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Daniel Estrin

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

Since joining NPR in 2017, he has reported from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. He has chronicled the Trump Administration's policies that have shaped the region, and told stories of everyday life for Israelis and Palestinians. He has also uncovered tales of ancient manuscripts, secret agents and forbidden travel.

He and his team were awarded an Edward R. Murrow award for a 2019 report challenging the U.S. military's account about its raid against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Estrin has reported from the Middle East for over a decade, including seven years with the Associated Press. His reporting has taken him to Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Russia and Ukraine. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, PRI's The World and other media.

JERUSALEM — The historic walled Old City of Jerusalem came alive this week with Christian and Jewish religious festivals now that more than a third of the city is inoculated against COVID-19.

No clear victor has emerged in Israel's elections, with nearly 90% of ballots counted in Tuesday's vote.

Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponents appear to have a secure path to forming a majority coalition needed to win. The scales could tip as more votes are counted in the coming days.

"It's a very close call," said Yohanan Plesner, president of the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute. "It looks like the most likely scenario is still continuing deadlock, continued paralysis."

Updated March 23, 2021 at 5:31 PM ET

JERUSALEM — For the fourth time in less than two years, Israelis voted Tuesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to maintain his grip on power after a record-breaking 12 consecutive years in office.

JERUSALEM — Israeli government archaeologists say they have discovered tiny fragments of an ancient biblical scroll near the Dead Sea, the first time in more than 60 years that Dead Sea Scroll parchments were discovered in a professional excavation and not by looters.

The archaeologists also found a 6,000-year-old mummified child and what they think is the world's oldest fully intact basket, dating back about 10,500 years.

America's top infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci received a prestigious $1 million Israeli prize Monday, along with six other researchers who shared two additional $1 million prizes for their contributions to health and medicine.

The Dan David Prize, affiliated with Tel Aviv University, said it honored Fauci for his career in public health and "speaking truth to power" during the politicized COVID-19 crisis.

How does the pandemic affect one of the world's most crowded and battle-scarred territories? From merchants to doctors, the 2.2 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are forced to make tough choices to survive.

On a single street, a vegetable seller, supermarket worker and secondhand clothes merchant recently showed up at their day jobs — though the clothes merchant said he was convinced all three of them had COVID-19.

How has tiny Israel beat out bigger countries on COVID-19 vaccinations, securing a steady stream of vials and inoculating a larger share of its citizenry than any other nation?

Israel paid a premium, locked in an early supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and struck a unique deal: vaccines for data.

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now for Christmas. In Bethlehem, the ancient community has seen so much over the years, spiked with war and conflict, but none quite like this year's holiday during a pandemic. NPR's Daniel Estrin went to the Palestinian town and has this report.

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

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.

Israel, which imposed the world's strictest second nationwide lockdown, will be loosening some restrictions this weekend.

After a four-week lockdown, including a ban on movement beyond one-third of a mile from home, the country has dramatically brought down its number of infections.

On Sept. 30, Israel's health ministry reported there were 9,013 new cases, among the world's highest per capita daily infection rates. On Thursday, there were 1,608 new cases.

This summer, California native Morgan Cooper delivered a healthy baby girl at the home she shares with her Palestinian American husband Saleh Totah in the West Bank city of Ramallah. But according to Israel, which occupies the West Bank, their baby Lourice did not officially exist.

Never before has Israel had such a high need for those schooled in the rarefied art of shofar blowing.

The wail of the biblical shofar — made from the horn of a ram or a certain antelope species — is a hallmark of prayer gatherings on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins this weekend.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel is mandating smaller, socially distanced prayer gatherings — so the country needs many more shofar blowers than in years past.

The official treaty between their countries has not yet been signed, but — amid some opposition in the region — Israelis and Emiratis are engulfed in charm offensives, media buzz, dreams of business and travel.

Miss international travel? Why not recreate the experience in the comfort of your own home with some airplane food?

A leading airline food company in Israel is offering its in-flight meals to the general public as a low-cost delivery option during the pandemic.

Tamam Kitchen, which services Israel's El Al airlines, Turkish Airlines and other international carriers flying out of Tel Aviv, piloted the idea in late July as a way to stay in business.

"The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams like the air over industrial cities," wrote Yehuda Amichai, one of the city's beloved poets, in 1980. "It's hard to breathe."

Now it's hard to pray.

Israel's top public health official resigned Tuesday, claiming leaders ignored her warnings and reopened the country too quickly, driving a new surge of COVID-19 cases that officials are scrambling to contain.

Siegal Sadetzki, the leading epidemiologist heading Israel's coronavirus response and director of the Israeli Health Ministry's Public Health Services, posted her nine-page resignation letter on Facebook on Tuesday, the same day Israel quickly reimposed restrictions shutting down wedding and entertainment venues, bars, clubs, gyms and swimming pools.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

As Israel faces a new surge of coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing to restart a controversial cellphone contact-tracing program put on hold this month. But the spy agency that ran the surveillance doesn't want to do it again.

A banner promoting LGBTQ pride was temporarily taken down from the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday after the city's deputy mayor complained about it, claiming it was offensive to residents.

The banner was rehung Tuesday night following media coverage and discussions between the embassy and city officials.

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