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Phone tracking by Shin Bet to end tonight, government announces in surprising decision

But will armed guards still stand inside state-run quarantine facilities to prevent citizens from leaving?

Armed guards stationed at a state-run quarantine facility in Israel, Dec. 1, 2021. (Screenshot)

Israel will stop the controversial cellphone tracking by its internal intelligence agency, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced this evening.

The controversial and invasive cellphone surveillance – approved just days ago – had drawn widespread criticism.

The Prime Minister's Media Advisor announced tonight that these "emergency regulations approved by the government on the use of cellphone tracking by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) of verified Omicron cases will expire at midnight tonight (Thursday, 2 December 2021)."

"In light of the updated assessment of the situation, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz – with the concurrence of the professional officials at the Health Ministry – have decided, at this stage, to discontinue use of the tracking, which contributed to the effort to cut the chains of infection in the past week," the statement said.

"Use of the cellphone tracking in the future will be reassessed in accordance with morbidity."

Israel has discovered just three confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Israel, the Health Ministry said.

No word on whether they will also drop the armed guards stationed with automatic rifles in full hazmat suits, assigned to keep people inside state-run quarantine facilities.

The government has, however, revived the “corona hotels,” turning the empty buildings which once teemed with tourists into facilities by which quarantines can be carefully controlled. After the discovery of the Omicron variant spooked the government into shutting the border suddenly to foreigners, the Cabinet also decided that anyone returning from a “red” country would be forced into quarantine at a government-run facility. 

On Wednesday, video and photos from one of these facilities emerged of faceless armed guards in hazmat suits telling occupants of the hotel they must not leave or risk a fine of 5000 shekels ($1,500).

The menacing photos – more fitting for a sci-fi movie – evoked an outcry on social media.

“This is a new delusional and out of touch situation: guards armed with automatic weapons in a hotel, forced hospitalization, release only after a negative test for all the occupants of your flight and a very high fine if you accidentally leave the motel (to home quarantine perhaps?) – and who knows if they will shoot you in the back on the way out,” attorney Gal Gur wrote on Twitter. 

“These are people who were in no way aware of such a risk when they boarded their plane – vaccinated and unvaccinated (most of the confirmed cases are vaccinated, up to date and not up to date, I understand) and were simply kidnapped into this reality.”

“To whom will this happen tomorrow?”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who was one of four ministers to vote against phone surveillance on Sunday, praised the prime minister and health minister for their decision to halt contact tracing. But she urged them to go further and relax other recently imposed regulations.

“Now it’s left to cancel the decision of quarantining the vaccinated who return from abroad,” she said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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