Israel sticks with 4th vaccine shot, sees omicron waning in a week

A medical worker prepares a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as Israel kicks off a coronavirus vaccination drive, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital) in Tel Aviv, Israel December 20, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 January 2022

Israel sticks with 4th vaccine shot, sees omicron waning in a week

  • Hoping to reduce strain on the economy, Israel on Monday cut the mandatory quarantine period for COVID-19 carriers to five days

JERUSALEM: Israel will continue to offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot despite preliminary findings that it is not enough to prevent omicron infections, a senior health official said on Tuesday, predicting contagions stoked by the variant will wane in a week.
The fastest country to roll out vaccinations a year ago, Israel last month started offering a fourth shot — also known as a second booster — to its most vulnerable and high-risk groups.
A preliminary study published by an Israeli hospital on Monday found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but “probably” not enough to fend off the highly transmissible omicron.
Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash described those findings as “unsurprising, to a degree” as omicron infections had been logged in some people after they received fourth doses.
“But we assess that protection from serious morbidity, especially for the elderly population and at-risk population, is still afforded by this vaccine (dose), and therefore I call on people to keep coming to get vaccinated,” he told Army Radio.
As elsewhere, Israel has seen COVID-19 cases spiral due to omicron. But it has logged no deaths from the variant, and Ash said there had been no increase in the number of COVID-19 patients on ECMO machines — a gauge of the most critical cases.
“In another week we will begin seeing a drop in the numbers, but we still have two or three difficult weeks ahead,” he said.
Hoping to reduce strain on the economy, Israel on Monday cut the mandatory quarantine period for COVID-19 carriers to five days. To husband PCRs and reduce queuing at public testing sites, it has encouraged more use of home antigen kits.
The Health Ministry has been issuing regular updates on COVID-19 in Israel but these have been disrupted since Sunday due to “major overloads on our computer systems,” Ash said.


Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

Updated 13 sec ago

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

MADRID: Human rights organizations in Spain and Morocco have called on both countries to investigate the deaths of at least 18 Africans and injuries suffered by dozens more who attempted to scale the border fence that surrounds Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.
Moroccan authorities said the casualties occurred when a “stampede” of people tried to climb the iron fence that separates Melilla and Morocco. In a statement released Friday, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.
Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official MAP news agency said the death toll increased to 18 after several migrants died in the hospital. The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.
The association also shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them.
“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a “comprehensive” investigation.
In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.
In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.
“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,” Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain, said. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”
APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, and a joint statement released by five rights organizations in Morocco also called for inquiries.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said that around 2,000 people had attempted to make it across the border fence but were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard Police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. A total 133 migrants made it across the border.

EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

Updated 38 min ago

EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

  • France urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible

DUBAI: Talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal will resume in the coming days, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday during a visit to Tehran.
“We will resume the talks on the JCPOA in the coming days,” Borrell told a news conference in the Iranian capital, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Borrell met Iran’s top diplomat on Saturday, Iranian state TV reported, as the bloc seeks to break an impasse between Tehran and Washington over reinstating a nuclear pact.
The United States said earlier in June it was awaiting a constructive response from Iran on reviving the 2015 deal — under which Iran restricted its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions — without “extraneous” issues.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian last week called on Washington, which exited the deal and then imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran during the Trump administration in 2018, to “be realistic.”
It appeared on the brink of revival in March when the EU, which is coordinating negotiations, invited ministers to Vienna to seal it after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.
But the talks have since been bogged down, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
Two officials, one Iranian and one European, told Reuters ahead of Borrell’s trip that “two issues including one on sanctions remained to be resolved,” comments that Iran’s foreign ministry has neither denied nor confirmed.
France, a party to the deal, on Friday urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible.


Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

Updated 25 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

  • Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded near the village of Silwad

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died from his wounds hours after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian sources said Saturday.
Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded on Friday evening near the village of Silwad, near Ramallah in the northern West Bank, and died hours later, a Silwad councillor told AFP. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
The teenager was near a road leading to the neighboring settlement of Ofra when he was wounded by Israeli soldiers, the councillor said.
His death comes amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Nineteen people, mostly Israeli civilians — including 18 inside Israel and a Jewish settler — have been killed in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs since late March.
Israeli security forces have responded with raids inside Israel and in the West Bank in which three Israeli Arab attackers and at least 46 Palestinians have been killed.
Among those killed were suspected militants but also non-combatants, including an Al Jazeera journalist who was covering a raid in Jenin.


Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

Updated 25 June 2022

Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

  • About 2,000 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: At least 18 African migrants died when a huge crowd tried to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, according to an update from Moroccan authorities.
Around 2,000 migrants approached Melilla at dawn Friday and more than 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with shears, the Spanish government’s local delegation said in a statement about the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
Moroccan officials said late Friday that 13 migrants had died of injuries sustained in the incursion, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier in the day.
“Some fell from the top of the barrier” separating the two sides, a Moroccan official said, adding that 140 security personnel and 76 migrants were injured during the attempt to cross.
The Spanish Civil Guard, which monitors the other side of the fence, said it had no information on the tragedy and referred enquiries to Morocco.
The border of the Spanish enclave and the neighboring Moroccan city of Nador were calm early Saturday, without police deployment, AFP journalists said.
Morocco had deployed a “large” number of forces to try to repel the assault on the border, who “cooperated actively” with Spain’s security forces, it said earlier in a statement.
Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the pavement in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.
Speaking in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the “violent assault,” which he blamed on “mafias who traffic in human beings.”
Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other tiny North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants.
On Thursday night migrants and security forces had “clashed” on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of Moroccan rights group AMDH told AFP.
Several of them were hospitalized in Nador, he added.
The AMDH’s Nador chapter called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll” which shows that “the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill.”
It was the first such mass incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
In March, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara going back on its decades-long stance of neutrality.
Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations.
The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence Polisario Front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.
A month later, some 10,000 migrants surged across the Moroccan border into Spain’s Ceuta enclave as border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.
Rabat calls for the Western Sahara to have an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty but the Polisario Front wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 cease-fire agreement.
In the days just before Morocco and Spain patched up their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants into Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record. Nearly 500 made it across.
Patching up relations with Morocco — the departure point for many migrants — has meant a drop in arrivals, notably in Spain’s Atlantic Canary Islands.
The number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.
Sanchez earlier this month warned that “Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.”
Spain will seek to have “irregular migration” listed as one of the security threats on the NATO’s southern flank when the alliance gathers for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.
Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or Ceuta’s eight-kilometer border, by climbing the barriers, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.
The two territories are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers.
Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to climb the border fence, and throw stones at police.


Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

Updated 24 June 2022

Tunisian interior ministry says there are threats to president’s life

  • The ministry said both internal and external elements were involved in plans targeting the president
  • An attacker was arrested after injuring two police while targeting a security point outside a Tunis synagogue overnight

JEDDAH: Security chiefs in Tunisia have uncovered plots to assassinate President Kais Saied amid concerns over a growing political crisis, they said on Friday.

The threats were revealed as an attacker previously jailed on terrorism charges and released in 2021 tried to stab two police officers guarding a synagogue in the center of Tunis.

“According to credible information and investigations still underway, the president of the republic and the presidency as an institution are the target of serious threats,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Fadhila Khelifi said.

“There is a plan by groups both at home and abroad to target the security of the president” and to “damage state security and create chaos,” she said.

In Tunis, the man armed with a knife attacked police deployed to guard the Grand Synagogue in the city center, wounding two officers before he was overpowered. The ministry said an investigation was underway.

Before its independence from France in 1956, Tunisia was home to over 100,000 Jews, but emigration has brought their numbers down to about 1,000.

Since the so-called “Arab Spring” revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El-Abidine ben Ali in 2011, a number of jihadist attacks in Tunisia have killed dozens of people.

The latest attack comes amid a deep economic and political crisis almost a year since Saied assumed complete power in July 2021. The president’s opponents accuse him of a coup for ruling by decree and preparing a new constitution that he plans to put to a referendum next month.

Opposition to Saied has broadened over recent months as nearly all major political parties and the powerful labor union have come out against his plans, holding street rallies against him.

However, while critics of the president say his moves have raised concerns over rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution, there has been no widespread crackdown on the opposition.

Saied says his moves are legal and were needed to save Tunisia from years of political
paralysis, economic stagnation and the malign influence of Islamist groups.

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, a prominent left-wing politician and Saied opponent, cast doubt on claims of a plot to kill the president. “This is just to justify new arrests and to take revenge against his rivals,” Chebbi said. “The president is politically isolated and is trying to stir up public sympathy.”

Ennahdha, the Islamist party that had dominated Tunisian politics before Saied took power, dismissed the threats as “theater.”