism,” and features Israeli judo silver medal winner Yael Arad — who won Israel’s first ever Olympic medal in 1992 — and bronze medal winner and judoka Arik Ze’evi.
“To participate in the Olympics is an unparalleled personal high for every athlete, but also a collective high for the whole world, for all of us, as one global society — a society which knows how to unite around a common denominator that celebrates sport,” says Arad.
“We know how to overcome preconceived opinions, hatred and racism, and the Olympics is an important lesson in the way we must live even after the Olympics, with respect and tolerance.”
Health Ministry says COVID vaccine is only 40% effective at halting transmission
New figures released by the Health Ministry claim that the COVID vaccine is only 39% effective at preventing the transmission of the coronavirus, but more than 91% effective at preventing severe cases.
The figures, based on cases from June 20 to July 17 — a period when the Delta variant told hold across Israel — show that those who are fully vaccinated have only a 40.5% chance of avoiding symptomatic COVID, but an 88% chance of avoiding hospitalization due to the disease.
The figures also show that among those who were vaccinated in January, there was only a 16% effectiveness against being infected, compared to 44% of those vaccinated in February, 67% of those who received their shots in March, and 75% for those vaccinated in April.
The vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing severe cases for those vaccinated in January remains 86%, according to the figures, only slightly lower than those vaccinated in the following months.
Prominent epidemiology experts have cast doubt, however, on the Health Ministry’s claims that the COVID vaccine has experienced a major drop in effectiveness in recent months.
Bennett: Vaccine refusers are endangering the entire country
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reiterates his call for all eligible Israelis to get the COVID vaccine, and says the 1 million Israelis who refuse to get vaccinated are endangering the rest of the country.
“Every citizen over age 12 who doesn’t have a medical reason not to must go get vaccinated,” Bennett says in a live primetime address from Tel Aviv.
“One million Israelis are refusing to get vaccinated,” he adds. “They are endangering the entire population, they are endangering the other 8 million citizens in the country.”
Bennett says the decision of those million Israelis not to vaccinate could cause the entire country to require a fourth national lockdown.
“If you know a vaccine refuser, convince them, explain to them that they are risking other’s health, says Bennett. “Don’t give up on them.”
Syria’s army shells rebel bastion, killing seven – report
The Syrian army shelled the Idlib region, killing seven civilians, four of them children, in its third deadly bombardment of the rebel bastion in a week, a monitor says.
Several people have been seriously wounded in the morning bombardment of the village of Iblin, south of Idlib, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The army has stepped up its bombing of the northwestern enclave since Saturday, when President Bashar al-Assad took the oath of office for a new term vowing to make “liberating those parts of the homeland that still need to be” one of his top priorities.
Mexico urges Israel to cooperate in extraditing ex-investigator
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urges Israel to cooperate in extraditing a former top investigator wanted in connection with the disappearance of 43 students in 2014.
Mexico wants Israel to arrest Tomas Zeron, who headed the Criminal Investigation Agency, over allegations of serious irregularities in the probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies.
“I hope the government of Israel acts with respect for human rights, because the extradition of this public official is being requested, among other things, for acts of torture,” Lopez Obrador tells reporters.
Zeron is accused of kidnapping, torturing suspects, manipulating evidence and embezzling around $50 million of public funds. He denies the allegations.
Erdan calls on UN Security Council to condemn Hezbollah
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan sends a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres — and to all members of the UN Security Council — urging them to condemn Hezbollah.
In the letter, Erdan cites rockets fired from Israel into Lebanon both during the 11-day conflict with Hamas in May and again earlier this week.
“These incidents provide another example of the volatile situation within UNIFIL’s Area of Operation and constitute clear evidence of the existence of unauthorized weapons and ammunition in the area,” writes Erdan.
“Israel expects UNIFIL to conduct a thorough and swift investigation with regards to the attack and to convey its conclusions to the Security Council, as explicitly required in the latest renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate,” he adds.
Taliban claims to control 90% of Afghan border
A spokesman for the Taliban claims it now controls 90% of Afghanistan’s borders, following offensives carried out by the hardline Islamist group as foreign forces withdraw.
“Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, or about 90% of the border, are under our control,” Zabihullah Mujahid told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency, a claim that could not be independently verified.
The militants are pushing across Afghanistan, snapping up territory, seizing border crossings and encircling cities, with the withdrawal of US and NATO troops all but complete.
The resurgent militants now control about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.
Government plan aims to boost permits for Palestinian construction workers
The government will vote on Sunday on a proposal to give permits to an additional 15,000 Palestinian construction workers from the West Bank seeking employment in Israel, Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej says in a statement.
“Adding about 15,000 work permits in Israel for the Palestinians will not only serve the needs of the Israeli economy and meet the shortage of workers in the construction sector, but it will also contribute to strengthening the Palestinian economy,” says Frej, a member of the Meretz party.
Around 120,000 Palestinians legally work in Israel and in Israeli settlements, mostly in agriculture and construction. Tens of thousands more work illegally, sneaking across the Green Line through gaps in the security barrier.
Government officials have said they intend to strengthen the ailing Palestinian Authority, and Freij promises more reforms could be en route.
“This step is the first in a series of measures currently being considered in talks between Palestinian and Israeli officials aimed at helping to establish the economic fortitude of the Palestinian Authority,” Frej says.
Freij says the move was coordinated with Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the New Hope party.
Former UN rights chief to lead inquiry into Israeli-Palestinian ‘abuses’
Former UN human rights chief Navi Pillay will lead a UN inquiry into “systematic” abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the UN announces.
The president of the UN Human Rights Council says Pillay will lead the probe that was triggered during a special session of the council focused on the surge in deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians in May.
Hungary prosecutors probe Pegasus spying claims
Hungarian prosecutors say they have opened a probe into allegations that the government used Israeli-made spyware to target hundreds of phone numbers, including those of journalists.
“The task of the investigation is to establish the facts and to determine whether and, if so, what crime has taken place,” the Budapest Regional Investigation Prosecutor’s Office says in a statement.
The probe follows several complaints “into the so-called Pegasus case, under the suspicion of the crime of gathering unauthorized secret information,” it adds.
Hungary was the only EU country listed as a potential user of the spyware in international media reports about Pegasus this week.
The spyware was allegedly used to target hundreds of subjects, including journalists, lawyers and other public figures.
Hungarian officials have dismissed the allegations, calling them “unsubstantiated.”
Danish military spots Iranian vessels in the Baltic Sea
The Danish military says it spotted an Iranian destroyer and a large support vessel sailing through the Baltic Sea, likely heading to Russia for a military parade in the coming days.
The Danish Defense Ministry posts photographs online from the Royal Danish Air Force of the new domestically built Iranian destroyer Sahand and the intelligence-gathering vessel Makran passing by the Danish island of Bornholm.
“It is expected that they are on their way to the annual naval parade in St. Petersburg,” the Danish military tweets.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reports that the country’s navy commander, Adm. Hossein Khanzadi, will join the Russian naval parade at St. Petersburg after receiving an invitation from the Russian defense minister.
IRNA also says the Sahand will join the parade “if the Russian-planned programs are in line with the plans of the Iranian fleet.”
The naval parade is expected to take place on Sunday, according to Russian state media.
Israelis banned from travel to UK, Turkey, Georgia, Cyprus
Israelis are now banned from visiting the UK, Georgia, Cyprus and Turkey, the coronavirus cabinet rules.
The four countries will join a growing list of places that Israelis may not fly to; if caught doing so they face a significant fine upon return. The decision will take effect next Friday.
Turkey and Cyprus are two of the most popular vacation destinations for Israelis.
Israelis are already banned from traveling to Russia, Mexico, South Africa, India, Argentina, Brazil, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Spain and Kyrgyzstan due to high COVID morbidity in those destinations.
Israel to receive compensation for massive oil spill
The London-based International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund approves Israel’s request to receive damages for the massive tar pollution caused to its beaches, following an oil leak in the Mediterranean Sea in February.
Evidence from an investigation by the Environmental Protection Ministry at the time indicated that the leak took place between February 1 and 2, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Israel’s shores, and came from a Syrian-owned ship, the Emerald, which, it subsequently emerged, was not insured.
Israel was taken by surprise on February 18 when tar began washing onto its Mediterranean coastline following stormy weather, along with the corpse of a fin whale some 17 meters (55 feet) long.
During the following days, it became clear that beaches from Rosh Hanikra in the far north to Nitzanim in the south had been contaminated and that wildlife had paid a heavy price.
The sale of Mediterranean fish was temporarily suspended and beaches were closed, with the first 17 reopening only on March 7. Thousands of volunteers rallied over many days to help with the cleanup. Officials dealing with marine issues said they could not remember an incident with such a wide geographical spread. The long-term damage to ecosystems still remains to be seen.
Lebanon hospitals warn power cuts threaten ‘catastrophe’
Hospitals in crisis-hit Lebanon warn of a looming “catastrophe” as some were only hours away from running out of fuel to keep life-saving equipment on during endless state power cuts.
Lebanon’s worst financial and economic crisis ever is battering an already fragile health sector as it faces the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state electricity supplier has all but stopped supplying power in recent weeks, forcing homes, businesses and hospitals to rely on backup generators almost around the clock.
But the syndicate of private hospitals on Thursday warned they were struggling to procure enough fuel to keep theirs on.
“Hospitals are unable to find fuel oil to power generators during power outages of at least 20 hours a day,” it says in a statement. “A number of hospitals risk running out in coming hours, which will put the lives of patients in danger,” it warns, without specifying how many facilities were at immediate risk.
IDF holds multi-national drone exercise in central Israel
The Israeli Air Force attempts to cement its status as a world leader in the use of remote-controlled aircraft, hosting a large, multi-national drone exercise in central Israel this month, which it calls unprecedented.
“This is the first time that we are meeting with drone operators from around the world, conducting missions together, complicated missions of assisting ground troops, of locating and striking enemies, of joint operations with manned and remotely controlled aircraft,” says Brig. Gen. Yoav Amiram, commander of IAF’s Palmachim Air Base, where the exercise was held.
The drill, dubbed Blue Guardian, kicked off on July 12 and ends today. Teams from Israel, the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom took part in the exercise, operating IAF Hermes-450 unmanned aerial vehicles.
Amiram says the military relied on the air force’s drone expertise extensively during May’s conflict between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
According to IDF figures, remotely controlled aircraft conducted 643 sorties during the 11-day battle, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls, with drones collectively amassing 6,231 flight hours, meaning on average at least two dozen unmanned aerial vehicles were in the air over Gaza at every moment of the campaign.
“The UAV array conducted over 6,000 flight hours during ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls,’ maintained operational continuity with many aircraft over the Strip, and basically allowed aerial forces of the air force and the entire IDF to operate in a complicated, populated battlefield in which we need to find the enemy and minimize collateral damage,” Amiram says.
COVID cabinet approves new regulations for large events
The coronavirus cabinet approves the return of the “Green Pass” at events with more than 100 people.
Ministers vote to bring back the regulations, beginning one week from today. Under the plan, at events with more than 100 people, all attendees over age 12 will be required to present either a certificate of vaccination or recovery, or a negative COVID test from the past 72 hours.
The new “Green Pass” will affect sporting and culture events as well as gyms, restaurants, conferences, tourist attractions and synagogues.
Israeli-led coral reef sea expedition suspended after hitting reef near Egypt
A multinational team of marine scientists traveling from Eilat to Sudan is stranded in Egypt after hitting a reef.
The team set sail on Tuesday on board a ship originally built by the Nazis, kicking off a groundbreaking project to assess the health of corals throughout the Red Sea.
But the Red Sea Transnational Research Center says the mission has been suspended after the Fleur de Passion hit a reef early Wednesday morning. The ten people on board (four crew members and six scientists) were safely evacuated by the Egyptian Navy to Sharm el-Sheikh.
It is not immediately clear when they will be able to set sail again on the ship built in 1941, and they may need to charter a replacement vessel instead.
US secretary of state meets Natan Sharansky in DC
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Natan Sharansky, the former Jewish Agency chairman and former Israeli minister, who serves currently as the chairman of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy.
According to the State Department, the pair “discussed global challenges for democracy, the plight of political prisoners around the world, and the importance of combatting antisemitism in all of its forms, including Holocaust distortion and denial.”
Former US Senator Joe Lieberman also attended the meeting held in DC.
“The United States of America plays a leading role in protecting and promoting human rights and democratic values,” said Sharansky, who is also head of the Supervisory Board of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center. “The fight against antisemitism, manifestations of xenophobia and intolerance, for me, is a marker of humanity’s development.”
“It was an honor to meet renowned Soviet dissident and human rights defender Natan Sharansky,” Blinken tweets. “The United States echoes his call for the release of political prisoners around the world, and we join him in condemning antisemitism in all its forms.”
French ex-diplomat saw ‘potential for misuse’ while working at NSO
Gerard Araud, a former French ambassador to Israel, as well as the UN and US, says he saw “potential for misuse” during his time working at the controversial Israeli cyber firm NSO Group.
Araud took a position as a consultant to NSO in 2019, advising on human rights, soon after stepping down as France’s ambassador to Washington.
“I took the position because I found it interesting. It was a new world for me,” Araud tells AFP. His one-year mission from September 2019, along with two other external consultants from the United States, was to look at how the company could improve its human rights record after a host of negative news stories.
The group was acquired in 2019 by a London-based private equity group, Novalpina, which hired Araud to recommend ways to make the company’s safeguard procedures “more rigorous and a bit more systematic,” he says.
Araud notes that countries that purchase the spyware Pegasus from NSO are meant to deploy it only to tackle organized crime or terrorism. But “you could see all the potential for misuse, even though the company wasn’t always responsible,” he says.
High Court rejects petitions for inquiry into ‘Submarine Affair’
The High Court rules against three petitions that demanded the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the “Submarine Affair.”
The justices noted, however, that there was “improper and worrying conduct” in the case that deserves a further investigation, but stopped short of ordering a government inquiry.
The submarine affair, also known as Case 3000, revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, allegedly approved by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu without consulting or notifying then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar agreed to hold discussions on the potential of setting up a state inquiry into the affair, something Gantz has pushed for despite opposition within the government.
Attorney general sets deadline for indicted Likud MK Katz
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has set a deadline for indicted Likud MK Haim Katz to reach a deal in his case, or he will submit the indictment to the Knesset.
Mandeblit says if Katz — who is charged with tax avoidance — cannot reach a plea deal within two months, he will submit the indictment to the Knesset to hold a hearing on lifting his parliamentary immunity.
Katz faces charges of dodging taxes. In a separate case in 2019, the attorney general sought to indict Katz on charges of fraud and breach of trust, but the Knesset voted to grant him parliamentary immunity. Mandelblit has urged the High Court to overturn his immunity, but the court has yet to rule.
During the last immunity vote, Katz was a member of the ruling coalition, but has since become an opposition MK.
Bennett vows to bring home remains of soldiers held in Gaza
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with the family of the late Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul, who was killed in the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and whose body is being held captive in Gaza.
Bennett tells the Shaul family that he is “personally committed to bringing home the soldiers and the civilians who are in the Gaza Strip and that his door is open to them,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Dani Dayan to be new head of Yad Vashem — report
Dani Dayan, the former Israeli consul-general to New York, will reportedly be appointed to serve as the next chairman of Yad Vashem.
According to Maariv, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has selected Dayan — who ran for Knesset this year with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, but fell short — to the position.
Last year, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated he would appoint Effi Eitam, a former right-wing minister, to head the museum. The news was met with protests from a wide range of figures, who opined that Eitam was too political to hold the job, and the appointment never moved forward.
Bennett to ambassadors: Consumers don’t think boycotting Israel is ‘cool’
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tells a visiting group of ambassadors that boycotting Israel is a terrible business move, insinuating that US-based ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s was siding with Hamas by banning sales in Israeli settlements.
“Whoever considers turning a boycott of Israel into a marketing or branding issue will discover that it is the worst business decision he has ever made,” says Bennett, speaking to a 26-person delegation of ambassadors from the around world to the US and the UN.
“Consumers, certainly in Israel but also in the US and other countries, don’t think that taking Hamas’s side is cool,” he tells the group at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. “We will use all measures at our disposal, including legislative.”
Israel appoints commission to review Pegasus-maker NSO
Israel is establishing a commission to review allegations that NSO Group’s controversial Pegasus phone surveillance software was misused, says MK Ram Ben-Barak, the head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“The defense establishment appointed a review commission made up of a number of groups,” Ben-Barak tells Army Radio. “When they finish their review, we’ll demand to see the results and assess whether we need to make corrections,” the former deputy head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency adds.
NSO chief executive Shalev Hulio tells Army Radio that he would “be very pleased if there were an investigation, so that we’d be able to clear our name.” He also alleges there is an effort “to smear the whole Israeli cyber industry.”
Coronavirus cabinet begins meeting to discuss new restrictions
The coronavirus cabinet meeting to discuss a series of new measures has begun in Jerusalem.
Ministers in the cabinet are slated to hold discussions and vote on the reinstatement of the “Green Pass” for large events, as well as new restrictions for entering and exiting the country.
Mandatory quarantine for those who return from overseas, including those vaccinated, is expected to be extended to further countries.
Unilever chief says company ‘fully committed’ to Israel
The chief executive of Unilever says the global consumer goods giant remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel, distancing himself from this week’s announcement by the company’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand that it will stop serving Israel’s West Bank settlements.
But CEO Alan Jope gives no indication that Unilever would force Ben & Jerry’s to roll back its controversial decision. In a conference call with investors, Jope says Ben & Jerry’s, which has a long history of social activism, had made the decision on its own.
He notes that under its purchase agreement with Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, the company maintained broad independence over its social justice policies and that Unilever respected that arrangement.
“Obviously it’s a complex and sensitive matter that elicits very strong feelings,” he says. “If there is one message I want to underscore in this call, it’s that Unilever remains fully committed to our business in Israel.”
PA’s Abbas speaks with Public Security Minister Barlev
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to Public Security Minister Omer Barlev. Barlev extends his best wishes to Abbas for the Eid al-Adha holiday.
Since the new Israeli government was sworn in last month, Abbas has held an unprecedented number of conversations with Israeli officials.
On Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke with Abbas and “discussed the need to advance confidence-building measures between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” said the Defense Ministry.
Abbas has also spoken twice with new President Isaac Herzog over the past two weeks.
Israel returning to observer status at African Union
Israel is going to again be a member with observer status of the African Union, the Foreign Ministry says.
Israel’s ambassador to Addis Ababa, Alaly Adamso, has submitted Israel’s charter as an observer member to the African Union. Until 2002, Israel was an observer member of the Organization of African Unity, until it was dissolved and replaced by the African Union.
Israel has diplomatic relations with 46 of the 55 nations in the African Union.
“This is a day of celebration for Israeli-Africa relations,” says Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “The diplomatic achievement is the result of efforts by the Foreign Ministry, the African Division and Israeli embassies on the continent. This is a corrective step to the anomaly that has prevailed for almost two decades and is an important part of strengthening Israel’s foreign relations fabric.”
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