The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
Trump team in contact with Russians ‘at least 18 times’ during 2016 race
Members of US President Donald Trump’s campaign team made undisclosed contact with Russian government officials at least 18 times during the 2016 presidential race, Reuters reports.
Former and current US officials “familiar with the exchanges” told the news agency that six of the exchanges were between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the US.
The previously undisclosed phone calls and emails are now being reviewed by the FBI and the Senate and House intelligence committees probing Russia’s possible interference in the 2016 US elections.
After Trump leak, NATO chief says he ‘trusts all allies’ on intel sharing
NATO’s chief says he’s confident that all 28 members of the military alliance can safely share information, amid doubts about the nature of US President Donald Trump’s discussions with Russian diplomats.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says that “I trust all allies enough, and I’m absolutely certain that they are able to share and to handle this information in a good way.”
Stoltenberg tells reporters in Brussels that he appreciates “the cooperation we have between all allies when it comes to sharing intelligence.”
The White House has played down the importance and secrecy of the information that Trump might have shared with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador, some possibly supplied by Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement.
PM says Hebrew U nixing anthem to avoid offending Arab students ‘disgraceful’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticizes the Hebrew University of Jerusalem over a report saying the national anthem would not be sung at a graduation ceremony of the Humanities Faculty tonight so as not to offend Arab students.
Netanyahu in a statement called the move “a disgrace” and “the height of servility, the opposite of national pride.”
“We are proud of our country, our flag, our anthem, and it only strengthens my resolve to pass the Jewish state bill that we are leading, in order to anchor in law the national symbols that are so dear to us,” he says.
Army Radio reported that it had obtained a recording of a student querying the decision to not sing Hatikva during the ceremony at the Mount Scopus campus, and being told by a faculty employee that it was out of “consideration for the other side” — an apparent reference to Arab students.
— Stuart Winer
Trump slams federal probe into his alleged Russia ties as ‘witch hunt’
US President Donald Trump hits back at the appointment of a special counsel to lead a federal investigation into allegations that his campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election that put him in the White House.
“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel (sic) appointed,” he writes in a tweet.
“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” he follows up in a subsequent tweet.
Earlier today, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced former FBI director Robert Mueller would take over the investigation from FBI director James Comey, whom Trump fired last week.
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Mueller will have sweeping powers and the authority to prosecute any crimes he uncovers.
— with AP
Germany charges 2 with co-founding far-right terror group
German prosecutors file terrorism charges against two alleged co-founders of a far-right group that planned to bomb a refugee home.
Federal prosecutors say the two German men, identified only as Daniel A. and Marcel L. in line with German privacy rules, are charged with membership in a terrorist organization, preparing an explosion and violating weapons laws.
Prosecutors say the two were among early members of the Oldschool Society group in 2014. The group later grew to about 30 members. A plan to attack a refugee shelter in May 2015 was thwarted when four founding members were detained.
In March, a Munich court sentenced those four to prison terms.
AJC praises EU Parliament’s ‘more balanced’ Mideast resolution
AJC Transatlantic Institute welcomes a “more balanced” resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict adopted by the European Parliament earlier today.
The resolution condemns Palestinian incitement and acts of terrorism committed against Israelis, as well as Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank.
The text says a two-state solution is “the only way” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The AJC in a statement says the previous resolutions generally contained vague language which suggested both sides were equally responsible for violence.
“While we would have wished for even clearer language, we appreciate the important step Parliament has taken to end the counterproductive habit of sheltering the Palestinians from legitimate criticism,” AJC Transatlantic Institute Director Daniel Schwammenthal says in a statement.
The AJC Transatlantic Institute is the Brussels-based office of the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish advocacy organization.
Fox News announces death of founder Roger Ailes
Fox News founder Roger Ailes dies at the age of 77, the conservative US news network announces.
Ailes was forced to resign as CEO of Fox News in July 2016 amid sexual assault allegations.
His wife Elizabeth confirms Ailes’s death to the Drudge Report, but gives no information on the cause of her husband’s death.
Breaking News: Former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes has died, his family announced. pic.twitter.com/AksPdNSZaI
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 18, 2017
Hebrew U rebuffs criticism it ‘nixed’ national anthem
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem hits back at criticism sparked by reports one of its departments would not play the Israeli national anthem at a graduation ceremony later today out of consideration for Arab students.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “shameful” while Education Minister Naftali Bennett urged the university to honor the state at the ceremony.
In a statement, the Hebrew University says there is no institution-wide policy on playing the anthem at academic events, and the decision to do so rests with the heads of individual departments.
The statement notes there is no legal requirement regarding the playing of the anthem at school events, and says there is “no justification for the sharp criticism” directed at the university.
At official state ceremonies held at the Hebrew University, the statement says the national anthem is played “as usual.”
Much of Israel’s Arab minority feels excluded by the anthem’s emphasis on Jewish historic aspirations for statehood.
— with AP
Preparing for Trump’s visit, Israel rolls out the red carpet
Preparations are underway for US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority next week.
Workers at Ben Gurion International Airport this afternoon are setting up security barriers and rolling out a red carpet on the tarmac ahead of the US president’s arrival on Monday morning.
Members of the IDF marching band are also at the airport to practice the US national anthem while an IDF Honor Guard drills formations for Trump’s arrival ceremony.
Trump is set to arrive in Israel on May 22 for a one-day visit along with his wife, Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the latter two of whom also serve as his advisers.
The visit comes amid efforts by Trump to renew long-dormant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
US official says Trump undecided on embassy move
A US official is denying reports that President Donald Trump has decided to indefinitely postpone moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
“Contrary to media reports, President Trump has not yet made a decision on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and doesn’t plan on making a decision on this issue until after his visit,” an unnamed US official says.
Yesterday, a White House official told Bloomberg News that Trump was backing off his campaign promise to move the embassy in order to preserve his efforts to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
A senior administration official later told The Times of Israel that a decision to relocate the embassy “wouldn’t be immediate” and that “a final decision hadn’t been made.”
Ultra-Orthodox fear Trump family visit to Western Wall would violate Orthodox rules
The ultra-Orthodox community are reportedly concerned that a visit by US President Donald Trump and his family to the Western Wall next week will violate the Orthodox rules governing the Jerusalem holy site.
According to a report on Channel 2, religious figures fear that Trump, his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner would wish to pray at the Wall together as a family.
Jewish prayer at the Western Wall plaza is gender-segregated and restricted to Orthodox practices.
Trump is expected to visit the Western Wall during his trip to the city on Monday. His daughter Ivanka and husband Jared are Orthodox Jews.
IDF chief appoints new spokesperson in Tel Aviv ceremony
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot appoints a new army spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, at a ceremony in military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Manelis, who was promoted from the rank of colonel, will replace Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, who has served as the army’s spokesperson since 2013.
Almoz will now function solely as the head of the army’s Manpower Directorate.
During the ceremony, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stresses the importance of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.
“In the past, decisive victory was always on the battlefield; now it is also in the media,” he says.
Eisenkot also notes the importance of “the public’s trust in the IDF” as a “central element in the army’s ability to stand up to challenges.”
Manelis, who previously served as Eisenkot’s chief of staff, says he “will do everything in [his] power” to meet the challenges of the position.
— Judah Ari Gross
China protests ‘unhelpful’ US sanctions on Iran
China lodges an official protest with the United States over new US sanctions on Iran that target a Chinese business tied to Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
“The Chinese side is always opposed to unilateral sanctions, to the frequent implementation of unilateral sanctions, especially when it hurts interests of third parties,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says.
The administration of US President Donald Trump yesterday decided to stick by a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and continue waiving sanctions related to its atomic activities.
But it balanced the decision with new measures against Iranian defense officials and a Chinese business linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program.
“We think (this kind of sanctions) are unhelpful in enhancing mutual trust and unhelpful to the international efforts to solve this issue,” Hua says at a regular press briefing.
Riyadh to work with Trump to ensure to Iran ‘acts like a normal country’
Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says the upcoming trip by US President Donald Trump will “reinforce historic partnership” between Riyadh and Washington.
Speaking at a press conference, Jubeir says Saudi Arabia was supportive of Trump’s policies towards Iran, Mideast terrorism and his efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
According to Arab news reports, Jubeir says that “differences” arose with the former US administration over several issues, and that Riyadh “will work with our allies, particularly [the] US, to see that Iran is made to act like a normal country.”
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, on Saturday for his first foreign trip since taking office in January.
Islamic State kills more than 50 in central Syria attack
The Islamic State jihadist group kills more than 50 people in an attack on two government-held villages in central Syria’s Hama province, a monitor says.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the attack on the villages of Aqareb and Al-Mabujeh kills at least 15 civilians and 27 pro-government fighters.
It says another 10 bodies are yet to be identified as government fighters or local residents.
IS also lost 15 fighters in the dawn attack on the two villages in the east of the province, the monitor says.
State news agency SANA reports the attack, giving a toll of 20 civilians, and that most saying most victims had been beheaded and mutilated.
— with AFP
Netanyahu meeting Greenblatt, Dermer ahead of Trump visit
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and Israel’s US Ambassador Ron Dermer ahead of next week’s visit to the region by the US president
Trump’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority will include an unprecedented visit by a serving US president to the Western Wall, a speech at the Israel Museum, talks with Netanyahu, and a visit to Bethlehem where Trump will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu is reportedly preparing to unveil an economic stimulus package for the Palestinians at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
Trump will touch down at Ben Gurion International Airport on Monday morning for his 2-day visit to Israel and the West Bank.
Jihadist Danish teen gets 6 years for plot to bomb Jewish school
A teenage girl with Islamic State group sympathies who planned to attack Danish schools, including a Copenhagen Jewish institution, with home-made bombs is handed a six-year jail sentence.
The would-be jihadist, aged just 15 at the time, had tried to contact IS group leaders on Twitter but was arrested after her parents became suspicious that she was experimenting with chemicals in the basement of the family home.
A court in the town of Holbaek, outside Copenhagen found the girl, who is now 17, guilty of “attempting a terrorist act” on Tuesday.
— with AFP
Car plows into pedestrians in New York’s Times Square
Initial reports say a speeding vehicle strikes pedestrians in New York City’s Times Square, injuring at least 10 people.
Photos from the scene show a smoking red Honda on the sidewalk.
It’s not yet clear whether this is deliberate or an accident.
BREAKING: Speeding car mows down pedestrians in Times Square https://t.co/6eyjnaqaGa
— New York Post (@nypost) May 18, 2017
One arrested after Times Square crash that injures 13
One person is arrested after a car plows into a group of pedestrians at New York’s Times Square, according to eyewitnesses.
Photos and videos uploaded to social media show a man being handcuffed at the scene.
Video of suspect in Times Square incident being arrested. pic.twitter.com/obgHGGs7Td
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) May 18, 2017
The New York Fire Department says 13 people are being treated for injuries.
According to eyewitnesses, buildings in the area have been put on lockdown.
Police say deadly Times Square crash likely an accident, not terror
New York City police say a preliminary investigation indicates the car crash that killed one pedestrian and injured at least a dozen others in Times Square is likely an accident, and not a deliberate ramming attack.
“Preliminarily it looks more like a vehicle accident than anything else,” a New York police spokesman tells AFP.
Photos on social media show a maroon sedan vehicle lay partially upended on its side on the sidewalk with smoke and isolated flames spewing out of the hood.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 18, 2017
Driver in fatal Times Square crash arrested, undergoing check for alcohol
A New York City law enforcement official says the driver who plowed into a crowd of pedestrians in Times Square killing one and injuring at least 20 others is arrested.
The unnamed official tells The Associated Press the driver is taken into custody after the lunchtime crash and is being tested for alcohol.
WNBC camera shows emergency vehicles in Times Square after reports of a car running over pedestrians pic.twitter.com/DAxVIURp3H
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 18, 2017
Ousted NSA adviser Flynn won’t honor Senate subpoena
Ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will not honor a subpoena issued by a Senate committee looking into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the panel’s chairman says.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina tells reporters that Flynn’s lawyer has informed the panel he will not abide by a subpoena for private documents.
The decision comes as no surprise, legal experts say, given that Flynn would be waiving his constitutional protection against self-incrimination by turning over personal documents to the committee. Flynn, though his lawyer, had earlier asked for immunity from “unfair prosecution” in exchange for agreeing to cooperate with the committee.
“We’ll figure out on Gen. Flynn what the next step if any is,” Burr says. The Senate committee is one of several on Capitol Hill investigating possible collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
US official reportedly says Bennett the reason for not moving embassy
A US official says US President Donald Trump’s decision to postpone moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was because of Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett, Channel 2 reports.
According to the report, Bennett’s vocal opposition to Trump’s efforts to revive the long-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks sank all chances of the US president fulfilling his campaign promise.
“Apparently some ministers don’t understand the sensitivities regarding the embassy,” the officials said according to the report. “If there’s anyone who buried chances for the embassy being moved, its the Minister Naftali Bennett.”
Bennett, who leads the nationalist Jewish Home party last week said that “any agreement based on dividing Jerusalem is doomed to fail,” and said moving the embassy would help bring about peace.
US airstrike hits pro-regime convoy in Syria
US officials say an American airstrike has hit pro-Syrian government forces in southern Syria as they were setting up fighting positions in a protected area.
The officials say the strike near Tanf hit a tank and a bulldozer and forces there, but it was not clear if they were Syrian army troops or other pro-government allies.
One official says the pro-regime forces had entered a so-called “de-confliction” zone without authorization and were perceived as a threat to US-allied troops there. The officials say the strike was a defensive move to protect the US allies. It wasn’t clear if US forces were there.
The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
Driver in Times Square crash was in US Navy, has criminal past
The man who drove a car into a crowd in Times Square killing one person and injuring 22 others, served in the US Navy and has a criminal record, New York’s mayor says, adding authorities did not believe it was a terror attack.
“Based on the information that we have at this moment, there is no indication that this was an act of terrorism,” Bill de Blasio told a news conference at the scene of the incident, which happened shortly before midday.
"There's no indication this was an act of terrorism," NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio says at presser addressing Times Square incident pic.twitter.com/jV4UXB25ZL
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 18, 2017
City authorities were nevertheless deploying extra police from anti-terror units to key locations around America’s most populous city, he said.
Trial for Faqha’s alleged killers wraps up in Gaza
A military court in Gaza concludes the trial of three men accused of assassinating a Hamas terror chief and will deliver its verdict at the weekend, an official says.
The chief suspect, Ashraf Abu Leila, 38, and two accomplices are charged with shooting dead Mazen Faqha, a senior Hamas official, next to his home on March 24.
“The verdict will be delivered on Sunday,” Hamas-run interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum tells AFP. “It will be final and under Palestinian law the accused have no right of appeal.”
“The sentence will be the death penalty and execution will be carried out as quickly as possible,” says a source close to the military court system.
Hamas has accused the men of colluding with Israel to set up and commit the murder.
Woman, infant killed in Jordan Valley car crash
A woman in her 20’s and an 8-month-old infant are killed in a car crash on Route 90, the country’s major north-south highway.
A statement from the Magen David Adom rescue service says the woman’s car is discovered overturned on the side of the road outside Moshav Masu’a in the West Bank.
Both the woman and child were pronounced dead at the scene. A Third victim is treated for light injuries at a nearby hospital.
Palestinians taking Trump efforts seriously, minister says
The Palestinians are taking seriously Donald Trump’s efforts to help resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Foreign minister Riyad al-Malki says ahead of the US president’s visit to the Mideast next week.
Malki makes the remarks in Muscat where he is accompanying Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as part of a regional tour prior to the Arab-Islamic-American summit in Riyadh on Sunday.
“Abu Mazen stressed Trump’s seriousness in settling the Palestinian issue” after they met in Washington this month, hes says, referring to Abbas by his Arabic nickname.
“The US president assured him he will be able to find a settlement within one year,” he adds.
— with AFP