37-Year-Old Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Named Prime Minister

In this file photo, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman smiles as he arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 28, 2022, for a meeting with the French President. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

 

Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince has been named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king, in a government shuffle announced Tuesday night.

Mohammed bin Salman, who has been the kingdom’s de facto ruler for several years, was previously serving as deputy prime minister under King Salman as well as defence minister.

He is being replaced as defence minister by his younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was previously deputy defence minister.

The heads of other critical ministries, including interior, foreign and energy, remained in place, according to a royal decree from King Salman published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

READ ALSO: 50,000 People Displaced In Cuba As Hurricane Ian Surges

Prince Mohammed, who turned 37 last month, has been first in line to succeed his father as king since 2017.

He became defence minister in 2015, a key step in a swift consolidation of power that saw him take the lead on major portfolios.

Saudi Arabia has for years sought to quell speculation over the health of 86-year-old King Salman, who has ruled the world’s top oil exporter since 2015.

In 2017, it dismissed reports and mounting speculation that the king was planning to abdicate in favour of Prince Mohammed.

King Salman has been hospitalised twice so far this year, most recently a one-week stay in May that involved tests including a colonoscopy, according to state media reports.

AFP

Meloni Wins Poll, Becomes Italy’s First Female Prime Minister

Giorgia Meloni, leader of Fratelli d’Italia, won the snap elections, with a percentage above 26 %, on 26 September 2022. (Photo by Riccardo Fabi/NurPhoto)

 

From a teenage activist who praised Mussolini to favourite to become Italy’s first woman prime minister, Giorgia Meloni has had quite a journey, leading her far-right party to the brink of power.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy came top in Sunday’s general elections, and her right-wing coalition looks set to secure a majority in both houses of parliament.

Often intense and combative as she rails against the European Union, mass immigration, and “LGBT lobbies”, the 45-year-old has swept up disaffected voters and built a powerful personal brand.

“I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am Christian,” she declared at a 2019 rally in Rome.

Brothers of Italy grew out of the country’s post-fascist movement, but Meloni has sought to distance herself from the past while refusing to renounce it entirely.

She remains deeply divisive, not least over her Catholic family values that many fear will see a step backward on rights such as abortion.

Meloni vowed Monday to unite the country, saying she would govern for “all Italians”.

“It is a time of responsibility,” she said, adding that “Italy has chosen us, and we will not betray her.”

READ ALSORussia School Shooting Leaves 13 Dead, Including Children

Ready to govern

Born in Rome on January 15, 1977, Meloni was brought up in the working-class neighbourhood of Garbatella by her mother, after her father left them.

She has long been involved in politics — becoming the youngest minister in post-war Italian history at 31 — and co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012.

In the 2018 general elections, her party secured just four percent of the vote but looked set to secure 26 percent in Sunday’s general elections.

That put Meloni ahead of not just her rivals but also her coalition allies, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League and Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi, in whose government she served in 2008.

Meloni has benefited from being the only party in opposition for the past 18 months, after choosing to stay out of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

At the same time, she has sought to reassure those who question her lack of experience, with her slogan “Ready” adorning billboards up and down the country.

Wary of Italy’s huge debt, she has emphasised fiscal prudence, despite her coalition’s call for tax cuts and higher social spending.

Her stance on Europe has moderated over the years — she no longer wants Italy to leave the EU’s single currency and has strongly backed the bloc’s sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine war.

However, she says Rome must stand up more for its national interests and has backed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in his battles with Brussels.

Neo-fascist past

Meloni was a teenage activist with the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.

At 19, campaigning for the far-right National Alliance, she told French television that “Mussolini was a good politician, in that everything he did, he did for Italy”.

After being elected an MP for National Alliance in 2006, she shifted her tone, saying the dictator had made “mistakes”, notably the racial laws, his authoritarianism, and entering World War II on the side of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

Her party takes its name from the first line of Italy’s national anthem and its logo includes the same flame used by MSI, in the green, white and red of the country’s flag.

She has refused calls to change the logo, insisting the flame has “nothing to do with fascism” — and blaming talk to the contrary on “the left”.

She insists that within her party “there is no room for nostalgic attitudes”.

On abortion, she says she has no plans to change the law, which allows terminations but permits doctors to refuse to carry them out.

However, she says she wants to “give to women who think abortion is their only choice the right to make a different choice”.

Meloni has a daughter, born in 2016, with her TV journalist partner, and is a huge fan of “Lord of the Rings”.

AFP

UK’s Truss Makes History With Non-White Top Team

This combination of pictures created on September6, 2022 shows (from top L to down R) Britain's new Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Britain's new Health Secretary Therese Coffey and Britain's new Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng leaving 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Britain's new Prime Minister Liz Truss in central London.  (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)
This combination of pictures created on September6, 2022 shows (from top L to down R) Britain’s new Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Britain’s new Health Secretary Therese Coffey and Britain’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng leaving 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss in central London. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)

 

The leading cabinet lieutenants of Britain’s third woman prime minister share her right-wing ideology. They are all also people of colour.

For the first time in UK history, no white men will occupy any of the four “great offices of state”: prime minister, Treasury, foreign office and home affairs.

Britain might even have got its first ethnic Indian occupant of 10 Downing Street. But Liz Truss beat Rishi Sunak in the ruling Conservative party’s contest to find a successor to Boris Johnson.

Traditionally the party of the better-off establishment, the Conservatives have made bigger strides towards ethnic and gender diversity in their top ranks than the centre-left Labour opposition.

Labour has still to elect a permanent woman leader, but surveys show it retains a hold on most non-white voters who credit its progressive economic policies and its historical fight against racism.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner admitted the Tories were ahead in their visible diversity.

“That’s progress, and that’s really welcome. We do need diversity,” she told BBC radio Tuesday as Truss prepared to announce her senior team.

But Rayner added: “It’s about what you do as well as where you come from.

“Liz Truss has been part of the (Johnson) cabinet that has made the decisions that have got us into the mess that we’re in.”

‘Kind of banal’

With arguably the toughest brief at a time of economic crisis, Kwasi Kwarteng was appointed by Truss to become Britain’s first black chancellor of the exchequer.

As the first black foreign secretary, James Cleverly will offer a different diplomatic face for a country that once ruled a quarter of the planet.

Suella Braverman, whose family roots are in India, was meanwhile named home secretary with oversight of policing and immigration.

The new ministers are ardent opponents of “woke” awareness in race, and support UK plans to send would-be migrants arriving by boat to Rwanda.

University of Manchester political scientist Rob Ford said many minority politicians in the Conservative party “have extremely individualist views about race and disadvantage”.

They believe that “anybody can succeed regardless of their background”, he told AFP, arguing also that it was now commonplace to see people of colour occupying top jobs in UK politics.

“The very fact that this is now kind of banal is what makes it remarkable,” Ford said — while stressing that social class remains a daunting barrier.

When David Cameron became Tory party leader in 2005, he encouraged a new generation of Tories of colour, and women, to stand for parliament and take the electoral fight to Tony Blair’s “New Labour”.

Truss herself was a beneficiary of Cameron’s selection reforms.

Culture warriors

But it still helps to have gone to the right school.

Kwarteng studied at the exclusive Eton College — Cameron and Johnson’s alma mater — before going on to the University of Cambridge, where Braverman also did her degree.

Cleverly was privately educated too, before entering the army.

Sunder Katwala, director of the research group British Future, said the Conservatives still have work to do to erode Labour’s lead among minority voters.

“The left doubts if ethnic faces in high places make much difference, especially if they replicate the educational privileges of the existing elites,” he wrote in the Eastern Eye newspaper.

There were eight candidates at the start of the Conservatives’ leadership race in July: half were women, and half were from ethnic minorities.

They included the right-winger Kemi Badenoch, who is also tipped for a role in the Truss cabinet.

Badenoch and Braverman are both enthusiastic combatants in Britain’s “culture wars”.

The new home secretary earned a rebuke from Jewish leaders in 2019 when she attacked “cultural Marxism” — an anti-Semitic jibe coined by the Nazis and popular today among the far-right.

But such outspokenness has made the likes of Braverman, Badenoch and former home secretary Priti Patel popular with the older and largely white Tory membership, if less so among minority voters at large.

Katwala cautioned: “Some feel it can even be actively regressive if ethnic minority ministers feel a particular pressure to outflank their colleagues on the right.”

 

AFP

Russia’s ‘Brazen’ Attack On Ukraine ‘Will Not Go Unpunished’, Says Canada

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 21, 2022 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday condemned Russia’s “egregious” and “unprovoked” attack on Ukraine, calling on Moscow to immediately withdraw from the country and saying its aggression “will not go unpunished.”

“Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s egregious attack on Ukraine,” Trudeau said in a statement issued in the hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of military operations.

The Canadian leader called the “unprovoked actions” a clear further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called on Russia to “immediately cease all hostile and provocative actions against Ukraine and withdraw all military and proxy forces from the country.”

READ ALSO: German Army ‘Limited’ In Russia Response, Says Commander

Trudeau warned of “severe consequences” for Moscow, vowing with allies “to collectively respond to these reckless and dangerous acts,” including imposing more sanctions.

“Russia’s brazen acts will not go unpunished,” he said.

Trudeau was due to join a virtual, closed-door meeting of G7 leaders — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — at 9:00 am (1400 GMT) Thursday.

The G7 meeting is likely to result in more sanctions against Russia, which has long claimed it would not invade Ukraine, despite putting a huge force of tens of thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry on the country’s borders, while insisting that Kyiv abandon its pro-Western ambitions.

AFP

UK Defence Minister Takes A Swipe At Putin, Says He Has ‘Gone Full Tonto’

A handout picture released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) shows Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (C) hosting a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Defence Ministers meeting at at Belvoir Castle near Grantham, central England on February 22, 2022. (Photo by Sgt Jimmy Wise / MOD / AFP)

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has “gone full tonto” by ordering his troops into two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine, Britain’s defence secretary said Wednesday in unguarded comments to military officials.

Ben Wallace made the candid comments suggesting Putin had lost his mind while also comparing the Russian leader to Tsar Nicholas I, who struggled for allies during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.

“We’ve got a busy adversary now in Putin, who has gone full tonto,” Wallace — a former army officer — told serving personnel in a government building in Westminster, Britain’s Press Association news agency reported.

“Tsar Nicholas I made the same mistake Putin did… he had no friends, no alliances.

“The Scots Guards kicked the backside of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in Crimea — we can always do it again,” Wallace, who served in the same regiment, was overheard saying.

READ ALSO: Germany Can Do Without Russian Gas, Minister Says

The minister’s unvarnished assessment came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday said Putin was in an “illogical and irrational frame of mind”.

Asked about Wallace’s reported assessment, Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters: “The defence secretary is more astute to make that judgment than I.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meanwhile said Putin was “highly likely” to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and attack Kyiv.

Britain and the US have repeatedly cited intelligence as indicating that Moscow is planning such a move.

However, Truss noted London does not yet have “the full evidence” that Russian troops have crossed into Ukrainian territory, including rebel-held areas, calling the current situation “ambiguous”.

– ‘Defensive weapons’ –

Meanwhile in parliament, Johnson confirmed Britain would send further military supplies to Ukraine “in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour” from Russia.

“This will include lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid,” he told MPs.

The UK last month deployed some 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Kyiv along with military trainers — who have since left the country — as Western nations stepped up their support for Ukraine.

London is ready to guarantee up to $500 million (£368 million) in loans to Kyiv to promote economic stability and reforms, the foreign office said ahead of Johnson’s comments.

READ ALSO: Gas Prices ‘In God’s Hands’, Producers Warn As Ukraine Crisis Sparks Surge

In December, it increased the amount of financial support available to Ukraine to £3.5 billion and signed a treaty on modernising its navy.

Earlier this month it also announced £100 million in extra assistance to be provided over three years to help the ex-Soviet country boost the economy and reduce dependency on energy imports.

The latest commitments come a day after Britain slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires, in what Johnson branded “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions.

However, he faced criticism from numerous lawmakers, including from within his ruling Conservatives, that the measures were woefully insufficient.

He and his ministers have insisted tougher measures are set to follow but depend on Moscow’s actions.

Johnson also announced Wednesday that his culture minister had asked media regulator Ofcom to review the UK broadcasting licence of Kremlin-backed television channel RT.

In a leaked letter to Ofcom, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries urged the agency to take “timely and transparent” action against RT, which she warned seeks to spread “harmful disinformation”.

An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter to AFP, adding: “All licensees must observe Ofcom’s rules, including due accuracy and due impartiality.

READ ALSO: Pope Warns Of ‘Increasingly Alarming Scenarios’ In Ukraine

“If broadcasters break those rules, we will not hesitate to step in. Given the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis, we will examine complaints about any broadcaster’s news coverage of this issue as a priority.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hit back on Telegram saying “If Britain turns its threat towards Russian media into a reality, retaliatory measures will not take long to come.

“British journalists can ask their German colleagues what this looks like,” she said.

German broadcaster Deutsche Welle closed its Moscow bureau at the start of this month after Russia shut the outlet’s local operations to punish Germany for banning a service of a Russian state TV network.

Malta To Hold General Elections March 26, Says PM

Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela arrives for an informal meeting of the European Council on Ukraine and Russia at The European Council building in Brussels on February 17, 2022. (Photo by Geert Vanden WIJNGAERT / POOL / AFP)

 

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela on Sunday called a general election for March 26, launching a campaign likely to be dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and the fight against corruption.

“In the coming hours, I will be going to the president and advising him to dissolve parliament for a general election to be held on 26 March,” Abela said during a party rally in Floriana.

Abela has led the Mediterranean island nation since January 2020, when Joseph Muscat quit following a political crisis over the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

READ ALSO: Queen Elizabeth Tests Positive For COVID-19, Says Palace

Opinion polls suggest their Labour party has a significant lead over the opposition Nationalist Party, pointing to a comfortable third-term win.

Abela is expected to campaign on his handling of the pandemic, highlighting support for businesses, an EU-leading vaccination campaign and a return to brisk economic growth.

But Nationalist leader Bernard Grech, who took over a year ago as the party battled poor poll ratings, is likely to focus on the government’s record on the rule of law and corruption.

Poland Offers Ukraine Ammunition Ahead Of PM’s Visit

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talks to the press on the sidelines of the “Defend Europe” summit, organised by the Spanish far-right party VOX, in Madrid on January 29, 2022. OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

 

Poland on Monday said it had offered Ukraine tens of thousands of ammunition rounds ahead of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s visit to Kyiv as fears of a Russian invasion grow.

The EU member has also announced it is readying itself for a potential wave of up to a million refugees from Ukraine if negotiations fail and war breaks out.

“The decision has been taken to send defensive ammunition to Ukraine,” said Pawel Soloch, head of the national security bureau.

He told reporters the offer consisted of “tens of thousands of ammunition rounds, at present” and that Poland was now awaiting a response from Ukraine.

Morawiecki is due to visit Ukraine on Tuesday.

Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik last week spoke of the humanitarian aid Poland was prepared to offer its neighbour to the east.

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“If the situation in Ukraine were to end in war, then we must be prepared for an influx of real refugees,” Wasik told TV Republika.

“The interior ministry has for some time now been taking steps to prepare us for a wave of even a million people,” he added.

He said Poland, with a population of 38 million, would have to ready border crossings and medical services for any such influx, as well as prepare accommodation and meals for the refugees.

The country already has a sizeable Ukrainian community, including a longstanding minority of 50,000 with Polish citizenship.

Another 300,000 Ukrainians have Polish residence permits, yet the actual number living there is estimated to be much higher.

Relations between Russia and the West are at their lowest point since the Cold War after Moscow deployed tens of thousands of troops on the border of Ukraine.

The military build-up has prompted fears it is planning an invasion, spooking NATO and its members in the region and prompting the Western alliance to explore bolstering its own deployments there.

AFP

Canada PM Trudeau Tests Positive For COVID-19

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 12, 2022 Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a news conference on the Covid-19 situation in Ottawa, Canada.  (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday he had tested positive for Covid-19 but was not experiencing severe symptoms.

The 50-year-old leader — who is vaccinated and boosted — had announced last week he was isolating after being exposed to the coronavirus.

“This morning, I tested positive for Covid-19. I’m feeling fine — and I’ll continue to work remotely this week while following public health guidelines,” the premier wrote on Twitter Monday.

Trudeau, who received his third vaccine dose in January, urged Canadians to get vaccinated and boosted as the nation battles a rise in Covid cases and hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant.

The province of Ontario, where Trudeau lives in the Canadian capital Ottawa, requires people to isolate after a Covid exposure for 10 days if unvaccinated.

READ ALSO: Man City Sign Argentina Forward Julian Alvarez

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is expected to start easing Covid restrictions from Monday, allowing restaurants, bars, sports venues and movie theaters to re-open.

Canada has recorded more than 2.9 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 33,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Ottawa was hit over the weekend by mass protests led by Canadian truckers opposed to vaccine mandates for crossing the Canada-US border.

Trudeau defended the vaccination mandate last week, noting that 90 percent of drivers are already vaccinated.

Israel To Reopen To Vaccinated, Low-Risk Country Visitors

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 19, 2021. Gil COHEN-MAGEN / POOL / AFP

 

Israel will from Sunday allow entry to vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries, the health ministry said, five weeks after it shut its borders to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and a group of ministers agreed Monday that “entry of vaccinated/recovering tourists from ‘orange’ countries will be permitted” from Sunday, the ministry said in a statement.

Israel had closed its borders to all foreign tourists last November 28. Bennett said at the time the move aimed to prepare Israel for an inevitable fifth wave of Covid cases.

Last Sunday, Bennett said the temporary blanket prohibition on foreign arrivals had achieved its goal, even as domestic Covid infections have soared.

“This greatly delayed the entry of Omicron to the country,” he said.

“We bought time and we utilised it well,” the premier added, saying Israel had acquired significant stocks of the Pfizer antiviral drug Paxlovid.

Visitors will have to take a PCR or antigen test prior to boarding their flights and another PCR test when they arrive. They then have to quarantine for 24 hours or until receiving the result, the ministry said.

Israel prohibits its citizens to visit what it considers Covid high-risk countries, and tourists from those locations will not be allowed into the Jewish state.

As of Monday, Israel’s list of “red” countries included Britain, Ethiopia, Mexico, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, according to the health ministry.

The ministry on Monday reported 6,562 new Covid infections, nearly double the daily average of last week. Almost 1.4 million Covid infections, including 8,244 deaths, have been officially recorded in Israel.

Israel Unveils Plan To Double Settlers In Occupied Golan

 

Israel on Sunday unveiled a plan to spend more than $300 million to double the Jewish settler population in the Golan Heights, 40 years after it annexed the territory captured from Syria.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who held his weekly cabinet meeting at the Mevo Hama community in the Golan on Sunday, vowed this was the “moment” to boost the number of Jewish Israelis living in the territory.

“Our goal is to double the population in the Golan,” the right-wing Bennett said as he presented his one billion shekel ($317 million) programme to improve housing, transportation, tourism and medical facilities in the area.

Around 25,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights, along with some 23,000 Druze, who remained on the land after it was seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel annexed the territory on December 14, 1981, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Former US president Donald Trump, widely viewed as pro-Israeli, granted US recognition to Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in 2019.

“It goes without saying that the Golan Heights is Israeli,” Bennett said Sunday, noting the Trump recognition and what he described as the “important” fact that President Joe Biden’s administration had “made it clear that there is no change in policy”.

Shortly after the Biden administration took office in January, Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested there were legal questions surrounding Trump’s move, which Syria condemned as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.

But Blinken indicated there was no thought of reversing course, especially amid the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Israel and Syria, which are still technically at war, are separated by a de facto border at the Golan Heights.

Bennett, who leads an ideologically disparate eight-party coalition, needs cabinet approval before his Golan plan can move forward.

Sunday’s meeting was temporarily delayed after the premier’s 14-year-old daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, sending Bennett into isolation, but a vote on the plan was still expected.

EU Parliament Warns Over ‘Climate Of Hostility’ In Slovenia

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Parliament on Thursday sounded the alarm over “deep polarisation” in Slovenia, amid warnings on press freedom and judicial independence in the EU member state.

Lawmakers backed a resolution with 356 votes for and 284 against, saying they were “deeply concerned about the level of public debate, climate of hostility, distrust and deep polarisation in Slovenia, which has eroded trust in public bodies and between them”.

It said that “prominent public figures and politicians, including members of the government, have to lead by example and need to ensure a respectful and civilised public debate, free from intimidation, attacks, slurs and harassment”.

Slovenia’s right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa — whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency — has faced repeated accusations of flouting democratic norms.

Last month, following pressure from the European Union, the authorities agreed to restore funding to the country’s sole news agency STA, suspended since December after Jansa’s conservative government criticised its reporting.

The resolution called on the government to ensure the funding going forward and to “cease all political interference and pressure” on the country’s public broadcaster.

Israel Closes Borders To All Foreigners Over Omicron

File photo of Isreal’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’.

 

Israel on Sunday decided to close its borders to foreign tourists and re-authorise a controversial cellphone tracking programme in a bid to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“The entry of foreign nationals into Israel is banned except for cases approved by a special committee,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in a statement, adding that the measure would take effect on Sunday evening.

Israeli citizens will be required to present a negative PCR test and quarantine themselves for three days if they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and seven days if they have not.

It was only four weeks ago that Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourists after a prolonged closure due to Covid.

The measure were decided by a cabinet committee tasked with overseeing Israel’s Covid response.

READ ALSO: UK To Enforce New COVID-19 Rules From Tuesday

Bennett’s government has also re-activated a controversial programme initiated under his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu early in the pandemic that allows the powerful Shin Bet internal security agency to track cellphones as a viral containment measure.

Tracking “will be in order to locate verified (Omicron) cases and thereby cut the chains of infection,” Bennett’s office said, adding the programme will take effect on Thursday.

The tracking “is restricted only to verified cases of the new strain.

“There will be no widespread and sweeping use for all verified cases as was done in previous waves,” it added, stressing the Shin Bet will also not monitor quarantine violations.

‘Red Flag’

The Shin Bet tracking programme faced legal challenges from civil liberties groups after its introduction last year, before it was halted.

The government’s latest announcement came as Jews mark the start at sundown of the eight-day-long Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

It already imposed a series of emergency measures late Friday to protect its heavily vaccinated population after identifying a case of the new Covid-19 variant.

The health ministry said the new strain that was first detected by South Africa was discovered in a person who had arrived from Malawi.

Other suspected cases are currently being traced, authorities have said.

Scientists in South Africa said on Thursday that they had detected the new B.1.1.529 variant — now dubbed Omicron — with at least 10 mutations, compared with two for Delta or three for Beta.

The strain was of “serious concern” and had been blamed for a surge in infections, the authorities in South Africa said.

It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, as well as in Belgium.

The new variant “is concerning and has the potential to be very dangerous. We are raising a red flag,” Israeli Prome Minister Naftali Bennett said late Friday.

He said Israel would order 10 million PCR test kits.

Israel was one of the first countries to launch vaccines against the coronavirus last year, thanks to a deal with Pfizer that gave it access to millions of doses in exchange for data on the vaccine’s efficacy.

Its initial vaccine rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab was among the world’s fastest, and more than 5.7 million of the country’s nine million people are now fully vaccinated.