Help us bless the people of Israel.

Friday, April 17, 2020

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Every week, we post seven to ten news stories from Israel with a suggested prayer focus and scripture for each one, guiding readers how to pray for Israel’s most urgent needs. This Prayer Update is also sent to over 18,000 subscribers every Friday by e-mail. Please contact us at intl.office@bridgesforpeace.com if you would like to receive this Prayer Update by e-mail.

Israel Approves Gradual Reopening of Economy

by Itamar Eichner

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Israelis in line to enter a supermarket in Jerusalem

Friday, 17 April 2020 | Yesterday evening Israel approved a gradual reopening of the economy despite strong objections from health authorities due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

During a six-hour government meeting headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was decided to slowly start reopening businesses which have been shut since emergency measures due to the spread of the virus were declared nearly a month ago.

The current proposal to open the economy, which is set to start taking effect on Sunday, was presented by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who claimed it is vital to begin lifting the current lockdown as soon as possible.

According to the proposal, trade, services and manufacturing will operate at 100% capacity as soon as next week if they are able to adhere to health directives.

Under Bennett’s proposal all business will operate under a string of health and safety requirements:

  1. Temperature will be checked at the entrance of each venue
  2. Workers showing coronavirus symptoms will remain at home
  3. Requirement of wearing protective face masks
  4. Requirement of maintiaing a 2-meter [6.5-foot] distance from one another
  5. Required disinfection of public spaces every two hours
  6. Creation of a sterile area for workers aged 50-65

Places such as big shopping centers, beauty salons and schools will remain closed as it would be impossible for these businesses to comply with the government guidelines.

It was agreed that the full list of requirements will be formulated by the health and finance ministries as well as the National Security Council by Saturday evening.

In addition, people over 65 and those at risk of complications from COVID-19 will remain in self-quarantine for the time being and will be eligible for unemployment benefits.

There will also be an establishment of a national project that would conduct mass coronavirus testing and analyze the results. The project is set to be managed by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and the defense establishment.

Source: (Ynetnews originally published this article on April 16, 2020. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Sarah Yoder/bridgesforpeace.com

Prayer Focus
Praise the Lord for the progress Israel has made in containing the spread of the virus and for the cooperation of the Israeli people. Pray that the Lord will protect Israel from the economic fallout from the actions the country was forced to take. Ask the Lord to give great wisdom to PM Netanyahu and his team as they put together an exit plan for the coronavirus crisis.

Scripture

Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, “Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them…So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.


- Joel 2:18–19, 25a

Gantz’s Mandate Ends with No Unity Government

by Kate Norman

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The Knesset/Parliament building in Jerusalem

Thursday, 16 April 2020 | Time ran out last night on Benny Gantz holding the official mandate from the Israeli president to form a government. The former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief and sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were unable to finalize an agreement for a unity government, prompting President Reuven Rivlin this morning to officially pass the mandate back to the Knesset (Parliament).

That may only change the chess board slightly, as it is ultimately just another 21 days for Gantz, Netanyahu and their negotiating teams to argue over the details in hopes of hashing out a functioning government.

After an election in Israel, the president chooses a candidate to form a majority coalition based on recommendations from party leaders. After the March 2 election, Gantz was recommended by the majority, including leaders from Arab and left-wing parties seeking to oust Netanyahu, and given 28 days to put together a coalition. From the start, however—amid the COVID-19 crisis and after a year of being hobbled by a partially functioning government—the goal was for Gantz and Netanyahu to come to terms on a unity government.

Gantz’s initial 28-day deadline was set to run out on Monday at midnight. He requested a 14-day extension, which Rivlin initially denied on the understanding that Gantz and Netanyahu were not close to an agreement. Just before the deadline, the two appealed together to the president for an extension and were given an extra 48 hours to negotiate a deal. That extension expired last night at midnight with no evident progress made.

Instead of giving Netanyahu 28 days to attempt to produce a government, President Rivlin passed the mandate back to the Knesset. The government body will have 21 days to put forward another candidate who will be given 14 days to attempt a majority government. After that, the Jewish state will head for an unprecedented fourth election, reportedly scheduled for August.

The 21-day free-for-all won’t change much, give that there isn’t another viable competitor for the role of prime minister. It will essentially be another extension for the Benjamins to continue negotiating for a unity government, which would see Netanyahu and Gantz rotating as prime minister. Netanyahu would take the first shift until September 2021, at which point he would voluntarily resign and hand the reins to Gantz.

Despite pressure from their political allies and party members—Gantz even going so far as to essentially sacrifice his own political party, both men have made concessions in order to negotiate the unity government. The remaining sticking point, however, has so far been insurmountable. Gantz and Netanyahu have been haggling over control of the judicial court—especially important for Netanyahu, who is under indictment and will go to trial next month on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. The sitting prime minister has maintained that those charges are merely an attempt to oust him out of power.

The Jewish state has been without a fully functioning government since December 2018 and has undergone three rounds of elections since then. Each time, despite belief that voter fatigue would lower the voter turnout, more and more people have gone to the polls in a desperate attempt to break the political stalemate.

A local TV station poll predicted that should Israel go to yet another election, Netanyahu and his Likud party would win even more seats.

Source: (Bridges for Peace, April 16, 2020)

Photo Credit: James Emery/wikipedia.org

Photo License: wikipedia.org

Prayer Focus
Beseech the Lord that He would move decisively to bring this stalemate to an end, putting in place the leader of His choice for prime minister. Pray that the Knesset will make decisions in line with His will and ask that all involved put personal politics aside and work together for the good of the nation.

Scripture

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.


- Proverbs 29:2

Israel Brings Missing Coronavirus Test Material from South Korea

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An El Al plane carried material needed for coronavirus testing from South Korea (illustrative).

Friday, 10 April 2020 | In a special operation between defense and foreign ministries, a plane packed with a key material needed to analyze coronavirus tests took off Wednesday from South Korea en route to Israel.

It has been revealed earlier this week that the shortage of a key reagent (a substance that causes a chemical reaction) needed to analyze COVID-19 samples is bringing the number of tests in Israel down again and unless a new batch of material is found, testing would become increasingly difficult.

The El Al plane from Seoul apparently is carrying enough chemical reagents to perform tens of thousands of coronavirus tests in Israel. In addition, some 30,000 hazmat suits for medical teams were also flown over in the emergency airlift.

Many medical authorities have pointed to a robust testing campaign as critical to tracking and preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The reagents were bought by the Defense Ministry’s purchasing office for the use of the Health Ministry,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “In light of the urgency, the Defense Ministry’s unit tasked with international shipping led a rapid operation to bring these chemicals to Israel before the start of the Passover holiday.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised their ministries’ success in bringing the materials to Israel. The CEO of the El Al airline, which has been hit hard by the crisis, also hailed his company for assisting in the effort.

The tens of thousands of tests that could be conducted with the newly-acquired reagent would not last more than a few days at the rate of 10,000 to 30,000 tests a day, which Israeli officials have called for.

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published in Ynetnews on April 8, 2020. Time related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See the original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Tomás Del Coro/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

Prayer Focus
Praise the Lord that Israel has acquired the necessary reagent for conducting thousands of coronavirus tests. Pray that the Lord will continue to supply every need the nation might have as it deals with the effects of this pandemic.

Scripture

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.


- Proverbs 18:10

Israel’s Coronavirus-related Fatalities Rise to 148

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Wearing masks in public is now mandatory for all Israelis (illustrative).

Friday, 17 April 2020 | In the last 24 hours, 264 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed, but 343 patients have recovered at the same time, the Health Ministry reported Friday morning. This is the first time Israel’s daily number of recoveries from coronavirus surpasses the number of new infections.

Israel has recorded 12,855 cases of coronavirus so far. Among them are 182 patients in serious condition, including 129 patients receiving respiratory assistance, 11 fewer than 24 hours earlier.

The Health Ministry noted that 15 of the 129 patients who are being treated with ventilators are elderly people receiving respiratory assistance on a regular basis.

At least 157 patients are in moderate condition, while 9,401 only display mild symptoms, and 2,967 patients have made a full recovery from the virus.

There are currently 632 coronavirus patients receiving treatment in hospitals, while 7,242 people are fighting the virus at home. Another 1,531 people are currently receiving treatment in specially designated hotels and 335 are awaiting a decision on whether they will be treated.

Five Israelis have succumbed to complications of COVID-19, bringing the country’s coronavirus-related fatalities to 148.

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published in Ynetnews on April 17, 2020. See the original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: www.vperemen.com/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

Prayer Focus
Implore the Lord for an end to this pestilence that is afflicting Israel and the world. Pray for healing for every coronavirus victim in Israel and for a shield of protection that will stop the virus from spreading.

Scripture

That all the people of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.


- Joshua 4:24

Priestly Blessing: Israel Prays for the World in Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic

by Joshua Spurlock

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Priestly blessing at the Western Wall (illustrative)

Monday, 13 April 2020 | With the coronavirus pandemic shuttering much of the planet, descendants of Israel’s high priestly line carefully met outdoors on Sunday—in line with health protocol—at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray the traditional priestly blessing from the biblical book of Numbers. While the ceremony normally is attended by tens of thousands of worshippers, including dozens of priestly descendants —known in the plural in Hebrew as kohanim—this year’s prayerful group consisted of just ten priests offering up the prayers that include the blessing. Yet while the crowd was small, the focus of the prayers was much grander: literally the entire world.

A press release on the event noted that the kohanim “prayed for all who have fallen ill among the Jewish people and the entire world and for the end of the pandemic.” The priestly blessing comes from Numbers 6:24–26. The passage is a prayer to heaven, asking for blessing, protection and peace.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites [of Israel] and leader of Sunday’s prayers, was quoted in the press release as saying, “These days, with the entire Jewish people and everyone in the world looking up to heaven, the priestly blessing is that much more significant.

“We know that the gates of tears are never closed, let alone the gates of the Western Wall. May the priestly blessing and the prayers of masses of Jews to protect us from harm rise up to heaven, and may G-d say—Stop! And may we all merit to return to pray a prayer of thanksgiving with great joy at the Western Wall.”

The kohanim praying on Sunday are residents of Jerusalem’s Old City and met “in accordance with the special regulations for the coronavirus pandemic,” according to the press release. A photo included with the press release showed priests spaced out in the outdoor Western Wall plaza. The Western Wall in Jerusalem is located at the outer retention wall of what was the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. Today, the Western Wall is one of Judaism’s holiest places of worship.

Among the small number of permitted attendees at this year’s priestly blessing was United States Ambassador David Friedman, himself a descendant of the Israeli priesthood. Friedman posted photos on Twitter of himself praying with a face mask, noting in a separate tweet that last year he was one of 100,000 persons at the Wall, but this year “unfortunately, far less” as one of the 10 worshippers.

“Socially distanced and masked at the Western Wall, missing the many thousands who gather semi-annually for the priestly blessing. But the spirit is stronger than ever as we seek divine relief for all suffering from the Coronavirus plague. May we all recover fully and quickly!!” said Friedman in a follow-up tweet.

Sunday’s priestly blessing was noteworthy for another reason as well—Sunday’s prayers marked the 50th anniversary since the ceremony was reinstated following nearly 2,000 years of exile and enemy occupation of the Temple location.

With much of the world at a standstill and government-mandated restrictions limiting religious group activities, the priestly blessing found a creative way to continue—at a time when it is needed so very much.

Source: (The Mideast Update originally published this article on April 12, 2020. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today.)

Photo Credit: ELIEL JOSEPH SCHAFLER/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

Prayer Focus
Pray that the Lord will hear and respond to the heartfelt prayers of the kohanim. May He indeed say, “Stop!” and bring this pandemic to an end. May the eyes of the world be opened to the fact that it is God and God alone in whom such deliverance can be found.

Scripture

When there is famine in the land, pestilence or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers; when their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague or whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all your people Israel…then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways…that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers.


- 1 Kings 8:37–38a, 39a–40

Health, Defense Officials Warn Ramadan Celebrations May Spread Virus

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Decorations in the Old City of Jerusalem during Ramadan in years past

Tuesday, 14 April 2020 | Senior Health and Defense officials showed concern that the upcoming Ramadan [one of the Five Pillars of Islam when stringent disciplines are observed] celebrations could lead to an increased spread of coronavirus among Israel’s Muslim communities.

The issue was brought before the National Security Council last week, with the discussion focusing on the traditional festival set to start on April 23, which could pose a potential threat to the ongoing efforts tiring the Israeli populace.

The traditions of late-night family dinners, the mass acquisition of bread and sweets before sunset and festivities raise concern that the Muslim holiday could lead to mass gatherings and an increased spread of the virus, even if mosques remain closed.

Much like their Jewish compatriots, who were instructed to remain home during the Passover seder [ritual meal], the Health Ministry is set to issue similar directives urging Muslims nationwide to celebrate Ramadan with household members only.

Some officials praised the high awareness among the Arab sector to the dangers of COVID-19 and its strict adherence to Health Ministry directives.

“It’s astonishing how much they fear infection,” said a senior official present at the discussion. “It mainly stems from how the Palestinian Authority [PA] has been handling the epidemic—with aggressive lockdowns and policing actions, even before Israel has done anything close to it.”

Unlike many coronavirus patients with light symptoms within the ultra-Orthodox and the general population, who preferred to self-quarantine at home, about 350 Arab Israeli patients have recently requested to be admitted to specialized quarantine hotels operated by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] Home Front Command.

Due to the high demand, the army has decided to requisition the Carlton Hotel in Nahariya to treat coronavirus patients as well, to assist patients in the northern Galilee, many of whom hail from the Arab community.

There are currently hundreds of Arab patients already treated in similar facilities in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and northern Israel.

Doctors, local and political leaders within the Arab sector have called upon the public to remain at home and not go outside unless necessary.

These days, many Muslim citizens pray the outbreak will end by the month of Ramadan. Many have said that if the epidemic continues, they will not violate directives and keep the mosques closed.

Others have said there is a danger that many will not adhere to the health directives during Ramadan, especially those leaving at nighttime and staying out late.

Religious and community leaders emphasized that they are prepared for such a scenario and promise to assist in raising public awareness and if police are unable to control the situation.

Large police forces are currently posting checkpoints at the entry to Arab villages, patrolling the neighborhoods and checking people and vehicles. Anyone found to be out of their home for a nonessential reason is either warned or handed a NIS 500 fine [US $140].

Police also cracked down on several mosques and shops which were illegally open, dispersed the crowds at the scene and demanded the immediate closure of the area.

Prof. Ran Balitzer, a member of the Health Ministry’s coronavirus task force, said it is too early to predict the size of the spread of the virus in the Arab population.

“The real test will be Ramadan,” said Prof. Balitzer. “If the population acts in accordance with the directives, we will pass this period in peace.”

“As the big test for the Jewish population was Passover, the Arab population’s big test is the month of Ramadan. A lot of effort must be invested in public relations so the outbreak in these communities does not get out of hand. I am convinced that the Arab population is up to the task and will keep in line with social distancing and prevention of mass gatherings and will prevent an uncontrollable spread in their villages.”

Despite the rather low numbers reported in by the PA, officials are worried that they will lose control of the outbreak.

The Palestinians are forced to handle the virus in two sperate, uncoordinated locations: the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] and the Gaza Strip. All efforts are slowed down due to the continued political rift between the two Palestinian territories’ ruling factions, Fatah [leading secular Palestinian political party] in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

As of Sunday evening, there are 255 confirmed cases and two deaths in the PA and only 13 cases in the Gaza Strip with no deaths reported.

It is safe to assume that the true numbers are much higher given the Palestinians have only conducted 17,250 tests so far—3,300 tests for every million people.

For comparison, Israel has conducted 117,000 tests so far—13,500 tests for every million people.

Source: (Excerpt from an article originally published in Ynetnews on April 13, 2020. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See the original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Guillaume Paumier, CC-BY/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

Prayer Focus
Thank the Lord for the example that the Jewish people set by adhering to difficult restrictions during Passover. Pray that the Arab community will follow that example by faithfully adhering to similar restrictions during Ramadan. Ask the Lord again for deliverance from the pandemic that is affecting every demographic in Israel.

Scripture

Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statues, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”


- Deuteronomy 4:6

Why Does No One Care About These Palestinians?

by Khaled Abu Toameh~Gatestone Institute

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A refugee camp in Syria

Thursday, 16 April 2020 | As the world is busy combating the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Palestinians are continuing to “disappear” in Syrian prisons—or otherwise die. Those in the international community expressing concern about the possible spread of the virus in the Gaza Strip are ignoring the existing tragedy of the Palestinians in Syria, particularly those held in various Syrian government-controlled prisons.

The international community also does not seem to care if a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria is about to be wiped off the face of the earth.

The reason the world does not care about the atrocities committed against Palestinians in Syria: they cannot blame Israel for them.

An Arab persecuting or torturing an Arab never seems to be condemned by the international community.

The following are some distressing figures released this week by the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS), a London-based human rights watchdog organization that monitors the situation of Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, the number of Palestinians who have been killed there is now estimated at 4,042, according to the latest statistics released by AGPS. The names of the victims and details about the circumstances of their death are documented on the group’s website.

The number of Palestinians languishing in Syrian prisons is 1,793, and another 332 have gone missing since 2011, AGPS disclosed.

While Palestinian Authority [PA] leaders have been urging Israel to release Palestinian prisoners out of fear they may be infected with coronavirus, these same leaders have left, without saying a word, hundreds of Palestinians held in Syrian jails.

AGPS, meanwhile, as a result of the outbreak of the virus, has renewed its call for the immediate release of Palestinians held in Syrian prisons out of concern for their safety and health.

The AGPS also drew the world’s attention to the presence of more than 1,790 Palestinians of all ages held in harsh conditions in Syrian prisons and detention centers. In the view of the organization, the Syrian authorities are fully responsible for the lives of the Palestinian inmates and have urged them to provide medical care to those infected with the disease.

Another disturbing figure revealed by AGPS: In Syrian prisons during the past nine years, 37 Palestinian women were tortured to death. The women, according to AGPS, are among 620 Palestinians who have died in Syrian prisons after the eruption of the civil war there.

The group said it believes the real numbers are higher: the Syrian authorities are “reticent” to reveal the names and fates of Palestinian detainees and the families are reluctant to disclose their relatives’ names for fear of retaliation.

The list of victims, according to the AGPS, includes political activists, volunteers, medics, engineers, academics, journalists, university students and artists.

The Palestinian prisoners include 110 women and 50 children, who have been enduring unknown fates in Syrian prisons and detention centers. Toddlers clinging to their mothers’ arms have also been spotted there, the group said.

Affidavits made by ex-detainees show that Palestinians have been subjected to harsh psychological and physical torture in Syrian prisons, including electric shocks, heavy beating using iron bars and sexual abuse.

Taghreed Issat and her daughter Hadeel, for instance, have been missing since March 2013, when they were arrested at a Syrian military checkpoint near Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. Hadeel was four years old at the time of their arrest.

“Such practices represent flagrant violations of international law which criminalizes all forms of torture and mistreatment against civilians,” the group stated. “AGPS continues to urge the Syrian authorities to disclose the conditions and whereabouts of Palestinians held in its penitentiaries.”

In yet another alarming figure, AGPS found that since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, 252 Palestinians under the age of 18 have died. Nearly half of the children were killed when their homes were shelled either by the Syrian army or its rival armed opposition groups; while several others were killed by snipers or in car-bomb explosions. Another 34 Palestinian minors died as a result of lack of food and medical treatment.

Meanwhile, Yarmouk refugee camp, five miles south of Damascus, is on its way to vanishing as a result of a plan by the Syrian authorities to build new towers and change the demographic conditions of the camp.

As of June 2002, there were 112,550 Palestinians living there; by mid-2018, only a few hundred remained. According to the UN, the place was “transformed into a death camp,” with thousands of homes and a local hospital destroyed during the fighting.

Palestinian refugees have lost all hope of returning to Yarmouk after the Syrian authorities revealed a plan that would radically change the conditions of the camp by building tall buildings and opening new roads, according to a report by the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The Palestinians have lived for decades in the camp and turned it into an important commercial center in Damascus,” the newspaper noted. However, the war caused a catastrophe in the camp: hundreds of its inhabitants were killed or injured, most of its residents were displaced, and more than 60% of its buildings were damaged.

The new plan includes expanding the camp’s main street to a width of 40 meters [130 feet]—its current width reaching between 20-25 meters [65-82 feet]—and replacing the destroyed houses with towers. The Palestinians fear that the plan would replace the camp with a new neighborhood and that the residents who were forced to leave their homes during the war would not be able to return to Yarmouk.

Once again, then, the world is ignoring human rights violations perpetrated by an Arab country against Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians of Syria live in an Arab country. Were those Palestinians living in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] or the Gaza Strip, the international media, the United Nations and human rights organizations would have interrupted the daily media fare of coronavirus by shouting day and night about Israel’s purported persecution of the Palestinians.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

Source: (Gatestone Institute originally published this article on April 14, 2020. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: Anmarrfaat/wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

Prayer Focus
Beseech the Lord that the international community would acknowledge and take appropriate action against the Syrian government for the atrocities being committed against these Palestinians. Ask the Lord to open the eyes of the nations that they might see clearly how Palestinian leadership repeatedly ignores the critical needs of their own people unless they can leverage them to delegitimize Israel.

Scripture

Like a roaring lion and a charging bear is a wicked ruler over poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor.


- Proverbs 28:15¬–16a

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