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Vaccinated and want to visit Israel? Read the fine print first

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October 24, 2021

By Rami Ayyub

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Tourists hoping to visit Jerusalem or Tel Aviv after Israel’s announcement last week that it would open to some vaccinated foreign travellers should read the fine print before booking, local hoteliers say.

The new rules https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-readmit-covid-vaccinated-foreign-tourists-next-month-2021-10-21, due to go into effect on Nov. 1 ahead of the Christmas season, permit individual tourists who have received COVID-19 vaccine boosters to enter but not if more than six months have lapsed since their last dose, with some exceptions.

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That has tempered excitement among hoteliers hoping for some improvement around 20 months after Israel banned most foreigners to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

“How many tourists out in the world have actually gotten boosters or are sitting in that six-month period following their second dose?” Israel Hotel Association CEO Yael Danieli said.

“Even if both parents in a family are vaccinated, their children under 12 are not, so they mostly can’t come to Israel.”

Israel has offered third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab to all residents over 12. Other countries, including the United States https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/americans-wonder-which-covid-19-booster-is-best-2021-10-22, have begun administering vaccine boosters https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/index.html but in many cases only to the elderly or people with underlying medical conditions.

That means many would-be travellers whose last dose was before May 1 cannot enter Israel.

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Hotel owners in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth and in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank say they have yet to see a large increase in bookings.

The entry rules also apply to visitors wanting to visit the West Bank as Israel controls all the border crossings. Tourists who enter Israel are also generally able to travel to Bethlehem and other Palestinian towns.

“It is a great step to start but I am not expecting big numbers until next year,” said Joey Canavati, manager of Bethlehem’s Alexander Hotel. “At the moment we just want to stop the bleeding, stop digging into our savings.”

Tourism dropped over 80% in 2020 after hitting a record high of 4.55 million visitors in 2019 that contributed $7.2 billion to Israel’s economy and boosted tourism-dependent Bethlehem.

The new rules, which await ratification, include some exemptions.

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Entry will be granted to travellers, including children, who recovered from COVID-19 in the six months prior. Anyone who recovered earlier will also be admitted if they received least one vaccine dose approved by the World Health Organization.

In recent months, Israel has allowed in small groups of vaccinated tourists. The new rules exempt such groups from the six-month requirement, so long as members take PCR or antigen tests every 72 hours for the first two weeks of their stay.

Danieli is urging the government to apply similar rules to individual tourists.

“We just want to make it easier for tourists, so they come back. We can’t say how many will be able to come with these rules.”

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Iran plays hardball as nuclear talks with world powers resume

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November 29, 2021

By Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

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Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the United States, shortly after 1400 GMT.

The meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president. The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face to face with U.S. envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that U.S. and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, in a verifiable process.

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“The United States still fails to properly understand the fact that there is no way to return to the deal without a verifiable and effective lifting of all sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in a statement shortly after the talks resumed.

“The return of the U.S. to the nuclear deal would be meaningless without guarantees to prevent the recurrence of the bitter experience of the past,” he said. “This opportunity is not a window that can remain open forever.”

TENSIONS

In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the U.N. atomic watchdog, which monitors its nuclear programme, have festered.

As Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.

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“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” U.S. envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.

Since Trump took the United States out of the deal, Iran has breached many of its restrictions meant to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/explainer-what-remains-of-the-iran-nucle-idUSKBN2ID0E4. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only for civil uses.

Malley warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if the talks collapse.

Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. Several Iranian officials told Reuters Iran had no intention of accepting an interim deal.

Iran’s arch-enemy Israel, which opposed the original deal as too limited in scope and duration, has said military options will be on the table if diplomacy fails.

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“They (Iranians) will play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear programme,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in London https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-lapid-urges-world-keep-up-pressure-iran-2021-11-29.

“The intelligence is clear. It leaves no doubt.”

(Writing by John Irish and Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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U.N. chief concerned about southern Africa isolation over Omicron

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November 29, 2021

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said in a statement.

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The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges https://www.reuters.com/world/spread-omicron-variant-forces-nations-rethink-plans-global-travel-2021-11-29, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases.

Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses.

Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are “a breeding ground for variants.”

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Belarus announces military drills with Russia near Ukraine border

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November 29, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with close ally Russia on its southern border with Ukraine and accused the NATO military alliance of building up offensive capabilities near its borders.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials say Russia has built up forces near Ukraine, sparking fears of a looming attack. Moscow denies any such plan. Belarus is itself locked in a row with the European Union over migrants camped at its western border.

Casting it as a response to new military deployments in countries to the west and south of Belarus, Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said Minsk would hold an exercise with Russia in the “medium term”. He gave no specific date.

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“We see troop formations around our state borders… We can only be concerned by the militarisation of our neighouring countries, which is why are forced to plan measures in response,” he said in comments on his ministry’s website.

NATO member Lithuania, which lies to the west of Belarus, said on Sunday the Atlantic alliance needed to adjust its stance towards Belarus, whose military, it said, was becoming more integrated with Russia’s armed forces.

On Monday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Minsk would not sit idly on the sidelines if the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted or a war broke out with the West at Russia’s borders.

“…it is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said in a clear nod to Russia, whose financial and political backing helped him weather huge protests against his rule that broke out last autumn.

“They understand this, that’s why they’ve begun strengthening their northern Belarus-Ukraine border,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

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The comments appeared to contrast with the more neutral stance taken by Lukashenko after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for separatist forces in Ukraine’s east.

Minsk, like most of the world, still recognises Crimea as Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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