The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Route 1 closed in both directions due to fire
Route 1 is closed in both directions near the Ganot Interchange as firefighters work to put out a brush fire.
Train service is also halted near the interchange outside of Holon.
Police are urging drivers to avoid the area, and are redirecting drivers to Route 4.
Heavy traffic is reported between Ganot and Kibbutz Galuyot Interchange.
Retired judge found guilty of sexual harassment
Retired judge Yitzhak Cohen is found guilty of sexual harassment, despite a plea deal that would have seen him avoid a criminal conviction.
Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court Judge Einat Ron notes that ignoring a plea deal is an “exceptional measure,” but says “the public interest does not allow the process to be completed without the defendant being convicted.”
She agrees to the rest of the terms of the plea, whereby Cohen’s punishment will be hours of community service and a fine of NIS 2,500 ($700).
According to the indictment, the complainant, a court employee who worked as a personal assistant to the judge, stated that when she came to bring a document to Cohen, he sat her on his knee and put his hand under her shirt and touching her back. When she stood up he also stood up and hugged her.
In a March hearing, Cohen told the court he deeply regretted the incident, and that it was “a momentary lapse which undid his entire world.”
Route 1 reopens after Holon-area brush fire forces road closure
Route 1 reopens after a brush fire briefly closed the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway in both directions.
The highway was closed for over an hour while firefighters worked to put out the blaze outside Holon.
Traffic between Ganot and Kibbutz Galuyot Interchange remains heavier than usual.
Palestinian teen charged with terror, attempted murder for Tel Aviv attack
A Palestinian teenager is charged with terrorism and four counts of attempted murder for carrying out a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv last month.
According to the indictment, Imag Agbar, 18, from Nablus, confessed to going on a stabbing spree with wire-cutters in the lobby of the Leonardo Beach hotel on April 23.
Four people, including a man in his 70s and a woman in her 50s, were hospitalized with light injuries as a result of the attack.
The indictment says Agbar told investigators that he decided “to kill Jews because they are Jews, and also so that when he would be killed or arrested he would become a martyr or a hero.”
Defense officials later said Agbar entered Israel from the West Bank on a one-day permit group known as “Natural Peace Tours,” which is supposed to forge relationships between Palestinians and Israelis.
First evacuations from Damascus rebel district
Syrian rebels and their families begin evacuating from a district of Damascus for the first time, bringing the government closer to recapturing all of the capital.
The evacuation begins days after regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey signed a deal to implement “de-escalation zones” where the government and opposition will halt hostilities.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem rejected any role for United Nations or international forces in monitoring the zones.
Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of pandering to Israel
Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of pandering to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to provoke Israeli action against its regional rival.
Iran’s defense minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan in an interview slams Riyadh for what he describes as close ties with the US and Israel, suggesting it goes against “interests of Muslim nations.”
Dehghan tells a Hezbollah-owned TV station that the Saudis seek to “please” Netanyahu for the “purpose of provoking Netanyahu’s action against us.”
Dehghan’s interview comes in response to remarks made by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman who said last week that there was no space for dialogue with Tehran due to its Shiite ambitions “to control the Islamic world.”
NGO petitions High Court to change Jerusalem Day march route
An Israeli NGO petitions the High Court of Justice to change the route of the annual Jerusalem Day march, so that it does not pass through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The initiative is spearheaded by Ir Amim, who says the upcoming national holiday has increasingly become a rally of racism, hatred and incitement to violence against Jerusalem’s Palestinian population.
As part of the event celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem following the Six Day War in 1967, thousands of Israelis attend the annual march of flags, which traditionally enters the Old City via the Muslim Quarter en route to the Western Wall.
Ir Amim says it is not seeking to cancel the parade scheduled for May 23, but rather to have it take place along a less provocative route.
The group filed similar petitions to the court in 2015 and 2016, which were rejected, though in one of the years participants were obligated to leave the Muslim Quarter by the beginning of the evening.
Liberman expects Trump peace push to be ‘real,’ ‘honest’
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says he does not know the details of US President Donald Trump’s anticipated peace push, but is certain the plan will be “real” and “honest.”
Ahead of the US president’s Israel visit later this month, Liberman says the administration is “very friendly, and understands our issues in the Middle East.” Israel has “many reasons to be pleased” with the new US leadership, he adds.
Speaking at the start of the weekly Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, Liberman, who is marking 72 years since the Nazis were defeated, links the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini with contemporary Palestinian terror groups and Arab Israeli lawmakers, saying both seek Israel’s destruction.
“Today, too, we see the bearers of Husseini’s legacy,” says Liberman, listing Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, the Northern Islamic Branch leader Raed Salah, and former MK Basel Ghattas who was caught smuggling cellphones to Palestinian terror prisoners. He later adds Arab MKs who skipped former president Shimon Peres’s funeral to this list.
— Marissa Newman
US military chief Dunford arrives in Israel
US military head Joseph Dunford lands in Tel Aviv to meet his Israeli counterparts to reportedly discuss fighting the Islamic State on the Jewish state’s borders.
Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The Hebrew-language Ynet news website yesterday said Dunford would also meet with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
— USEmbassyTelAviv (@usembassyta) May 8, 2017
— Judah Ari Gross.
New Hamas chief makes 1st public appearance in native Gaza
The new Hamas leader makes his first public appearance, visiting a solidarity tent for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Ismail Haniyeh stops by the tent, two days after Hamas announced that the former Gaza prime minister replaced Qatar-based Khaled Mashaal in the terror group’s top position.
Haniyeh’s rise is the latest sign of a power shift in Hamas from the diaspora to Gaza, which has been under Hamas rule since a 2007 takeover.
This shift comes at a time of growing financial pressure on Gaza by Hamas’ main rival, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is trying to force the group to cede ground.
Liberman says ‘no place’ to interfere with court’s Shabbat ruling
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tells members of his Israel Beytenu party there is “no place” for efforts by his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners to circumvent a High Court ruling allowing mini-markets to open on Shabbat.
“We are living with a status quo that has been created over many years,” he says, opining that the issue should be handled on a local municipal level.
“I think that this intervention on the matter of Shabbat in Tel Aviv has no place,” he adds.
He also dismisses the Palestinian prisoners hunger strike, maintaining the matter is a political battle between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and imprisoned terror leader Marwan Bargouti. On the latter, who was allegedly caught on camera sneaking food, he remarks: “I wish him bon appetit,” to titters.
— Marissa Newman
Herzog again warns Netanyahu’s leadership nearing its end
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog is reiterating his call to his fellow lawmakers to build an alternative coalition, declaring that Netanyahu’s leadership is nearing its end.
“I returned this morning from the United States and it was my impression that the US president is determined to advance an active diplomatic process in the Middle East for peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” says Herzog at the weekly Zionist Union faction meeting. “Netanyahu, as always, prefers his personal survival over the interests of the state,” he adds.
Herzog asserts that “creating an alternative political bloc is the order of the day,” alluding to criminal investigations into the prime minister. “Distrust in Netanyahu transcends right-wing and left-wing camps and Netanyahu’s coalition partners understand, with every day that passes, the real danger to his continued leadership. We must be prepared for the moment when he ends his reign, and it is near, when we will be required to redraw and determine how the state looks after Netanyahu.”
— Marissa Newman
Lapid says he supports Jewish state bill, but not current version
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid says that he supports the idea of a nation-state bill to define Israel as a Jewish state but cannot back the current version of the law being put forward by Likud MK Avi Dichter.
“We support the Jewish state law, but what was passed yesterday was not the Jewish state law,” Lapid tells his weekly faction meeting, referring to yesterday’s vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation allowing the law to progress to the Knesset.
Lapid says he would vote for Likud MK Benny Begin’s version of the law, which is just a short paragraph-long declaration of the Jewish nature of the state. He will not, however support Dichter’s, which includes a number of controversial clauses, including downgrading Arabic from an official language to one of “special status.”
“If the coalition is serious and it really wants to pass a nation-state bill with wide support, then we will support it,” Lapid says.
“But with this, they are trying to create chasms within Israel and its unnecessary. The bill creates many, many problems,” he adds.
Asked what specific changes would be needed for the bill to receive the support of the party, Yesh Atid MK Yael German tells The Times of Israel that it would need to enshrine, in writing, “equal rights for all citizens.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Netanyahu says Jewish state bill doesn’t contradict equal rights
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu throws his support behind the latest version of the Jewish state bill which, for the first time in Israeli law, would enshrine Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people.”
Speaking at his weekly Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu says the bill, which passed in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation yesterday, “flies in the face of everyone who tries to deny our right to Israel.”
Slamming criticism that the proposal is discriminatory to Israel’s Arab and other minority populations, Netanyahu says “there is absolutely no contradiction between the Jewish state bill and equal rights in Israel.”
According to the language of the proposal, while every individual has the right “to preserve his culture, heritage, language and identity,” the right to realize self-determination “is unique to the Jewish people.” In another controversial clause, Arabic would be relegated from an official language to one with “special status,” which would ensure its speakers the “right to accessible state services.”
Netanyahu says the bill will be brought to the Knesset within 60 days and he “expects all the Zionist parties to support it.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Rivlin congratulates French President-elect Macron
President Reuven Rivlin today sends a letter of congratulations to the president-elect of France, Emmanuel Macron, following his election yesterday.
“On behalf of the State of Israel I have the honor and the pleasure of congratulating you on your election as president of the French Republic,” the president writes. “Allow me to wish you much success and personal satisfaction in this highly significant and challenging role as leader of France.
Rivlin also thanks Macron for his “strong stance against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, which have once again raised their ugly heads around the world.”
“Standing up to such voices of intolerance and hatred, defending our citizens against vicious acts of terror, is a task of paramount importance that stands before us all, and Israel is your partner in this mission,” Rivlin says.
Macron yesterday defeated the far right’s Marine Le Pen, winning 66.1% of the vote to her 33.9% in the second round of France’s presidential election.
Palestinian soccer chief slams PM for ‘unprecedented’ FIFA interference
Any attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure FIFA over the issue of Israeli soccer clubs in the West Bank is unprecedented, says Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub.
Rajoub, speaking after the Asian Football Confederation’s congress in Bahrain, was responding to media reports that Netanyahu had personally telephoned FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
The reports claimed that Netanyahu had urged the FIFA boss to halt world football’s governing body from discussing possible sanctions against six Israeli clubs from West Bank settlements at its annual congress later this week.
“What happened yesterday, the Israeli prime minister called Infantino and asked him to delete this item from the agenda of FIFA,” Rajoub says. “This has no precedent in the history of football,” he says.
The contentious issue of the clubs threatens to cast a shadow over FIFA’s congress, which takes place on May 11, also in Bahrain.
Over 80 missing after migrant boat sinks off Libya
At least 80 migrants including women and children are missing after a boat sank off the Libyan coast, survivors tell the UN’s refugee agency in the latest such tragedy.
A total of 132 people had boarded an inflatable craft Friday but it started going down after a few hours. Only about 50 survivors were picked up by a commercial ship, which dropped them in Sicily yesterday.
New Hamas chief backs ‘heroic’ hunger-striking prisoners
New Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh pledges support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in his first comments since being elected as head of the group that runs the Gaza Strip.
Haniyeh, who was chosen by the party as its new leader on Saturday, says the terrorist organization stands with the hundreds of prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.
“This visit is a message to our heroic prisoners that your cause was and will remain a top priority,” he says during a visit to a protest in support of the strikers in Gaza.
“Your freedom is a national duty and your dignity is our dignity,” the 54-year-old adds.
Hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails have been refusing food since April 17.
Egypt issues new life sentence against Muslim Brotherhood leader
An Egyptian court sentences the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohamed Badie to life in prison for “planning violent attacks” in a retrial, says judicial officials and a lawyer.
Badie is part of a group of 37 people accused of conspiring to stir unrest during protests that followed the July 2013 military-led ouster of Egypt’s former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who hailed from the Brotherhood.
The court condemns Badie to a life term along with Mahmoud Ghozlan, a Brotherhood spokesman, and Hossam Abubakr, a member of its guidance bureau, say the officials and defense lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud.
The retrial comes after Egypt’s court of cassation scrapped a 2015 ruling under which Badie and 13 others were condemned to death, and 34 defendants given life terms.
Lebanon’s Aoun congratulates Macron on election victory
Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, congratulates Emmanuel Macron on his election victory and says Beirut and Paris will continue to work for peace and stability in the Middle East.
Aoun says that Macron’s victory shows French citizens’ commitment “to the values of freedom, equality and brotherhood.”
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri also congratulated Macron saying “you will find in me a partner keen to echo our common values.”
France, Lebanon’s one-time colonial ruler, still enjoys wide influence in the country. Hundreds of French peacekeepers are deployed near the border with Israel.
Disabled protesters block entrance, exit to Jerusalem
Some 2 dozen disabled protesters block the entrance and exit to Jerusalem at the Chords Bridge and near the capital’s central bus station.
The protesters are demonstrating against what they say are low government stipends.
Police at the scene are rerouting traffic to the Arazim Tunnels.
PM: Critical UN resolutions only strengthen Israeli resolve
Prime Minister Benjamin says UN resolutions, like the UNESCO statement that denies Israeli claims to Jerusalem approved last week, merely “strengthen our belief in our right [to the land].”
Speaking at a special plenum session honoring Zionist founder Theodor Herzl, the prime minister also dismisses criticism of the Jewish state bill. “There is no contradiction between being a democracy and a state for the Jewish people,” he says.
Netanyahu is hailing Israel’s foreign relations as unprecedented in its history.
He says US President Donald Trump will “be received with warmth, as appropriate for a true friend” to the Jewish state during his upcoming visit later this month.
The prime minister also says a meeting with the German president on Sunday was “warm.”
— Marissa Newman
Damascus: No international force for Syria safe zones
Syria’s foreign minister dismisses the idea of international forces patrolling four safe zones that are to be established under a deal struck by Russia, Iran and Turkey, suggesting Damascus would only settle for Russian “military police,” who are already on the ground in the so-called de-escalation zones.
Damascus will abide by the agreement signed in the Kazakh capital of Astana last week, Walid al-Moallem tells reporters at a news conference in the Syrian capital, but cautioned it is “premature” to tell whether the deal will succeed.
“There will be no presence by any international forces supervised by the United Nations,” al-Moallem says. “The Russian guarantor has clarified that there will be military police and observation centers.”
Though he does not specify who the military police will be, he appears to be referring to Russian observers already in Syria.
Al-Moallem also vows that Syrian government forces will respond “decisively” to any violation or attack from the opposition’s side.
The Russia-Iran-Turkey cease-fire deal went into effect over the weekend and brought a general reduction in violence across the country, but clashes continued, particularly in central Syria. There are still questions about how the deal will be enforced.
Herzog: Jewish state bill not the Israel Herzl envisioned
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog criticizes the Jewish state bill, as formulated by Likud MK Avi Dichter, which was adopted by ministers yesterday, while praising a similar nation-state proposal by Likud MK Benny Begin.
Speaking at the plenum session on Herzl, Herzog lashes out at the government for “collecting files on journalists, threatening judges, and harming the independence of the legal system,” saying this was not the Israel Herzl envisioned.
“And in particular, in the model society [envisioned by Herzl], in the Jewish and democratic state, you don’t trample on the delicate balance between Jewish and democratic, as you are supporting in the Jewish state bill in the new version, as opposed to the precise, and correct version presented by Dr. MK Ze’ev Binyamin Begin in his Jewish state bill,” he says.
Earlier, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said his opposition party would support Begin’s version of the bill.
Begin’s version of the bill is a paragraph-long declaration of the Jewish nature of the state. Dichter’s bill includes a number of controversial clauses, including downgrading Arabic from an official language to one of “special status.”
— Marissa Newman
Macron win sends ‘powerful message’ to far-right, top Europe rabbi says
One of Europe’s top rabbis welcomes pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election, saying voters sent a “very powerful” message to the country’s far-right.
Macron’s sound defeat of far-right rival Marine Le Pen in the run-off vote is “very good news for France,” says Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the influential Conference of European Rabbis.
“The fact that two-thirds of French voters didn’t want a far-right government is a very powerful statement,” Goldschmidt tells AFP.
Many of the votes cast were not for Macron, rather “it was a protest vote against Marine Le Pen,” he says.
Erdogan: US debates over Jerusalem embassy move ‘extremely wrong’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls debates over the possibility of moving the US embassy In Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “extremely wrong” and says they should be dropped.
US President Donald Trump had promised during his campaign to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, but as president he’s distanced himself away from the vow, while saying it’s still under discussion.
Speaking at a forum in Istanbul, Erdogan says everyone should be careful on issues that concerned the status of Jerusalem, warning that even “relocating a stone” in the city could have serious implications.
“The debates over the possibility of US moving its Israel embassy to Jerusalem are extremely wrong and should certainly drop from the agenda,” the Turkish president adds.
Erdogan ‘won’t allow’ Israel’s ‘Muezzin Bill’ to silence Jerusalem prayers
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he would not allow the Muslim call to prayer to be silenced.
“The fact that such an issue is even coming to the agenda is shameful,” he says at the opening ceremony of the International Forum on al-Quds Waqf in Istanbul.
“The fact that those who talk about freedom of thought and faith at every opportunity actually approve this step by remaining silent is noteworthy. Inshallah, we will not allow the silencing of prayers from the heavens of Jerusalem,” Erdogan says.
“Why are you afraid of the freedom of faith if you believe in your faith? I am now reminding Israeli administrators: If you believe in your faith, then why are you afraid of the sound of our prayers?” he adds.
Israel’s proposed “Muezzin Bill,” that would limit use of loudspeakers for religious purposes, has drawn widespread opposition from across the Muslim world.
Erdogan urges Muslims to challenge Israel by visiting Temple Mount
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urges more Muslims to visit the Temple Mount in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, according to Turkish media reports.
“We, as Muslims, should be visiting Al-Quds [Jerusalem] more often,” he says at the opening ceremony of the International Forum on al-Quds Waqf in Istanbul according to local news reports.
Erdogan says increased Muslim visits to the Jerusalem holy site “would be the greatest support to our brothers there.”
“Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us,” he adds.
“Both in terms of our religion and historical responsibility, Al-Quds and the fight of our Palestinian brothers for rights and justice is of great importance to us. We will keep making efforts for Quds to turn into a city of peace,” the president says.
Erdogan goes on to castigate Israel’s policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians as “racist” and discriminatory” and says the Israeli-Egyptian embargo on the Gaza Strip “has no place in humanity.”
He says the “establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of 1967” is the “only solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Erdogan: New Hamas program ‘significant step’ toward healing rift with Fatah
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Hamas’s new softened policy document on Israel is a “significant step” toward a potential reconciliation between the Palestinian terrorist organization and its West Bank rival Fatah.
“The document went beyond the ordinary. I hope Palestine’s fight for rights and freedoms will get stronger from now on,” he says according to reports in Turkish media.
The document unveiled last week accepts the idea of a Palestinian state in territories captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 but dismisses the establishment of the State of Israel as “illegal,” asserting a Palestinian claim to the entire land of Israel, and a so-called right of return for all descendants of refugees.
Foreign ministry calls Erdogan’s remarks ‘baseless slander’
The foreign ministry rejects Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of Israel’s treatment of its Muslim minority as “baseless slander.”
“Anyone who systemically violates human rights in their own country should not preach about morality to the only genuine democracy in the region,” the ministry says in a statement.
“Israel strictly adheres to protecting full freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians — and will continue to do so despite this baseless slander,” the statement says.
US lawmaker assails removal of Israel from Trump travel video
A senior House Democrat is assailing a video posted by the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia that omits mention of President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel.
Rep. Eliot Engel says in a letter sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the embassy’s editing implies the United States accepts Saudi Arabia’s refusal to recognize Israel as a state. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations.
— Oren Dorell (@OrenDorell) May 8, 2017
Saudi Arabia will be Trump’s initial stop on his first foreign trip as president, followed by visits to Israel and the Vatican.
Engel is the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He says the US has long fought efforts by Middle East nations to “delegitimize” the Jewish state. He says he’s appalled by the embassy’s “incomplete and misleading video.”
The edited version of the video has since been removed from the embassy’s social media sites.
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