Daniel Estrin

Israelis are visiting Dubai in the tens of thousands. Where in the past, they could only arrive as undercover spies, competitive athletes or foreign passport holders, now they are loud and proud, running into the arms of their new Middle Eastern friend, the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

Israel's health minister announced Thursday the country would vaccinate Palestinian prisoners against COVID-19, after Israel's president said withholding vaccines was against Israel's Jewish and democratic values.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the prisoners would be vaccinated early next week, on Monday or Tuesday. The minister informed NPR of the decision before making a public announcement.

Israel has vaccinated a larger share of its population against COVID-19 than any other country, and is aiming to achieve "herd immunity" from the virus by the end of spring or midsummer, the Israeli Health Ministry told NPR.

More than 800,000 of Israel's population of about 9 million have received COVID-19 vaccination shots. The country aims to vaccinate 25% of Israelis by the end of January.

In the six years that Brooklyn native Rabbi Levi Duchman has lived in the United Arab Emirates, he's never been this overwhelmed.

On Hanukkah, the 27-year-old rabbi hurried from one party to another, dashing into a Dubai Hilton hotel ballroom to briefly light candles with a group of Orthodox Jewish tourists from Israel, many of them visiting an Arab country for the first time.

One of them approached the rabbi with a query: Did the local Starbucks use camel milk, which is not kosher, in its coffee machines?

The leader of the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip has tested positive for the coronavirus as infections reach record levels in the Palestinian territories.

Hamas leader Yehiya Sinwar is in stable condition, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. He is one of several senior Hamas officials who have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent months.

"The situation in Gaza is really concerning. The recent spike of cases has put the health system in a critical situation," said Ignacio Casares of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza.

Don't promote democracy, talk about the royal families or comment on treatment of foreign workers.

Israel is advising tourism professionals and businesspeople to avoid discussing those and other sensitive political topics with residents of the United Arab Emirates, as it protects its new peace deal with the Gulf Arab country and promotes new daily flights between Dubai and Tel Aviv, launched last week.

Updated at 8:30 a.m. ET

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday with his Mossad spy chief Yossi Cohen to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, multiple Israeli media outlets reported. Saudi Arabia's government has denied the reports.

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Saeb Erekat, a tenacious negotiator who helped forge some of the few political gains for Palestinians over more than two decades of on-again, off-again talks with Israel but who was ultimately frustrated by the two sides' failure to achieve a final peace settlement, died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19.

Erekat, 65, was being treated in Hadassah University Hospital Ein Kerem, in Jerusalem. His death was announced by his family on Facebook, his Palestinian political party Fatah, and confirmed to NPR by his spokesman, Xavier Abu Eid.

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In his victory speech last night, President-elect Joe Biden noted that U.S. elections are viewed far beyond our borders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Israeli authorities demolished a rural Palestinian hamlet in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, residents and rights advocates said.

Israel, estimated to host the world's third-largest community of eligible U.S. voters abroad, is seeing record-high participation in this year's election, according to local Republican and Democratic activists. Judging from President Trump's popularity in Israel and the demographics of Israel's American expatriate community of predominantly Orthodox Jews, pollsters believe many U.S. voters in Israel have cast their ballots for the president.

When President Trump announced the U.S. military raid that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi one year ago on Oct. 27, officials praised the nighttime operation and said civilians were protected.

But in December, NPR reported claims that forces had killed two Syrian civilians and maimed a third during the raid, prompting the military to investigate.

Updated at 9:20 a.m. ET

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is being treated for COVID-19 in a Jerusalem hospital, according to the hospital, after Israel gave the OK for his transfer from the West Bank.

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