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Top Brazilian General Reportedly Backs Bolsonaro Effort To Undermine 2022 Elections

Top Brazilian General Reportedly Backs Bolsonaro Effort To Undermine 2022 Elections

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For months, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has peddled conspiracy theories about the integrity of his country’s voting system, setting the stage for the embattled right-wing leader to question the results of next year’s elections if he loses. Bolsonaro has even claimed that if Brazil’s Congress does not alter the constitution to overhaul its election system and add paper ballot receipts to its electronic voting system, Brazil “won’t do elections at all.”

The potential dangers of that scenario became even starker Thursday morning, when one of Brazil’s largest newspapers reported that Gen. Walter Braga Netto ― an influential military leader and Bolsonaro ally who currently serves as Brazil’s minister of defense ― told key congressional leaders that “there would be no elections in 2022 if there were no printed and auditable vote.”

The report from O Estado de S. Paulo (or Estadão) sent shock waves across Brazil, a country already on notice about the potential dangers of election fraud conspiracies. For months, Brazilians have worried that Bolsonaro, an admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, may be laying the groundwork for his own version of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and that such an episode would pose a far graver risk to Brazil’s comparably young democracy.

Brazil’s electronic election system is widely regarded as one of the world’s safest and most secureBut the possibility that Bolsonaro has the apparent backing of a top general, in a nation that was ruled by a military junta from 1964 to 1985, has added to fears that a president who has steadily eroded Brazil’s democratic institutions since taking office in 2018 could deal its democracy a fatal blow.

“A lot of people understand that Trump failed because he was unable to change the opinion of the armed forces,” said Oliver Stuenkel, a professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in São Paulo.

In Brazil, “you sort of had the armed forces as a barrier of last resort. These kinds of comments we’re hearing now, they get you to think, ‘Who’s going to hold it all together?’” he said. “You kind of ask yourself, ‘Who will stand up for and ensure not only the integrity of the electoral process, but that the elections will take place?’”

Brazilian Minister of Defense Walter Braga Netto, an Army general, told congressional leaders that there would be no election



Brazilian Minister of Defense Walter Braga Netto, an Army general, told congressional leaders that there would be no elections in 2022 if changes that President Jair Bolsonaro (left) wants aren’t made to the country’s electronic voting system, according to a report from a major Brazilian newspaper.

On July 8, Estadão reported, Braga Netto tasked his representatives with delivering the message to Arthur Lira, a Bolsonaro ally who serves as the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil’s Congress. Lira’s position is analogous to that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the United States, where Trump-era Pentagon officials have sought to distance themselves from Trump’s voter fraud conspiracies, and have said they worried he would attempt to use the military to overturn the 2020 election. Congressional Democrats are trying to probe Trump’s and other federal officials’ roles in the insurrection.

Braga Netto denied the veracity of the report in a Thursday morning statement, calling it “disinformation that generates instability” and insisting that Brazil’s armed forces “act and will act within the limits provided for in the constitution.”

But Braga Netto nevertheless insisted that Bolsonaro’s calls for paper ballots ― which he has falsely suggested are more auditable and verifiable than Brazil’s current electronic voting system ― are legitimate concerns worthy of debate in Congress, where a committee last month advanced legislation to amend the constitution and overhaul the election system in a way Bolsonaro favors.

The proposal would give voters a paper ballot receipt to verify their vote that they would then put in a secure dropbox, which Bolsonaro says would allow for better post-election audits. Current Supreme Court justices who oversee the country’s election tribunal have said Bolsonaro’s plan would only result in claims of fraud where none exists, according to The Associated Press.

“It’s not a very strong denial,” said Carlos Gustavo Poggio, a professor at the Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation, another São Paulo-based university. “A crisis of this size, and this kind of allegation, we should have a much stronger reaction from the military. And it’s worrying that we do not have it.”

Brazil’s armed forces have largely refrained from intervening in domestic political affairs since military rule ended three decades ago. But Bolsonaro, a hard-line former army captain who for decades expressed nostalgic views of the dictatorship, has stacked his cabinet with generals and other high-ranking military officers throughout his presidency. His vice president, another former general, openly talked about military intervention against Brazil’s government in 2017, and refused to rule out the possibility of a return to military rule during the 2018 election.

Little by little, we see all the bricks of the democratic building in Brazil being slowly destroyed.
Carlos Gustavo Poggio, professor at the Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation

Earlier this year, Bolsonaro named Braga Netto, an active general, as defense minister, a position that has traditionally been staffed by civilians or retired military officials since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1989. The move was widely interpreted as an effort to install an ally in an influential position after former defense minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva, a retired general, left the position amid a dispute with Bolsonaro over the COVID-19 pandemic and the military’s refusal to align itself with Bolsonaro’s denialist approach to it. 

The military’s intrusion into politics and governance has worried many observers from the beginning, although Bolsonaro’s most fanatic support from the armed forces comes from rank-and-file members, not its top brass, which has largely tried to maintain the military’s political neutrality even as Bolsonaro has attempted to deepen his links to it. The heads of each branch of Brazil’s armed forces quit in May after Bolsonaro fired Azevedo, suggesting a potential break in relations between the president and his military allies. 

But Braga Netto’s reported backing of the president, and the lack of an immediate rebuke from heads of Brazil’s military branches ― who were looped into his message to Lira, the Chamber of Deputies president, according to Estadão ― are a new and worrying sign that a more radical crop of military leaders may align with Bolsonaro if a political crisis ensues next year.

“Bolsonaro has always had the support of lower-ranking military personnel,” Poggio said. “If he gets the support of the generals, then we have a problem.”

Estadão reported that Lira considered Braga Netto’s message “a threat of a coup” and immediately relayed it to Bolsonaro, along with the message that while he would back the president in the event of an election loss, he would not support a coup. 

On Twitter, Lira appeared to respond to the paper’s report without denying its substance.

“Regardless of what comes out in the press or not, the fact is: Brazilians want a vaccine, they want work and they will judge their representatives in October of next year through a popular, secret and sovereign vote,” he tweeted Thursday morning.

The head of Brazil’s Supreme Court, Luís Roberto Barroso, issued a statement saying that he had spoken to Braga Netto and Lira and that both “emphatically denied” there was any threat to the 2022 elections.

“We have a Constitution in force, functioning institutions, a free press and a conscious society mobilized in favor of democracy,” Barroso tweeted.

But Estadão stood by its story, which relied largely on anonymous sources because of the sensitivity of the discussions, it said. And Braga Netto’s response did little to calm the waters. 

“The information that Braga Netto threatened the 2022 elections offers no way out: he must leave office immediately,” former São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, a member of the leftist Workers Party who lost to Bolsonaro in the 2018 election, tweeted

Rounds of mass protests calling for Bolsonaro's ouster have taken place in recent months, driving the right-wing president to



Rounds of mass protests calling for Bolsonaro’s ouster have taken place in recent months, driving the right-wing president to become even more desperate as his political outlook worsens. 

Thursday’s revelations, if true, are further evidence that the steady erosion of democracy that has taken place under Bolsonaro is likely to accelerate as the election approaches, both Poggio and Stuenkel said. 

“Little by little, we see all the bricks of the democratic building in Brazil being slowly destroyed,” Poggio said. 

Bolsonaro and his closest allies have become increasingly desperate as the country’s COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage and his political outlook worsens. Brazil’s Congress is three months into an official investigation of the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, and has unearthed multiple allegations of corruption related to the procurement of vaccine doses. Those charges have hit close to home for both the president and the military, given that Bolsonaro installed another general to oversee his ministry of health after multiple ministers were fired or decided to quit rather than embrace his virus-related conspiracy theories.

Bolsonaro’s approval rating has dropped to new lows amid the probe, and preliminary polls show him badly trailing potential challengers ― including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will presumably run as the Workers Party’s candidate ― ahead of the October 2022 election.

Bolsonaro’s dire political outlook, and his desire to mimic Trump’s right-wing playbook at every turn, has led him to repeatedly stoke doubts about the integrity of Brazil’s electoral system. He has intensified those charges in recent weeks, suggesting first that he might boycott the race and later that there might not be an election at all. 

Brazilian election experts have disputed Bolsonaro’s claims of potential fraud, and say there is no time to implement the changes he wants to see before next year’s election, even if Congress were to approve the legislation the president’s allies have backed. In late June, three members of Brazil’s Supreme Court met with representatives from nearly a dozen parties to urge them to drop the legislative proposal. Brazil’s top election court has told Bolsonaro to prove his allegations of fraud in previous elections, The Associated Press reported this month.

Brazil has conducted elections entirely via electronic voting machines for more than two decades, and was the first country to adopt an all-electronic voting system, in large part to reduce the fraud that had been common in paper ballot elections. Its machines require validation of voter identity, and votes are counted and winners declared in mere hours. Brazil’s electronic system has not faced significant allegations of fraud during any election where it has been in use, and despite Bolsonaro’s claims, post-election audits are possible and routinely conducted.

It’s true that examinations of the system as a whole have found potential problems in need of fixing, but Bolsonaro’s claims are not really meant to bolster the integrity of Brazil’s elections, Stuenkel said. Rather, the point for Bolsonaro is to undermine the elections and find even the smallest irregularity that he can cite as evidence of widespread fraud. If top members of the military, which remains one of Brazil’s most trusted institutions, are willing to go along, it is hard to overstate the immediate threat Bolsonaro would pose to Brazilian democracy.

“Even if the transfer of power takes place, it basically assures that part of the population won’t recognize the new government,” Stuenkel said. “If you want to hold on to power, the elections are coming up and you’re not going to win, you have a couple of options: You can either boycott the election, you can lose and then ignore the election, or you could try to steal the election. Those are the three options, and all of them are traumatic.”

“I think basically all options are on the table,” he said. “Even people who are not known to be alarmist are alarmed.”



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Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next

Taliban take over Afghanistan: What we know and what’s next
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban have seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.

The insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the US and its allies melted away.

Here is a look at what happened and what comes next:

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN AFGHANISTAN?

The Taliban, a militant group that ran the country in the late 1990s, have again taken control.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the insurgents from power, but they never left.

After they blitzed across the country in recent days, the Western-backed government that has run the country for 20 years collapsed.

Afghans, fearing for the future, are racing to the airport, one of the last routes out of the country.

WHY ARE PEOPLE FLEEING THE COUNTRY?

They are worried that the country could descend into chaos or the Taliban could carry out revenge attacks against those who worked with the Americans or the government.

Many also fear the Taliban will reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law that they relied when they ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Back then, women were barred from attending school or working outside the home. They had to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside.

The Taliban banned music, cut off the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.

The Taliban have sought to present themselves as a more moderate force in recent years and say they will not exact revenge, but many Afghans are skeptical of those promises.

WHY ARE THE TALIBAN TAKING OVER NOW?

Probably because US troops are set to withdraw by the end of the month.

The US has been trying to get out of Afghanistan, its longest war, for several years now.

American troops ousted the Taliban in a matter of months when they invaded to root out Al-Qaeda, which orchestrated the 9/11 attacks while being harboured by the Taliban.

But it proved more difficult to hold territory and rebuild a nation battered by repeated wars.

As the US focus shifted to Iraq, the Taliban began to regroup and in recent years took over much of the Afghan countryside.

Last year, then-President Donald Trump announced a plan to pull out and signed a deal with the Taliban that limited US military action against them.

President Joe Biden then announced that the last troops would leave by the end of August.

As the final deadline drew close, the Taliban began a lightning offensive, overrunning city after city.

WHY DID THE AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES COLLAPSE?

The short answer? Corruption.

The US and its NATO allies spent billions of dollars over two decades to train and equip Afghan security forces.

But the Western-backed government was rife with corruption. Commanders exaggerated the number of soldiers to siphon off resources, and troops in the field often lacked ammunition, supplies or even food.

Their morale further eroded when it became clear the US was on its way out. As the Taliban rapidly advanced in recent days entire units surrendered after brief battles, and Kabul and some nearby provinces fell without a fight.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN?

He fled.

President Ashraf Ghani hunkered down and made few public statements as the Taliban swept across the country.

On Sunday, as they reached the capital, he left Afghanistan, saying he had chosen to leave to avoid further bloodshed.

It’s not clear where he went.

WHY ARE PEOPLE COMPARING AFGHANISTAN TO THE FALL OF SAIGON?

The Fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces in 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War.

It became an enduring symbol of defeat after thousands of Americans and their Vietnamese allies were airlifted out of the city on helicopters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has rejected any comparisons to Afghanistan, saying: “This is manifestly not Saigon.”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT IN AFGHANISTAN?

It’s not clear.

The Taliban say they want to form an “inclusive, Islamic government” with other factions. They are holding negotiations with senior politicians, including leaders in the former government.

They have pledged to enforce Islamic law but say they will provide a secure environment for the return of normal life after decades of war.

But many Afghans distrust the Taliban and fear that their rule will be violent and oppressive.

One sign that worries people is that they want to rename the country the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is what they called it the last time they ruled.

WHAT DOES THE TALIBAN TAKEOVER MEAN FOR WOMEN?

Many fear it could mean a severe rollback of rights.

Afghan women have made major gains since the overthrow of the Taliban.

Many are worried they will once again be confined to their homes.

The Taliban have said they are no longer opposed to women attending school but have not set out a clear policy on women’s rights.

Afghanistan remains an overwhelmingly conservative country, especially outside major cities, and the status of women often varied, even under Taliban rule.

WILL THE TALIBAN ONCE AGAIN HARBOUR AL-QAEDA?

That is anyone’s guess, but American military officials are worried.

In the peace deal signed with the United States last year, the Taliban pledged to fight terrorism and prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for attacks.

But the US has little leverage to enforce that.

Technological advances over the last 20 years allow the United States to target suspected militants in countries like Yemen and Somalia where it does not have a permanent troop presence.

The Taliban paid a heavy price for their role in the Sep 11 attacks and likely hope to avoid a repeat as they seek to consolidate their rule.

But earlier this year, the Pentagon’s top leaders said an extremist group like Al-Qaeda may be able to regenerate in Afghanistan, and officials are now warning that such groups could grow much faster than expected.

Afghanistan is also home to an Islamic State group affiliate that has carried out a wave of horrific attacks targeting its Shiite minority in recent years. The Taliban have condemned such attacks and the two groups have fought each other over territory, but it remains to be seen whether a Taliban government will be willing or able to suppress IS. AP

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Malala Yousafzai ‘Deeply Worried About Women, Minorities’ As Taliban Takes Kabul

Malala Yousafzai ‘Deeply Worried About Women, Minorities’ As Taliban Takes Kabul

The activist, who survived a Taliban attack, called for urgent humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Activist Malala Yousafzai voiced grave concerns for women, minorities and human rights activists after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan when she was 15, said on Sunday she was watching on in complete shock as Taliban forces advanced into Kabul after executing a near-complete takeover of the country in a little over a week.

“I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates,” she said. “Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect. refugees and civilians.”

Yousafzai was targeted by extremists in 2012 after she spoke out publicly about the right to education for girls and women. She was shot on her school bus. She survived, went on to continue her advocacy from the UK, and in 2014, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, U.S. Embassy staff were evacuated and several other western missions worked to withdraw personnel. It comes months after the Biden administration announced the withdrawal of a decades-long U.S. military presence in the country.

Many fear the insurgents will roll back decades of gains by women and ethnic minorities, reimposing the brutal rule that all but eliminated women’s rights, the Associated Press reported. AP

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Video Shows Afghans Clinging To U.S. Military Plane As It Takes Off In Kabul

Video Shows Afghans Clinging To U.S. Military Plane As It Takes Off In Kabul

Seven people were reportedly killed during the chaos, including individuals who fell from a departing American transport jet.

Stunning video taken Monday at the Kabul airport shows people clinging to a U.S. military transport plane during takeoff, as well as others appearing to plunge to their death from the sky, in a disturbing scene that reportedly ended with several people dead.

The U.S. military suspended evacuation flights from the Afghan capital later on Monday due to the swarms of people blocking the airport’s tarmac, a spokesperson for the German foreign ministry told reporters.

“I understand there is no air traffic at the moment because a large number of desperate people are crowding the tarmac,” the spokesperson told journalists in Berlin, according to Reuters.

The chaos ended with seven people dead, including those who fell from a departing American military transport jet, The Associated Press reported, citing senior U.S. military officials.

Disturbing videos posted to social media appear to capture some of the deaths, and seem to show bodies falling from a plane shortly after takeoff. The authenticity of these videos has not been independently confirmed by HuffPost.

The Taliban has meanwhile attempted to reassure Afghans, saying in a statement that “life, property and honor” will be respected. But many Afghans fear that the Islamic militants will roll back basic democratic and human rights, particularly for women, journalists and nongovernment organization workers.

“Everyone is worried,” a former government employee who is hiding in Kabul told Reuters. “They’re not targeting people yet but they will, that’s the reality. Maybe in two or three weeks. That’s why people are fighting to get out now.” AP/REUTERS

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What is the Relationship Between the Taliban and ISIS?

What is the Relationship Between the Taliban and ISIS?
Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. (AFP)

Who are the two groups?

The Taliban and Isis are both Sunni Islamist extremist groups seeking to form authoritarian states under strict Sharia law and prepared to use violence to achieve their aim.

The two forces are actually enemies, however, who have fought bitterly since 2015 when Isis formed the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Afghanistan at a time when it was first seeking to extend its geographical reach beyond Iraq and Syria.

The Taliban first came to prominence in 1994 during the Afghan Civil War, its ranks composed largely of students – from which the group derives its name in Pashto – many of whom had been mujahideen resistance fighters who had battled occupation by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

A Deobandi fundamentalist Islamist movement originating in the Pashtun areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan and in northern Pakistan, the Taliban was led by Mullah Mohammed Omar and conquered first the province of Herat and then the whole country by September 1996, overthrowing the Burhanuddin Rabbani regime, establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and making Kandahar the capital.

Its tyrannical rule, marked by the massacre of opponents, the denial of UN food supplies to starving citizens and the oppression of women, was brought to an abrupt end by US-led coalition forces in December 2001 in retaliation for Osama Bin Laden’s devastating al-Qaeda terror strike on the World Trade Center in New York City, which killed 2,996 people and left 25,000 injured.

Since then, Taliban fighters have regrouped as an insurgency and continued to battle to retake Afghanistan from US peacekeeping forces ever since.

Isis meanwhile was first formed by Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 1999 before rising to global prominence when it drove Iraqi forces out of key cities in the west of the country in 2014 – having declared itself a worldwide caliphate – and later conquered swathes of eastern Syria before ultimately surrendering Mosul and Raqqa in 2017 when international forces intervened.

It established the ISKP in the Nangarhar Province of eastern Afghanistan in January 2015, actively recruiting defectors from the Taliban, in particular those who were disconttented with their own leadership’s lack of success on the battlefield.

How have their respective factions interacted?

The formation of ISKP prompted Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour to write a letter to his Isis counterpart, Abu Bakr al-

More battles erupted in April 2017 when ISKP captured three drug dealers selling opium to raise funds for the Taliban in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan and again in May 2017 when 22 militants were killed in clashes between the two sides along the Iranian border.

The Taliban launched an offensive to clear Isis out of Jowzjan the following summer, with the the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan joining in on the latter’s side, as up to 7,000 people were displaced from their homes.

That July’s conflict ended in a significant defeat for ISKP, who suffered further setbacks in skirmishes the following year before being almost entirely eradicated by the US and the Afghan military in late 2019, although the Council for Foreign Relations estimates that there are still 2,200 members of ISKP still active in Afghanistan.

In February 2020, the Donald Trump administration signed its dubious peace accord with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which saw the latter group pledge to keep other Islamist extremists, including Isis, out of the country.

Why are we asking this now?

Afghanistan is again in a state of turmoil after the Taliban recaptured the capital city of Kabul on Sunday, declaring the country an Islamic Emirate once more after president Ashraf Ghani abandoned the presidential palace and fled to Tajikistan.

The operation followed swiftly on from the withdrawal of American troops from the country last month at the order of US president Joe Biden, their exit coming almost 20 years after the US military drove the same faction out of Kabul at the outset of George W Bush’s War on Terror in response to 9/11.

Biden expressed his determination not to hand the responsibility for policing Afghanistan on to a fifth commander-in-chief following the completion of his own tenure in the White House and trusted in the Afghan military, in whom the US had invested almost $1trn over two decades, to keep the Taliban at bay.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve seen that that force has been unable to defend the country… and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated,” US secretary of state Anthony Blinken lamented on Sunday.

Amid the chaotic scenes in Kabul as people fled for the airports was the alarming sight of 5,000 escaped prisoners walking free from the Pul-e-Charki prison on Bagram air base, occupied by the Americans until recently, with alleged Isis and al-Qaeda fighters present among their number.

Speaking on NPR’s All Things Considered last week, former US defence secretary Leon Panetta gave this blunt assessment of the disaster unfolding: “The Taliban are terrorists, and they’re going to support terrorists. If they take control of Afghanistan, there is no question in my mind that they will provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda, for Isis and for terrorism in general. And that constitutes, frankly, a national security threat to the United States.”

Baghdadi, calling on him to abandon his recruitment drive of the disaffected and arguing that any war for their comparable cause in Afghanistan should be carried out under Taliban leadership.

Fighting duly broke out between the two sides that June 2015 and between two separate factions of the Taliban in the Zabul Province that November over whether or not to join forces with ISIS. INDEPENDENT

 

 

 

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1/3 of Israel’s Older Population Has Received COVID-19 Booster Shot as Delta Cases Rise

1/3 of Israel’s Older Population Has Received COVID-19 Booster Shot as Delta Cases Rise
An Israeli medical worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine during a campaign by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality to encourage the vaccination of teenagers on July 5 in Tel Aviv. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Over one-third of Israel’s older population has received a COVID-19 booster shot, as the country rushes to administer additional vaccine doses to counter the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that over 420,000 Israelis older than 60 have so far received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. According to government statistics, that number is expected to exceed half a million by the end of the day, the Associated Press reported.

Israel began rolling out COVID-19 booster shots to its older population last weekend, after health officials reported new data indicating a decline in vaccine protection over time. The country had previously offered a third dose of the vaccine to some people with compromised immune systems, such as individuals with cancer.

The latest rollout comes as hospitalizations and daily case counts continue to rise due to the delta variant. Last week, Israel began recording an average of more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases a day, with 250 people in serious condition. That marks its worst outbreak since April, according to Agence France-Presse.

On Saturday, the country recorded 4,211 new cases and 19 new deaths. In response to the latest outbreak, the government recently moved to reinstated its mask mandate for indoor settings and is now weighing more restrictions.

Israel quickly became a world leader in vaccinating against the virus during its initial public campaign. By Sunday, nearly 60 percent of the country’s 9.3 million population has been fully vaccinated, with more eligible people now rushing to receive a third vaccine dose.

Israel booster shot
Over one-third of Israel’s older population has received a COVID-19 booster shot, as the country rushes to administer additional vaccine doses to counter the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. In this photo, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accompanies his mother Myrna Bennett as she receives her third COVID-19 vaccine shot, at a Maccabi Healthcare Services clinic in the northern city of Haifa on August 3, 2021. POOL / AFP/Getty Images

While most vaccine makers and researchers agree that booster shots will be needed to provide additional protection against the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) last week called for a moratorium on the use of third doses until the end of September in order to address inequalities in global vaccine distribution.

In response to the moratorium, Bennett said Thursday that Israel was doing the world a “great service” by administering the booster shots.

“Israel is going ahead here with something that dramatically contributes to global knowledge,” he said in a Facebook broadcast. “Without us, the world wouldn’t know the exact efficacy levels of the booster shots, wouldn’t know the dates, how much they affect infections, how they affect severe illness,” he added.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve of the use of coronavirus vaccine boosters for the American public. However, data from the CDC indicates that an increasing number of Americans are using dishonest means to receive a third jab.

Moderna has estimated that a COVID-19 vaccine booster could ready for use in the U.S. by the winter, and Pfizer is said to be preparing a booster shot for FDA approval soon.

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Israel attacks Hamas sites in Gaza in response to fire balloons

Israel attacks Hamas sites in Gaza in response to fire balloons
The Israeli military said its air raids were in 'response to continual launches of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel throughout the day' [File: Jack Guez/AFP]

Palestinians say the balloons aim to pressure Israel to ease restrictions on the coastal enclave that were tightened in May.

Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip on Saturday in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave, Israel’s military said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage from the attack that targeted what the Israeli military said was a rocket launching site and a compound belonging to Hamas, the political group that governs Gaza.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

A social media post by New Press publication, showed streaks of lights coming from Gaza, as shots were fired targeting Israeli planes in retaliation of the attack.

New Press also reported that three sites were targeted by Israel including Beit Hanoun and Jabalya.

Since a May 21 ceasefire ended 11 days of Israel-Hamas fighting, Palestinians in Gaza have sporadically launched balloons laden with incendiary material across the border, causing fires that have burned fields in Israel.

The incendiary balloons have been used previously in response to the tightening of Israel’s blockade on the coastal enclave, after new restrictions were issued during Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in May.

Balloon launches had mostly ebbed after Israel eased some restrictions on Gaza.

But on Friday, balloons were again launched from Gaza, causing at least four brush fires in areas near the Israel-Gaza frontier.

The Israeli military said its air raids were in “response to continual launches of incendiary balloons from Gaza into Israel throughout the day”.

The blazes along the Gaza frontier broke out on Friday as Israel separately traded fire over its northern border with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, in a third day of cross-border salvoes amid wider regional tensions with Iran.

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