The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Brothers suspected of Hebron shooting attacks caught
The Shin Bet security service says it has caught two brothers from Hebron thought responsible for carrying out a string of shooting attacks in the divided city that left four Israelis injured.
Hamas member Nasser Faisal Mahmoud Badu’i, 23, and his brother Ahram Faisal Mahmoud Badu’i, 33, were arrested and turned in their makeshift weapons, the Shin Bet says.
Nasser was arrested in early January, after which Ahram carried out another sniper attack to try to take some heat off Nasser. It was not immediately clear when Ahram was arrested.
Israeli forces had been searching for the two since an attack on November 6 that left two Jewish worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs injured. They also shot at troops at a nearby checkpoint on other occasions, injuring two more people.
Ya’alon: Iran using sanctions cash to build terror network
Meeting with his Italian counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon says Israel is worried over Iran taking advantage of chaos in Syria, which he alleges will create a dangerous Shiite belt in the area, and warns that the rest of the world should be worried as well.
“This could help Iran continue creating a terror front against us on the Golan Heights,” he tells Roberta Pinotti, according to a statement from his office. “Iran will also continue investing money from lifted sanctions in developing and buying new weapons and building and bolstering a network of terror proxies in the Middle East, Europe and the US to inflame the world in terror.”
Moderates clinch parliament majority in Iran
Final election results released by Iran’s Interior Ministry show that moderates have won a majority in parliament.
The results broadcast Monday by state TV show that reformists, who favor expanded social freedoms and engagement with the West, won at least 85 seats, while moderate conservatives won 73 seats. Together, they have a majority in the 290-seat assembly.
Hard-liners, who had adamantly opposed last summer’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers, won just 68 seats.
Five seats will go to religious minorities, and the remaining 59 will be decided in a runoff, likely to be held in April.
Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said turnout was 62 percent.
The elections were the first to be held since the finalization of the nuclear agreement, which lifted international sanctions in exchange for Tehran curbing its atomic program.
Syria truce mostly holding, UN chief says
UN chief Ban Ki-moon says a fragile Syria ceasefire is holding “by and large” despite “incidents” of fighting at the weekend, as a UN-backed taskforce was set to meet to evaluate various accusations of breaches.
“As of now I can tell you that by and large the cessation of hostilities is holding even though we have experienced some incidents,” Ban tells reporters in Geneva.
The taskforce monitoring the truce is “now trying to make sure that this does not spread any further and that this cessation of hostilities can continue.”
That taskforce is scheduled to meet at 4:00 p.m Israel time, the top UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, tells AFP.
The tenuous truce, negotiated by Washington and Moscow and backed by the UN, is in its third day despite reports of violations on both sides.
Lapid, Liberman deliver foreign policy smackdown
The Knesset’s newest dynamic duo, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman and self-appointed shadow foreign minister Yair Lapid deliver a one-two punch against Israel’s diplomatic efforts under Netanyahu, saying the country has never been in a worse position.
“Our international standing has never — in all the years of the country since 1948 — been so bad,” Lapid says at a so-called emergency conference on Diplomacy. “What makes it all the worse is that the government of Israel won’t admit it. They won’t admit that our situation is bad, but try to put on a facade of everything being OK. Everything is not OK.”
Speaking before him, Liberman accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, of not having any diplomatic strategy.
“Netanyahu is trying to take Israel’s foreign service and physically destroy it,” he charges. “The Foreign Ministry is nobody’s private domain, not even of the Netanyahu family. They can’t just take it and raze it to its foundations.”
Responding to the verbal spanking, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely accuses the two of cynicism.
“The foreign service of Israel doesn’t interest Liberman and Lapid. What interests them is censuring the Israeli foreign service via a cynical use of the ministry’s workers,” she says, according to Channel 10 news.
Clashes as Macedonia tries to keep refugees at bay
Macedonian police have fired tear gas and stun grenades as several hundred Iraqi and Syrian refugees, frustrated at days of delays in crossing the Greek-Macedonian border, broke down a gate at a nearby rail crossing.
Thousands of people have been stuck at Greece’s northern border, overflowing from a packed refugee camp at Idomeni into the surrounding fields as they wait for Macedonian authorities to let them continue their trek through the Balkans. Only a tiny trickle of people from specific countries have been allowed to cross every day.
The migrants had earlier pushed their way past Greek police to reach the gate, chanting “Open the border!” and “We want to go to Serbia!” the next country north on the Balkan migration route leading into Western Europe.
Police repel the protesters and no arrests or injuries are reported in the clashes.
Syria death toll plummets amid truce — monitor
The death toll in areas of Syria outside jihadist control has fallen sharply since a ceasefire went into effect over the weekend, a monitoring group says.
Twenty people were killed on Saturday, the first day of the truce, in areas where the Islamic State extremist group is not present, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The same number of people were killed on Sunday, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“To compare, 144 were killed — 70 soldiers, 36 civilians, and 38 rebels — on Friday, on the eve of the truce,” Abdel Rahman tells AFP.
The average daily death toll for February was 120, he adds.
Trump and Clinton way ahead of rivals, poll shows
A poll released by CNN shows Donald Trump leading his Republican rivals by a wide margin a day ahead of Super Tuesday primary voting.
The poll shows Trump enjoying 49 percent of voters’ support, while Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz struggle to stay afloat at 16 and 15 percent respectively.
The poll also shows Hillary Clinton ahead of Bernie Sanders 55% to 38%.
Both frontrunners could be dinged by recent developments, though. On Sunday Trump retweeted a quote by Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and later refused to disavow the support of the Ku Kux Klan during an interview on CNN.
Trump now tells NBC’s “Today” that he was given a “very bad earpiece” for the interview and that he “disavowed David Duke all weekend long on Facebook and on Twitter.”
The State Department is also set to release the last batch of emails Clinton hosted on a homebrew server later today. The email scandal has dogged her campaign.
A dozen states will vote on who they want to run for president on Tuesday, as the primary race moves to a national stage.
Man beaten by mob over theft accusations
A man has been hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries after being attacked by a mob in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Netanya.
The man was attacked by some 200 people in the Kiryat Sanz neighborhood of the coastal city after being accused of stealing, according to the Ynet news website. He says he was in the area to do work for the city.
Police are forced to come and rescue him from the melee.
Netanyahu rebuts ‘lefty’ Lapid and Liberman over BDS brouhaha
After being whacked by opposition lawmakers Lapid and Liberman over the state of Israel’s foreign policy, Netanyahu hits back, saying the critical couple are spreading BS instead of fighting BDS.
“There are those who choose to prattle and busy themselves with political conferences and there are those who fight pressures against Israel,” he says at the start of his Likud Knesset faction meeting.
He also calls Liberman and Lapid, by all accounts, a right winger and a centrist, “leftists.”
Netanyahu cites a University of Pennsylvania study that shows Israel as the eighth-strongest country in the world.
“This is because of three things: military might, international influence and international treaties,” he says.
First batch of post-truce aid begins flowing to Syrians
Aid workers have begun carrying out the first delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syrians since a landmark truce came into effect at the weekend, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said.
The Red Crescent says 10 trucks of aid including blankets and hygiene supplies provided by the United Nations had entered the besieged rebel-held town of Moadamiyet al-Sham southwest of Damascus.
Red Crescent official Muhannad al-Asadi says it is “the first delivery since the beginning of the truce” and that another 41 trucks were set to enter the town on Monday.
The trucks are carrying sanitary pads, soap, laundry detergent and blankets provided by the United Nations’ refugee and child agencies, he says.
It is the third delivery this month to Moadamiyet al-Sham, which is surrounded by pro-government forces and had seen an uptick in violence in recent months.
Biometric ID trial reportedly extended
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says he will extend a trial rollout of the biometric ID program until the end of the year, Army Radio reports.
The trial was due to end at the end of March, but Deri says he wants more information before deciding whether to go ahead with the controversial program, which allows the state to collect and store biometric data on all citizens.
Deri is expected to speak at length about his decision to extend the trial at a Knesset committee meeting on Wednesday, according to the report.
Meretz leader roasts Lapid for teaming with Liberman
After being lashed by Netanyahu, the dour dyad of Liberman and Lapid also takes heat from the left over their decision to hold a so-called emergency conference on the state of Israel’s foreign service.
Meretz leader Zehava Galon saves most of her opprobrium for Liberman, criticizing Lapid for teaming up with the right-wing politician.
“What a joke. Two opportunists who are taking advantage of the (harsh) fact that Israel doesn’t have a foreign minister, who don’t care in the slightest about Israel’s international standing,” she writes on Facebook, echoing some of Netanyahu’s talking points. “If that really interested Lapid, he wouldn’t make a conference with a former foreign minister who called for boycotting Arab businesses and judging Arab MKs ‘like at Nuremberg.'”
Guard injured in ax attack stabilizes slightly, still critical
The guard critically hurt in a Friday ax attack at a mall in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim is still in life-threatening condition but has slightly stabilized, according to the Jerusalem hospital where he is being treated.
Tzvika Cohen is still in a coma and on a respirator and is being treated in the neurosurgery ward of the intensive care unit, a spokesman for Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital says.
Cohen was unarmed at the time of the attack early Friday morning. On Sunday, his suspected assailant, a Palestinian from a neighboring town who worked in the mall, was apprehended after being turned in by his uncle.
Watch MKs go ballistic at each other over suspension bill
For anyone who might think Israel’s Knesset is an august house of diplomacy and good manners, this video from a yelling match at the Knesset Law Committee from earlier Monday will set you straight.
The fireworks start about a minute in, as a discussion over a controversial bill to allow the booting of lawmakers who misbehave goes off the rails and descends into a shouting contest fit for a Jerry Springer episode.
As Committee head Nissan Slomiansky feebly attempts to maintain control and starts throwing people out like an MLB ump, several MKs begin arguing back and forth, in line with Robert’s Rules of Disorder.
Among those kicked out of the meeting are Joint List MKs Dov Khenin and Abdullah Abu Arrouf, who repeatedly bangs his hands and says the law will not pass before being escorted out.
Turkey shells IS positions in Syria
Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkish artillery has shelled Islamic State militants’ positions in Syria.
The Anadolu Agency says that artillery units fired at IS headquarters, gun positions and vehicle-mounted rocket-launchers north of Aleppo. It said the attack took place on Sunday and some 40 IS positions were targeted.
Turkey is part of the US-led anti-IS coalition, but had been mostly focusing its attacks on Kurdish rebels inside Turkey or in northern Iraq.
Turkish artillery have also been hitting positions of a Syrian Kurdish militia group in recent weeks, claiming to be responding to provocations by the US-backed group. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be terrorists because of their affiliation to Turkey’s own Kurdish rebels.
Joint List head spars with Jewish Home MK over suspension bill
Hours after the Knesset committee dustup over a bill to suspend MKs who misbehave, Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky, who chaired the meeting which descended into chaos, defends the suspension bill as not meant only to target Arab MKs, and says democracy “must have red lines.”
He also says MKs who say they are against terror and but then “support terror” are perjuring themselves.
Sitting next to Slomiansky in the Channel 2 studio, Joint List head Ayman Odeh, who earlier threatened to quit the Knesset if the measure passes, says coalition lawmakers are inciting against Arab MKs and the Arab public, and are seeking to kick out those who want to live in coexistence.
He also denies that the measure is not intended to target Arabs and accuses the Shin Bet of giving orders to assassinate “Palestinian leaders.”
When Slomiansky asserts that Arab MKs are welcome in the Knesset unless they support terror, Odeh accuses him of “supporting the larger terror, the occupation.”
Members of Chinese Jewish community immigrate to Israel
Five women in their 20s from the Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng have arrived in Israel to become citizens.
The women, who have been studying Hebrew and Judaism in their native Kaifeng, traveled to the Western Wall upon arrival in the country earlier today.
They must still undergo a formal conversion by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
The women will continue their Jewish studies at Jerusalem’s Midreshet Nishmat-The Jeanie Schottenstein Center For Advanced Torah Study For Women, with the support of the Shavei Israel organization, which will also cover their living expenses and support them as they prepare for their conversions. Upon completion of the conversion process, they will receive Israeli citizenship.
“Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” says Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, which seeks to strengthen ties to the descendants of Jews in communities around the world. “After centuries of assimilation, a growing number of the Kaifeng Jews in recent years have begun seeking to return to their roots and embrace their Jewish identity.”
100-year-old Israeli woman celebrates 25th birthday
Maniya Bregsun, a 100-year-old woman, is celebrating her 25th birthday today, thanks to the freak coincidence of being born on February 29.
Bregsun, born in Poland in 1916, seems somewhat nonplussed by the attention as she is interviewed by Channel 2 news.
Bregsun moved to Israel in 1947 and lost her son in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
She tells the channel she is “disappointed by the government.”
“I’m not a big lefty, but I’m still not satisfied,” she says.
The presenter asks what he can wish her, and she answers back not much.
“Health already isn’t important,” she says. “I’m already near the end.”
American backing for Israel remains strong, poll shows
American support for Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinians remains strong and steady, a Gallup Poll released today shows.
For the third straight year, 62 percent of Americans say they side with Israel in the conflict, according to the poll, slightly down from an all-time high of 64% set in 2013.
Support for Palestinians drops slightly from 16% to 15% and down from 18% support in 2014.
Republican support for Israel is down slightly from 83% in 2015 to 79% earlier this month, when the poll of 1,021 adults was taken. Democrats, meanwhile, show a little more love for Israel, from 49% in 2015 to 53% now.
Support for a two-state solution rebounds slightly to 44% from a 12-year-low of 42% set in 2015. 37% of Americans oppose a Palestinian state in 2016 and 19% have no opinion.
“It is intriguing that more Americans continue to favor than oppose the creation of a Palestinian state,” Gallup says in a statement. “The finding suggests that despite the lack of US diplomatic activity on this issue in recent years, it is still something Americans would generally welcome should the next president be willing to work toward it.”
Netanyahu pans Gaza pullout at Ariel Sharon memorial
As the Knesset marks two years since the death of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu criticizes Sharon’s most-lasting contribution, the Israeli disengagement from Gaza.
“In Gaza, we received a Hamas terror base adjacent to our lands,” he says in the Knesset, according to the Walla news site. “Unfortunately we transferred government responsibilities in Gaza to Palestinians who don’t just not pursue peace with us, but who have boosted the arming of terror groups. We must at least draw the necessary conclusions from this episode.”
Belgium pushes over 600 migrants back to France
Belgium has turned back more than 600 migrants at the French border since reinstating border checks over fears about the destruction of part of the Calais “Jungle” camp, police say.
In a fresh blow to the EU’s Schengen-free travel area, Belgium announced the measure last Tuesday to stop migrants currently at Calais crossing into its territory to try to reach Britain from the port of Zeebrugge.
France has called the decision “strange.”
“Since last Tuesday 619 people have been turned back — 334 who were already in Belgian territory and 285 at the border,” Belgian police spokesman Peter de Waele tells AFP.
Belgium has deployed around 300 police including officers on horseback to enforce the border controls with France.
Syrians say Kuwait won’t let them back in
Syrian residents of Kuwait say airport officials there have kept them waiting for more than 48 hours, barring their reentry on suspicion of having forged passports.
Ayman Nashewati, a 42-year-old sound engineer who works in Kuwait, tells The Associated Press he returned on Saturday after a trip to nearby Dubai and that upon his arrival at the airport, officials put him in a waiting room with other Syrians on suspicion of having forged passports.
He says more than 50 Syrians, including children, were transferred Monday to a nearby airport hotel until further notice.
State-affiliated newspaper al-Qabas on Monday quoted an unnamed official as saying Kuwaiti authorities have been instructed not to accept Syrian passport holders due to alleged incidents of fraud with documents issued in Damascus.
Abbas said to nix alternate power line to Gaza
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has put the kibosh on a plan to build a power line between Israel and Gaza to bolster the Palestinian enclave’s shoddy electricity supply, Channel 10 news reports.
According to the unsourced report, the line, which was approved by Israel, would have been funded by an unnamed businessman and served to bypass Hamas’s control over the Strip’s power grid.
However, Abbas refused to give the go-ahead.
The report does not give a reason for Abbas’s refusal.
EU anger flares over settler video showing muzzled envoy
The European Union has cried foul to Israel over a video produced by a settler group that calls for EU envoy Lars Faaborg-Andersen to be “restrained” and depicts him with a Hannibal Lecter-esque muzzle on his face.
EU officials demanded of Israel’s ambassador to the EU in Brussels that Jerusalem condemn the video beyond a statement by Foreign Ministry head Dore Gold disavowing the clip, according to Haaretz.
The video, posted by a group called the Jerusalem Periphery Forum, blasts Faaborg-Andersen for what it calls illegal building in the capital east of Jerusalem.
“The video posted by an Israeli settler group attacking the Ambassador of the European Union to Israel is appalling. Resorting to personal threats and slander can never be justified despite differences of opinion,” the EU says in a statement. “To raise allegations of the EU supporting terror is unacceptable. We appreciate that the Israeli government has quickly condemned the video and we trust that the Israeli authorities will take appropriate action.”
— with Raphael Ahren
Palestinians say reports of PA’s collapse greatly exaggerated
The Palestinian Authority has rebuffed a claim by a top Israeli minister that the PA is on the verge of collapse, calling the remarks “absurd.”
“The remarks made by this extremist Israeli minister are an obvious reflection of the evil will of his government,” PA spokesperson Osama al-Qawasmi says in response to comments by Ze’ev Elkin earlier Monday, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
Qawasmi adds that the PA is stable.
The PA will “continue to turn the PA institutions into state institutions,” he says.
Adnan Damiri, the head of the PA’s Preventive Security Services, also dismisses the claim of imminent collapse.
“Israel and Hamas are hoping for the collapse, but it won’t happen,” he says, according to the Walla news site.
Palestinian activist Amro arrested by Israel in Hebron
Police arrested the Palestinian activist Issa Amro in Hebron for organizing a violent protest against Israeli troops in the West Bank city last week, a police spokesperson says.
Amro, who runs the Youths Against Settlements group, escaped from IDF troops that tried to arrest him on Friday during the protest, but was found and arrested in a joint IDF-Israel Police search earlier today, according to spokesperson Luba Samri.
He is being charged with organizing an illegal protest and has been taken to the Hebron police station for questioning, Samri adds.
— Judah Ari Gross
Death toll up to 38 in Baghdad funeral bombing
The death toll has risen to 38 after an IS suicide bomber struck an Iraqi funeral earlier today, wounding dozens in a crowded reception room.
A local Shiite militia leader is among the dead in a town north of Baghdad that saw a wave of revenge attacks after a similar bombing in January.
Another 58 people were wounded in the bombing in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles (90 kilometers) north of the capital, according to security and hospital officials.
The dead included a local commander in Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful Shiite militia that is part of the state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, responsible for much of the security in the area.
The attacker was wearing a suicide vest and entered the funeral hall among mourners lining up to pay their respects to the militia leader, according to a local security official.
The Islamic State group bombed a cafe frequented by militiamen in Muqdadiyah in January, killing at least 32 people and triggering a wave of revenge attacks on Sunni mosques and civilians.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch blamed the reprisal attacks on powerful militias within the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack in a statement posted online. On Sunday a double bombing in Baghdad claimed by the IS group killed 73 people.
Palestinian workers okayed to return to Ma’ale Adumim
Police will allow Palestinians to enter the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim starting from Tuesday, after banning laborers following a Friday terror attack.
The decision came after a situation assessment by police officials earlier in the day according to a police statement.
Police had originally said they would ban workers from the large settlement east of Jerusalem until Thursday at least, before apprehending the attacker Sunday morning.
The assailant had worked in Ma’ale Adumim. Police say they have re-examined the regulations for not allowing Palestinian workers with criminal or terror links into settlements after the attack.
Police add they are continuing to bolster their forces in area settlements, especially in areas where people congregate, industrial zones and shopping centers.
US steps up anti Islamic State operations in Iraq
The US army has begun deploying its elite Delta Force commando unit for special operations in Iraq to target the Islamic State, CNN reports, citing US officials.
The force will be involved in carrying out raids to arrest and kill IS members, free hostages and capture areas, according to the channel, quoting US Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
“The only thing I’ll say is the (Expeditionary Targeting Force) is in position, it is having an effect and operating, and I expect it to be a very effective part of our acceleration campaign,” Carter tells reporters.
Carter says the army is gearing up to retake the city of Mosul, which will include greater US involvement than in other operations.
“Will we do more to enable them as they go north? Yes, we fully expect to do that,” Carter says.
He mentions providing more logistics support for Iraqi ground operations and helping set up temporary bridges that allow Iraqi forces to move into the northern Iraqi city, which is situated on the Tigris River. The Islamic State captured Mosul nearly two years ago and has used it as its major stronghold in Iraq.
Carter says the Iraqi troops will take the lead role in the Mosul campaign, with the US in support.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the operation to retake Mosul will be bigger than Ramadi.
“I, like the secretary, think we would do more in Mosul than Ramadi just because of the order of magnitude of the operation in Mosul would indicate to me that we would have more U.S. support in Mosul than we did in Ramadi,” Dunford says.
The two also indicate the US is stepping up cyber warfare operations against the Islamic State group
The US-led coalition is working to disrupt IS’s command chain “to cause them to lose confidence in their networks,” Carter says.
He does not offer technical specifics on how the coalition was doing this but said the tactic was to “overload their network so that they can’t function, and do all of these things that will interrupt their ability to command and control forces there, control the population and the economy.”
— with AP and AFP
IDF trades fire with Palestinians in West Bank camp
An IDF unit is trading fire with Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank refugee camp of Qalandiya, between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The troops are setting off flares inside the camp, Ynet reports.
Troops rescue soldiers who mistakenly enter West Bank camp
The IDF says tonight’s exchanges of fire in Qalandiya in the West Bank come as troops enter the refugee camp to rescue two soldiers who had mistakenly driven there.
The two flee and are separated after their car is attacked by a Palestinian mob with stones and Molotov cocktails, and then set on fire.
Multiple army, Shin Bet, and special forces are rushed to the scene to locate the two before they are hurt.
The two are found — one some 20 minutes ago and the other moments ago.
There are no Israeli injuries in the firefights with Palestinian gunmen that break out.
The Palestinians say several youths are hurt in the gunfire.