The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.
President nixes pardon for ex-PM Olmert
President Reuven Rivlin rejects a pardon request from former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is serving a 26-month jail sentence on various corruption charges.
The decision comes two weeks after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked requested the ex-premier be released, even as her ministry recommended against it.
In January, Olmert requested a pardon, with his lawyers writing in a letter to the president that Olmert had “suffered enough” and that “the time has come to end the suffering of Ehud Olmert as an act of mercy.”
He began serving his sentence at Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle in February 2016.
22 ultra-Orthodox men arrested for suspected sex crimes
Police on Monday arrest 22 suspects from ultra-Orthodox communities on suspicion they carried out dozens of sex crimes against women and minors over the past two years, but were sheltered from the law by community leaders who preferred to deal with the matter in their own way.
The early morning arrests of men aged 20-60 were made in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Beitar Ilit, and Bnei Brak, cities with established ultra-Orthodox communities.
The arrests came at the end of an undercover operation that began when police became aware of efforts by the communities to monitor and deal with the suspects by themselves.
Police had seized notebooks detailing the suspects’ names and suspected crimes.
— Stuart Winer
Croatia Serbs join Jews in snubbing WWII camp commemoration
Croatian Serbs say Monday that they will join the country’s Jews in the second consecutive snub of a commemoration for victims of the country’s World War II death camp, accusing the authorities of tolerating pro-Nazi ideology.
The Jasenovac camp, often called “Croatia’s Auschwitz,” was the most notorious camp run by the country’s Nazi-allied Ustasha regime.
The Ustasha persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians.
Representatives of these groups also boycotted last year’s commemoration for Jasenovac victims, denouncing what they see as a resurgence of pro-Ustasha sympathies.
A spokeswoman for the Serb National Council tells AFP that ethnic Serbs would boycott the April 22 event, and take part instead in an “alternative commemoration” with Croatian Jews and anti-fascist groups.
Serbs in particular are incensed by a plaque with a Ustasha slogan unveiled at Jasenovac last November, a memorial by former paramilitaries to honor fellow fighters killed in the region at the start of Croatia’s war for independence in the 1990s.
“As long as a plaque with the Ustasha salute… stands in Jasenovac, conditions to attend an official commemoration will not be met,” the spokeswoman says.
Croatian Jews said earlier this month that they would boycott the ceremony for the second year in a row, citing a trivialization of the role of the Nazi-allied regime and its symbols.
Family of KIA soldier demands army reveal how they know he died
The family of IDF soldier Oron Shaul, who the army says was killed during the 50-day 2014 Gaza war, petitions the High Court of Justice with a demand the Israel Defense Forces reveal the evidence that drove them to pronounce the soldier killed in action.
Shaul’s body is being held by Hamas in Gaza.
The petition says the army has not provided the full documents on the cause of death, “raising suspicions they are hiding essential information on Oron, and on the considerations that were the basis of declaring him dead.”
US-backed fighters to pause military action near Syria dam
US-backed forces in northern Syria say Monday they will pause military operations near a major dam held by the Islamic State group in order to allow engineers to fix any problems after conflicting reports about its stability.
The decision by the Syrian Democratic Forces comes a day after conflicting reports over whether civilians had begun evacuating the nearby city of Raqqa — the extremists’ de facto capital — due to concerns about the Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River.
Some activist groups opposed to IS have said residents are seeking higher ground, fearing that the collapse of the dam could cause severe flooding, while others said people were remaining in place. Conflicting reports are common in areas controlled by IS, which bans independent media.
The SDF, a US-backed and Kurdish-led force, has been fighting IS in the area since Friday in an attempt to capture the dam, one of the main sources of electricity in northern Syria.
The SDF says in a terse statement that the four-hour ceasefire will begin at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT) Monday. It says the request for a ceasefire was made by the dam’s administrators, without specifying whether they were part of the Syrian government or IS, which operates a quasi-state in the areas under its control.
Ultra-Orthodox draft-dodger released from military prison
The ultra-Orthodox student arrested for failing to show up at an IDF induction center is released from a military jail after nine days.
The detention of the teenager, the son of an associate of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, sparked protests by followers of the rabbi nationwide for over a week.
He is freed after nine days, despite receiving an 20-day sentence.
Jordan says Arabs must unite to address crises
Jordan’s foreign minister tells Arab counterparts that the region must come together and urgently confront crises that have been allowed to fester, including violent conflicts and millions of children deprived of the right to an education.
Ayman Safadi speaks Monday, as foreign ministers prepared resolutions for Arab heads of state meeting Wednesday for their annual summit, this year hosted by Jordan.
Safadi paints a grim picture, saying the “Arab political system has failed to solve the crises and halt the collapse as the trust of Arab citizens in the joint Arab institutions has eroded.” He says more than 12 million Arab children are being denied access to an education, presumably in part because of conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Netanyahu, Herzog set to address AIPAC confab
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the AIPAC confab via satellite this afternoon at 4 p.m. Israel time.
In Washington, opposition leader Isaac Herzog is set to give a speech at 4:30 p.m.
India sending 3 ships to Haifa in goodwill visit
India announces that it will send three ships from its navy’s Western Fleet to Haifa in May as part of a goodwill visit to mark 25 years of diplomatic ties.
The INS Mumbai, INS Trishul and INS Aditya — respectively, a destroyer, frigate and tanker — will stay in Haifa from May 9 to 12, the Indian embassy announces.
“In the course of the visit, the Indian crew will interact with personnel of the Israeli Navy, and there will be exchange visits, sports activities and courtesy calls. The crew will also visit various areas of cultural and historical interest in Israel,” the embassy says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Family pays tribute to American killed in London attack
The family of an American man killed last week in the London attack offers tribute to his generosity and say they are grateful for the help and support so many have shown during a horrible time.
Kurt W. Cochran from Utah was on the last day of a European trip celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary when he was killed on Westminster Bridge. He and his wife were visiting her parents, who are serving as Mormon missionaries in London.
Family spokesman Clint Payne tells reporters Tuesday that Cochran’s wife, Melissa, is steadily improving.
Payne says that Cochran “left a legacy of generosity and service that continues to inspire us.”
Netanyahu welcomes new US envoy to Israel, ‘especially Jerusalem’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the AIPAC conference via satellite.
He is met with considerable applause.
The prime minister begins by thanking the activists and organizers.
“I take this opportunity to congratulate my friend David Friedman and his wife Tammy,” says Netanyahu, adding that he looks forward to welcoming the new US ambassador to Israel “and especially to Jerusalem.”
“Israel has no greater friend than America and America has no greater friend than Israel,” says the prime minister
He says he’s confident both countries “will stand together, shoulder to shoulder” to counter the forces of militant Islam and to “prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons. That is our policy” and always has been, he says.
The prime minister calls for “utterly vanquishing ISIS” and building new alliances with moderates in the Middle East. More and more countries “realize that Israel is on their side” and able to offer “unmatched intelligence capabilities.”
He hails Israel’s “unique contribution” to the world.
Netanyahu hails ‘exceptionally warm meeting’ with Trump
Israel wouldn’t be the country it is today without US support, he says.
Netanyahu says he had an “exceptionally warm meeting with President Trump last month.”
He thanks Pence for his speech last night and UN ambassador Nikki Haley for backing Israel.
And he thanks Trump for upholding Israel defense aid, “even as the fiscal belt grows tighter. And we appreciate that.”
“We know, as you do, that this support is an investment in our common support and our common future.”
On the Palestinians, Netanyahu says Israel teaches peace to its children and it’s time the Palestinians do the same.
“It must stop denying our legitimacy and history,” paying terrorists, and must recognize the Jewish state, he says. The prime minister says he is committed to working with Trump to pursue peace with Israel’s neighbors.
Netanyahu says Israel will always defend itself “not only on the physical battle, but on the moral battle,” including countering boycott efforts and condemning anti-Semitism.
Concluding his speech, he thanks the AIPAC supporters for standing up for Israel.
EU says Israeli-Palestinian peace deal a ‘top priority’
The European Union says that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a “top priority” and welcomes the US administration’s expressed interest into brokering a peace agreement.
“Peace between Israel and Palestine is a top priority for the European Union and it will remain a top priority in our political agenda. We remain committed to a negotiated two-state solution. That remains for us the only viable way to end the conflict and all claims,” the EU’s foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini says.
Addressing reporters in Brussels after a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Mogherini reiterates the union’s principled opposition to Israeli West Bank settlements.
The EU will recognized any changes to the pre-1967 lines only after they have been agreed upon by the parties, she says. The union continues to envision Jerusalem as the “future capital of both states,” she adds. “And we support Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem, both in political and financial terms.”
Acknowledging the “changing international political environment,” Mogherini speaks optimistically about the White House’s effort to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
“We welcome the fact that the US administration shows interest in solving the Middle East peace process and we agreed to coordinate closely positions,” she says.
Mogherini thanks Abbas for his leadership and “his commitment when it comes to nonviolence and when it comes to the difficult work he’s doing when it comes to incitement and maintaining Palestinian people, and especially the Palestinian youth, committed to peace and regional cooperation.”
Both Mogherini and Abbas are scheduled to attend the Arab League summit in Amman this week, which is expected to focus heavily on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, who recently visited the region and met with key stakeholders, will participate as an observer.
— Raphael Ahren
Herzog says Trump ‘heavily committed’ to Israeli-Palestinian peace
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog addresses AIPAC.
He describes a failed peace push last year by then-US secretary John Kerry and Egyptian, Jordanian leaders as a “golden opportunity” to advance a peace deal.
“I presented it to Benjamin Netanyahu and I said ‘let the two major forces get together and beat the impasse,'” says Herzog.
He says he was “willing to pay that price” of his political survival to advance the initiative.
Herzog says Netanyahu “backed off and caved” to “extremist” elements in the Likud and Jewish Home coalition parties.
“After meeting with Jason Greenblatt… I am impressed that President Trump is heavily committed toward reaching peace between Israel and the Arabs,” says Herzog.
On Iran, Herzog says there is “no daylight” between his and Netanyahu’s view of the Islamic Republic. “I fully concur,” he says.
‘Not right’ to stay out of Syria fight, Arab League chief says
Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit urges Arab governments on Monday to do more to resolve the conflict in Syria rather than leaving it to other powers.
He is speaking as Arab foreign ministers met to prepare for the Arab League’s annual summit, set for Wednesday in Jordan.
“In my view it’s not right that Arab governments stay out of the biggest crisis in the region’s modern history,” Abul Gheit says.
He urges them to “find an effective way of intervening to stop the shedding of blood in Syria and end the war.”
The Syrian government was not invited to the summit.
The bloc suspended Syria’s membership in late 2011 after anti-regime demonstrations were brutally repressed.
Turkish pop singer, journalists go on trial over failed coup
A Turkish pop singer and 28 other people, mostly journalists, go on trial Monday on terrorism charges for alleged links to a failed coup attempt, highlighting the gulf between Turkey’s assertions that such prosecutions are needed to restore stability and international concerns that Turkish democracy is in peril.
Singer Atilla Tas and the other suspects in Turkey face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of membership in “an armed terrorist organization” in a massive government crackdown that has included closing more than 100 media outlets and the arrests of reporters and editors suspected of ties to the July 15 insurrection.
Human rights groups say Turkey has jailed about 150 journalists, many of whom were arrested before the botched insurrection, for alleged ties to Kurdish rebels who are fighting the Turkish state. The Reporters Without Borders group ranked Turkey 151st out of 180 countries on its press freedom index last year.
While critics say the detentions show Turkey is becoming more authoritarian, Turkish officials say the bulk of the journalists were jailed for illegal activities on behalf of enemies of a government facing numerous security challenges in the past year, including the Kurdish insurgency, attacks blamed on the Islamic State group and the attempted coup blamed on Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric.
Gulen has denied any knowledge of the coup attempt.
Pakistani jailed in Germany for scouting out Israeli targets for Iran
A Pakistani man is convicted in Germany Monday of spying for Iran to search out potential attack targets for the Revolutionary Guards.
The defendant, 31-year-old Mustufa Haidar Syed-Naqfi, is sentenced to four years and three months in prison “for working for a foreign intelligence service,” a spokeswoman for Berlin’s superior court said.
The court found he spied “against Germany and another NATO member,” France, for the Quds Force, the foreign operations wing of the elite Revolutionary Guards.
Syed-Naqfi compiled dossiers on possible attack targets — a German lawmaker who is the former head of a German-Israeli organisation, and a French-Israeli economics professor.
Investigators found detailed dossiers on the men and their daily routines, with hundreds of photos and video clips.
The court heard they detailed the targets’ homes and work places, various access routes to them, as well as information on security guards, surveillance cameras and nearby police stations.
A representative of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, which handles counterespionage, said it was alerted to the defendant by a “reliable” source.
The service suspected the Quds Force was preparing for a possible future conflict with the United States and Israel, when it could hit targets in Europe in a form of “asymmetrical warfare.”
Coalition chair says ‘no chance’ of unity gov’t with Zionist Union
Coalition chairman David Bitan rules out a unity government with the Zionist Union as the crisis over the new public broadcaster continues to rock the coalition.
“There is no chance of unity with the Zionist Union,” Bitan tells Army Radio.
The comment comes after United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said Sunday he would favor expanding the coalition.
Germany’s oldest doctorate recipient, who fled Nazis, dies at 104
Ingeborg Syllm-Rapoport, who became Germany’s oldest recipient of a doctorate almost 80 years after fleeing the Nazis, has died. She was 104.
A specialist in newborn care, Syllm-Rapoport was widely cheered when she passed her oral exam at the University of Hamburg with flying colors at the age of 102 in 2015.
Syllm-Rapoport, who was part-Jewish, moved to the United States in 1938 after being prevented from defending her doctoral thesis by the Nazis’ race laws.
She finished her degree in Philadelphia and returned to Berlin in 1952, becoming the first head of neonatology at East Germany’s prestigious Charite hospital.
Tom Rapoport says Monday his mother died Thursday in Berlin. She is survived by four children, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
A funeral is planned in Berlin on May 12.
UK official says ‘no evidence’ London attacker linked to jihadists
A senior British counterterrorism officer says police have found “no evidence” Westminster attacker Khalid Masood was associated with the Islamic State group or al-Qaeda.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu says Masood clearly had “an interest in jihad,” but police have no evidence he discussed his attack with others.
Basu says in a statement that the attack in which Masood used an SUV and knives to kill four people in London “appears to be based on low sophistication, low tech, low cost techniques copied from other attacks.”
He says Masood was not a “subject of interest” for counterterror police or the intelligence services before last week’s attack.
Ivanka Trump to attend women’s economic summit in Berlin
Ivanka Trump is planning a trip to Germany to attend a summit on the economic empowerment of women, a senior administration official says.
The first daughter was invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Merkel’s recent White House visit, says the official, who is not authorized to discuss details of the trip by name and requested anonymity.
The W20 summit, a women-focused effort within the Group of 20 countries, will be in Berlin in late April. Ivanka Trump’s plans are still being worked out, but she hopes to study successful apprenticeship programs during her visit.
Arab ministers endorse resolution on Jerusalem
Jordan’s foreign minister says Arab foreign ministers unanimously endorsed more than a dozen policy resolutions, including one rejecting unilateral steps that “jeopardize the historic and legal status” of Jerusalem.
This was an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s previously stated intentions to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
The Jordanian minister, Ayman Safadi, says Monday that the resolution is one of “about 17” to be adopted later this week at a gathering of Arab heads of states in Jordan.
He says the ministers also reaffirmed the need to establish a state of Palestine alongside Israel.
PM to lift ban on Temple Mount visits by MKs in 3 months
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lift a ban prohibiting ministers and lawmakers from visiting the Temple Mount in three months, Channel 2 reports.
The TV report says the decision comes after Netanyahu is briefed by security officials on Monday. The ban will be lifted after the Jewish Passover holiday and the month-long Muslim Ramadan holiday.
The visits by Israeli lawmakers will be resumed gradually and with possible police restrictions, the report says.
Channel 2 reports that security officials noted a 40 percent increase in Jewish visitors to the holy compound.
Likud MK Yehudah Glick had planned to petition the High Court of Justice against Netanyahu’s ban.
Israel, UAE pilots to fly together in Greece drill
Pilots from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fly alongside one another as part of an exercise hosted by Greece that kicked off today.
The Jewish state does not have formal diplomatic ties with the UAE, though Israeli officials frequently boast of improving relations and military contacts with Gulf states and other moderate Arab countries.
The United States and Italy will also take part in the this year’s Iniohos exercise, the Hellenic Air Force says on its website.
The 11-day drill will consist of “complex air operations” and include naval and ground forces, according to the HAF.
The annual exercise, which runs through April 6, will not be the first time Israeli and UAE pilots have flown in the same military exercise.
Last year, the two countries’ air forces also met at the US Air Force’s Red Flag exercise in Nevada, along with representatives from Pakistan.
— Judah Ari Gross
Glick not dropping petition against PM on Temple Mount ban
Likud MK Yehudah Glick says he still plans on petitioning the High Court of Justice this week against the prime minister’s ban on lawmakers from visiting the Temple Mount.
He is responding to a TV report that says Netanyahu will ease the restrictions on Knesset members’ visits to the holy site in three months.
“It’s unfortunate to think that only my threat to turn to the High Court resulted in the decision announced tonight,” Glick says in a statement.
Glick, a longtime advocate of Jewish prayer at the site, says the three-month delay is “unnecessary” and the ban as a whole is “unjustified.”
“Therefore, I still intend to lodge the petition as planned in order to prevent another delay,” he says.
IDF soldier lightly hurt after accidentally entering Palestinian village
An IDF soldier is lightly injured after he accidentally entered Palestinian village in the West Bank and residents pelted his truck with rocks, the army says.
It is not immediately clear what caused the soldier to accidentally enter the village of Sa’ir, north of Hebron. But once inside, he became surrounded by local residents who attacked him and his vehicle.
He was rescued by Palestinian security services and handed over to the IDF “in collaboration with the Civil Administration,” the army says.
The soldier was taken to a nearby hospital for medical care, the army adds.
— Judah Ari Gross
Mashaal threatens Israel over Hamas leader assassination
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal blames “treasonous” Israel for the Friday assassination of Hamas military leader Mazen Faqha.
“Israel decided to change the rules of the game, and we accept the challenge,” Mashaal says, according to Channel 2.
US teen apologizes for twisting family menorah into swastika
An Arizona teenager arrested for twisting a menorah in the front yard of a family’s home into a swastika posts an apology on Facebook.
Clive Jamar Wilson, 19, one of four teens arrested on March 17 for the December 30 incident, tells the Ellis family of Chandler that he was sorry, the East Valley Tribune newspaper reports. The Facebook page appears to have since been removed.
“My name is Clive (CJ) Wilson. I am writing this post to say I am truly sorry for the insensitive prank which my friends and I participated in during the holiday season last December. What we did was reckless, stupid, idiotic, and insensitive,” he writes, according to the local paper. “From the bottom of my heart I apologize to your family. From the bottom of my heart I can tell you that that is not the way of my Jamaican heritage.”
He also reportedly writes that he “made a mistake when I joined my friends in a very insensitive prank. If I could turn back the clock and remove myself and my three friends from participating in the horrible prank I would. But I can’t.”
Wilson then explains that his father attended a “Jewish university,” Brandeis, and has since taught him about Judaism and its values.
Naomi Ellis on Sunday accepts the apology in a statement to the newspaper.
“We believe that (Wilson) is sincerely sorry for his reckless actions. It is encouraging to know that he is taking the initiative to learn more about Jewish history and culture,” the statement says. “It is our hope that he will continue to learn the importance of tolerance and respect for diversity. We will continue to rely on the judicial system and on the Chandler Police Department to follow the next steps in the process, she says.
US leads boycott of UN talks on nuclear weapons ban
More than 100 countries on Monday launch the first UN talks aimed at achieving a legally binding ban on atomic weapons, as Washington led an international boycott of a process it deems unrealistic.
Before the conference even begins, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, speaks out to reject the proposal in the light of current global security threats.
“As a mom and a daughter, there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Haley, who represents the world’s largest nuclear power, says on the sidelines of the meeting.
“But we have to be realistic,” she adds. “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”
Haley speaks in a group of some 20 ambassadors from US allies who are boycotting the negotiations, including Britain, France and South Korea, Turkey and a number of countries from eastern Europe.
The ambassadors of Russia and China are notably absent, but both major nuclear powers are also sitting out the talks.
Haley estimates that “almost 40 countries” are not in the General Assembly on Monday.
Some 123 UN members announced the nuclear weapon ban initiative in October, even as most of the world’s declared and undeclared nuclear powers voted against. Leaders of the effort include Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Sweden, supported by hundreds of NGOs.