The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s news as it unfolded.
Labor Court rejects Sara Netanyahu appeal on former employees
The National Labor Court rejects Sara Netanyahu’s appeal over its ruling last year that she mistreated a former caretaker and maintenance worker at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The court says Netanyahu, who was not a party in the case, does not have the right to appeal. Judges order her to pay NIS 6,000 in lawyers’ fees to Menny Naftali and Guy Eliyahu.
The judge says Netanyahu knowingly decided not to become a party in the proceedings and should thus not be allowed to do so as part of an appeal.
Costa Rican woman caught with kilo of cocaine at airport
A Costa Rican citizen has been indicted for attempting to smuggle a kilo of cocaine through Ben Gurion Airport in her laptop case.
Police say the woman, 26, was arrested on February 17 upon arrival in Israel after authorities received intel on the contents of her bag.
Hundreds protest in Jerusalem over closure of Haifa ammonia tank
Hundreds of employees of a chemical company are demonstrating outside the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem over plans to shutter the company’s ammonia storage tank in Haifa.
Around 300 people from the Haifa Group say they fear for their jobs following the closure. The company has threatened to fire hundreds of workers if the government does not provide it with assistance, after a court ordered the closure and relocation of the storage facility.
The ammonia tank was ordered closed over fears that damage to the facility could endanger the lives of tens of thousands in and around Israel’s third largest city.
Merkel: Germany must not let Turkey ‘grow more distant’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her country wants to patch up frayed ties with Turkey, but without compromising its democratic principles or accepting “Nazi” jibes from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“As difficult as everything is at the moment, as unacceptable as some things are, it can’t be in our security and geopolitical interest that Turkey, a NATO partner after all, grows even more distant from us,” she tells parliament.
German and Turkish politicians have feuded for the past week after local German authorities cancelled several campaign events by Turkish ministers in support of an April referendum on creating an executive presidency in Turkey. Erdogan has angrily compared such actions to “Nazi practices,” causing outrage in Berlin.
Ivanka Trump quotes Golda Meir for Women’s Day
Ivanka Trump quotes the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir on International Women’s Day, encouraging her followers to fan “the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) March 9, 2017
Al Arabiya: Nasrallah assassinated his own top general in 2016
A top Hezbollah commander killed in Syria last year was likely assassinated by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, in coordination with Iran, Arab news network Al Arabiya reports.
Mustafa Badreddine was killed in a Damascus blast in May 2016 which Hezbollah blamed on shelling by Islamist rebels.
Al Arabiya says Iran and Nasrallah planned Badreddine’s killing due to the commander’s repeated clashes with Iranian officials over leadership of the war efforts in Syria.
7 bus drivers allegedly drove passengers under drug influence
Seven bus drivers in the Jerusalem area have been arrested for allegedly driving passengers under the influence of drugs, Walla news reports.
A worker at the bus depot is suspected of supplying the drivers with drugs on a regular basis.
The drivers are all residents of East Jerusalem.
Kremlin denies violating nuclear arms pact with US
The Kremlin is rejecting US claims of Russian violations of a landmark nuclear arms treaty, saying it has respected the pact and will continue to do so.
Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Wednesday accused Russia of deploying a land-based cruise missile in violation of “the spirit and intent” of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. He said that Moscow’s intention is to threaten US facilities in Europe and the NATO alliance.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov responds that “we disagree with and reject any such accusations. Russia has adhered to and will adhere to all its international obligations.”
Tusk seen gathering ‘overwhelming support’ for top EU job
European Union leaders overwhelmingly come out in support of Donald Tusk to retain presidency of the EU Council, saying it is unlikely that strong opposition from his native Poland can block his appointment.
The government in Warsaw argues that the decision should be delayed because of its displeasure with Tusk, a bitter political rival. But other leaders insist there is little appetite for a delay.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who will oversee Thursday’s election for president for the next two and a half years, says that consultations over the past week have shown “very solid support” for Tusk.
Man sent to house arrest over photo of Supreme Court president in Nazi garb
A man suspected of incitement against Supreme Court President Miriam Naor has been released to house arrest.
The 33-year-old allegedly made inflammatory posts on Facebook around a month ago, one of which included a picture of the judge in a Nazi SS uniform.
The Jerusalem District Court has sent the suspect to seven days’ house arrest as it reviews the case.
Israel announces closure of West Bank, Gaza for Purim
The Defense Ministry has announced a closure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the Purim holiday. The closure starts at midnight tonight and will end at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night.
Palestinian workers will not be allowed into Israel during the three-day period, to prevent security incidents during the Jewish holiday.
Humanitarian cases will be allowed entry, as will people with certain other exceptional circumstances.
IDF releases video of November strike on IS cell on Syrian border
The IDF has released video footage of a November tank strike against an Islamic State terror cell on the border with Syria.
The strike killed four members of the terrorist group in southern Syria on November 27 after they opened fire at soldiers on the border.
Also in the video, the tank’s commander and crew speak (in Hebrew) about the incident.
Iran says it successfully tested ballistic missile
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency is reporting that the country’s Revolutionary Guard has successfully tested a ballistic missile.
The report quotes Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the Guard’s airspace division, as saying the missile destroyed a target from a distance of 250 kilometers (155 miles).
The report says the sea-launched ballistic missile dubbed Hormoz 2 was tested last week. The report provides no additional details.
French envoy to US: Le Pen’s election would be a ‘disaster’
The election of far-right leader Marine Le Pen as president would be “total disaster,” France’s ambassador to Washington says.
“In diplomatic terms, I would say it will be a total disaster,” Gerard Araud tells The Washington Post in an interview.
A potential victory by Le Pen, who has vowed to try to withdraw France from the EU if elected, “means the collapse of the EU, because the EU without France doesn’t make any sense,” he warns. “And it means the collapse of the euro and a financial crisis, which will have consequences throughout the world.”
Assange accuses CIA of ‘devastating incompetence’ over leaks
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is accusing the CIA of “devastating incompetence” for keeping its hacking secrets in one place and says he will work with tech giants to develop fixes after he leaked them.
“This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place,” Assange tells a press conference from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012.
“It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons… If you build them, eventually you will lose them,” Assange says.
He says his anti-secrecy website has “a lot more information” about the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking operation but will hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks has spoken to tech manufacturers about fixes.
Senate committee okays Friedman as envoy to Israel
The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has approved the nomination of David Friedman for US ambassador to Israel.
The controversial candidate now moves on to the Senate floor for his confirmation.
Friedman was approved by 11 Republican members of the committee along with one Democrat (Sen. Bob Menendez). The panel’s nine other Democrats voted against him.
PM tells Putin Israel against Iran keeping forces in Syria
Following his meeting today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has made it clear that Israel vehemently opposes Iran maintaining any military presence in Syria under any future peace deal.
“Israel has no opposition to an accord in Syria, but we strongly oppose the possibility of Iran and its emissaries maintaining a military presence in Syria under such an arrangement,” he says.
Netanyahu adds that he has asked for Putin’s assistance in securing the return of the bodies of two soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza, as well as the return of two Israeli citizens held by the terror group.
Netanyahu says Iran seeks to build seaport in Syria
Speaking further on Tehran’s efforts to entrench itself in Syria, the prime minister says Iran is “seeking to build its military forces, military infrastructure, in order to establish itself in Syria, including an attempt to build a seaport.”
Netanyahu says such efforts “have serious repercussions for Israel’s security.” He says he told Putin during the two leaders’ meeting earlier that “this would destabilize (the region)… I made it clear that this would be unacceptable to Israel.”
“This makes a (Syrian peace) accord impossible. It’s against everyone’s interests.”
Intelligence minister promotes plan for Gaza seaport
Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz says he is pushing forward with a proposal to build an artificial island with a seaport off the coast of Hamas-ruled Gaza that he believes will alleviate hardship in the blockaded territory and offer residents their first real bridge to the outside world in a decade.
With an independent Palestinian state unlikely anytime soon, Katz tells The Associated Press that an island for moving goods in and out of Gaza is part of his broader goal of creating regional security and “economic peace” between Israel and its neighbors.
Katz’s plan calls for an eight-square-kilometer (three-square-mile) island linked to Gaza by a five-kilometer (three-mile) bridge. The island, estimated to cost $5 billion, would take five years to build and include a seaport, a power station, a desalination plant and perhaps a future airport. Israel would supervise security but it would otherwise be run by the Palestinians and the international community — which he says would mark the completion of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza.
NY Jewish Children’s Museum hit with bomb threat
The Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn has been evacuated after receiving an emailed bomb threat.
“It’s a trying time for us as a Jewish people especially, and we need to be aware and we need to take heed, and we need to be careful,” Devorah Halberstam, the museum’s director of foundation and government services, tells JTA.
“I’m referring to all the threats that have been going on both locally and internationally — it’s something that is very frightening. Unfortunately anti-Semitism has been around for the longest time and I guess things don’t change, now it’s done by emails and phone calls. They use technology to hide behind it.”
White House presses Iran for info on ex-FBI agent
The White House is expressing its “unwavering” commitment to locate and return ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared 10 years ago on Iran’s Kish Island.
“The Trump Administration remains unwavering in our commitment to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home. We want him back, and we will spare no effort to achieve that goal,” the White House says.
The former agent and ex-CIA contractor went missing in March 2007. His whereabouts has been yet another point of friction between Tehran and Washington.
Tusk gets 2nd term for top EU job despite Polish objections
European Union leaders have confirmed Donald Tusk for a second term as council president, overcoming weeks of strong opposition from his native Poland.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel tweets “congratulations” and Tusk sends a tweet with “Thank you for keeping fingers crossed and for heart-felt support. It helped.”
The government in Warsaw has argued that the decision should be delayed because of its displeasure with Tusk, a bitter political rival. But other leaders won out, insisting there was no appetite for a delay.
Minister: Rabbi should apologize for ‘divisive’ comments on female service
Housing Minister Yoav Galant says a rabbi who spoke disparagingly about women serving in the army should apologize.
Galant, a former major general, says female service in the IDF “is essential” across the board.
He says the statements by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein that military service has “driven our girls crazy” and deprives them of their Judaism, were “wrong, dangerous, divisive and upsetting.”
UN court rejects Bosnia’s appeal of Serbia genocide ruling
The United Nations’ top court on Thursday rejected Bosnia’s appeal of a ruling that cleared Serbia of genocide during the 1990s civil war.
The International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, said it could not take action on the request because “no decision has been taken by the competent authorities, on behalf of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state”.
The appeal was lodged on February 23 under a push by Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, despite opposition to the move from the country’s ethnic Serbs and Croats.
According to the Dayton peace agreement that ended the country’s 1992-1995 conflict, key decisions cannot be taken without the consensus of representatives of the three main ethnic groups.
Putin shoots down Netanyahu effort to tie Iran to Purim persecution
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evoked age-old tensions with Iran during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying Persia had made “an attempt to destroy the Jewish people that did not succeed” some 2,500 years ago — an event commemorated through the Jewish holiday of Purim, which Israel will celebrate Sunday and Monday.
“Today there is an attempt by Persia’s heir, Iran, to destroy the state of the Jews,” Netanyahu said. “They say this as clearly as possible and inscribe it on their ballistic missiles.”
Adopting a more conciliatory tone, Putin said that the events described by Netanyahu had taken place “in the fifth century BC.
“We now live in a different world. Let us talk about that now,” Putin said.
Fears of chemical bomb attack in Europe during Passover
With many Israelis planning to head abroad for the upcoming Passover holiday, Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau fears an increased risk of Islamic State terror attacks in Western Europe as well as in India and Thailand.
Sources in the bureau told Channel 2 news that IS’s recent defeats in Iraq and Syria are causing many jihadists to return to their countries of origin.
These well-trained fighters could attempt to carry out attacks in a similar vein to the truck attack in Berlin on Christmas that killed 12 people, including Israeli Dalia Elyakim.
Officials particularly fear terrorists may attempt to carry out a chemical bomb attack against civilians, using widely available chemicals.
The bureau is expected to warn on Israelis traveling abroad to stay alert, especially in crowded locations, sources told Channel 2.
However the bureau is stressing that, at this stage, no new terror warning has been issued.
Switzerland rejects Zurich’s request to cancel Turkish visit
Switzerland has rejected a request from Zurich authorities to cancel over security concerns a weekend visit by Turkey’s foreign minister, after several German regions blocked rallies to back a Turkish referendum.
“There is nothing to justify the cancellation of this visit,” a Swiss government statement says, referring to Sunday’s scheduled trip to Zurich by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The visit “does not represent a particularly heightened threat from a security point of view”, it added.
Zurich has warned of possible “heavy demonstrations” if Cavusoglu comes.
New US environment chief questions carbon link to global warming
The incoming head of the US Environmental Protection Agency says carbon dioxide is not the main driver of global warming, a position starkly at odds with the scientific consensus on climate change.
A known fossil-fuel ally, Scott Pruitt’s appointment to head the EPA — a department he repeatedly sued as a state attorney general — was deeply contentious.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt tells CNBC.
“We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis,” he adds.
Hamas accused of blocking access to prisoners
A Gaza-based NGO is accusing the security services of the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers of preventing it from seeing prisoners on hunger strike.
The Hamas interior ministry denies the allegations, saying it respects the rule of law and that there are no such hunger strikes.
The Independent Commission for Human Rights says in a statement that it has repeatedly been denied access to several prisoners said to be refusing food in protest at their detention.
Molotov cocktail hurled at road from Jerusalem to Ma’ale Adumim
A Molotov cocktail was thrown a short time ago at a road leading from Jerusalem to the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Israel Radio reports.
There were no casualties or damage in the attack.
Trump representative Greenblatt to meet with Abbas during Israel trip
Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, will reportedly meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when he comes to Israel next week.
A senior administration official told Walla news that Greenblatt will visit both Jerusalem and the West Bank, meeting with Abbas as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to hear their positions on the current state of affairs and on steps that can be taken to move towards peace.”
Greenblatt is also set to meet with students, religious leaders and businessmen during his visit, according to the report.
Con artists prey on immigrants fearing a Trump crackdown
Authorities say con artists are exploiting immigrants’ fears of deportation by posing as federal agents and demanding they pay up or else.
An immigrant in New York City, for example, got a call from someone who told him he was in the US illegally and would have to hand over $1,550 to stay.
People in the US without permission are seen as easy targets for such scams because they are reluctant to go to the police. As a result, authorities have found it difficult to investigate such schemes or determine how common they are.
Poll: Hatred, prejudice on rise in Trump’s America
Nearly two-thirds of US voters say hatred and prejudice in the United States have risen since Donald Trump was elected president, an opinion poll reveals.
Sixty-three percent of subjects polled by Quinnipiac University say hatred and prejudice have increased since Trump’s November 2016 election, while 32 percent say the levels have not changed. Just two percent say they have decreased.
The survey shows that 77% of voters characterize prejudice against minority groups in America as a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem.
Seventy percent of voters say anti-Semitism is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem, up from 49% in February, the poll finds.
The Quinnipiac poll says US voters are split over Trump’s response to threats and acts of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, with 37 percent who approve and 38 percent who disapprove.
Jewish Home party to choose leader on April 27
Elections for the leadership of the Jewish Home party will be held on April 27, the party says.
Current party leader Naftali Bennett is widely expected to win reelection. Bennett had asked for primaries to be moved up Wednesday.
The move is widely seen as a political maneuver made in the expectation that new national elections could be in the offing.