Attorney general says Netanyahu graft investigation ‘almost finished’
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Attorney general says Netanyahu graft investigation ‘almost finished’

Avichai Mandelblit says decision on indictments in Bezeq-Walla bribery case ‘will be made as quickly as possible’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.

Egypt creates new human rights watchdog — to protect itself

CAIRO — Egypt is creating a new high-powered human rights watchdog agency, but its primary mission isn’t to protect Egyptians from violations. Instead, the body is foremost aimed at protecting the government from allegations of rights abuses and defending it on the international stage.

The new body reflects an attitude of the state under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that sees criticism over human rights as intended to undermine the government and cause instability at a time when it is facing jihadist threats and trying to rebuild a battered economy.

Officials have already started a campaign against “false rumors” and “fake news” and have in some cases detained those who speak out. At the same time, the government has sought to redefine or broaden human rights, declaring new “rights” to fight terrorism and protect the state. Critics see that as an attempt to legitimize and draw international attention away from alleged abuses by security forces.

“Human rights cannot be divided, nor can some be given priorities over others,” says Nasser Amin, a prominent rights lawyer.

The High Permanent Commission for Human Rights does not include any rights activists. Its main members are representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the military, the intelligence agencies and the Interior Ministry, which oversees a police force accused of torture and forced disappearances, claims that are categorically denied by the government.

The mission of the body, according to a Cabinet statement, is to “respond to claims” made against Egypt’s human rights record and formulate a “unified Egyptian vision” to be stated in regional and international forums. One key role will be to deal with the UN Human Rights Council, which is to review the situation in Egypt in late 2019.

— AP

Liberman says Likud endangering right-wing legislation

Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman announces his Knesset faction would vote against all bills brought by the right-wing coalition, even if it agrees with their content. He explicitly mentions Culture Minister Miri Regev’s so-called “Loyalty in Culture” bill as one his party will no longer support.

Speaking at a gathering with journalists in the Knesset, the recently resigned ex-defense minister accuses the ruling Likud party of prioritizing the passage of the so-called “Gideon Sa’ar Bill,” which would limit who Israel’s president can select as prime minister following an election to the head of the largest elected Knesset faction, over more substantive bills that matter to the “nationalist camp.”

The Gideon Sa’ar Bill is seen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters as key to ensuring Netanyahu secures a fourth consecutive term as premier after the next election.

“The coalition has 61 members [in parliament],” Liberman says. “Its problem is that some members, like [Likud MK] Benny Begin and the Kulanu faction are opposed [to the Loyalty in Culture Bill]. We’re willing to support any law that fits our views. We came with a deal: we’ll enable the passage of the Legal Advisers [Bill], [the] Loyalty in Culture [Bill], canceling paroles for terrorists, and [instituting] the death penalty [for terrorists]” — all initiatives backed by Yisrael Beytenu when they were part of the government.

But, Liberman adds, “Likud had one condition: that we support the Gideon Sa’ar Bill.”

The party will not agree to that condition, he says, blaming Likud, therefore, for effectively stopping the passage of the rest of the right-wing’s legislative agenda.

Military helicopter crashes in Istanbul, 4 soldiers killed

ISTANBUL — Four Turkish soldiers die while another is fighting for life after their helicopter crashes into a residential area of Istanbul.

Even though the helicopter struck a four-storey building before crashing, there are no civilian casualties, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

The UH-1 helicopter, which was on a training flight, ended up on a street in Istanbul’s Sancaktepe neighborhood — on the Asian side of the city that straddles two continents — while trying to make an emergency landing, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar tells reporters at the scene of the crash.

The helicopter appears to have turned over and debris from the crash scattered around the street, according to video footage from the scene.

Akar says the pilot appeared to be trying to land the helicopter, which was on its way to the air force base of Samandira, near Sancaktepe, on an empty plot of land in order to prevent civilian deaths.

— AP

Police find body in Galilee they suspect may be missing Christian teen

Police locate a body in a forest in the Galilee they suspect may be that of a Christian Arab teenager missing since last week.

Yara Ayoub, 16, from the village of Jish in the Upper Galilee, was last seen on Wednesday at 5 p.m. when she went to a bakery in the community of some 3,000 people.

Police on Sunday asked for the public’s assistance in the search for her.

She was described as slim, 1.60 meters tall, with black eyes and straight black hair. She was wearing dark jeans, a black coat and a black-and-white hat when last seen.

That description reportedly fits the body found a short time ago, according to initial reports. Forensic investigators are en route to the site to confirm the identity of the body.

Missing teenager Yara Ayoub. (Israel Police)

A 28-year-old suspect, also from Jish, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of kidnapping and obstructing the investigation. His arrest was extended by the Safed Magistrate’s Court by three days.

Gush Etzion mayor calls on government to ‘restore calm and safety’ after attack

Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman calls on “the government and the security forces to restore calm and ensure safety for the residents of the area” following a suspected car-ramming attack by a Palestinian driver near the Karmei Tzur settlement, south of the Gush Etzion Junction.

Three Israeli soldiers were wounded in the attack, which investigators have not yet confirmed was deliberate.

The driver, identified by Palestinian officials as Ramzi Abu Yabes, a male nurse from the nearby Deheishe refugee camp, was shot dead by another soldier.

“We’re on the main road, Route 60, which is used by thousands of Jewish drivers each day,” Ne’eman says in a statement. “This is a serious terror attack that continues a series of attacks against Israelis… We will be strong and continue to develop settlement in Gush Etzion, and our enemies won’t succeed in disrupting that,” he says.

EU, Iran commit to uphold nuclear pact despite Trump

BRUSSELS — The European Union and Iran are affirming their support for the international nuclear deal and say they aim to keep it alive despite US President Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the landmark pact.

Ahead of EU-Iran talks on civil nuclear cooperation in Brussels Monday, EU Energy Commissioner Arias Canete says the deal is “crucial for the security of Europe, of the region and the entire world.”

He says the agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions is working and that “we do not see any credible peaceful alternative.”

Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi says: “I hope that we can enjoy the niceties of this deal and not let it go unfulfilled.”

Should the deal break down, he says, it would be “very ominous, the situation would be unpredictable.”

— AP

US envoy denies administration holding up peace plan

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman denies that the administration is considering postponing publishing its much-awaited peace proposal, saying that the plan will be released whenever it has the best chance to succeed.

“I would like to reaffirm that the United States remains committed to sharing its vision for peace with Israel, the Palestinians and other regional and international stakeholders at the appropriate time,” he says in a rare written statement posted to the US Embassy’s website.

Friedman confirms a report last week about a top-level meeting at the White House to discuss the content and timing of the peace plan. Besides Friedman, the meeting was attended by US President Donald Trump, senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

The meeting was “very productive,” Friedman says, noting that participants “discussed the President’s vision for comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” but not offering further details.

He insists media reports of the meeting claiming that the participants decided to delay the plan “have been wildly inaccurate.”

The peace plan will be released when the administration thinks it has “maximized its potential for acceptance, execution and implementation,” the ambassador says. “Our timing, our strategy and our messaging is and will be entirely our own.”

— Raphael Ahren

Russia warns US against deploying new missiles to Europe

MOSCOW — A senior Russian diplomat warns that the planned US withdrawal from a Cold War-era arms control pact could critically upset stability in Europe.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says that if the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe after opting out of the treaty banning their use, it will allow Washington to reach targets deep inside Russia.

US President Donald Trump declared his intention last month to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over alleged Russian violations. Moscow has denied breaching the pact and accused Washington of violating it.

Ryabkov warns that if the US stations the currently banned missiles in Europe, Russia will have to mount an “efficient response.” He does not elaborate.

“We won’t be able to turn a blind eye to the potential deployment of new US missiles on the territories where they may threaten Russia,” he says, adding that such intermediate-range missiles would tilt the existing strategic balance between Russia and the US. “We would very much want not to get to the point of new missile crises. No one will benefit from those developments.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that if the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia will have to target the nations that would host them.

— AP

Germany says Russian blockade of Kerch Strait ‘unacceptable’

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas calls a Russian blockade of access to the Sea of Azov “unacceptable” and urges an easing of tensions with Ukraine following a weekend flareup.

“The developments are troubling,” he tweets. “A Russian blockade of the passage to the Sea of Azov is unacceptable. It is important that the blockade be lifted. We call on both sides to deescalate.”

— AFP

Police confirm Galilee body was that of Christian teen

Police confirm the body found in the Galilee earlier today was Yara Ayoub, 16, from the Christian Arab village of Jish in the Upper Galilee, who has been missing since last week.

The finding of Ayoub’s body turns a missing-person case into a murder investigation, officials say.

A 28-year-old suspect, also from Jish, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of kidnapping and obstructing the investigation. His arrest was extended by the Safed Magistrate’s Court by three days.

Turkish police search Saudi businessmen’s villas for Khashoggi remains

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish police, searching for the remains of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, scour the grounds of two adjoining villas in northwestern Turkey, the country’s state-run news agency reports.

Crime scene investigators and other officials aided by sniffer dogs and a drone first seal off one of the villas near the town of Termal in Yalova province and later expand their search to the grounds of the neighboring villa, the state-run Anadolu agency reports.

The focus of the search is a well on the grounds of the first villa, which is being drained of water with special equipment brought to the scene.

Turkey has maintained pressure on Saudi Arabia over the October 2 killing of the US-based columnist for The Washington Post. Khashoggi was a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Turkey says the journalist was killed by a 15-member assassination squad sent from Riyadh. The assassins strangled and dismembered him before removing his remains, which have yet to be found.

Anadolu, without citing a source, says the villas belong to two Saudi businessmen, including one who had allegedly been contacted by telephone by some members of the Saudi assassination squad.

— AP

British housing company apologizes for threatening to strip tenants’ mezuzahs

A housing company in the London area apologizes to Jewish residents for threatening to take down their mezuzahs if they did not remove the religious object themselves.

Warwick Estates, located on the northern edge of the British capital, writes in a statement that it was sorry for its “overzealous” letter to residents of Cedarwood Court, near the heavily Jewish London area of Stamford Hill.

The letter concerns hanging mezuzahs on front doors, stating that this breached the terms of the residents’ leases and they could be billed if they did not take them down, The Jewish Chronicle of London reports.

Last week’s letter said that hanging objects outside company-owned homes was a violation of its terms. It mentioned specifically the mezuzah, a rolled-up scroll of parchment that Jewish families hang on the frame of their front doors usually in a decorative case.

One resident said that she had never seen anyone complain about the mezuzahs in 10 years of living in the area. On Monday, the company backtracked.

“We apologize for the letter sent to some of our customers asking them to remove religious items from their property, specifically their mezuzahs,” a company spokesperson tells the Chronicle.

“The letter was overzealous in its nature and not in keeping with our business values… We wish to make it very clear that residents of the block in question are not required to remove their mezuzahs and they will certainly not be removed by Warwick Estates or any representatives working on our behalf,” the company also tells the newspaper.

— JTA

Germany marks 20th anniversary of Nazi looted-art agreement

BERLIN — German officials, Jewish leaders and others are marking the 20th anniversary of the international agreement on returning art looted by the Nazis with concrete pledges and proposals aimed at breathing new life into the process.

Culture Minister Monika Gruetters says it is Germany’s responsibility to improve upon the so-called Washington Principles to restore cultural objects to their original Jewish owners or heirs, noting their meaning is much more than financial.

She says that “behind every stolen object is the fate of an individual.”

Germany is implementing measures to make both research of looted items and restitution easier.

World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder says Germany has been “exemplary” in many ways, but he called for more to be done and noted several other countries that endorsed the Washington Principles have largely ignored them.

— AP

Netanyahu: World supports us when we’re strong

In comments in the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails visiting Czech President Milos Zeman for pledging to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and lauds Chadian President Idriss Deby who on Sunday told Israeli leaders in Jerusalem that he wishes to restore diplomatic relations.

The premier adds that Deby has invited him to visit Chad and that he had “happily” accepted the invitation.

“We are opening up the world,” Netanyahu says. “Israel is enjoying unprecedented diplomatic flourishing, including in the Arab world … and the Muslim world.”

Netanyahu says previous Israeli leaders attempted to strengthen Israel’s international standing with “dangerous concessions, including uprooting communities,” referring to settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“That hasn’t and isn’t happening with me,” Netanyahu continues. “The exact opposite is happening. We are getting the world’s support, including from many in the Arab world, because of our determination and strength.”

He adds: “We believe in peace from strength, we believe in alliances born out of Israel’s value as a technological, financial, defense and intelligence powerhouse. That’s what we will continue doing and that’s also how we’ll achieve peace.”

— Michael Bachner

Czech President Milos Zeman visits the Knesset, is hailed by Netanyahu

Czech President Milos Zeman, on an official visit to Israel, visits the Knesset.

He is welcomed in the plenum by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a special session in Zeman’s honor.

“We were all moved when you declared in your speech on Israel’s 70th birthday, ‘Next year in Jerusalem,'” Netanyahu says to Zeman. “Indeed, it took less than a year” for Zeman to visit Jerusalem. Netanyahu calls Zeman “a great leader who defends the truth.”

The PM adds: “You were one of the first leaders in this generation to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

— Raphael Ahren

Driver tries to run down Jews leaving Los Angeles synagogue

Los Angeles police arrest a man who allegedly attempted to run over two people outside an area synagogue.

The incident occurred on Friday night. Police are investigating it as a possible hate crime, the NBC Los Angeles affiliate reports.

A security camera video shows the driver trying to run down the two men, leaving the Bais Yehuda Shul, and then reversing and trying to hit them again, CBS LA reports. The victims wore clothing typically worn by Orthodox Jews on Shabbat. The driver also reportedly shouted anti-Semitic epithets at them. He was stopped when his car ran a stop sign and slammed into another vehicle.

“Why he chose us? Probably because of the yarmulkes on our heads,” one of the victims tells CBS.

The alleged attacker has been identified as Mohammed Mohammed, 32. He is being held on $55,000 bail and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with a vehicle.

— JTA

Czech President Zeman in Jerusalem: ‘If we betray Israel, we betray ourselves’

Czech President Milos Zeman speaks during a special session in his honor at the Knesset.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the Czech Republic is the best friend of Israel in Europe. I wonder why only in Europe,” he quips to laughter from Israeli lawmakers.

“My speech is a message of solidarity with Israel and Jewish people,” he says.

he adds: “We Europeans, and now I do not speak about America, I speak about the EU in fact, sometimes hesitate more. We sometimes are cowards. It is very impolite, isn’t it? But I am afraid it is frank. And that’s why it is necessary all the time [to stand in] solidarity with Israel. Because if we betray Israel, we betray ourselves.”

“Tomorrow I will open the Czech House. Where? In Jerusalem. And it connects CzechInvest, CzechTrade, CzechTourism, and so on. I am no dictator, unfortunately. But I promise I will do my best in order to realize the third step, after the honorary consulate and Czech House. And you can guess what is to be the third step,” he adds, referring to previous comments he made in support of moving the Czech embassy to Jerusalem.

He concludes his speech in under eight minutes, a remarkably short speech for a visiting foreign leader.

— Raphael Ahren

Livni praises Zeman: ‘Your comment, ‘I am a Jew,’ will remain in our hearts’

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) speaks after Netanyahu during the special Knesset session honoring visiting Czech President Milos Zeman.

“I represent the opposition but the relationship with the Czech Republic is important to all citizens of Israel,” she says.

“Your comment at AIPAC, ‘I am a Jew,’ will remain in our hearts, especially coming from a European,” Livni adds.

— Raphael Ahren

Livni to Zeman after one-state comment: We want to separate from Palestinians

After praising visiting Czech President Milos Zeman, Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) responds to comments he made earlier today in Jerusalem in which he expressed interest in a one-state solution.

She says such a solution would lead to prolonged conflict and bloodshed.

“We believe in a state that’s both Jewish and democratic, and therefore we want to separate from the Palestinians, preferably through a Palestinian state,” she says.

— Raphael Ahren

1,000 Gazans riot at border, three said hurt by Israeli fire

Some 1,000 Palestinians riot along the northern border of the Gaza Strip Monday as part of a weekly protest against Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal enclave, the army says.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, three people have been injured by Israeli gunfire during the violent demonstrations, in which protesters threw rocks at Israeli troops on the other side of the security fence.

The Israeli military confirms that live fire was used in some cases, along with tear gas, in order to break up the riot.

In addition to the border protests, which were held on the beach across from the Israeli community of Kibbutz Zikim, approximately 20 ships are also taking part in a maritime protest, sailing toward the edge of Gaza’s approved fishing zone.

Israel maintains that its naval blockade on Gaza is necessary in order to prevent Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip from obtaining weapons and other war materiel.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu reassures faction Bedouin village will be destroyed ‘very soon’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reassures his Likud faction that the central West Bank hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar will be razed “very soon.”

But, like last week when Netanyahu told his cabinet that the Palestinian village would be demolished “very soon,” the prime minister refuses to name an exact time for the operation.

“I will not tell you when, but we are preparing for it,” he said then.

A defense official who speaks with The Times of Israel following Netanyahu’s Monday remarks says that no plans are currently in the works to demolish the community of roughly 180 people.

The High Court of Justice ruled in May that the state is legally permitted, but not required, to move forward with its plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, which was built illegally without building permits.

The villagers — who have lived at the site, then controlled by Jordan, since the 1950s, after the state evicted them from their Negev homes — argue that they had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as such permits are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as where Khan al-Ahmar lies, where Israel exerts full control over civilian affairs.

— Jacob Magid

Attorney general says Netanyahu graft investigation ‘almost finished’

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says the bribery investigation surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dealings with Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch, known by its police moniker “Case 4000,” is “almost finished.”

Speaking to students at Bar Ilan University, Mandelblit says the probe into an alleged quid pro quo in which Netanyahu is suspected of making regulatory decisions benefiting Elovitch in exchange for favorable coverage in the Walla news site is “my top priority.”

A decision over filing indictments in the case “will be made as quickly as possible, without sacrificing our professionalism,” Mandelblit says.

Masked man robs bank at gunpoint in Migdal Haemek

A masked individual robs a bank in the northern town of Migdal Haemek.

The robber threatened bank employees at gunpoint and took thousands of shekels in cash, according to police.

A manhunt is now underway.

US warns Russia over ‘outlaw’ action in Ukraine

The United States warns Russia that “outlaw actions,” like the seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov, are preventing normal relations from developing between Washington and Moscow.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley tells the UN Security Council that “the United States would welcome a normal relationship with Russia. But outlaw actions like this one continue to make that impossible.”

— AFP

British parliament to vote on Brexit deal on December 11

British MPs will hold a crucial vote on December 11 to approve or reject the Brexit deal agreed with EU leaders, Prime Minister Theresa May says.

“I am looking ahead to December 11… when this House will be faced with the decision as to whether or not it wishes to deliver on the vote of the British people,” she tells parliament.

— AFP

US calls on Russia to cease unlawful conduct

US Ambassador Nikki Haley is calling on Russia to “immediately cease its unlawful conduct” in the Black Sea near Crimea during a United Nations Security Council meeting Monday.

The Ukrainian navy says Russian ships fired on and seized three of its artillery ships Sunday. The incident sharply escalated tensions that have been growing between the two countries since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Anne Gueguen, the French deputy permanent representative at the UN, urged the release of the sailors and the vessels. She said Sunday’s incidents show the need for de-escalation and a long term resolution to the dispute over Crimea.

Russia, meanwhile, called Ukraine’s actions “dangerous” and said the three Ukrainian vessels illegally crossed into Russian waters.

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, tells the Security Council the weekend incident was another example of Ukrainian leaders trying to provoke Russia for political purposes. He claims Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko needs a war ahead of the March election to gain support from the public.

— AP

Police say second suspect arrested in death of Christian Arab teen

Police say they have arrested a second suspect in the suspected murder of 16-year-old Yara Ayoub, from the Christian Arab village of Jish in the Upper Galilee, who has been missing since last week.

Ayoub’s body was found earlier today near the village.

A 28-year-old suspect, also from Jish, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of kidnapping and obstructing the investigation.

Police now say a second suspect, age 53, is under arrest for “involvement” in Ayoub’s death, though the exact charges being leveled against him are not yet clear. He will be brought to the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing tomorrow morning.

Neo-Nazi in Charlottesville car rampage trial denies murder

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — An American neo-Nazi denies murder charges at the start of his trial Monday for allegedly ramming his car into counter-protesters at a 2017 white supremacist rally that made the city of Charlottesville a byword for rising racial tensions under US President Donald Trump.

James Fields, 21, also pleads not guilty to hit-and-run charges and eight counts of causing serious injury to others struck by the black Dodge Challenger he is accused of driving at the “Unite the Right” protest on August 12, 2017.

The rampage in Virginia resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, and highlighted the growing audacity of the far right under Trump, whose rhetoric and policies are blamed by critics for a spike in racist and anti-Semitic violence.

Jury selection began Monday morning and is expected to last around two days, with the full trial expected to take up to three weeks.

Police put up plastic barriers around the courthouse building, anticipating crowds later in the week, and four armed officers stood guard.

If convicted of first degree murder Fields faces 20 years to life in prison. His legal team earlier failed to shift the trial away from Charlottesville, where they argued it would be impossible to impanel an unbiased jury.

Fields has been separately charged with federal hate crimes, including one offense which carries the death penalty.

— AFP

Anxiety abounds at NASA as Mars landing day arrives

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — A NASA spacecraft’s six-month journey to Mars nears its dramatic grand finale Monday, in what scientists and engineers hope will be a soft precision landing on flat red plains.

The InSight lander aimed for an afternoon touchdown, as anxiety built among those involved in the $1 billion international effort.

InSight’s perilous descent through the Martian atmosphere, after a trip of 300 million miles (482 million kilometers), has stomachs churning and nerves stretched to the max. Although an old pro at this, NASA last attempted a landing on Mars six years ago.

The robotic geologist — designed to explore Mars’s mysterious insides — must go from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs.

“Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration,” notes InSight’s lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt. “It’s such a difficult thing, it’s such a dangerous thing that there’s always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong.”

The US has pulled off seven successful Mars landings in the past four decades, as well as one failed touchdown. No other country has managed to set and operate a spacecraft on the dusty red surface. InSight could hand NASA its eighth win.

It is shooting for Elysium Planitia, a plain near the Martian equator that the InSight team hopes is as flat as a parking lot in Kansas with few, if any, rocks. This is no rock-collecting expedition. Instead, the stationary 800-pound (360-kilogram) lander will use its 6-foot (1.8-meter) robotic arm to place a mechanical mole and seismometer on the ground.

The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet (5 meters) down to measure the planet’s internal heat, while the ultra-high-tech seismometer listens for possible marsquakes. Nothing like this has been attempted before at our smaller next-door neighbor, nearly 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) away.

This image, made available by NASA in October 2016, shows an illustration of NASA’s InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)

— AP

NATO demands Russia free seized Ukrainian ships

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg demands Russia free Ukrainian ships and sailors held after clashes off Crimea, warning Moscow that “its actions have consequences.”

Russia fired on and then seized three Ukrainian ships on Sunday, accusing them of illegally entering its waters in the Sea of Azov, in a dramatic spike in tensions that raises fears of a wider escalation.

Stoltenberg held phone talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko before officials from the two sides held emergency talks at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.

“There is no justification for the use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel, so we call on Russia to release immediately the Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized yesterday,” Stoltenberg tells reporters after the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

“And we call for calm and restraint.”

Kiev accused Russia of launching “a new phase of aggression,” after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The Ukrainian military has been put on high alert and the country’s parliament is to vote on a request by Poroshenko to impose martial law for 30 days.

— AFP

Netanyahu will travel to Chad ‘soon’ to restore ties

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon travel to Chad, where he will declare the resumption of ties between the two countries, severed in 1972, his office says.

The announcement comes during the unprecedented visit of Chadian President Idriss Déby to the Jewish state.

Netanyahu and Déby met in the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday and discussed “common threats and the fight against terror,” as well as agriculture, border control, solar energy, water, health issues and more, his office says.

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