Republicans gear up to fight Supreme Court pick Garland
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Republicans gear up to fight Supreme Court pick Garland

Choice of Jewish jurist splits lawmakers along party lines; four arrested in Paris anti-terror raids as Belgium hunting two escaped jihadi suspects; Putin meets Rivlin at Kremlin, says he'll talk defense with Netanyahu

  • Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland receives applauds from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
    Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland receives applauds from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as he is introduced as Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court during an announcement in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • President Reuven Rivlin, left, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 16, 2016. (AFP/ POOL / MAXIM SHIPENKOV)
    President Reuven Rivlin, left, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 16, 2016. (AFP/ POOL / MAXIM SHIPENKOV)
  • Judge Merrick B. Garland is seen at the federal courthouse in Washington in 2008. (AP/Charles Dharapak)
    Judge Merrick B. Garland is seen at the federal courthouse in Washington in 2008. (AP/Charles Dharapak)
  • Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night press conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club's Donald J. Trump Ballroom March 15, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night press conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club's Donald J. Trump Ballroom March 15, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Veterans of the Latvian Legion, a force that was commanded by the German Nazi Waffen SS during WWII, and their sympathizers carry flowers as they walk to the Monument of Freedom in Riga, Latvia on March 16, 2016 to commemorate a key 1944 battle in their ultimately failed attempt to stem a Soviet advance. (AFP/ Ilmars Znotins)
    Veterans of the Latvian Legion, a force that was commanded by the German Nazi Waffen SS during WWII, and their sympathizers carry flowers as they walk to the Monument of Freedom in Riga, Latvia on March 16, 2016 to commemorate a key 1944 battle in their ultimately failed attempt to stem a Soviet advance. (AFP/ Ilmars Znotins)
  • Police secure an area during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium on Friday, March 18, 2016. (AP/Geoffrey Van der Hasselt)
    Police secure an area during a police raid in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, Belgium on Friday, March 18, 2016. (AP/Geoffrey Van der Hasselt)
  • Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during an election night event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, West Palm Beach, Florida, March 15, 2016. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during an election night event at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, West Palm Beach, Florida, March 15, 2016. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.

Pedestrian reports car ramming attempt in West Bank

A pedestrian at a traffic circle west of the settlement of Halamish in the central West Bank says a Palestinian driver tried to run him down.

The driver took off toward the village of Beitilu after failing to injure the pedestrian, according to media reports.

An investigation has been opened into the incident.

Russia close to restoring direct flights to Egypt

Russia’s foreign minister says after talks with his Egyptian counterpart that the two countries are completing preparations for restoring direct flights, which were halted by Moscow after the downing of a Russian passenger jet.

The Russian plane crashed in Sinai on October 31, killing all 224 people on board.

In this Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 file photo, the arrival hall is empty at the Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in south Sinai, Egypt. (AP/Ahmed Abd El-Latif, File)

In this Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 file photo, the arrival hall is empty at the Sharm el-Sheikh Airport in south Sinai, Egypt. (AP/Ahmed Abd El-Latif, File)

Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local branch of the extremist Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for planting it.

The crash and Russia’s decision to cut the air link to Egypt has dealt a severe blow to Egypt’s vital tourism sector.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hails the Egyptian authorities for accepting Russian experts’ advice on boosting airport security and said that direct flights will resume soon. He didn’t mention a specific date.

— AP

Trump warns of riots if Republicans deny him nod

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump says that if the GOP tries to deny him the party’s nomination even if he’s within reach of sufficient delegates at convention time, “We’d have riots.”

Trump tells CNN “Newsday” he’s brought large numbers of people into the party — “The really big story is how many people are voting in these primaries,” — and he says “if you just disenfranchise these people, I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before.”

He tells anchor Chris Cuomo, “I wouldn’t lead it,” but said it could happen.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night press conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club's Donald J. Trump Ballroom March 15, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night press conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club’s Donald J. Trump Ballroom March 15, 2016, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Trump cited a hypothetical scenario where he’d go to the Cleveland convention in July with roughly 1,000 delegates and a rival would show up there with 500.

He said he believes he’ll nail down the nomination before the convention and said he couldn’t imagine failing to get the party’s nomination virtually “automatically” in such a scenario.

Trump said “I don’t even want to think about” what he’d do if he’s in such an advantageous position but still does not become the nominee.

— AP

Trump backs pastor who said Sanders needs to ‘meet Jesus’

Days after a pastor sparked a mini-firestorm by calling on Bernie Sanders to find Jesus while speaking at a Donald Trump rally, Trump shows he has no plans of distancing himself from the televangelist.

Taking to Twitter, Trump thanks Mark Burns and tells him he was great the night before.

On Saturday, Burns said Sanders, who as a Jew is the only non-Christian in serious contention for the presidency, couldn’t lead the country because of his atheism.

“Listen, Bernie gotta get saved. He gotta meet Jesus. He gotta have a comin’ to Jesus meeting,” Burns said.

The call drew criticism from Jews and interfaith groups, who pointed out that there is not supposed to be a religious test for office in the US.

Burns later said he was not trying to criticize Sanders’s Judaism, but his lack of faith in general.

“Obviously, if he was ever elected president he would be the first non-Christian, and that’s not an issue that he is not a Christian, so to speak, so this is not anything bad about the Jewish people,” Burns said, according to CNN.

Belgians hunting 2 linked to Paris attacks after shootout

Belgian investigators are hunting for two suspects who fled an apartment linked to the November 13 attacks in Paris, after a police sniper killed a third man and uncovered weapons, ammunition and an Islamic State flag, officials say.

Four officers were wounded in yesterday’s joint French-Belgian raid in a Brussels neighborhood and related searches.

Officials say the hunt is on for two more suspects who have not been identified. Two people are in custody.

Police officers secure an area during an apartment raid in Brussels on Tuesday March 15, 2016. Belgian police launched an anti-terror raid linked to last year's Paris attacks in a Brussels neighborhood on Tuesday. (AP/Thierry Monasse)

Police officers secure an area during an apartment raid in Brussels on Tuesday March 15, 2016. Belgian police launched an anti-terror raid linked to last year’s Paris attacks in a Brussels neighborhood on Tuesday. (AP/Thierry Monasse)

The dead man was identified as an Algerian man living illegally in Belgium, Mohamed Belkaid, whose only contact with authorities appeared to be a years-old theft charge, said Thierry Werts, the Belgian federal prosecutor.

Belkaid, 35, was shot to death by a police sniper as he prepared to fire from a window, Werts said. Police also detained one man who was dropped off at a nearby hospital with a broken leg and another found in an overnight house search.

The anti-terror raid in the Forest neighborhood was linked to the November 13 gun-and-bombing attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall in Paris that left 130 people dead.

— AP

Nazi Waffen SS veterans march in Riga parade

Several hundred ultranationalists, including seven veterans of Nazi Germany’s Waffen SS, march through Riga on the independence day of the Baltic nation of Latvia.

The march, which is Europe’s only annual event by Waffen SS veterans, draws a handful of counter-protesters from Latvia’s Jewish community and about 40 anti-fascist activists, including 20 Germans, Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, tells JTA by phone from Riga.

Veterans of the Latvian Legion, a force that was commanded by the German Nazi Waffen SS during WWII, and their sympathizers carry flowers as they walk to the Monument of Freedom in Riga, Latvia on March 16, 2016 to commemorate a key 1944 battle in their ultimately failed attempt to stem a Soviet advance. (AFP/ Ilmars Znotins)

Veterans of the Latvian Legion, a force that was commanded by the German Nazi Waffen SS during WWII, and their sympathizers carry flowers as they walk to the Monument of Freedom in Riga, Latvia on March 16, 2016, to commemorate a key 1944 battle in their ultimately failed attempt to stem a Soviet advance. (AFP/ Ilmars Znotins)

Latvian authorities detained five Germans who crossed over to the Baltic nation from Lithuania and prevented another one from boarding a plane bound for Latvia, Zuroff says. He adds that several Latvian lawmakers from the far right also participated in the march.

— JTA

Brother of Toulouse killer to face judges over attack

A special court will try the brother of Mohamed Merah, who killed four people outside a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse in 2012, for complicity in the attacks, judicial sources say.

Merah, a self-described Al-Qaeda sympathizer who had traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, shot dead three Jewish schoolchildren, a teacher and three soldiers in Toulouse and nearby Montauban in a nine-day killing spree in March 2012.

This handout photo taken on March 25, 2012 shows a tv grab from French TV channel M6 of Abdelkader Merah, the older brother of the Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah. (AFP / M6 / Handout)

This handout photo taken on March 25, 2012 shows a tv grab from French TV channel M6 of Abdelkader Merah, the older brother of the Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah. (AFP / M6 / Handout)

His brother Abdelkader claimed he was unaware of the plans for the attacks, which prompted stepped-up surveillance of suspected Islamic extremists.

Three anti-terrorist judges also ruled that another alleged accomplice, Fettah Malki, should appear before the panel of expert judges.

Malki has admitted supplying Merah with an Uzi submachine gun and a bulletproof vest. Judicial sources say Malki too has denied any advance knowledge of Merah’s plans.

It is not immediately clear when the trial will start.

— AFP

 

Deputy FM says Israel has secret talks with Indonesia

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely says Israel and Indonesia are engaged in secret diplomatic contacts, days after Palestinian officials said Israel blocked Jakarta’s top diplomat from visiting Ramallah.

“Even though there are no formal ties, there are ongoing contacts between us and Indonesia on a range of issues,” Hotovely says in the Knesset.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely gives a press conference on November 3, 2015, in the Lipski plastic factory at the Barkan Industrial Park near the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on the European Union decision to label goods made in Jewish settlements. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely gives a press conference on November 3, 2015, in the Lipski plastic factory at the Barkan Industrial Park near the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, on the European Union decision to label goods made in Jewish settlements. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

She confirms that Israel blocked Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi from meeting Palestinian leaders in Ramallah on Sunday because she refused to hold contacts with Israeli officials as well.

“There have been secret contacts with Indonesia, with which we don’t have diplomatic relations, and there were understandings that were coarsely broken and so we blocked her entry. This was a breach of diplomatic protocol, and the most honorable thing to do is to respect the protocols, so when you break them don’t be surprised that you block yourself from visiting the [Palestinian Authority],” she says.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has no official diplomatic ties with Israel. Last week, Jakarta hosted PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other Muslim leaders for a major conference on the Palestinian issue.

Trump to skip Fox debate to speak at AIPAC

Republican front-runner Donald Trump announces that he will not participate in the upcoming Republican debate, because he will be making a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference instead.

“I’m doing a major speech in front of a very important group of people that night,” Trump says on “Fox & Friends.”

The pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC has not yet released its schedule of speakers for the upcoming policy conference, but has confirmed that Trump, along with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden will address over 18,000 attendees expected there.

Fox News is the host of Monday’s debate, which will be moderated by television host Megyn Kelly, with whom Trump has enjoyed a testy relationship.

Trump already bowed out of one Fox-sponsored debate earlier in the season after he tussled with Kelly in a prior debate.

Without Trump, only two candidates, Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich, will take the stage at the upcoming debate in Utah.

— Rebecca Shimoni Stoil

Obama reportedly to tap Srinivasan for Supreme Court

US President Barack Obama is likely to nominate judge Sri Srinivasan to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court bench, Reuters reports.

This photo provided by the US Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit shows Judge Sri Srinivasan in Washington. (US Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit/AP)

Judge Sri Srinivasan in Washington. (US Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit/AP)

Srinivasan, who would become the court’s first Hindu and first Asian-American, would beat out Jewish judge Merrick Garland, who had also been bruited as a front-runner under consideration.

Obama is expected to announce his decision at 5 p.m. Israel time.

In an email earlier in the day he said his nominee is “eminently qualified” to sit on the nation’s highest court. He said the nominee understands the limits of the judiciary’s role and “grasps the way it affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly changing times.”

— with AP

 

Light rail damaged in rock attack, 5 arrested

Five East Jerusalem minors are arrested after throwing rocks and paint at the light rail, police say.

The train, which suffers frequent attacks in East Jerusalem, sustains some damage in the incident in the Shuafat neighborhood.

The five are taken in for questioning, police say.

Obama to visit Saudi Arabia, UK next month

US President Barack Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom in April, a visit set to be dominated by Britain’s EU membership and concerns about the Islamic State group.

The White House says that Obama will visit Windsor Castle, where he will have a private lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, and 10 Downing Street for a joint press conference with Prime Minister David Cameron.

— AFP

Sources say Obama to nominate Jewish judge to Supreme Court

Congressional sources tell AP Obama will nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Politico also reports that Obama will pick Garland. Reuters earlier reported that Obama would tap Sri Srinivasan.

Garland, the chief judge of the appeals courts in Washington, would become fourth Jewish judge on the nine-person bench.

Obama is slated to announce his pick in about an hour.

 

France ‘concerned’ over West Bank land appropriation

France says it is “extremely concerned” by Israel’s move to appropriate some 230 hectares of Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley south of Jericho.

“France is extremely concerned by the decision of Israeli authorities to appropriate for Israeli settlements … territory in the West Bank,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal says, according to Reuters.

The move, announced Tuesday, has drawn criticism from Palestinians and the international community.

Netanyahu to visit Kremlin to talk security, Putin tells Rivlin

President Reuven Rivlin and Vladimir Putin hold a short press conference before they meet in the Kremlin, with Putin saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will also visit Moscow soon to discuss defense issues.

“The ties between our countries are based on friendship and mutual understanding,” Putin says, according to Haaretz. “Israel has 1.5 million Russian citizens who speak Russian and have Russian culture. The number of Russian tourists visiting Israel is rising every month.”

Rivlin tells Putin the Jewish people remember how Russia saved them in World War II.

“Today, we also both face terror and fundamentalism,” Rivlin says, according to Haaretz.

The two leaders are slated to hold a short private meeting before a working dinner, both closed to the press.

Rivlin, the first foreign leader to meet with Putin since Monday’s surprise announcement that Russia is pulling out of Syria, is expected to warn Putin about the dangers of letting Iran and Hezbollah fill the vacuum left by Moscow.

“We want Iran and Hezbollah not to emerge strengthened from this entire process,” Rivlin told reporters during the flight to Russia. “Everybody agrees that the Islamic State organization is a danger to the entire world, but Shiite Iranian fundamentalist Islam is for us just as dangerous.”

Palestinian attackers sought Israeli residency, Shin Bet says

Several Palestinians who carried out terror attacks had recently received, or were in the process of applying for, residency status in Israel, the Shin Bet security service reveals.

Under Israeli law, West Bank Palestinians with family members who live in Israel can apply for residency status, in a process known as family unification.

“Recently it has stood out that a number of terror attacks have been carried out by those who have received this status,” the service says in a statement.

The Shin Bet also says it has noticed among attackers a pattern of underlying psychological disorders and personal problems that may have led to their violent, terrorist actions.

— Judah Ari Gross

Obama nominates Merrick Garland for Supreme Court

Barack Obama announcing the Supreme Court nomination on March 16, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube/WH.gov)

Barack Obama announcing the Supreme Court nomination on March 16, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube/WH.gov)

US President Barack Obama announces he is nominating Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

He praises his public service and says he consulted with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle before making the pick.

If confirmed, Garland will become the fourth Jewish judge on the court.

Obama praises pick, calls on Republicans to give him fair shake

Obama says Garland is a consensus candidate, noting that he is always willing to give both sides of a debate a hearing.

“To find someone…who just about everyone not only respects, but genuinely likes—that is rare,” he says.

He adds that Garland’s name is the only one that has come up repeatedly when talking to both Democrats and Republicans

But Obama knows he will face an uphill battle, with Republicans thretaning to block any Obama nominee until he leaves office.

He says “to go down that path would be wrong,” calling it a “betrayal.”

He points to the political climate and says this is not the time to be divisive.

“This is the time to play it straight.”

He adds that not giving Garland and up or down vote would be “unprecedented.”

“I simply ask Republicans to give him a fair hearing,” he adds.

 

‘My parents fled anti-Semitism, taught me importance of public service’

Garland takes the podium, and begins to cry as he thanks Obama for giving him the nomination.

Merrick Garland speaking at the White House, flanked by Barack Obama, right, and Joe Biden, left. on March 16, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube/WH.gov)

Merrick Garland speaking at the White House, flanked by Barack Obama, right, and Joe Biden, left. on March 16, 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube/WH.gov)

He thanks his family for instilling in him a dedication to public service.

“My parents left the Pale of Settlement, fleeing anti-Semitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America,” he says.

Russia says it dropped 6,000 bombs on Syria

A Russian military official says the country’s SU-25 fighters dropped some 6,000 bombs during Russia’s military campaign in Syria.

In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian military personnel prepare a plane for take off at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian military personnel prepare a plane for take off at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

The southern military district commander says the planes carried out 1,600 sorties.

Earlier in the day, Russia’s defense ministry said another group of its aircraft had left a Russian air base in Syria and was returning home.

— with AP

Garland previously blasted IRS over case against pro-Israel group

Merrick Garland may be best known for his work on the Oklahoma City Bombing case, but last year he was one of three judges who blasted the US Internal Revenue Service for trying to squelch information about the Obama administration possibly discriminating against a far right pro-Israel group that was seeking tax exemption status.

The case came to Garland’s court of appeals after a lower court found the IRS could not have a case by Z Street, which was suing and claiming the IRS had discriminated based on the group’s point of view, thrown out.

IRS lawyer Theresa McLaughlin came to court trying to argue that one can’t sue over collection of taxes, but the judges threw it back, citing it was not the point of Z Street’s suit.

When the lawyer tried to argue that Z Street could wait 270 days and then sue, Garland became angry.

“Imagine the IRS announces today a policy that says as follows: No application by a Jewish group or an African-American group will be considered until one day short of the period under the statute… Is it your view that that cannot be challenged,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Z Street case is still going on. If it reaches the Supreme Court, Garland may have a chance to rule on it again.

Saudi Arabia executes 73rd person this year

A Saudi national convicted of murder has been executed, bringing to 73 the number of people put to death in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom this year, the interior ministry said.

Omar al-Rabie was found guilty of shooting to death Ghanem Salem following a dispute, the ministry says in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

Most people executed in Saudi Arabia are beheaded with a sword.

The executions so far this year include 47 for “terrorism” carried out in a single day on January 2.

The number puts Saudi on pace for some 350 executions in 2016, which would be the highest in at least two decades.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia executed 153 people, most of them for drug trafficking or murder, according to an AFP count.

— AFP

 

UK tells Israel to rethink land appropriation

The UK has joined the US, France, the UN and others in blasting Israel over its planned takeover of some 580 acres in the West Bank, accusing Jerusalem of not being serious about a two-state solution.

“We condemn the Israeli Government’s decision to take over 585 acres of land in the West Bank as ‘state land’. Such steps clearly damage the diminishing prospects for a two state solution,” the foreign office says in a statement. “If the Israeli Government is truly committed to a two-state solution then it will reverse its decision.”

On Tuesday, the US State Department also questioned Israel’s commitment to the peace process following the move.

“As we have said before, we strongly oppose any steps that accelerate settlement expansion, which raise serious questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. And as we’ve repeatedly made clear, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Actions such as these do just the opposite,” spokesman John Kirby said.

AIPAC says Ted Cruz to speak at confab

AIPAC announces on Twitter that Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz will speak at their annual policy conference next week.

The pro-Israel lobby has already booked Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to speak at the Washington event.

The Texas senator, running a distant second behind Trump, is known for taking positions seen by many as in line with Israel’s right-wing government.

Earlier in the day, Trump announced he would be skipping the next Republican debate to speak at AIPAC, leaving just Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich on the Fox stage. It is not known if Cruz’s AIPAC plans will bump up against the debate.

AIPAC says it’s extended invitations to all candidates.

Four Islamists ‘planning attack’ arrested in Paris

Four people have been arrested in Paris on suspicion of planning a terror attack, according to French media reports.

The four were nabbed in the 18th arrondissement and the suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis in a pre-dawn raid, officials say, according to the BBC.

Security forces had been tracking the four, but feared an attack was imminent, according to reports.

The arrests come on the heels of a raid in Belgium linked to the November Paris attacks carried out by the Islamic State. One person was killed and two escaped after a shootout in Brussels Tuesday.

Prosecutors on Wednesday released without charges two men they held in the wake of the raid, leaving the hunt on for two suspects who have not been identified. Prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt says they “are being actively sought.”

— with AP

Kasich said to drop debate too, unless Trump changes mind

John Kasich, the only Republican candidate who won’t be speaking at AIPAC, reportedly drops out of an upcoming debate anyway, indicating there’s no point if Trump won’t be there.

Strategist John Weaver notes, though, that should Trump change his mind, Kasich will jump back in.

Trump had said he was dropping out of the debate to speak at the AIPAC conference.

The news leaves only Cruz to debate himself on the Fox stage.

Police probing body found next to burnt car

Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding a dead body next to a burnt car near the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Ata.

The body, believed to be a man in his 40s, is found in a nearby kibbutz field.

Qatar frees poet jailed since 2011 for insulting government

A Qatari poet imprisoned since 2011 over verses he wrote that apparently offended the government of the nation’s former ruler has received a royal pardon and been freed, the United Nations says.

Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami’s 15-year sentence, roundly criticized by rights groups and UN special rapporteurs, had exposed the limits of free speech in the oil-and-gas-rich country.

The reasoning for the pardon by Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is not immediately clear. Qatari officials have not responded to requests for comment and state media did not report al-Ajami’s late-night pardon Tuesday.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights tells The Associated Press on Wednesday it confirmed al-Ajami’s release through civil society groups working with his family.

The poet’s lawyer, Najeeb al-Nuaimi, says he hadn’t had any contact with al-Ajami since his release.

Ali al-Hatab, a human rights activist who worked on al-Ajami’s case, says there was no previous indication that the poet would be released.

“They are planning to (hold) the World Cup, so it’s a good time to dispose of this case,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the main reason was why he was really released. We’re grateful he is out.”

— AP

One Paris suspect may have been in contact with IS

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says one of the four people arrested in an anti-terror raid is suspected to be in contact with Islamic State extremists.

Judicial and police officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the detentions, say one of the four was a woman, all were born in France and they were between 21 and 30 years old.

A subsequent search found an unused Kalashnikov cartridge, SIM cards, USB cards and a gun for firing blanks.

— AP

Trump unveils ad featuring barking Clinton

Donald Trump’ s new online ad uses footage of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton barking like a dog to suggest she’s unfit to be president.

The ad on Trump’s official Instagram account begins with footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in martial arts and a man who appears to be an Islamic State fighter pointing a gun at the camera.

“When it comes to facing our toughest opponents,” it reads, “the democrats have the perfect answer…”

The ad then cuts to footage of Clinton in Nevada earlier this year, barking to mimic an ad she’d been describing to supporters.

It ends with footage of Putin laughing and the words: “We don’t need to be a punchline!”

Clinton’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

— AP

J Street denounces Trump as ‘racist, unfit to be president’

Dovish Israel lobby J Street, which says it has taken pains to not endorse any presidential candidate since its founding in 2008, releases a statement deploring Donald Trump and saying his “racist and hateful campaign [is] an affront to Jewish values.”

“Nothing in the campaign to date gives us any confidence that Donald Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, would make rational and principled judgments on the foreign policy issues of consequence to us or that he would act in accordance with the core principles that define this country as a democracy,” a statement from the group reads.

“Taken together, these factors in our view render Donald Trump unfit to be President of the United States. Trump and his campaign, driven by racism and hate, are beyond the bounds of acceptability for the vast majority of Jewish Americans.”

Putin-Netanyahu meeting likely sometime soon, official says

An Israeli officials has no details about an upcoming meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu refered to in remarks at the Kremlin earlier, but says the sit-down will likely be sometime soon.

“Over the last few months we had regular contact with the Russians at the highest level, and that will continue,” the official says.

Earlier, during remarks with President Reuven Rivlin, Putin hinted at an upcoming meeting with Netanyahu.

“There are a range of other issues which we will speak about in our meeting, such as trade and economic cooperation, as well as security in the region. We have also spoken by phone with the Prime Minister of Israel, and we have agreed to speak further on these issues,” Putin said, according to a translation provided by Rivlin’s office.

— with Raphael Ahren

39 hurt in gas blast at Tehran Grand Bazaar

Iranian state media says a gas canister explosion in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar has wounded 39 people.

The official IRNA news agency says the blast happened in the basement of a building in the heart of the bazaar, which was packed with people shopping ahead of the Iranian new year.

Illustrative: Iranians walking through Tehran’s old main bazaar, March 18, 2014. (JTA/Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Images)

Illustrative: Iranians walking through Tehran’s old main bazaar, March 18, 2014. (JTA/Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Images)

The semi-official ISNA news agency says some of the injured are in serious condition. It says the incident took place in a gold workshop.

Police block off roads in and around the market to help first responders, who had to make their way through the historic bazaar’s vast labyrinth of alleys.

— AP

France opens secret archives on Nazi-era resistance

French historians have unveiled secret services’ archives from World War II that offer a unique insight into underground operations led by both the Nazis and the French resistance — along with the individual paths taken by thousands of agents, including celebrities like French designer Coco Chanel.

Most of the letters, reports, cables and photos from the rival intelligence agencies of the French Resistance, the collaborationist Vichy regime and the German authorities remain unpublished. The documents, stored for years in the archives at the medieval castle of Vincennes, east of Paris, have not been explored by historians until recently.

They include details of operations led by German spies hunting members of the French resistance, the secret activities of London-based Gen. Charles De Gaulle’s government and efforts to track war criminals.

The French secret services also had files on celebrities they deemed suspicious. Designer Coco Chanel’s file includes a note written in Paris in November 1944.

According to Frederic Queguineur, in charge of the secret services’ archives, the file shows that Coco Chanel was documented as an agent by the Nazi intelligence organization, the Abwehr.

— AP

Sanders, Clinton call on lawmakers to hear out Garland

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls Judge Merrick Garland a strong nominee for the Supreme Court and argues that refusing to hold hearings for his nomination would be unprecedented.

In a statement, Sanders notes that the 63-year-old Garland has decades of experience on the bench. Sanders says Obama has done his job by nominating Garland and that Senate Republicans now must do theirs.

Sanders calls on Republicans to hold confirmation hearings and bring the nomination to the floor of the Senate if Garland is approved by the Judiciary Committee.

Earlier, Hillary Clinton said Garland had a “brilliant legal mind and a long history of bipartisan support and admiration” and it’s up to the Senate to perform their Constitutional duty “they swore to undertake.”

Clinton said the confirmation of a justice “should not be an exercise in political brinkmanship and partisan posturing.”

She noted the Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee and Garland deserves a “full and fair hearing followed by a vote.”

— AP

FBI conducts raids over yeshiva-linked tech grant scam

FBI agents are carrying out raids in communities north of New York City as part of a probe into whether yeshivas improperly spent used federal grant money.

Dozens of agents in Monsey and Kiryas Joel are seen knocking on doors of homes and business with search warrants and carting away boxes of files.

No arrests have been made, according to Lohud.com

The raids are tied to investigations going on since at least 2013 into whether Jewish schools took millions through the federal E-Rate program, which provides money for computers and other technological equipment for schools, and spent it elsewhere.

The local attorney generals office has not provided comment, Lohud reports.

Cruz joins Republicans in opposing Garland pick

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says he stands with his Republican colleagues in the Senate in opposing President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.

The Republican presidential candidate says in a statement that Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland “is exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington.”

Cruz says if Garland were confirmed, he would undermine Second Amendment gun rights, legalize late-term abortions and empower “overreaching bureaucratic agencies.”

Cruz has said he does not want the Senate to vote on any nominee until after the next president is sworn into office.

A number of Republican Senators have already said they will oppose Merrick’s nomination.

Republicans have set up a task force that will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach. On the other side, Obama allies are to run a Democratic effort targeting states where Republicans might feel political heat for opposing hearings.

If confirmed, Garland would be expected to align with the more liberal members, but he is not viewed as down-the-line liberal. Particularly on criminal defense and national security cases, he’s earned a reputation as centrist, and one of the few Democratic-appointed judges Republicans might have a fast-tracked to confirmation — under other circumstances.

In the current climate, Garland remains a tough sell. Republicans control the Senate, which must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.

— AP

US puts kibosh on Kurdish breakaway plan

The US says it is opposed to any unilateral declarations of autonomous federal zones in Syria, after the main Syrian Kurdish party said it would soon declare a federal region in the country’s north.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner says Washington would not be against federalism if the Syrian people chose it as part of a negotiated political settlement.

Announcing the breakaway region, the Kurdish party said the area’s Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen would all be represented, calling it a model for the rest of the country.

Both Turkey and the Syrian government are opposed to such a declaration, fearing that it could lead to the country’s partition.

— AP

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