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Slain Gaza reporter who Israel says was a Hamas member was vetted by USAID

State Department says Ain Media, Yasser Murtaja’s company, was recently awarded an $11,700 US government grant

Mourners and journalists carry the body of Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, during his funeral in Gaza City on April 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Mourners and journalists carry the body of Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, during his funeral in Gaza City on April 7, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

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

Top Iranian official warns Israeli strike ‘will not go unanswered’

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says on a visit to Damascus that Tehran would respond to Israel’s reported strike on an Iranian military installation in Syria yesterday.

“The Israeli crime will not go unanswered,” he says, according to the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen television network.

Seven Iranians are said to have been killed in the strike on the T4 base.

Yad Vashem says world must intervene in Syria

Israel’s official Holocaust memorial says that Syria’s latest suspected chemical weapons attack shows that international organizations set up after the Holocaust have failed in their job.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev says Tuesday that the images of civilians, including children, being massacred just beyond Israel’s border reveal crimes against humanity that the world must step in to stop. He says they were allowed to take place because of the “world’s indifference.” He calls on international bodies to act decisively to end the suffering.

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people died in Saturday night’s poison gas attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus.

— AP

Syrian troops on alert amid fear of US strike after attack

Syrian government forces and their allies are on alert and taking precautionary measures at military bases and posts across the country amid fears of a US strike in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack attributed to the regime, Syrian war monitors say.

The measures come as US President Donald Trump is threatening an imminent military strike against Syria, vowing to respond “forcefully” to Saturday’s apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians near Damascus and warning that Russia — or any other nation found to share responsibility — will “pay a price.”

This photo released by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets shows smoke rising after Syrian government airstrikes hit in the town of Douma, in the eastern Ghouta region east of Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 7, 2018. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people died in Saturday night’s chemical attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion just outside of the Syrian capital, Damascus. The opposition blames Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces for the attack, accusations the government and its Russian backers strongly deny.

— AP

Erdogan vows perpetrators of Syria chemical attack will pay ‘heavy price’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows those behind the killings of civilians in the Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta would pay a “heavy price” after an alleged chemical assault killed dozens.

“I curse those who carried out this massacre. Whoever has done this, the perpetrators will be brought to account and certainly pay a heavy price,” Erdogan tells a meeting of his party in parliament.

The Turkish foreign ministry at the weekend said there was a “strong suspicion” that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible for the attack.

But Erdogan on Tuesday steers clear of criticizing Assad, only noting his telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin who is the chief ally of the Damascus regime along with Iran. “I spoke with Putin yesterday (Monday), talks will continue today and tomorrow,” he says.

— AFP

Moscow to propose UN resolution to probe alleged Syria chemical attack

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow will propose a UN resolution to investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria, after Russia rejected a similar move from the United States.

The rival proposals from Moscow and Washington put the Security Council on course for a clash that could trigger vetoes of both measures.

Lavrov says Russia would propose a “transparent and honest” investigation with the involvement of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at the Security Council on Tuesday.

Russian-backed Syrian regime forces could ensure the safety of OPCW experts if they were to travel to the scene, he adds, criticizing previous investigations for having been conducted from a distance.

— AFP

UN chief calls for unfettered probe of alleged Syria chemical attack

The UN secretary general says he was outraged by the latest report of a chemical weapons attack in Syria and calls for unfettered access for international investigators.

“Any confirmed use of chemical weapons, by any party to the conflict and under any circumstances, is abhorrent and a clear violation of international law,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres says in a statement.

“The seriousness of the recent allegations requires a thorough investigation using impartial, independent and professional expertise,” he says.

— AFP

Defense minister backs IDF sniper in video, slams soldier who filmed shooting

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman backs the IDF sniper seen in a video allegedly shooting a Gazan at the Israel-Gaza border, but slams the soldier who filmed the shooting.

“The sniper deserves a commendation, the photographer a court martial,” Liberman quips at an event he is attending in the Golan Heights town of Katzrin.

Speaking of the soldiers heard on the video shouting “yes!” when the Palestinian is hit, Liberman says: “The truth must be clear. The IDF is the most moral army in the world, but when you’re at the front and facing tense situations, sometimes you let out those tensions.”

Liberman: We won’t allow Iran to establish itself in Syria, whatever the cost

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman suggests he does not know who attacked Iranian forces at the T4 base in Syria yesterday, but says Israel won’t allow Iranian entrenchment in its northern neighbor “whatever the cost.”

“I do not know what happened there or who attacked,” Liberman says at an event in Katzrin, on the Golan Heights. “I know one thing for certain — we won’t allow Iran to establish itself in Syria, whatever the cost. We have no choice. To agree to Iranian entrenchment in Syria is to agree to the Iranians laying a chokehold on our neck. We won’t allow it.”

He adds: “We are seeing more and more efforts by Iran to establish itself in Syria. It’s not planning to build a cultural center there, or a museum,” he quips.

Erekat calls for international investigation of IDF sniper video

Saeb Erekat, a top PLO official and the Palestinians’ chief negotiator with Israel, calls for an immediate international investigation into the video of an IDF sniper shooting a Palestinian in Gaza to the cheers of his comrades.

“Such hate and contempt for the life of a Palestinian is a reflection of the cruel mentality of Israel’s military occupation and the drive of its systematic shoot-to-kill policy against the Palestinian civilians, in defiance of their very existence on the land of Palestine and in a flagrant violation of all international and humanitarian norms and laws,” he says in a statement.

“This documented case of extrajudicial killing demands the world to end Israel’s impunity and highlights a further urgency for the International Criminal Court to open an immediate investigation into the war crimes committed by the Israeli occupying power. It’s the responsibility of the international community to hold Israel accountable, to secure international protection to our people and to put an end to Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestine.”

— Raphael Ahren

Army says sniper footage is old, Palestinian ‘instigator’ was not killed

The army concludes an initial probe into footage of an IDF sniper shooting a Palestinian man standing at the border fence in Gaza while the soldier’s comrades urge him to fire and curse the Palestinian.

The incident, the army says, took place on December 22, 2017, and not during the recent bouts of violence along the border, as initially claimed by those sharing the video worldwide.

The Palestinian in question, the army claims, was a key “instigator” of Friday protests at the border, and did not heed repeated warnings to leave the area.

He was not killed, the army further says, but was shot in the leg and was carried off by fellow protesters.

The soldier who filmed the incident “was not a part of the force” that carried out the shooting.

The army also says the soldiers’ comments before and after the shooting “were not befitting the spirit and restraint expected of IDF soldiers.”

Brazilian rabbi slammed for supporting ex-president jailed for corruption

A Brazilian rabbi who supported an iconic ex-president convicted of corruption apologizes after being slammed for acting as if he represented the Jewish community.

Rabbi Alexandre Leone has been under fire since the release of videos and photos of him protesting on a sound truck in favor of ex-president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, whose refusal to turn himself in to begin his prison sentence became a media spectacle that mobilized Latin America’s largest nation over the weekend.

“Leone exposed the whole Jewish community for speaking in the name of the Jews without asking permission. Being a Jewish humanist cannot mean joining people who are against Israel and the Jews and that’s what he did by exposing himself and us next to a Palestinian flag, while Israel is forced to risk the lives of its soldiers to save the nation from terrorist attacks,” according a statement sent to JTA by the Brazil-Israel Zionist Association.

Wearing a kippah, Leone and other Jewish activists addressed thousands during a so-called ecumenical event held Friday evening by Lula’s Labor Party at his political nest in Sao Bernardo do Campo. Lula, 72, defied a 5 p.m. deadline to report to prison to begin serving a 12-year corruption sentence.

Leone, a Conservative rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, apologized in a video published in social media early Tuesday. “My decision to participate was misguided. I have exposed my community unnecessarily. I apologize to all those from the Jewish community that felt offended,” Leone said. “I identity myself with humanist ideals. That’s why I accepted to participate in an interfaith act with a message of peace and democracy. But I have learned that things can easily get out of control.”

— JTA

60 refugee law experts object to Israel’s plan to deport asylum seekers

Sixty experts in refugee law from the United States, Canada and Europe urge Israel’s attorney general to stop the government from deporting tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in the country, saying that carrying out the plans would violate international law.

“We call on the state of Israel to refrain from carrying out the deportations and to release those who are being detained for refusing to cooperate with their prospective deportations,” says the letter, sent Sunday to Avichai Mandelblit, from experts at universities including Harvard, McGill, and Oxford. “In carrying out these deportations, Israel will be in serious breach of its obligations under international refugee and human rights law.”

The letter says, among other charges, that the plan to deport the asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea to a third unidentified country would place them at risk because it lacked sufficient oversight.

“While typically such agreements aim to promote fair responsibility-sharing or prevent onward migration, these agreements do the exact opposite,” the letter says. “They take refugees from Israel and place them in countries which are struggling to host and protect the growing numbers of refugees who have already reached them.”

— JTA

Syria invites chemical weapons inspectors

Syria says it has invited the international chemical weapons watchdog to send a fact-finding mission into the country to investigate a suspected poison gas attack near Damascus over the weekend.

The Foreign Ministry says Syria will help the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate the alleged attack, which opposition activists say killed 40 people over the weekend.

The Syrian government denies it carried out a poison gas attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.

Washington has threatened to take military action against Syria to punish it for the alleged attack.

Syria calls on the OPCW on Tuesday to work with “full transparency and rely on credible and tangible evidence.”

— AP

Trump cancels first Latin American trip to ‘oversee Syria response’

The White House on Tuesday abruptly announces the cancellation of US President Donald Trump’s first trip to Latin America, scheduled for later this week, saying he wants to “oversee the American response to Syria.”

The announcement comes as the Republican president weighs military strikes in the country — and shortly after the FBI raided the offices of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

US Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Peru in Trump’s stead for the Summit of the Americas, press secretary Sarah Sanders announces.

“President Trump will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru or travel to Bogota, Colombia, as originally scheduled,” Sanders says in a statement.

Trump “will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world,” she says, adding that Pence would also make the planned stop in Colombia.

— AFP

Russia criticizes Israel’s ‘hasty’ condemnation of Syria chemical attack

The Russian Embassy in Israel criticizes Israel’s condemnation of Syria for having carried out a chemical attack against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Douma.

In a statement, the embassy “notes with concern a hasty conclusion made in Israel with regard to the fake chemical attack.”

“The truth is that there is no evidence of any chemical attack in Douma at all,” the statement reads.

— Raphael Ahren

El Al plane fills with smoke mid-flight, returns to Ben Gurion

An El Al plane lands safely at Ben Gurion Airport after declaring an emergency when its passenger cabin started to fill with smoke.

According to Hadashot television news, the place was en route to Vienna, but turned around after about half an hour.

There is no immediate report of injuries in the incident, and it is not yet clear what caused the smoke.

Iran’s rial hits record low, Tehran tries to pin it to the dollar

Iran moves on Tuesday to enforce a single exchange rate to the dollar, banning all unregulated trading after the rial hits an all-time low.

The country’s senior vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, is quoted by state TV as saying that the official rate will be 42,000 rials to the dollar as of Tuesday. He says that trading at any other price was forbidden and would be considered “smuggling.”

The decision came late Monday after a two-day hike in prices of foreign currencies that saw the rial trading at 62,000 to the dollar — an 18 percent drop since Saturday.

In downtown Tehran, people lined up to buy hard currency outside an exchange office at the new, fixed rate but many complained there were not enough dollars available. Some exchange offices turned off their currency display boards.

— AP

Citing anti-Semitism in British Labour, Israel’s Labor cuts ties with Corbyn

Avi Gabbay, head of Israel’s Labor Party, announces he is suspending the party’s ties with his British counterpart Jeremy Corbyn, head of the UK Labour Party.

https://twitter.com/ZionistUnion/status/983711803317391360

In a letter to the Labour leader, Gabbay explains the move: “It is my responsibility to acknowledge the hostility that you have shown to the [UK] Jewish community and the anti-Semitic statements and actions you have allowed as Leader of the Labour Party UK. This is in addition to your very public hatred of the policies of the Government of the State of Israel, many of which regard the security of our citizens and actions of our soldiers — policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned.”

Day after Bolton takes over, homeland security aide is out

US President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser is resigning in the latest White House departure.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says in a statement Tuesday that Thomas Bossert would be leaving his post. She says that Trump was “grateful for Tom’s commitment to the safety and security of our great country.”

In this December 19, 2017, file photo, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert speaks during a briefing at the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Bossert was a point person in the White House on protecting the nation from terror and cyber threats. He also helped spearhead the administration’s response to last year’s hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

His exit is the latest in a wave of departures from the West Wing in recent months. It comes a day after new national security adviser John Bolton began his tenure.

— AP

Ten sentenced for planned Barcelona terror attacks, including against Jews

Ten members of a jihadist cell linked to Islamic State who planned attacks in Barcelona and to film a decapitation were sentenced to 8-12 years in jail on Tuesday.

The defendants included five Moroccans, four Spaniards, and a Brazilian, the National Court, which handles terror cases, says in a ruling.

They were “ready to wage an attack against institutions such as the police, banks, or Jewish institutions in Spain at any time, or to join the ranks of Daesh,” it adds, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

The 10, whose cell was called “Islamic Fraternity, Group for Preaching Jihad,” were sentenced for “belonging to a terrorist organization,” the court says.

The three leaders of the group are given 12 years in jail while the seven others get eight years.

— AFP

Slain Gaza reported was member of Hamas, Liberman says

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says a Gaza journalist who was killed by IDF gunfire over the weekend was a member of Hamas.

Yasser Murtaja was shot Friday while covering a mass demonstration near the Israeli border. He was carrying a video camera and wearing a flak jacket marked with the word “press” when he was shot.

Lieberman tells reporters that Murtaja had been on the Hamas payroll since 2011 and held a rank similar to captain. He says Murtaja had used a drone to collect intelligence on Israeli forces along the border. He provides no evidence to support the claim.

Lieberman accuses Hamas, which rules Gaza, of using the media, as well as ambulances and medical patients, as cover to carry out attacks.

— AP

Liberman orders expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone for 3 months

The Israeli Navy expands the fishing zone allowed to Gazan fishermen from six nautical miles to nine for the next three months, following a decision Tuesday by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

The decision is seen as one step to ease tensions in Gaza as mass protests continue along its border with Israel.

Israel has maintained a naval and land blockade along its borders with Gaza since the Hamas terror group gained control of the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Palestinian Authority says non-payment of Gaza staff ‘technical’ issue

The Palestinian Authority says it has not paid salaries to employees in the Gaza Strip due to “technical” issues, amid an ongoing split with the territory’s Hamas rulers.

On Monday, PA employees in the West Bank received their monthly salaries but those in Gaza did not, raising fears PA President Mahmoud Abbas was cutting the payments to increase pressure on Hamas. The PA has withheld funds in recent months for precisely that reason.

The Palestinian finance ministry, in a statement carried by the official news agency Wafa, says the delay was due to unspecified “technical” issues unrelated to political disputes.

“We hope that they will be overcome soon,” the statement says, without further details.

Last month, PA president Mahmud Abbas accused Hamas of planning a failed assassination attempt on his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, during a rare visit to Gaza. The PA has continued paying its tens of thousands of employees in Gaza despite the fact that most have not worked since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

— AFP

Neo-Nazi group barred from armed rallies in Charlottesville

An attorney for a neo-Nazi group that participated in the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has signed a court order barring members from returning to the city as an armed group.

The Daily Progress reports the consent decree signed Friday on behalf of the National Socialist Movement is part of ongoing litigation to prevent paramilitary activity at demonstrations. The city government, neighborhood associations, and businesses sued various white supremacist and independent militia groups that participated in the August rally. The rally was held in part to protest a Confederate monument’s removal.

The group says it’s unlikely to return this August, when original rally organizer Jason Kessler plans to hold another demonstration. Kessler is suing to hold an anniversary rally after the city denied a permit in December.

— AP

Slain Gaza reporter Israel says was a Hamas member had been vetted by USAID

The US State Department says the media production company co-founded by slain Gaza journalist Yasser Murtaja had recently been awarded an $11,700 grant from the US government.

Murtaja was shot Friday while covering a mass demonstration near the Israeli border. He was carrying a video camera and wearing a flak jacket marked with the word “press” when he was shot.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that Murtaja was a Hamas member.

Murtaja’s company, Ain Media, became a USAID program beneficiary last month under a program that supports private sector development.

The State Department said Tuesday the grant was still in its early stages, and no equipment or technical assistance has been provided. It said the grant was vetted according to strict US government requirements of USAID-funded assistance.

— AP

Two million fewer Jews alive today than on eve of Holocaust

Ahead of Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins Wednesday evening, the Central Bureau of Statistics publishes figures for the size of Jewish communities today, and on the eve of World War II. Some 14.5 million Jews live in the world today, the CBS says, including 6.4 million in Israel and roughly 5.7 million in the United States. The figures are for 2016.

That’s over two million fewer Jews who lived just before the Holocaust. That figure is estimated at some 16.6 million.

Pro-Israel British Labour MP slams Corbyn over rift with Israeli counterpart

A top pro-Israel British Labour Party lawmaker takes the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to task after Israel’s Labor Party severed ties with him earlier today.

Noting Corbyn’s “failure to deal with antisemitism in the Labour party and your hostility to the state of Israel,” Joan Ryan, an MP and chair of the Labour Friends of Israel, writes to Corbyn that she understands Israeli Labor’s decision.

“I fully understand why Mr. [Avi] Gabbay has taken this course of action and I am ashamed that one of our sister parties has no option but to take this unprecedented step.”

Ryan notes that Corbyn never took up the offer from former Israeli Labor leader Isaac Herzog to visit Israel in 2016.

“I would now urge you to consider why it is that Israeli Labor feels it cannot have a relationship you.”

In Syria strike, Israel said to attack anti-air systems

Israel’s purported strike yesterday in Syria was no ordinary attack, according to Hadashot television news, citing “foreign sources.”

The targets of the strike may have been anti-aircraft systems that could have made it difficult for Israel to operate in the skies over Lebanon and Syria, thus limiting its ability to prevent continued Iranian entrenchment on Israel’s northern border.

Amar’e Stoudemire is converting to Judaism

Former NBA All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire has for years claimed to have “Hebrew roots,” studied Judaism, and practiced its cultural customs. Now he is making the ties official by converting to the Jewish religion.

Stoudemire, 35, told HBO sports reporter Jon Frankel at an event at Harvard University on Sunday that he is “in the process” of converting.

Frankel first asked Stoudemire whether he wanted to become a citizen of Israel, a country he lived in briefly while playing for Hapoel Jerusalem last year, a club he partly owns. Stoudemire said he is trying to become a citizen, and Frankel asked whether he was being told to convert before achieving citizenship status.

Amar’e Stoudemire speaking at the Israel Summit at Harvard University, April 8, 2018. (Facebook screenshot via JTA)

Stoudemire responded by saying he is converting “simply to get acclimated to the culture in Israel and also to apply for citizenship.”

But he added: “My journey on this path really has nothing to do with citizenship, it’s just really truly a spiritual journey, and my goal is to get into the kingdom, and that’s the only mission.”

— JTA

Algeria says 257 people died in military plane crash

ALGIERS, Algeria — Algeria’s defense ministry says 257 people have died in military plane crash.

Civil protection agency spokesman Farouk Achour tells The Associated Press that some passengers were “extracted with deep burns caused by the fuselage catching fire.”

He says more than 300 emergency workers are working at the scene.

Algerian TV network Ennahar publishes images of body bags lined up in a field after the crash.

The crash occurred soon after takeoff from the Boufarik air base southwest of the capital Algiers.

— AP

A grab from a video brodcast by Algeria’s Ennahar satellite television channel on April 11, 2018, shows the scene of the crash of a transport plane, carrying Algerian army personnel on board. (AFP Photo/Ennahar TV/Marina Passos)
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El Al plane fills with smoke mid-flight, returns to Ben Gurion

An El Al plane lands safely at Ben Gurion Airport after declaring an emergency when its passenger cabin started to fill with smoke.

According to Hadashot television news, the place was en route to Vienna, but turned around after about half an hour.

There is no immediate report of injuries in the incident, and it is not yet clear what caused the smoke.