The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s developments as they unfolded.
Israel threatens to ‘destroy’ Syrian air defense systems
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes.
“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said on Israel Radio.
Israeli warplanes hit several targets in Syria on Friday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the strikes targeted weapons bound for Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement.
Syria’s military said it had downed one of the Israeli planes and hit another as they were carrying out the predawn strikes near the famed desert city of Palmyra that it recaptured from jihadists this month. The Israeli military denied that any planes had been hit. The Syrian government has made similar claims in the past.
Arab MK quits Knesset over prisoner cellphone smuggling
Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas resigns from the Knesset as part of a plea bargain that will see him serve a two-year jail sentence for smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners.
Hamas sentences two drug dealers to death
A Hamas military court sentences two Palestinians to death for drug dealing, in the first such case since the terror group seized the Gaza Strip a decade ago.
The Interior Ministry says Sunday that one would be killed by a firing squad. The other defendant is sentenced in absentia.
The ministry says security forces seized $2 million in illicit drugs in January alone, which was equivalent to what was seized in all of 2016. Most of the seized drugs were narcotics and cannabis.
Hamas has issued and implemented capital punishment mostly against people found guilty of murder or of collaborating with Israel. These verdicts were the first against drug dealers.
Ma’ale Adumim annexation bill shelved (again)
A ministerial panel will not be debating the bill to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim on Sunday.
The debate on the proposed legislation is postponed until after the Knesset’s six-week spring break, set to begin on March 26.
Trump did not refuse to shake Merkel’s hand — spokesman
Donald Trump’s spokesman denies that the US president refused to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the White House last week.
“I don’t think he heard the question” posed by Merkel when she suggested they shake hands, in full view of press cameras, spokesman Sean Spicer tells German weekly Der Spiegel published Sunday.
The quote is translated into English from Der Spiegel’s online German website.
The veteran German chancellor had arrived for her first meeting with Trump at a snowy White House hoping to reverse a chill in relations after Trump’s incendiary election rhetoric, in which he called Merkel’s acceptance of refugees a “catastrophic mistake” and suggested she was “ruining Germany.”
The visit on Friday began cordially, with the pair shaking hands at the entrance of the White House. But later, sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office, Merkel’s suggestion of another handshake went unheard or ignored by Trump — an awkward moment in what are usually highly scripted occasions.
German media point to the incident as another marker of the meeting’s general icy mood between the cautious German chancellor and impulsive US president.
Autopsy to learn if Paris airport attacker was drunk or high
French officials are conducting an autopsy Sunday to determine whether a suspected Islamic extremist was drunk or high on drugs when he took a soldier hostage at Paris’ Orly Airport and was shot dead by her fellow patrolmen.
The suspect, Ziyed Ben Belgacem, stopped at a bar in the wee hours Saturday morning, around four hours before he fired bird shot at traffic police. Then, 90 minutes later, he attacked the military patrol at Orly, causing panic and the shutdown of the French capital’s second-biggest airport.
A subsequent police search of his apartment found cocaine, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins says.
In an interview Sunday with French radio Europe 1, a man identified as the suspect’s father said Belgacem wasn’t a practicing Muslim and drank alcohol.
“My son was never a terrorist. He never attended prayer. He drank. But under the effects of alcohol and cannabis, this is where one ends up,” says the father. Europe 1 did not give his name.
The Paris prosecutor’s office, which is in charge of the probe, says Sunday that Belgacem’s father was released from police custody overnight. His brother and a cousin were still being questioned.
Khamenei says objectification of women likely a ‘Zionist plot’
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says the objectification of women in the West is “most probably” part of a “Zionist plot to destroy human community.”
Designating women as goods & means of pleasure in western world, most probably, is among Zionists’ plots to destroy human community.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) March 19, 2017
Labor MKs seeking party leadership to block alternate coalition bid
Labor party secretary-general Eran Harmoni urges lawmakers to support opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s effort to form an alternate coalition, sans Netanyahu’s Likud, without resorting to new elections.
“This is our moral and ethical obligation toward the citizens of Israel in general, and toward our voters in particular, who are hoping for change in the country,” he says in a statement.
But Labor lawmakers seeking the party leadership in the July primaries have said they will not support the move.
MK Erel Margalit says Labor “must choose a leader within 30 days and gear up for elections.”
MK Amir Peretz says he will lodge a bill to dissolve the Knesset.
Meanwhile, MK Omer Bar-Lev, who is also vying for the party leadership, tweets: “There is no such thing as an alternate government.”
Restoring death penalty in Turkey ‘red line’ in EU bid
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warns Sunday that any return of the death penalty in Turkey would be a “red line” in the country’s stalled EU membership bid.
“If the death penalty is reintroduced in Turkey, that would lead to the end of negotiations,” he tells Sunday’s edition of Germany’s Bild newspaper, calling it a “red line.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday he expected parliament to approve the restoration of capital punishment after next month’s referendum on controversial constitutional changes to expand his powers.
Juncker nevertheless says he is opposed to a complete halt to all membership negotiations with Turkey.
“It makes no sense to try to calm (Erdogan’s) nerves by stopping negotiations that are not even taking place.”
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel goes even further, saying in an interview with Der Spiegel: “We are farther away than ever from Turkey’s accession to the EU.”
Erdogan accuses Merkel of using ‘Nazi measures’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday launches a scathing personal attack against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, accusing her of using “Nazi measures” in an intensifying dispute between Ankara and Berlin.
“You are right now employing Nazi measures,” Erdogan tells Merkel in a televised speech, using the informal “you” in Turkish. “Against who? My Turkish brother citizens in Germany and brother ministers” who went to the country to campaign for a “yes” vote in next month’s referendum on expanding his powers.
Palestinians give award to UN official who slammed ‘apartheid’ Israel
The Palestinian Authority president has awarded his people’s highest honor to a former UN official who was forced to resign last week after authoring a report that accused Israel of establishing an “apartheid regime.”
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa says Sunday that President Mahmoud Abbas had spoken to Rima Khalaf by phone and given her Palestine’s Medal of the Highest Honor in recognition of her “courage and support” for the Palestinian people.
A statement said Abbas “stressed to Dr. Khalaf that our people appreciate her humanitarian and national position.”
Khalaf, a UN undersecretary-general, resigned Friday after refusing to withdraw her report for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
‘No evidence of collusion’ between Trump campaign, Russia
The chairman of a US congressional committee on intelligence says Sunday that he has seen “no evidence” that President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the run-up to the 2016 election.
Based on “everything I have up to this morning — no evidence of collusion,” says US Representative Devin Nunes, head of the House Intelligence Committee, speaking to the Fox News Sunday television program.
He makes his remarks one day before FBI director James Comey is due to appear before his panel, facing lawmakers seeking answers about Trump’s potential Russia ties and the president’s extraordinary accusation of wiretapping by his predecessor.
4 life sentences for terrorist who killed US teen Ezra Schwartz
The terrorist who killed a US teenager, an Israeli man, and a Palestinian man at the Etzion Junction in the West Bank in November 2015 receives four life sentences in prison, the Ynet news website reports.
Mohammed Abdel Basset al-Kharoub, who shot dead Ezra Schwartz, 18, Yaakov Don, 51, and Shadi Arafa, 24, is sentenced by the Ofer military court, the report says.
The court also mandates al-Kharoub to pay the families of the victims NIS 750,000 ($200,000).
Kahlon says he doesn’t need ‘lessons in compassion’ from PM
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon promises the government will find a solution for the Israel Broadcasting Authority employees who are set to be laid off with the new public broadcaster set to air.
Amid an escalating coalition crisis over the new public broadcaster, Kahlon says he doesn’t need “lessons in compassion” from anyone, in an apparent reference to Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, who has long sought to scrap the new broadcaster and revive the IBA — which his own Likud government voted to shutter in favor of the new entity — on Saturday night reneged on a deal that would have seen the new corporation go live on April 30, as planned. The prime minister said he “changed his mind” after meeting with IBA employees.
If Kahlon refuses to scrap the new broadcaster, Netanyahu was reported to have told Likud ministers at his home on Saturday, “we’ll go to elections.” In the elections, he further reportedly said, Kahlon’s Kulanu would be wiped off the political map, and then he would pass legislation to cancel the new corporation.
Speaking alongside Education Minister Naftali Bennett in Tel Aviv, Kahlon vowed the IBA employees would be compensated and proposed “massive” integration of the workers in the new corporation. He did not, however, address Netanyahu’s warnings or suggest the new broadcaster would not start broadcasting by the launch date.
“Right now there are problems and unfortunately the IBA workers, whose case was not dealt with, fell between the cracks,” he says. “I don’t need lessons in compassion from anyone.”
“Others did not take responsibility. We will take responsibility,” he says.
Historic Barbados synagogue daubed with anti-Semitic messages
A synagogue on the Island of Barbados is vandalized with red spray-painted anti-Semitic messages.
The messages were painted on the exterior walls of the synagogue in St. Michael early on Friday morning, the local Nation News website reported.
The Nidḥe Israel Synagogue, located on Synagogue Lane in Bridgetown, St. Michael, the island’s capital, was built in 1654, destroyed by a hurricane in 1831, and then rebuilt. The building, owned and renovated by the Barbados National Trust, remains in use as a synagogue today. In 2011, the synagogue and a mikvah dating to the 17th century excavated next to the building in 2008, were designated as UNESCO protected properties within the World Heritage Site of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison area.
The spray-painted graffiti was removed the same day it was discovered, according to the Nation News.
The graffiti contained anti-Semitic epithets and referred to the International Money Fund, a construction worker involved in the cleanup told the Nation News.
“It’s the first time that anything like this has ever happened that I am aware of, as Barbados is not known for anti-Semitism,” an unnamed synagogue employee told the news website.
4 arrested for twisting Arizona family’s yard menorah into swastika
Four people have been arrested on suspicion of twisting a large decorative menorah in the front yard of an Arizona family’s home into a swastika.
The arrests are reported Friday by the Arizona Republic newspaper.
One of the suspects was identified by Chandler police as 19-year-old Clive Jamar Wilson. The other three suspects are male juveniles, according to police. The four suspects were arrested on suspicion of first-degree criminal trespass and aggravated criminal damage. They reportedly were released pending charges.
The Hanukkah candelabra damaged on December 30, 2016, was made of gold spray-painted PVC pipes and solar-powered lights.
Israel strikes truck in Syria, killing driver — monitor
The Israeli air force targets a truck in southern Syrian on Sunday, a monitor says.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Israeli aircraft struck a truck driving near the town of Khan Arnabeh in the Quneitra province, on the road to Damascus.
The group says the driver of the vehicle was killed by the strike but does not identify him.
— Dov Lieber
IDF chief says Lebanon will be held responsible for Hezbollah in future war
IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot says Israel will continue to thwart weapon transfers to Hezbollah and will consider Lebanon responsible for the terror group’s activities during a future confrontation.
“In Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to arm and strengthen [its military capabilities],” he says. “We will continue to act with determination to thwart these arm attempts and we will continue to prevent advanced arms transfers to Hezbollah.”
In a “future war there will be a clear address: the state of Lebanon and the terror groups operating in its territory and under its authority,” the IDF chief adds.
Syrian army targeted Israeli drone in Quneitra — report
The Palestinian daily al-Quds earlier on Sunday cites Syrian sources who said the Syrian army targeted an Israeli drone in the city of Quneitra, causing the drone to retreat.
— Dov Lieber
Schulz chosen by party to run for German chancellor
Martin Schulz on Sunday officially becomes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief challenger in Germany’s September general election.
Schulz is unanimously elected leader of the Social Democrats at a one-day party congress and will lead the left-wing effort to unseat the conservative Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term as German chancellor.
Man killed in alleged Israeli raid in Syria said senior pro-regime fighter
Channel 2 reports the man killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike in the Syrian Golan Heights is a senior official in a pro-regime Druze-Palestinian militia.
Al Watan Online, a pro-regime Damascus-based news source, identifies him as Yasser al-Sayed.
— Dov Lieber contributed
Abbas to meet with Egyptian president on Monday
Mahmoud Abbas will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo on Monday with ties strained between them and ahead of the Palestinian leader’s talks with Donald Trump in Washington.
The Palestinian president is to meet Trump at the White House for the first time in early April, a Palestinian official said on condition of anonymity.
An Arab League summit is also set for March 29 in Jordan, and Abbas’s discussions with Sissi are likely to touch on the meeting.
The meetings come as the American president’s administration wades into the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with one of his top advisers holding talks with both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week.
Jordanian King Abdullah II is also reportedly to meet Trump in April. Abbas spoke to Trump by phone earlier this month.
Histadrut labor union announces bus strike Tuesday
The Histadrut labor union announces a nationwide Egged bus strike on Tuesday, starting at 5 a.m.
Major disruptions are expected for commuters.
Syrian pro-regime militia says slain man from their ranks
The Syrian National Defense Force, a pro-regime militia set up in 2012, claims the man killed by an alleged Israeli airstrike in southern Syria on Sunday is from among their ranks.
They name the man as Yasser Hussien Assayed.
“The national defense force mourns with pride and sorrow the news of the martyrdom of the heroic fighter Yasser Hussien Assayed,” the group says in a Facebook post.
The group publishes four pictures it says are from the scene of the alleged airstrike.
The group said it was an Israeli drone that had carried out the strike.
— Dov Lieber
Trump approval rating among US Jews at 31 percent — poll
President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Jews in the United States is 31 percent.
The figure is more than 10% lower than the president’s overall approval rating of 42%, according to a Gallup poll taken from January 20, the day Trump was sworn in, to March 15.
Gallup points out that Jews appear to be reacting to Trump along party lines. Some 64% of Jews identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, according to data from the same time period, and 29% identify with or lean toward the Republican Party.
Gallup also points out that Trump has sent “mixed signals to American Jews about their position in the country and his administration’s stance toward Israel.” Among the issues was being slow to denounce a pronounced wave of anti-Semitism and failing to mention Jews in the administration’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, as well as appointing a pro-settlements ambassador to Israel but then calling on Israel to “hold off” on building in settlements.
Netanyahu’s chief of staff goes to Washington to discuss settlement building
Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz is heading to Washington to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.
The move comes on the heels of US special envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit to Israel last week. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlement construction.
2 cops hurt in Jerusalem stabbing attack discharged from hospital
Two Border Police officers injured in a stabbing attack outside Jerusalem’s Old City last week have been discharged from the hospital after undergoing surgery.
PM suggests he’s serious about early elections — report
According to Channel 2, Netanyahu told his confidants he was serious about early elections over the new public broadcaster.
“You didn’t understand me in 2014 [when he called early elections], and you don’t understand me now,” the prime minister is quoted as saying, adding that a matter “close to his heart” is the Israeli media landscape.
Deri says going to elections over broadcaster ‘unforgiveable’
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri tells Channel 2 it would be “unforgivable to head to elections over the broadcaster.”
He says he spoke with coalition party leaders, including Liberman and Bennett on Sunday. The Shas minister says when Netanyahu returns from China on Thursday, the coalition leaders will meet and “we won’t leave the room until a solution is found.”
“The people of Israel will not forgive us for going to elections” over this issue, the minister says.
Lapid on coalition crisis: Have they lost their minds?
As the government looks increasingly unstable, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accuses the coalition of focusing on petty politics and forsaking Israel’s citizens.
“What is this? What is this meant to be? Have they lost their minds? This is not how you run a country,” says Lapid. “The prime minister, finance minister, the senior ministers — they are all dealing with petty politics instead of what is important to citizens.”
Yesh Atid rules out alternative coalition with Herzog
The Yesh Atid party appears to rule out teaming up with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog for a coalition reshuffle in lieu of early elections.
“In democracies, replacing the leadership is done only through elections,” the center-left party says. “We won’t lend a hand to tricks and backroom deals.”
Without Yesh Atid’s 11 Knesset seats, it is highly unlikely that Herzog will manage to muster 61 lawmakers needed to form a new coalition without elections.
— Raoul Wootliff contributed