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Washington state to require masks for large outdoor events
OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that starting next week, the state’s indoor mask mandate will be expanded to include outdoor events with 500 or more attendees, regardless of vaccination status.
The new requirement — which takes effect Monday — comes days after a similar outdoor mask mandates took effect in the state’s two most populous counties, King and Pierce, due to rising COVID-19 cases. An indoor mask mandate, regardless of vaccination status, has been in place in Washington since Aug. 23.
Last month, Oregon was the first state to reinstitute a statewide mask requirement for outdoor public areas where people are close together.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone regardless of vaccination status wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas where there is “substantial or high” rates of COVID-19 and has recommended considering masks in crowded outdoor settings in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
As of this week, all of the state’s 39 counties were in the “high” threshold range, according to a CDC tracker.
Washington has already imposed a vaccine mandate for most state workers, plus all public, charter and private school teachers and staff and those working at the state’s colleges and universities. There is no weekly testing alternative, and the only opt-out is a medical or religious exemption.
An estimated 363,000 employees are covered under the mandate, though it’s unclear how many within that group are already vaccinated.
Last weekend, Washington’s largest state labor union announced a tentative agreement for the order as it applies to state workers.
The Washington Federation of State Employees, which had sued on behalf of its 46,000 workers, negotiated terms with the state that still must be ratified by members.
The tentative agreement allows that anyone who is eligible to retire by the end of the year can forgo the vaccine if they use accrued or unpaid leave until they reach their retirement date. Those who miss the October deadline will also be allowed to take leave for up to 30 days in order to get vaccinated. And workers won’t lose their jobs while they wait for a determination on their exemption request and those denied will have 45 days on leave to get fully vaccinated.
There have been more than 528,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus more than 62,000 “probable” cases — in Washington state, and 6,791 deaths. State health officials say that most of the state’s new infections are caused by the delta variant, a more contagious version of the coronavirus.
As of this week, nearly 74% of people age 12 and older have initiated vaccination and 67% are fully vaccinated.
Theater kid turned militant stars in Israeli prison break
JERUSALEM — For nearly two decades, Zakaria Zubeidi has been an object of fascination for Israelis and Palestinians alike, who have seen his progression from a child actor to a swaggering militant, to the scarred face of a West Bank theater promoting “cultural resistance” to Israeli occupation.
Now he has emerged as one of Israel’s most wanted fugitives after tunneling out of a high-security prison on Monday with five other Palestinian militants.
Zubeidi, now in his mid-40s, comes from a generation of Palestinians who were children during the first intifada, or uprising against Israel, which erupted in 1987. They lived through a brief period of hope at the height of the peace process, only to take up arms in the far more violent intifada that erupted in 2000, and which claimed the lives of Zubeidi’s mother, brother and several comrades.
But even among that cohort, few Palestinian militants had closer ties to Israelis than Zubeidi, who for many years was an even bigger celebrity in Israel than in the Palestinian territories.
To Israelis, he is a notorious terrorist responsible for suicide bombings and shooting attacks that killed civilians. He also is one of the few who regularly gave media interviews.
“In many ways, he’s the poster kid for Israelis of the Palestinian terror campaign of the second intifada,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired general who served in Israeli military intelligence during the uprising. “He’s a Forrest Gump, sort of. He played all the roles.”
Among Palestinians, Zubeidi was just one of several prominent militants of that era, his name having long ago faded from the headlines. Now, he and the other escapees are being hailed as national heroes for staging the biggest breakout from an Israeli prison in decades.
Zubeidi rose to prominence during the second intifada as the leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah party, in the impoverished Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
The camp, which is home to Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, was the scene of a major battle with the Israeli army in 2002. A mishandled explosive left a peppering of black scars on Zubeidi’s face, and he spent years eluding Israeli authorities.
A far younger Zubeidi appears in the archival footage of “Arna’s Children,” a 2004 documentary about a children’s theater founded in the Jenin refugee camp in the late 1980s by Arna Mer-Khamis, an Israeli Jewish activist who married a Palestinian and supported the Palestinian cause.
The film, made by her son Juliano, follows boys from the Jenin refugee camp who joined the theater as children, only to be drawn into the vortex of the second intifada as young men. Of the five core members of the group, only Zubeidi survived. Juliano was gunned down in Jenin in 2011 under mysterious circumstances.
In a 2006 interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times, Zubeidi traced his militancy back to the death of his mother, Samira, who was killed by an Israeli sniper in 2002. His brother, Taha, was killed shortly thereafter, as were friends and fellow fighters. The theater Mer-Khamis started, which initially met on the roof of Zubeidi’s family home, was demolished that year.
Another Israeli woman, Tali Fahima, also had an unlikely cameo in the drama. The pro-Palestinian activist struck up a friendship with Zubeidi during the intifada and met with him in Jenin. Israel arrested her in 2004 and she spent three years in prison for aiding a terrorist organization.
Israeli media speculated the two were lovers — something they both denied. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 in 2008, Fahima accused Zubeidi of collaborating with Israel’s Shin Bet security service after he secured permission to travel from Jenin to the West Bank city of Ramallah for eye surgery.
The intifada had begun to wind down in 2005 after the election of President Mahmoud Abbas, who is committed to resolving the decades-long conflict through negotiations with Israel. He seeks to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in the 1967 war.
In 2007, Zubeidi availed himself of a general amnesty for militants from Abbas’ Fatah party and joined the Freedom Theater, which Juliano Mer-Khamis had founded the previous year to continue his late mother’s legacy.
“We want to take the Palestinian cause to the people through theater,” Zubeidi told The Associated Press in 2008. But he never surrendered his weapons to the Palestinian Authority, saying even then that he did not trust the amnesty agreement and feared for his life.
In 2011, Israeli media reported that Israel had revoked Zubeidi’s pardon without giving a reason. The Palestinian Authority arrested him the following year after a shooting outside the home of Jenin’s governor. Zubeidi was released months later after a widely publicized hunger strike.
He has led a quieter life over the last decade, working on prisoner affairs for the same Palestinian Authority that had jailed him and studying political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank. His relatives say he gave up militant activities long ago.
“As long as we are under occupation, no Palestinian will abandon the struggle against the occupation,” Zubeidi’s brother, Yehia, told The Associated Press. “But there are a lot of factors, like age, a decision to take a break.”
Israel arrested Zubeidi again in 2019. He was later charged with taking part in two shooting attacks against Israeli buses in the occupied West Bank, in which no one was seriously wounded, and was said to have been planning a third. Allegations dating back to the intifada were added to the charge sheet.
His brother said Zubeidi did not acknowledge the charges and was awaiting trial.
He was held at Gilboa prison, a maximum-security facility in northern Israel just a few miles (kilometers) away from Jenin. He shared a cell with five members of the Islamic Jihad militant group from Jenin, four of whom were serving life sentences on terrorism convictions.
Early on Monday, each of them squeezed into a narrow hole in the floor of their cell and escaped through a tunnel running beneath the prison walls. It’s unclear what role Zubeidi played in the escape, but he is the most famous of the six — and is once again among Israel’s most wanted.
Kuperwasser suspects that if he remains at large long enough he’ll return to his old ways — and not just the militancy.
“It’s dangerous for him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he would look for an opportunity to speak with somebody to gain some more political clout from his success in escaping prison.”
Root for Washington teams’ stadium vaccine mandates
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Washington Gov. Inslee announces mask requirement for outdoor gatherings of 500 or more as COVID cases persist
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday issued a mandate requiring face coverings at all outdoor events of 500 people or more, days after King County issued a similar requirement.