Israel Coronavirus Infections Surge to 115,000 Active Cases; Kiss Frontman Gene Simmons and Others Denounce Boycott of Sydney Festival

   

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Coronavirus infections continued to surge in Israel as official figures revealed there are a record-breaking 115,000 active cases – driven by the highly-contagious Omicron variant – in the country.

Of these cases, 205 people are in a serious condition, a rise of 37 from the previous day. 

The government is said to be paying close attention to the serious infections because they are used as a measurement for how the Omicron wave is affecting Israel, particularly after a change in COVID-19 testing policy that means a significant number of cases are thought to be undetected. 

Yet, the number of patients classified as serious is significantly lower than the 1,200 that were registered during the peak of the third wave in January and February last year. 

Omicron appears to be milder than previous variants, with experts noting that sufferers are five times less likely to have a severe case compared to the Delta variant.

Meanwhile, Israel is reopening its borders because authorities believe that the surge in infections renders the impact of keeping them closed negligible. The “red list” of countries where Israelis are banned from traveling has been completely scrapped. 

   

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French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security in the face of the Iranian nuclear threat in a conversation with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Saturday night.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry revealed the two spoke about a wide range of topics with a particular focus on Middle East challenges and the ongoing talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which Israel opposes. 

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According to the ministry, “the conversation between the two dealt with the regional challenges, the nuclear talks and Israel’s demand to put pressure on Iran, and Israel’s relations with the European Union,” while “Macron reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security and stressed the importance of the warm relations between Israel and France.”

On Friday, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian indicated there had been progress towards reaching a new agreement to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but warned that time is quickly running out to do so.

“I remain convinced we can reach a deal. Bits of progress have been made in the last few days,” he said, adding: “We have been heading in a positive direction in the last few days, but time is of the essence because if we don’t get an accord quickly there will be nothing to negotiate.”

Tehran, which has refused to directly negotiate with representatives from the United States, has insisted that all sanctions on the Islamic Republic must be lifted.

   

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Israel is not planning on evacuating its citizens from Kazakhstan amid a wave of unrest that has swept over the country.

Senior Foreign Ministry official Gary Koren said he did not think intervention would be necessary, despite an Israeli man being killed by gunfire two days ago in Almaty.

“We believe that there will be no need to evacuate Israeli citizens,” said Koren, the deputy head of the ministry’s Eurasia and West Balkans division. Explaining that diplomatic officials believed authorities in Astana (Nur-Sultan) were quickly getting a grip of the situation, Koren added: “Most of the internet is back, and shops and gas stations are opening here and there. There are several dozen Israelis who traveled there to study or work and we are in touch with them.”

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Demonstrations erupted in Kazakhstan in response to fuel hikes, although they soon grew into more general anti-government protests that have left dozens dead. 

   

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Kiss frontman Gene Simmons and filmmaker Nancy Spielberg are among the 120 entertainment industry professionals to put their names to a letter denouncing a boycott of the 2022 Sydney Festival over its $20,000 sponsorship deal with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra.

In the open letter, the signatories labeled the boycott “an affront to both Palestinians and Israelis who are working to advance peace through compromise, exchange, and mutual recognition.” It added that such action “turns the festival from an opportunity for unity into a weapon of division.”

Approximately 30 acts have pulled out of the festival after the Israeli embassy donated cash to support a performance by celebrated Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, who, incidentally, previously said he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

David Kirk, board chairman of the 2022 Sydney Festival, said that there were no plans to return the sponsorship cash or cancel Naharin’s performance in the face of mounting pressure from anti-Israel activists, but said that moving forward the board would “review its practices in relation to funding from foreign governments or related parties.”

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