In first public statement, Elor Azaria thanks supporters, says he ‘loves this country’
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In first public statement, Elor Azaria thanks supporters, says he ‘loves this country’

Twelve years on, right-wing leaders return to evacuated West Bank settlement; Netanyahu rejects 'witch hunt' amid reports he is suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust

  • Elor Azaria in a live online broadcast, his first public comments about his trial and sentencing, on August 3, 2017. (Facebook)
    Elor Azaria in a live online broadcast, his first public comments about his trial and sentencing, on August 3, 2017. (Facebook)
  • Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)
    Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa-nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on July 30, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on July 30, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg/Flash90)
  • The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (Wikipedia/Scrumshus/Public Domain)
    The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (Wikipedia/Scrumshus/Public Domain)
  • The annual pride parade in Jerusalem, attended by more than 25,000, on July 21, 2016. The parade marked a year since the stabbing and murder of Shira Banky during last year's pride parade. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)
    The annual pride parade in Jerusalem, attended by more than 25,000, on July 21, 2016. The parade marked a year since the stabbing and murder of Shira Banky during last year's pride parade. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)
  • In a lab in the Teva Medical Factory in Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem, March 15, 2010. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
    In a lab in the Teva Medical Factory in Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem, March 15, 2010. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
  • An Israeli worker leaves Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva Industries in Jerusalem, Israel, 11 October 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    An Israeli worker leaves Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva Industries in Jerusalem, Israel, 11 October 2013. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Thursday’s events as they happen.

Israel bars 10 Gaza soccer players from West Bank final, Gazan club says

Israel is barring 10 Palestinian soccer players from traveling from Gaza to the West Bank to play in Friday’s Palestine Cup final second leg, their club says.

Shabaab Rafah are 2-0 up against Ahly al-Khalil of Hebron from Tuesday’s first leg in Gaza City, but only 15 members of their squad are being allowed to travel for the return leg, club president Khaled Kwaik tells AFP.

Those missing include a striker and two of the club’s three goalkeepers.

“Banning the goalkeepers will negatively affect the team’s performance in the event of an injury to the (remaining) keeper,” Kwaik says.

There was is no immediate comment from Israeli authorities on why they had prevented the 10 players from leaving Gaza through the Erez crossing.

Despite the bans, the rare game between teams from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will go ahead on Friday, the Palestinian Football Association says.

— AFP

Truce in Syria’s Homs province after safe zone agreed

A ceasefire between government forces and rebels goes into effect in part of central Syria on Thursday after Russia strikes a deal with the opposition on a safe zone.

The zone in northern parts of Homs province is the third to be established in Syria, which has been ravaged by six years of civil war that have left more than 300,000 people dead.

“From 1200 local time (0900 GMT), units of the moderate opposition and government forces will completely stop firing,” Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov says.

Konashenkov says Moscow and Syrian opposition groups had reached an agreement on the “operational details” of a “de-escalation zone” north of third city Homs at talks in Cairo on July 31.

Moscow has been behind a push to pacify Syria since the start of this year, after tipping the conflict in favor of the regime with its game-changing military intervention in 2015.

— AFP

UK ‘Three Musketeers’ terror cell jailed for life

Members of a British jihadist terror cell who called themselves the “Three Musketeers” receive life sentences on Thursday for plotting an attack against police and military targets.

The gang, from the West Midlands in central England, was arrested last August after intelligence operatives went to bug one of the members’ cars, only to find a pipe bomb and meat cleaver hidden in the boot.

All three men denied preparing an attack and claim the evidence was planted by an undercover officer, who rejected the claims during 12 days of cross examination.

Judge Henry Globe in London sentenced Naweed Ali, 29, Khobaib Hussain, 25, and Mohibur Rahman, 33, to serve at least 20 years, following a trial in which the police’s undercover operations came under the spotlight.

Jurors deliberated for 22 hours before finding the men guilty of planning an attack similar to that on British soldier Lee Rigby, who was knifed to death on a London street in broad daylight in 2013.

Another defendant, Tahir Aziz, 38, was also sentenced to life after being found guilty of the same offense, and will serve a minimum of 15 years in jail.

— AFP

Court extends remand for deputy mayor suspected in 1999 mob killing

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extends the remand of a deputy mayor in an unidentified northern town over police suspicions that he may have been involved in the mob-linked murder of a fellow criminal in 1999.

The deputy mayor’s remand is extended by four days.

The victim in the case is Arthur Rozen, killed in 1999.

Channel 2 cites the judge in the case saying he does not believe there is sufficient evidence to indict the man over the 18-year-old murder, but that there is nevertheless sufficient evidence to grant police four more days’ custody to build their case.

Pilot program allows Israeli high schoolers to graduate early

A new program in an Israeli school network will allow its students to graduate a year early if they agree to perform an extra year of community service or continue immediately to higher education.

The program by the Israel Sci-Tech Schools educational network adds an extra month to each school year beginning in 8th grade and covers all the same subject matter. The pilot program at two of the Sci-Tech schools will begin this school year, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.

This is a boon to its students who must serve in the Israeli military, allowing them an opportunity to perform a year of volunteer national service or get a head start on their higher education.

“If we can ignite our students’ drive for improvement and social responsibility, and help them down a path where they can contribute to society at large, then everyone will benefit, including us,” Israel Sci-Tech Schools director general Zvi Peleg says in a statement.

Sci-Tech is made up of 207 schools serving 100,000 students. The school prepares students for future careers in the high-tech Israeli economy and reaches out to potential students from disadvantaged and underserved social groups, such as ultra-Orthodox and Bedouin communities.

— JTA

Retiring Arab Supreme Court justice urges greater equality, more Arab judges

Upon his retirement from the bench Thursday, Israel’s first permanent Supreme Court justice hailing from the Arab community, Salim Joubran, calls for greater efforts at integration and development for the country’s Arab minority — and for more Arab judges in the judiciary.

The debate among Jewish political factions “over the standing of the Arab minority have created a sense of persecution in the Arab community,” Joubran says at a farewell ceremony at the Supreme Court on Thursday morning, Haaretz reports. “The state must do more to reach real equality between Arab and Jewish societies.”

He also notes he was the only Arab justice on the 15-member court, and that as he leaves, the newly appointed George Kara will similarly be the lone Arab justice. He urges the appointment of two Arab justices simultaneously, and calls for more Arab lawyers to seek judicial appointments, noting that just eight percent of Israel’s judges are Arab.

Jerusalem chief rabbi slams city’s gay pride parade

Rabbi Aryeh Stern, one of Jerusalem’s two chief rabbis, comes out against the Pride Parade set to begin in Jerusalem at 4:30 p.m.

The march “contradicts the holiness of Jerusalem that is so important to us,” Stern says.

He also defends Safed chief rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who last week said of the LGBT community that “the term ‘sick’ is a gentle one” in describing the community.

Pharmaceutical giant Teva to lay off 7,000 after $6b in losses last quarter

The Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva reports it took a $6 billion loss in the second quarter of 2017 and will be closing 15 factories and laying off some 7,000 workers worldwide.

Some 350 of those workers are in Israel.

Teva’s stock drops 10 percent on the New York Stock Exchange and 11% on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange following the announcement to shareholders.

After losing manslaughter appeal, Elor Azaria asks IDF chief for leniency

The former IDF soldier sentenced to 18 months in prison for the March 2016 shooting death of a Palestinian assailant asks for leniency.

Elor Azaria, who lost an appeal of his manslaughter conviction earlier this week, writes in a letter to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot that he has decided against appealing to the Supreme Court.

Instead, he asks the chief of staff to convert his 18-month imprisonment to community service.

“If I had known that the terrorist was not carrying a bomb, I would not have shot him,” Azaria writes.

Both the Jaffa Military Court and the appeals court ruled that Azaria did not shoot out of fear that there was a bomb, but out of anger at the Palestinian stabber who had just wounded a fellow soldier.

IS calls young men to arms in eastern Syria

The Islamic State group is calling on young men to take up arms in eastern Syria where government forces are on the march against the extremists.

In a statement distributed Thursday in Deir el-Zour province that borders Iraq, IS calls on all men between 20 and 30 who are able to fight to head to mobilization offices within a week.

The call comes as the group has lost large parts of areas they controlled in Iraq and Syria, where they declared a caliphate in 2014.

The statement, obtained by The Associated Press from activists in eastern Syria, warns that those who do not join will be undergo questioning and possibly be punished.

— AP

Trump blames Congress for poor Russia relations

US President Donald Trump grudgingly signs a package of sanctions against Russia. The president blames Congress for relations with Russia being at what he calls “an all-time” and “very dangerous low.”

Trump tweets early Thursday, “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low.” He adds: “You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”

Trump calls the sanctions he signed “seriously flawed.” He’s pushed for warmer relations with Moscow but has bowed to resistance from both parties in Congress in signing the measure.

He signs it without holding a public event. And Trump sends out a written statement accusing Congress of overstepping its constitutional bounds, holding back his ability to negotiate with foreign countries and preventing him from striking deals.

— AP

Court gives NY trustee control over oldest US synagogue

A federal appeals court rules that a synagogue in New York is the owner of the country’s oldest synagogue building and its set of historically significant silver bells that are used to adorn Torah scrolls.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on Wednesday ruled in favor of New York City’s Shearith Israel, which is the oldest Jewish congregation in the country, giving it control of the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the religious home of Congregation Jeshuat Israel.

The decision also gives Shearith Israel ownership of bells, called rimonim, which are late 18th century filials handcrafted by Myer Myers, one of the most prominent silversmiths of the Colonial era. The rimonim are valued at $7.4 million.

Shearith Israel has served as trustee of the Touro Synagogue dating back to the early 19th century.

The current dispute began in 2012, when Congregation Jeshuat Israel, which holds regular services at Touro, attempted to sell its valuable set of silver Torah bells to establish an endowment to maintain a rabbi and care for the building, which was designated a national historic site in 1946. Shearith Israel sued to stop the sale and attempted to evict the 120-family congregation from the building.

— JTA

EU says all parties sticking to Iran nuclear deal

All the parties to the Iran nuclear deal are abiding by its terms, the European Union says, despite Tehran’s charges that new US sanctions breach the agreement.

Tehran says the new measures violate its 2015 deal with world powers that eased sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, an agreement which US President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to tear up.

“So far we consider that all parties have been implementing their commitments under the deal,” Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, tells a press briefing in Brussels.

“We expect their continued adherence,” Ray says when asked to comment on the Iranian charges.

Ray bases her expectation on a July 21 meeting in Vienna of the Mogherini-chaired commission that brings together Iran and the other parties to discuss the deal’s implementation.

— AFP

Police searching Sea of Galilee for tourist who jumped off boat

Police are searching for a tourist who leaped off a boat on the Sea of Galilee and went missing, according to a police statement.

The tourist is part of a group of Korean pilgrims touring the Galilee.

Jordan’s Abdullah plans Ramallah visit to show support for Abbas

Jordan’s King Abdullah II is planning an official state visit to the Palestinian Authority next week, to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reports.

Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian officials are in the final stages of talks over the visit to Ramallah, which is slated to last just a few hours.

The visit comes after three weeks of tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and is reportedly meant to show support for Abbas.

Huge turnout as Jerusalem Pride Parade begins in capital

The Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade launches in the capital under heavy security, marching from Liberty Bell Park toward Independence Park through the city center.

Over 1,000 police officers are securing the event, overseen by Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich.

Officials expected some 4,000 marchers, but turnout swelled ahead of the start of the march, with estimates ranging from 12,000 to 20,000 at its start.

Rex Tillerson: US wants Iran out of Syria

A condition of US cooperation with Russia in the Syria arena is the removal of Iranian forces from the country, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says.

“The direct presence of Iranian military forces inside of Syria, they must leave and go home, whether those are Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces or whether those are paid militias, foreign fighters, that Iran has brought into Syria in this battle,” Tillerson says in a wide-ranging news conference.

The other condition, Tillerson says, is that the end result should be a unified Syria with “new leadership” — the removal of the Assad regime.

Israel expressed concerns last month at the terms of a proposed cease-fire in the civil war in southern Syria in part because it left Iranian forces in place. Israel’s deadliest enemies in the region are Iran and its Lebanese ally, the Hezbollah militia, and it wants them removed from Syria as part of any endgame.

— JTA

US lawmakers advance bill to defund PA over terror stipends

WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approves a bill to cut US funding to the Palestinian Authority if it does not stop paying stipends to terrorists and their families.

The Taylor Force Act, named after a former US army officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant while visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016, will now advance for a full Senate vote.

Passed by a vote of 16-5, the legislation received bipartisan support. Every Republican member of the committee supported the measure, as well as several Democrats, including Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the panel’s ranking member, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

— Eric Cortellessa

Police detain 12, including 1 with knife, on suspicion of planning to disrupt pride parade

Twelve people are detained by police in Jerusalem as the city’s Pride Parade marches through its center.

They are suspected of attempting to disrupt the march.

One suspect is found in possession of a knife.

Amnesty urges EU’s Mogherini to press Iran to free activists

Amnesty International urges EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini to use a visit to Iran this weekend to demand that Tehran immediately release all imprisoned human rights activists.

London-based Amnesty calls on the European Union to take a tougher stance as the group published a report accusing Iran of a “vicious crackdown” that it says has dashed hopes of rights reform under President Hassan Rouhani.

File: European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at a press conference at the Romanian Foreign Ministry in Bucharest on October 7, 2016. (AFP/Daniel Mihailescu)
File: European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at a press conference at the Romanian Foreign Ministry in Bucharest on October 7, 2016. (AFP/Daniel Mihailescu)

Amnesty’s Iran researcher Nassim Papayianni says the rights organisation is urging Mogherini to request a meeting with jailed human rights defenders and ensure they are not targeted later for retribution.

“We would also call on her to forcefully call for the release, immediately and unconditionally, of all human rights defenders that are imprisoned in Iran,” Papayianni tells AFP.

The Amnesty report published Wednesday highlights 45 cases of activists, some of whom were jailed for 10 years or more over their fight for justice in cases of mass extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances in the 1980s.

— AFP

US senators introduce bill to protect special counsel Mueller

Two US senators introduce a bipartisan bill aimed at protecting special counsel Robert Mueller, who faces mounting pressure as he investigates US President Donald Trump’s team for possible connections to Russia.

The legislation, sponsored by Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Thom Tillis, would help insulate Mueller by barring a president from directly firing the special counsel without a judicial review.

Under the bill, Mueller would be allowed to challenge his removal in court in the event he is fired without good cause.

“A back-end judicial review process to prevent unmerited removals of special counsels not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances,” Tillis says in a statement.

Coons adds: “Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation.”

Mueller, a former FBI director, is leading a beefed-up investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in the US president’s favor.

Trump has repeatedly denied inappropriate links to Moscow, and has sought improved ties with the Kremlin.

— AFP

Israel soccer attack plotter killed in Syria – official

The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria killed a plotter of the thwarted attack at last year’s Israel-Albania soccer match in Albania, a US official says Thursday.

Lavdrim Muhaxheri was killed in a June 7 air strike near Mayadin, which is close to Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon says.

“He was an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo and a self-proclaimed leader of ISIS foreign fighters from Kosovo,” he says.

Albanian authorities have charged four people over allegedly plotting to attack the World Cup qualifier in Albania last November.

The game had been due to take place in the northern town of Shkodra but was eventually held in Elbasan, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the Albanian capital Tirana, under a massive security presence.

Dillon says Muhaxheri was “the most prominent and radical ethnic Albanian fighter” in Syria who was responsible for inciting jihadist ideology in Europe and encouraging foreign fighters to travel to IS-controlled territory.

Israel's Eran Zahavi (center) celebrates after scoring a goal during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Albania versus Israel at the Elbasan Arena stadium in Elbasan on November 12, 2016.  (AFP PHOTO / GENT SHKULLAKU)
Israel’s Eran Zahavi (center) celebrates after scoring a goal during the World Cup 2018 qualifier football match Albania versus Israel at the Elbasan Arena stadium in Elbasan on November 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / GENT SHKULLAKU)

— AFP

Police acknowledge Netanyahu suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust

For the first time, police investigators explicitly say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Hebrew-language media report.

The cases in question are called “Case 1000” and “Case 2000,” the former involving expensive gifts to Netanyahu and family members from wealthy acquaintances and the latter an alleged offer by Netanyahu to the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper to act to limit distribution of the competing Israel Hayom daily in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yedioth.

In a police gag order request to stop all coverage of negotiations with former Netanyahu aid Ari Harow to turn state’s witness, police say explicitly that cases 1000 and 2000 “deal with bribery, fraud and breach of trust” suspicions.

Netanyahu is the primary suspect in Case 1000, and a key suspect in Case 2000, apparently making the gag order request the first explicit statement that the prime minister is being investigated as a suspect of those crimes.

Elor Azaria thanks supporters in first public statement

Elor Azaria, days before starting his 18-month prison sentence for the shooting death of a Palestinian assailant in Hebron in March 2016, delivers his first public statement via a Facebook live broadcast.

I believe I could still be found innocent [in a Supreme Court appeal], but my family and I have suffered terribly for the past year and a half.

The ordeal cost my parents their health.

I want to return to routine as soon as possible. So I’m going to prison to serve out the punishment I was given, and won’t appeal to the Supreme Court.

Earlier today I appealed to the chief of staff asking that he reduce my sentence. I hope he responds affirmatively.

He turns to viewers, and continues:

I feel a powerful need to thank you. You stood by me and my family. You gave financial help for my defense, and I received from you infinite love and support. I don’t take that for granted.

Thank you, people of Israel. I love you.

I want to deliver a message to the youth. We have one country, let’s protect it.

I don’t want to think about the possibility that your motivation was harmed by my case. That must not happen. Go to combat [units]. Volunteer. Give as much as you can, for the nation and the country. We have no other country.

Former IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a supine, injured Palestinian attacker in 2016, waits before the start of his appeal sentencing hearing in the Kirya military base, Tel Aviv, July 30, 2017. (Avshalom Sasoni/Flash90)
Former IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead a supine, injured Palestinian attacker in 2016, waits before the start of his appeal sentencing hearing in the Kirya military base, Tel Aviv, July 30, 2017. (Avshalom Sasoni/Flash90)

He addresses the March 2016 incident itself.

I promise you that I acted out of a sense of immediate danger at the scene of the attack. But the court gave its ruling, and we live in a nation of laws. So I’m going to serve the prison sentence handed down, in the hope that it will be reduced.

It’s important to me to emphasize: I grew up in an ethical and moral home. If I’d known the terrorist didn’t have a bomb, I wouldn’t have opened fire. The lives of the warriors around me and my own life were my consideration at the scene.

At the end of the day, I’m going to prison with my head held high.

I love this country with all my heart, I love the army, I love you, and again thank you with all my heart for everything you have done for me.

Thank you for everything.

Netanyahu rejects graft accusations as ‘witch hunt intended to topple government’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office rejects media reports that he is suspected of “bribery, fraud and breach of trust” in two graft investigations, dubbed “Case 1000” and “Case 2000,” according to Hebrew-language outlets quoting a police gag-order request Thursday.

“We reject utterly the disingenuous claims being made against the prime minister,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says, adding, “The witch hunt intended to topple the government is at its peak, but it is doomed to failure for a simple reason: nothing will come of this because nothing happened.”

Twelve years on, right-wing leaders return to evacuated West Bank settlement

Hundreds gather at the ruins of the evacuated Sa’nur settlement Thursday, calling on the government to allow Israelis to return to one of the West Bank communities demolished in 2005 as part of the Gaza Disengagement.

In attendance are 11 lawmakers from the Likud and Jewish Home parties, including Shuli Mualem-Refaeli and David Bitan, who co-sponsored a bill to cancel the Disengagement Law. That 2005 law empowered the government to forcibly remove Israeli residents of the Gaza Strip and made it a criminal offense to continue living in Israeli settlements in Gaza after Israel formally withdrew from the territory.

Samaria Regional Council chairman — and former Sa’nur resident — Yossi Dagan calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ensure the passing of the legislation cancelling the law. “Don’t give up on the historic opportunity to correct this injustice,” he says.

“We have come here today, 12 years since we were expelled from our homes, to make our voices heard,” Dagan says.

Addressing a young crowd, coalition chairman Bitan asserts that the decision to evacuate Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, along with four other settlements in the northern West Bank, was a mistake. “To Gaza we cannot return, but to here we can,” he says, citing continued IDF presence in the area since the settlers were removed.

Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa'nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)
Likud and Jewish Home lawmakers at a ceremony at the evacuated Sa’nur settlement in the northern West Bank. (Jacob Magid/The Times of Israel)

— Jacob Magid

Russia ties most ‘difficult’ since Cold War – NATO

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says that relations between the military alliance and Russia have suffered a sharp deterioration and are now at their most difficult phase since the Cold War.

“I think (it) is correct to say that NATO’s relationship with Russia is more difficult than it has been any time since the end of the Cold War,” he says on CNN.

His comments come after US President Donald Trump said that ties between Washington and Russia had hit a “very dangerous” low.

— AFP

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