The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Jewish Home, Shas, UTJ against casino plan
As the government is expected to discuss a plan to allow up to four licenses to open casinos in the southern resort city of Eilat, Likud members face off against opposition from Jewish Home, Shas and United Torah Judaism lawmakers.
All three parties count religious Jews as their voter base.
Jewish Home head Education Minister Naftali Bennett says the plan is bust both ethically and practically.
“As the minister responsible for education, who fights hard every day against harm to our children, for youths and women, I will act against establishing a casino. We will teach our kids values and not gambling,” he says.
“Israel is not Vegas and it will not be,” he says.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who backs the casino plan (and apparently hyperbole as well), shoots back that “the Jewish Home party will bring about the total destruction of the city of Eilat.”
After threat, minister says Israel working on moving ammonia tank
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman says he will move an ammonia tank from the Haifa bay area, a day after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to target them with rockets and cause the deaths of thousands of Israelis.
“We’ve been working quietly without publicity on moving the ammonia tank from Haifa, even before the speech by Nasrallah-tralala,” says Litzman during a Knesset hearing, borrowing a line from a 4-year-old’s insult book. “In the meantime we are discussing what to do.”
Hezbollah is thought to have tens of thousands of rockets that can reach Haifa and other parts of Israel.
Netanyahu announces birth of first granddaughter
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced on Facebook the birth of a granddaughter, his first.
“Sara and I are happy that my love Noa had a girl, a sister to Shmuel and David and niece to Yair and Avner,” he writes.
He adds that mother and baby are doing well.
Noa Roth, the prime minister’s daughter by his first wife, has traditionally shied away from the media spotlight.
This is his third grandchild.
Iran spurns call to cap oil output
Iran has snubbed a proposal agreed to by four influential oil producers to cap their crude output if others do the same, with a senior Oil Ministry official saying Tehran has no intention of freezing oil output levels.
Mahdi Asali, Iran’s OPEC envoy, said his country will in fact keep increasing its crude exports until it reaches levels attained before international sanctions were imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program.
Asali’s comments came as Iran’s oil minister was expected to hold three-way, closed-door talks in Tehran with his counterparts from Iraq and Venezuela.
On Wednesday, Venezuela joined Russia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in conditionally agreeing to cap their output at last month’s levels in order to halt a slide that has pushed oil prices to their lowest point in more than a decade. Oil prices recently plummeted below $30 a barrel, the lowest in 13 years.
Merkel doubles down on Syria no-fly zone after Russian ‘nyet’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is renewing her proposal for a no-fly zone in Syria, saying that it could be done by agreement between President Bashar Assad, his backers and the coalition fighting the Islamic State group.
Merkel says that such an agreement would be “a sign of goodwill” and would put many people at ease. She first aired her idea in an interview published Monday, without giving details.
It would be a good sign if “an agreement between Assad and his supporters and the anti-IS coalition” could produce a commitment to “set up a kind of no-fly zone in which there is no bombing, in which civilians are not pressured and killed” in the area between Aleppo and the Turkish border, she says.
The comments come hours after a senior Russian diplomat shrugged off Merkel’s proposal, saying it can only be done with Damascus’ consent.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency Wednesday that any no-fly zone would need to be approved by the Syrian government and endorsed by the UN Security Council.
Erdogan says he won’t stop shelling Syrian Kurds
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is vowing Turkey will not allow the creation of a Kurdish stronghold in northern Syria, saying there was no question of Turkish forces stopping their bombardment of Syrian Kurdish fighters.
“We will not allow a new Qandil on our southern border” with Syria, Erdogan said in a televised speech in Ankara, referring to the mountain in northern Iraq which for years has been stronghold of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.
“They (the West) tell use to stop shelling” the Kurdish fighters in Syria, Erdogan said after Turkey hit their positions for four days in a row. “Forgive me, but there is no question of us doing such a thing.”
Alarmed by the advances of Syrian Kurdish forces in Aleppo province near the border, Ankara has in recent days bombed their positions, defying international calls for a halt to the strikes.
Leading Egyptian writer, critic of peace with Israel, dies at 92
Mohamed Heikal, one of Egypt’s most prolific political authors and a confidant of the country’s socialist president in the 1950s and 1960s who was later jailed by his successor, has died. He was 92.
State television said Heikal died on Wednesday in Cairo. Better known among Egyptians by his full name, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, he had recently suffered kidney problems that required weekly dialysis.
The popular author rose to prominence as a confidant and cabinet minister under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s socialist and Arab nationalist president who ruled from 1954 until his death in 1970.
His close friendship with Nasser cast Heikal in the role of a top authority on Egyptian politics and the region at a time when much of the Arab world was shaking off colonial European rule.
During his years as editor-in-chief of Cairo’s Al-Ahram daily, Heikal tampered Egyptians’ distrust of the country’s tightly controlled state media with his insider’s take on the country and the region in his eagerly awaited Friday column entitled “Frankly.”
After Sadat came to power, Heikal increasingly criticized his policies, including the peace deal with Israel. He was jailed in 1981 along with hundreds of others who opposed the peace agreement
He was released shortly after by Hosni Mubarak after Sadat’s assassination.
Netanyahu forms panel to look into Eilat gaming
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the formation of a steering committee headed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin to explore the possibility of allowing casinos in the southern resort city of Eilat.
The decision comes after a special top-level meeting to discuss the issue, which is being considered in order “to save the city of Eilat from economic failure and to create thousands of jobs,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Netanyahu reportedly favors casinos that would be open to foreign tourists only. A Tourism Ministry proposal, however, calls for the casino to also be open to Israeli citizens.
The steering committee will be made up of Levin, Prime Minister’s Office director Eli Groner, the director of the Transportation Ministry, and representatives from the Finance, Justice, Public Security and Interior ministries, as well as the mayor of Eilat.
Earlier in the day, the Jewish Home, Shas and UTJ factions said they would oppose any plan to allow gambling in Eilat.
Netanyahu: Adelson doesn’t want an Eilat casino
Netanyahu told participants in a meeting on allowing gaming in Eilat that billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, considered one of Netanyahu’s biggest supporters, won’t be setting up an operation in Eilat, Channel 2 news reports.
Netanyahu says Adelson, who owns casinos in Las Vegas and Macau, told him he has no intention of getting into the Eilat market, rebuffing claims that he had a special interest in pushing through the gaming licenses.
Adelson owns the free tabloid newspaper Israel Hayom, which is seen by some as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu but has managed to dominate the Israeli print market, drawing accusations of unfair practices.
Gambling money will develop medical tourism in Eilat, PM claims
Further touting the idea of building as many as four casinos in Eilat, Netanyahu says that the boost to the economy from the venture will help funnel money to a new city hospital.
“This is going to be Eilat’s lifesaver,” he says at a meeting on the issue, according to Ynet news. “In the future the goal will be to turn Eilat into a center for medical tourism, with investment in a new hospital.”
Sources in the meeting say Eilat’s tourism industry has shrunk by 40 percent in the last five years, and that illegal gambling in Israel is an NIS 11 billion to NIS 15 billion ($281 million to $385 million) industry, according to the report.
Aid trucks still idling on Syrian highway
Trucks carrying humanitarian assistance destined for besieged areas near Damascus are still parked on a highway on the edge of the capital.
Over 100 trucks carrying food baskets, medicine and milk are expected according to an agreement between the Syrian government and the UN to begin entering five besieged areas on Wednesday, including rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital. Aid would simultaneously be delivered to communities in the north that are besieged by rebels.
Scores of trucks belonging to the Syrian Red Crescent are still parked on the side of the highway at the entrance to Damascus.
An aid official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements, says the delay is due to “purely logistical” reasons.
Dutch to ban export of kosher meat
The Dutch government says it plans to limit ritual slaughter through new measures, including a ban on the export of kosher and halal meat.
Agriculture Minister Martijn van Dam announces his government’s plan in a letter sent to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.
In addition to the ban on exporting kosher and halal meat, the new measures will make the production of such meat subject to the discretion of officials from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority — an organization that last year urged the government to ban ritual slaughter outright, claiming it was inhumane.
The authority “will oversee compliance with legal requirements connected to animal welfare,” the letter read. In slaughter without prior stunning – a requirement in both kosher and halal slaughter – the authority “will permanently oversee the actual practice of the slaughter.” Slaughterhouses will bear the costs of the expenditure connected with subjecting their activity to the authority, the letter reads.
The Netherlands does not export significant amounts of kosher meat.
UN envoy says tunnel threats not helping Gaza
The UN Mideast envoy says threats by Hamas to continue building tunnels into Israel do “not help” reconstruction efforts in war-battered Gaza Strip.
Nikolay Mladenov’s remarks come while touring Shejaiyah, one of the hardest hit areas in the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel.
Hamas officials have pledged to continue building tunnels along the Israeli border, even after recent collapses killed at least 10 Hamas fighters. Israel views the tunnels as a top threat.
Reconstruction in Gaza has been sluggish. Mladenov says only a third of funds pledged by international donors has been received.
Erdogan derides US for not backing no-fly zone
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized the United States for not backing Turkey’s proposals to establish a no-fly zone in Syria.
Erdogan says a no-fly would have prevented Russia’s air campaign in the region and thwarted thousands of civilian deaths.
“Oh America! You did not say ‘yes’ to ‘no-fly zone.’ Now the Russian planes are running wild over there, and thousands and tens of thousands of victims are dying,” Erdogan says. “Weren’t we coalition forces? Weren’t we to act together?”
French raid far-right party over cooked-books claim
French police have raided the headquarters of the far-right National Front over allegations the party was fiddling European Parliament expenses to pay for assistants, a source close to the investigation says.
The raid at the party’s headquarters in Nanterre, west of Paris, comes a day after police searched the home of founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, as well as the office of his secretary and an accountant linked to the party.
The case relates to 20 assistants to FN members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, who were also listed as party workers.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the FN drew European Parliament funds to pay for the assistants by giving them fake jobs in Strasbourg, while they continued to work for the party elsewhere.
The FN criticizes the probe as politically motivated in a statement, saying the French government is trying to “hinder, spy on, and intimidate the patriotic opposition.”
Meretz leader accuses Liberman of being an Azerbaijani agent
Meretz leader Zehava Galon accuses Yisrael Beytenu counterpart Avigdor Liberman of being an Azerbaijani government agent, during a debate in the Knesset.
The outburst comes during a discussion of a law which would classify foreign-government funded groups as foreign agents.
“You are foreign agents of the civilians — the Azerbaijani government in Israel,” she says. “You all are getting financial benefits from them.”
Liberman shoots back that Galon was investigated for taking tens of thousands of dollars.
“Zehava Galon organized a conference in Tiberias and got 60,000 euros for it, but the conference never happened,” he says.
Actor Yossi Graber on respirator after stroke
Israeli acting veteran Yossi Graber is hospitalized in very serious condition after suffering a stroke, according to Hebrew media reports.
Graber, 82, has undergone a cerebral angiography after being rushed to the ICU at Assaf Harofeh, a day after he was taken to Ichilov following the stroke. He is being kept on a respirator.
Graber has acted on screen and stage, including the movies “Kazablan,” “A Woman called Golda” and the children’s show “Tamari’s Cabin.”
3 more parties join opposition to Eilat casino
The plan to establish up to four casinos in Eilat is proving less popular than splitting 10s in blackjack.
Opposition to the idea has snowballed, with three more political parties throwing in against the plan.
Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal notes on Twitter that Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Meretz parties have announced opposition to the scheme.
Earlier, the Jewish Home, Shas and UTJ factions said they would not support the initiative.
Syrian aid convoy gets rolling after delay
Trucks loaded with relief items are starting to arrive to besieged suburbs of the Syrian capital after an hours-long delay.
An Associated Press team says 24 trucks carrying food, medicine and other assistance have almost reached the rebel-held town of Madaya east of the capital while a 35-truck convoy is about to enter the rebel-held suburb of Moadamiyeh to the west.
Some 100 trucks left Damascus earlier today as part of a UN-sponsored relief operation that was approved by the Syrian government.
A mobile clinic offered by the Syrian Red Crescent also entered Madaya to tend to wounded civilians.
Vatican defends Francis’s fury as ‘human’
The Vatican has defended Pope Francis’s “human reaction” after he briefly lost his temper when an over-enthusiastic admirer in Mexico tugged him over on top of a child in a wheelchair.
The 79-year-old pontiff was greeting worshipers Tuesday in the city of Morelia when a member of the crowd pulled him forward by the hand, causing Francis to fall on top of the wheelchair user.
The pope straightened up with the help of his bodyguards and smiled briefly before his face turned stern and he told an excited admirer: “Don’t be selfish.”
He soon started to smile again and hand out rosaries.
“It was a normal human reaction” to certain admirers’ “excessive enthusiasm,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi tells reporters.
Greek neo-Nazi MPs booted for calling minister names
Three lawmakers of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn have been ejected from a parliamentary committee briefing after insulting the defense minister and the head of the army, officials say.
Christos Pappas, Ilias Kasidiaris and a third unnamed lawmaker were ejected “for using racist language towards migrants, the defense minister and the government,” parliament deputy chairman Kostas Douzinas, who oversaw the meeting, tells AFP.
According to reports, the neo-Nazi lawmakers called Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, the head of staff and the deputies of other parties “traitors” and “Filipino servants of the migrants.”
Golden Dawn’s lawmakers have repeatedly used offensive language in parliament towards the representatives of other parties.
Britain scrambles jets after Russian bombers approach
The UK is scrambling two jet fighters to intercept Russian bombers heading for Britain’s airspace, the BBC reports.
There are no other details known yet about the incident.
Netanyahu praises UK for anti-boycott measure
Benjamin Netanyahu has met with UK cabinet office minister Matthew Hancock, praising Britain for publishing guidelines discouraging boycotts of Israel.
Hancock says they supported the measure “because we believe in an open and free trade and we believe that discrimination is not appropriate and should be stood up to.”
Netanyahu compares efforts to boycott Israel to a long history of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias in the international community.
“In modern times, modern anti-Semitism not only attacks individual Jews, but attacks them collectively, and the slanders that were hurled over centuries against the Jewish people are now hurled against the Jewish state,” he says, according to a statement from his office.
“I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East.”
Several injured in large Ankara blast
Media reports in Turkey say a large explosion, believed to have been caused by a bomb, has injured several people in the Turkish capital of Ankara.
Dogan news agency says Wednesday’s explosion occurred near military lodgings. The explosion caused a large fire and dark smoke could be seen billowing from a distance.
Police tell The Associated Press it is investigating the cause of the explosion.
Ankara bomb reportedly targeted buses carrying soldiers
Initial reports indicate the explosion in Ankara targeted buses carrying military personnel, as they arrived at barracks near the center of the city, local news outlet Today’s Zaman reports.
Residents across the city reported hearing a large blast, according to the report. Some reports indicate there may have been two bombs.
Many fear a high casualty count given the strength of the explosion.
— Recai Acar (@recoo_4251) February 17, 2016
Five reported killed in Ankara bombing
At least five people are dead and another 10 injured in the Ankara explosion, according to AFP.
Pictures and video from the scene of the explosion shared on Twitter show a large fire and rescuers scramble to get to the scene.
Ankara'da patlamanın gerçekleştiği yere itfaiye ekipleri ve ambulanslar sevk ediliyor. pic.twitter.com/OHpsesYnAE
— 140journos (@140journos) February 17, 2016
— Ankara Çevirme Radar (@ankara_cevirme) February 17, 2016
Car bomb caused Turkey blast — governor
Ankara Governor Mehmet Kılıçdar says a car bomb was the source of the explosion in the Turkish capital, Hurriyet news reports.
The bombing took place during rush hour in an area some 300 meters (328 yards) away from military headquarters and near the country’s parliament.
— with AP
Bomb an ‘act of terrorism,’ Turkish official says
On Twitter Ömer Çelik, a spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party calls the bombing an “act of terrorism.”
The bombing apparently took place in an area of Ankara with a number of important government offices, including the prime ministry and the defense ministry.
Some reports putting Turkish death toll at 11
Some Turkish media are reporting that the death toll in the Ankara blast has risen to 11, but that is not confirmed.
On Twitter, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ also calls the blast a “terror attack.”
Nobody has claimed responsibility, but the Islamic State group has been blamed for a string of bombings in the country since the middle of last year.
Turkish authorities have in recent weeks detained several suspected IS members, with officials saying they were planning attacks in Istanbul and Ankara.
But Turkey is also waging an all-out assault on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has staged dozens of deadly attacks against members of the security forces in the southeast.
Ankara has also been carrying out air strikes against Syrian Kurdish fighters across the border war-torn Syria since the weekend.
Turkey bans media from reporting on bombing
The Turkish government has placed a ban on local media continuing to report on the Ankara bomb blast, according to local reports.
The ban is temporary and done under the guise of “national security,” according to CNNTurk.
Turkish PM nixes Brussels trip after bombing
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has canceled a planned trip to Brussels this week following the bomb attack in Ankara, his office says.
Davutoglu was due to leave later Wednesday for Brussels to meet a number of EU leaders on Thursday for discussions on the migrant crisis ahead of a full summit of the 28-member bloc.
IS shoots down Iraqi chopper, killing 1
The Islamic State jihadist group shot down an Iraqi military helicopter west of Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least one person, officials said.
The helicopter — the second lost by Iraq in two days — went down near Amriyat al-Fallujah, though officials differed on the exact location.
An Iraqi army aviation captain said that the Bell helicopter was shot down with a Dushka heavy machine gun, killing one crew member and wounding a second, who was rescued by another helicopter.
Lieutenant Colonel Arif al-Janabi, the police chief for Amriyat al-Fallujah, said that IS shot the helicopter down, putting the death toll at two.
Airstrikes burned hundreds of millions of IS dollars — US
Hundreds of millions of dollars are believed to have been destroyed in coalition air strikes targeting cash hoards used to finance the Islamic State group, a US military spokesman says.
Coalition aircraft struck 10 more of the cash collection points over the weekend, said Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman for the US-led campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria.
“We don’t have a hard number that we’re prepared to release. We believe it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Warren tells Pentagon reporters in a video conference from Baghdad.
“Obviously it is impossible to burn up every single bill. So presumably they were able to collect a little bit of it back. But we believe it was a significant series of strikes that have put a real dent in their wallet,” he says.
Death toll in Ankara bombing rises to 18
The governor of Ankara has raised the death toll in the bombing to 18, with an additional 45 wounded.
Turkey’s military says the targeted military vehicles were carrying personnel.
A statement from the military says the vehicles were attacked as they stopped at traffic lights Wednesday.
The military adds that it condemns the “contemptible and dastardly” attack.
Kansas City JCC to erect memorial for shooting victims
The Jewish Community Center of Kansas City will erect a memorial to honor the victims of the deadly 2014 shooting at the JCC and a nearby Jewish site.
The memorial site at the Jewish community campus in Overland Park, Kansas, is under development, according to the JCC, the local media reported.
Sculptor Jesse Small of Los Angeles is designing the work, which is scheduled to be unveiled at a private ceremony in April.
Two years ago, white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., also known as Frazier Glenn Cross, gunned down Reat Underwood, 14, and his grandfather, William Corporon, 69, outside the JCC, and Terri LaManno, 53, outside the Village Shalom assisted-living facility. None of the victims were Jewish, but Miller assumed they were when he shot them.
Palestinians detain teachers for striking
Palestinian teachers say police have detained about a dozen of them for organizing a two-day school strike.
Palestinian teacher Yousef Badran of Hebron says that the Palestinian Authority has not fulfilled a 2013 pledge to issue a 10 percent raise to teachers. He says teachers scrape by on salaries of about $640 per month and “all we demand is a decent life.”
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority is going through a severe fiscal crisis and struggling to pay its vast number of government employees. Teachers make up the largest group of this sector.
Badran says about 20,000 teachers from across the West Bank demonstrated this week in Ramallah outside the prime minister’s office.
Local officials say the strike of governmental schools was done illegally. The Palestinian Authority declines comment.
Turkish minister: Death toll may continue to rise
Turkish Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu says the death toll in the Ankara bombing is liable to rise to 20 or 21, Hurriyet news reports.
The minister says 61 people were hospitalized from the blast and smoke inhalation.
Amnesty urges Israel to transfer hunger striker to Ramallah hospital
Amnesty International is calling for Israel to release hunger-striking Palestinian detainee Mohammed al-Qiq to the hospital of his choice.
This comes after the High Court rejected a petition for him to be transferred to a Ramallah hospital, offering an East Jerusalem hospital instead as a compromise. Al-Qiq, who has rejected food for nearly three months to protest his arrest under administrative detention and is hospitalized in Afula, turned down the offer.
“As an unconvicted detainee, al-Qiq has the right to treatment by doctors of his choice,” Amnesty says in a statement. “Given his critical health situation, the Israeli authorities must respect his wishes and transfer him to the hospital that he has chosen without delay.”
Israeli authorities say al-Qiq, a journalist based in Ramallah, is linked to terror groups, but have not charged him. Palestinian officials and others have described his medical condition as dire.
The Amnesty statement also calls for Israel to end the practice of administrative detention, which it equates with arbitrary jailing.
Death toll in Ankara up to 28
The death toll in the Ankara bombing has been raised to 28 dead and 61 injured, the country’s deputy prime minister says, according to AFP.
A video published online purports to show the moment of the blast, as a white sedan pulls up next to a bus.
Turkey says attack was ‘well-planned’
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus says seven prosecutors have been assigned to investigate the attack, which he describes as “well-planned.”
Kurtulmus says no group had yet claimed responsibility, but pledges authorities would find those behind the attack.
The US ambassador to Turkey says he is “deeply saddened and shocked” by the attack in Ankara that killed at least 18 people.
In a message on Twitter Wednesday Ambassador John Bass says “Our hearts and prayers go out to those affected.”
British Ambassador Richard Moore also offered his condolences through Twitter, writing that the “UK stands shoulder to shoulder with Turkey at this difficult time.”
3 Israeli rockets hit Syrian army near Damascus — report
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that three Israeli rockets have hit Syrian army outposts near Damascus, according to Reuters.
There is no immediate confirmation.