The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
US opposes UN vote on human rights in West Bank
The US says it opposes the UN Human Rights Council debate today on human rights violations in the West Bank.
A statement from the State Department says the resolution is “yet another reminder of that body’s longstanding bias against Israel,” and its disproportionate focus on Israel “is among the largest threats to the credibility of the Council.”
In a letter reported on last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US will not continue participating in the council unless the UN rights agency undergoes “considerable reform.”
Police finish questioning Netanyahu’s lawyer in PM graft cases
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer finishes giving his testimony to police in the ongoing corruption cases against the prime minister, according to the Ynet news site.
David Shimron testified to police in Case 1000, an investigation into the Netanyahus’ receiving expensive gifts from businessmen, and Case 2000, an investigation into an alleged quid pro quo deal the prime minister struck with the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth.
EU says ‘everything is ready’ for Brexit trigger
The European Union is fully prepared for Brexit negotiations after Britain announced that it would trigger its divorce on March 29, the European Commission says.
“Everything is ready on this side,” Margaritis Schinas, the spokesman for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, tells a briefing. “We are ready to begin negotiations.”
Jordan court upholds denial of US request to extradite Sbarro bombing accomplice
The Jordanian high court upholds a lower court decision to deny a US request to extradite a a woman convicted as an accomplice in the 2001 Jerusalem Sbarro suicide bombing, which killed 15 people including two Americans.
Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi won’t be handed over to US authorities because an extradition agreement between the two countries was never ratified by the Jordanian parliament, according to the Petra news agency.
Al-Tamimi is accused of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction outside the US against US nationals.
— FBI Most Wanted (@FBIMostWanted) March 14, 2017
Herzog trying to form coalition without Netanyahu
Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog says he is working to form an alternative coalition without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party.
“There are more than 61 MKs who are fed up Netanyahu and are happy to build a coalition with a different prime minister in this Knesset,” Herzog says at the start of his Knesset faction’s weekly meeting.
A spat between Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over the new public broadcaster has threatened to bring down the government and lead to snap elections.
Herzog requests PM be forbidden from meddling in broadcaster affair
Opposition leader Issac Herzog has asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to review Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s involvement in the debate over the public broadcaster.
Herzog asks Mandelblit to forbid Netanyahu from involvement in any issue relating to communications or the media until “limits are determined.”
He says the prime minister’s attempts to control the public broadcaster are “blatant and crude.”
Herzog earlier successfully sued to have Netanyahu give up his role as communications minister, a post that was handed to close Netanyahu confidant Tzachi Hanegbi.
Liberman says Israel not looking to pick fight in Syria
In candid comments addressing Israeli strikes on Syria, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says the IDF only carries out raids for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.
“We are not looking to provoke or to intervene,” Liberman says, referring to recent airstrikes on Syrian territory. “Not in favor of any [side] or against.”
He adds that “we have no intention to change our policy” regarding Israeli strikes.
The defense minister does not, however, explicitly signal what the IDF was targeting.
On Sunday, a reported Israeli drone strike hit a vehicle near Quneitra in the Syrian Golan, killing a man purported to be a commander from a pro-regime militia. According to unsourced reports in Israeli media, the man had been planning attacks against Israel along with Iran.
Addressing ongoing coalition tensions, the Yisrael Beytenu leader reiterates that “no one wants elections.”
But he warns that Israel may nonetheless find itself facing snap polls if leaders fail to use “common sense.”
At the start of the weekly faction meeting, he also rules out an alternative coalition without fresh elections, as has been proposed by Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog.
“There is no option for an alternative coalition,” he says.
The minister says intensive efforts are being made to bridge Netanyahu and Kahlon’s demands on the new public broadcaster, expressing hope that they “will reach a creative solution everyone can live with.”
— Marissa Newman
Envoy: Harming Israel is UN Human Rights body’s ‘raison d’etre’
Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon is condemning the UN Human Rights Council debate on Israeli abuses of Palestinians in the West Bank, calling on the council to “put an end to the bias in this absurd body.”
“The UN Human Rights Council has turned harming Israel into its raison d’etre. The time has come to end to this shameful, and even embarrassing, chapter in the history of the UN,” Danon says.
Danon welcomes the US decision to boycott the session.
Bennett says coalition broadcaster spat ‘nearly over’
Education Minister Naftali Bennett says a spat between Prime Minsiter Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon over the new public broadcaster that has threatened to bring down the government is “nearly over.”
Speaking at his Jewish Home Knesset faction’s weekly meeting, Bennett says he doesn’t expect elections in the near future.
”Since Saturday night, there have been determined efforts to end this unnecessary crisis and I can say now, with caution, that this coalition crisis is nearly over,” he says.
“We [in the Jewish Home] have been told that we would benefit most from elections but we have decided that it’s not good for the citizens of Israel. We have done a lot in government and we have a lot to still do,” he adds.
— Raoul Wootliff
No differentiating Lebanon from Hezbollah, Bennett warns
Following comments from the IDF chief of staff yesterday saying that Lebanon will be responsible for the next conflict with Hezbollah, Bennett tells his weekly faction meeting that Israel sees the two as one entity.
“Since 2006 we have made a differentiation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. No more, I say from now that Israel’s policy is ‘Lebanon is Hezbollah and Hezbollah is Lebanon,” the education minister says.
“Therefore, from now on, any fire, rockets from Lebanon should be considered a direct attack by Lebanon on Israel,” he says, adding that doing so will prevent a future war not cause one.
Hezbollah, a member of Lebanon’s government, is a powerful political and militant force in the country. Leaders in Beirut have backed arming the group, despite a UN resolution that calls for the terror group to be demilitarized as part of a 2006 ceasefire with Israel.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned Beirut Sunday that the army would continue to thwart terror group Hezbollah and said any future war with the Shiite group would take place on Lebanese territory, as tensions rose over airstrikes against the group in Syria.
On Friday, Israeli planes struck deep inside Lebanon to thwart an arms transfer to the terror group. On Sunday, another IDF strike was reported in the Syrian Golan against a fighter for a pro-regime militia with links to Hezbollah.
— Raoul Wootliff
Jerusalem highway blocked by Haredi anti-draft protesters
Several hundred ultra-Orthodox men in Jerusalem are protesting the arrest of a member of their community for draft dodging, briefly blocking a major highway into Jerusalem.
Police disperse the protesters who were blocking several major roads in the capital, including Route 1 by the Harel Interchange.
Ultra-Orthodox protesters have clashed with police in various demonstrations recently against IDF conscription of members of their community.
FBI chief confirms probe into Russia election meddling
FBI Director James Comey is publicly confirming for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any potential coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia’s government.
Comey is testifying before Congress. He says he’s authorized by the Justice Department to make the disclosure. Typically, the FBI does not discuss or even confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.
Comey says the probe is part of the FBI’s counter-intelligence mission. He says the investigation includes the nature of any links between individuals associated with Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between Russia’s efforts and the campaign.
Comey says the investigation will also look at whether crimes were committed. He says he can’t provide details about the investigation.
David’s Sling anti-missile system to be deployed within weeks
Israel’s David’s Sling anti-missile battery will go operational within the next two weeks, providing the final level of the Jewish state’s multi-tiered missile defense array, an Israeli Air Force general says.
The David’s Sling, also known as the Magic Wand, will make up the middle tier of Israel’s missile defense capabilities.
The system will make up gaps between the short range Iron Dome system, capable of intercepting small rockets and mortar shells and the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 systems, which are intended to engage long-range ballistic missiles.
On Friday, the Arrow 2 was deployed for the first time, shooting down a surface-to-air missile shot from Syria, says Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, head of the army’s Aerial Defense Command.
However, Haimovitch says that even with the new missile defense system, Israel is still vulnerable.
The David’s Sling gives the Israel Defense Forces “more capabilities and more effectiveness,” he says, “but it’s never enough. It’s not hermetic.”
Haimovitch does not give an exact date for the system’s deployment, but said on Monday afternoon that it should occur “around two weeks from today.”
The David’s Sling, which is believed to have a range of 40-190 miles (70-300 kilometers), will provide protection for “most of our homeland,” the general says.
Haimovitch does not expand on what specific areas will be covered by the missile defense battery.
Though his reticence to specify what areas of the country is covered should be fairly obvious, says Uzi Rubin, an expert on missile defense systems who is considered the father of the Arrow program.
“That’s something that Hezbollah would like to know too,” he says with a laugh.
— Judah Ari Gross
IDF official defends using Arrow to intercept Syrian missile
A senior defense official defends the first-ever use of the Arrow missile defense battery to intercept a Syrian anti-aircraft missile launched at Israeli jets carrying out strikes on Hezbollah targets in Syria over the weekend.
“We detected a ballistic threat to the State of Israel,” says Tzvika Haimovich, head of the army’s Aerial Defense Command. “The rules and guidelines are clear: to neutralize and intercept any threat that endangers the residents of Israel.
The military has been criticized for using the Arrow defense battery to shoot down the anti-aircraft missiles by the advanced system designed for intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere.
Top PA official says Trump committed to Palestinian state
A senior Palestinian official says he is encouraged by early signs that the Trump administration remains strongly committed to reaching peace in the region.
Jibril Rajoub says that Trump made clear to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a recent phone call that he was his “strategic partner” in making a “real and serious” peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump campaigned on promises to depart from decades of American policy and signaled a much closer relationship with Israel than former President Barack Obama. He made no mention of Palestinian statehood and hinted toward much greater tolerance for Israeli West Bank settlement construction.
But since taking office, Trump appears to have backpedaled. Rajoub says Trump’s “America First” slogan also meant he would be less prone to supporting Israel by default.
FBI says no evidence to support Trump charges of wiretaps
FBI Director James Comey says the FBI and Justice Department have no information to substantiate President Donald Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him before the election.
Comey says no individual can order surveillance of an American. He says courts grant this permission after a rigorous application process.
Comey was testifying before the House intelligence committee. Comey said the Justice Department also asked him to share with the committee that the answer also applies to the Justice Department and its various components. The Justice Department oversees the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
Haredi anti-draft protesters block central Israel highway
Route 412 in central Israel is being blocked in both directions by ultra-Orthodox men protesting the arrest of a member of their community on draft dodging charges
Police asked drivers to avoid the portion of the highway adjacent to the town of Beit Dagan, east of Tel Aviv.
Earlier, 13 ultra-Orthodox protesters were arrested for blocking Route 1 near Jerusalem in a similar demonstration.
Trump administration says ‘no evidence’ of collusion with Russia
Donald Trump’s administration insists “nothing has changed” after revelations that the FBI is investigating his campaign’s links to Russia.
“There is NO EVIDENCE of Trump-Russia collusion and there is NO EVIDENCE of a Trump-Russia scandal,” a senior administration official says in a written statement after FBI director James Comey’s explosive Congressional testimony.
Israeli nuclear spy Vanunu says state hounding him
Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician who revealed Israel’s nuclear secrets, says Israel was unnecessarily hounding him 12 years after he was freed from prison, as he appeared in court over breaches of his release terms.
The 62-year-old was jailed in 1986 for disclosing the inner workings of Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant to Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper. He spent more than 10 years of his sentence in solitary confinement.
Upon his release in 2004, Vanunu was slapped with a series of restraining orders, forbidding him from travel, contact with foreigners or speaking to media.
He has twice been jailed for breaking those orders.
In January, Vanunu was convicted of meeting with two US nationals in Jerusalem in 2013 without having permission to do so.
Today’s court appearance was a sentencing hearing over that conviction.
“I left prison and they put me in another prison,” he told Jerusalem magistrates court. “I performed my punishment and they keep on punishing me.”
Source denies PM agreed to compromise with Kahlon over broadcaster
Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deny he reached a compromise agreement with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to allow a new public broadcaster to move forward.
“The claim that the prime minister or his representative agreed to establishing the corporation is false,” the unnamed official says.
Netanyahu has said he does not support the creation of the new broadcaster, which is set to go on air next month, but a reported compromise being hammered out earlier the day would see him green light the new corporation in exchange for increased control over personnel decisions
The fate of the embattled public broadcaster has threatened to collapse Netanyahu’s coalition and lead to early elections.
UNESCO exhibit about Jews in Israel opens in Buenos Aires
A UNESCO exhibition about the Jewish presence in the land of Israel that sparked controversy is going on display for the first time translated into Spanish.
“People, Book, Land: The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land,” which was co-created by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is on display at the government Centro Cultural Kirchner in Buenos Aires through March 31.
The 24 panels of pictures and texts that document the Jewish presence in the Holy Land were preceded by two controversies.
Its original opening at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in January 2014 was delayed after complaints by 22 Arab countries.
UNESCO also drew last year for a resolution denying a Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem.
Video from Paris airport shows attacker grabbing soldier
Video of a suspected Islamic extremist at Paris’ Orly airport shows a soldier caught by surprise when an attacker drops a shopping bag and grabs her from behind.
The Associated Press has obtained security footage of Saturday’s attack, which caused panic and shut down the French capital’s second-biggest airport. It shows the attacker grabbing the soldier around the shoulders as her companion patrols slightly ahead.
He is seen dropping his shopping bag, which authorities said contained a flask of gasoline. Holding a revolver loaded with birdshot, he pulls her backward.
For a few moments, almost no one reacts. One passenger rolls a suitcase past the hostage soldier and the second soldier continues on his way. Then, suddenly, people start backing away in a mass as the attacker pulls his hostage toward them.
— FranceNews24 (@FranceNews24) March 20, 2017
Yelling that he wanted to kill and die for Allah, according to the Paris prosecutor, Ziyed Ben Belgacem can be seeing trying to wrestle away the soldier’s assault rifle near the small cluster of people.
The video shows Belgacem using her as a shield after he apparently manages to get control of the weapon, but he exposes himself by standing up, giving her comrades a clear shot. The hostage soldier crawls away on her hands and knees.
The entire episode took less than three minutes. No one at the airport was injured.
Turkey warns Europe against falling into ‘fascist trap’
The Turkish government is warning Europe against falling into the “trap of fascism,” as it defends comparisons with Nazi Germany that have angered EU leaders.
“We are hearing the marching steps of fascism and Nazism,” Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus tells reporters in Ankara after a cabinet meeting.
“Steps need to be taken against that… we are saying these things (to Europe) so they do not fall into the trap of fascism,” adds Kurtulmus, who is official government spokesman.
He says that racism is on the rise in Europe and Turkey needed to warn its partners.
“We are making these fascist and Nazi comparisons out of concern for the future of our European friends,” he says.
“Europe is our close ally, friend and neighbor and a very bad future is awaiting it.
“Measures must be taken so that they live in friendship with foreigners. We are telling them not to surrender to these fascist and racist discourses,” Kurtulmus adds.
The current crisis with Europe has raised questions over the future viability of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
Planned Egged bus strike called off
The Egged bus company has called off its general strike for Tuesday, even though negotiations with the government over subsidies for the company and employees’ work conditions have failed to yield an agreement.
The Histadrut labor union says that at the request of the Tel Aviv Labor Court, intensive negotiations will continue overnight and into tomorrow.
The strike was called to protest the Transportation and Finance Ministries’ decision to lower subsides to the transportation company.
Baghdad car bombing kills at least 15
A car bombing in the Iraqi capital Baghdad has killed at least 15 people and wounds 33, an interior ministry official tells AFP.
The blast happened at 7:00 p.m. in the west of the city, he says.
— Carmen M Fernández (@CarmenM_Fdez) March 20, 2017
Case against cop who beat Ethiopian soldier to be reopened
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will re-open the case against a police officer filmed beating up an Israeli soldier of Ethiopian descent and fired from his job but never prosecuted.
Likud MK Avraham Neguise in a statement praises Mandelblit for making an “honorable decision,” and urges authorities to re-investigate other closed cases involving discrimination of Ethiopian Israelis.
Video footage of Damas Pakada’s violent arrest in 2015 reawakened anger in the Ethiopian community over perceived institutional discrimination and racism and touched off a string of rallies and protests against police brutality.
No more waiting for Gadot as Wonder Woman gives birth
Israeli actress Gal Gadot has given birth to her second daughter.
The birth of the baby girl occured on Sunday night, according to the Ynet news website.
The Wonder Woman star is married to real estate developer Yaron Varsano, and the couple have a 5-year-old daughter, Alma.
Gadot’s star turn as the titular character in “Wonder Woman” is set to premier in early June.
Gal Gadot has given birth to a baby girl, Congratulations! 🍼👶🏼🌸🏩🎊🎉🎀 pic.twitter.com/RXoQREFcZl
— Gal Gadot News (@GadotWarriors) March 20, 2017
Historic restoration of Jesus’ burial shrine completed
The tomb of Jesus is resurrected to its former glory.
Just in time for Easter, a Greek restoration team has completed a historic renovation of the Edicule, the Jerusalem shrine that tradition says houses the cave where Jesus was buried and rose to heaven.
Gone is the unsightly iron cage built around the shrine by British authorities in 1947 to shore up the walls. Gone is the black soot on the shrine’s stone façade from decades of pilgrims lighting candles.
And gone are fears about the stability of the old shrine, which hadn’t been restored in more than 200 years.
Merkel ups demand that Turkey drop Nazi swipes
Chancellor Angela Merkel says her demand that Turkey cease drawing Nazi comparisons with Germany and its allies applies “without ifs or buts,” and pointed to a government threat last week that it could prevent Turkish politicians entering the country.
Merkel’s comments come after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused her personally of “committing Nazi practices” — an assertion that the head of Germany’s main Jewish organization described as “monstrous.”
Sunday’s accusation was the latest escalation in a string of comments by Turkish officials drawing Nazi parallels with present-day Germany and the Netherlands in a dispute over restrictions on Turkish ministers campaigning there for an upcoming referendum.
GOP senators Rubio, Lankford tour East Jerusalem site during visit
US Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and James Lankford (R-OK) were given a tour of the ancient City of David in Jerusalem on Sunday, during an unpublicized stop in Israel while visiting the region.
Rubio and Lankford are visiting Lebanon and Jordan this week as members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to examine US programs in the Middle East.
Senator Tom Cotton, who was not on the tour, was seen in Jerusalem Sunday being interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
In Jordan on Saturday, Rubio said the Kingdom’s “strategic partnership with Israel is a key part of promoting greater stability in the region, and I appreciate their ongoing commitment to that relationship.”
Rubio, Lankford and Cotton joined fellow Republican Senators Richard Burr and John Cornyn on the trip.
Syria Kurds say they will train with Russian forces
Russia’s military will train Kurdish forces in Syria, the militia’s spokesman says, in Moscow’s first agreement of its kind with the group that controls large parts of the country’s north.
The move by Russia, a longtime ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime, is likely to anger Turkey, which considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to be a “terrorist” group.
“An agreement was signed between our units and Russian forces operating in Syria that will train us in modern military tactics,” YPG spokesman Redur Xelil says.
“This is the first agreement of its kind, although we have had previous cooperation (with the Russians) in Aleppo city,” he says.
Assad says Russia has ‘important’ role in preventing war with Israel
Amid spiraling tensions between Jerusalem and Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad says Russia will play an important role in preventing a future war with Israel.
“Russia can play an important role in preventing the next military conflict with Israel,” he tells Russian journalists.
Assad also says protecting Syria’s borders is the “right and duty” of his country, and he would not base policy decisions on the statements of Israeli officials.
Yesterday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Syria the IDF would destroy its air defense systems, after Israeli aircraft were targeted during a bombing run early Friday morning.