Negotiators from six world powers and Iran convened in Switzerland Monday morning, as they scrambled to reach a high-stakes deal before a Tuesday deadline.
In Israel, former prime minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of fraud and breach of trust in a lengthy retrial of a corruption scandal that knocked him from power in 2009. Olmert’s lawyers say they will likely appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile reports surfaced that Hamas was fuming at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after he called on Sunni states to intervene in Gaza and end strife between Palestinian factions. Abbas was speaking on Sunday at the Arab League summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The Times of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.
Scores hurt in Damascus mortar attack
A mortar attack on a historic souk in central Damascus kills one person and wounds dozens, Syria’s official news agency says.
“Terrorists launched two mortar rounds on Tarek Ben Ziyad Street, in the Al-Hariqa market of Damascus, which killed one person, wounded 30 others,” SANA reported, citing a high-ranking police source.
Situated within the walls of the Old City, the souk is one of the oldest and most famous marketplaces in the capital, popular among tourists and locals alike.
US to take ‘hard look’ at options if Iran deadline missed
The United States will have to take a “hard look” at its options if a looming deadline to reach a nuclear deal with Iran is missed, a senior US official says.
“I don’t want to predict what the outcome will be,” acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf says, asked what would happen if there is no agreement on the broad outlines of a deal by a Tuesday midnight deadline. An interim accord struck with Iran in November 2013 will however stay in place until June 30.
“Now is really the time to make the decisions,” Harf says, while stressing that amid tough talks with global powers Washington is not going to “rush to make a bad deal.”
Minimum wage to rise by NIS 300 this week
The Histadrut Labor Union and business groups agree to raise the minimum monthly wage in the private sector by NIS 300 (about $75) within two days, from NIS 4,300 to NIS 4,600. The minimum salary will again be raised by NIS 400 within 18 months, and a year later by another NIS 300, reaching NIS 5,300 by December 2017.
The decision was made by the outgoing Knesset. It is unlikely however, that the new finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, who entered the Knesset on a social agenda, will interfere with the three-stage process, Channel 2 reports.
State Dept. denies deal was close yesterday
US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies reports from yesterday morning that a deal with Iran was nearly reached and the Iranians backed out at the last minute.
“Unfortunately the details in that story aren’t accurate,” Harf says. “The notion that we had some agreement in the last 24 hours is factually inaccurate.”
“All of the details of this agreement are interrelated to each other, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Harf says. “On that specific issue of whether their stockpile will be shipped to another country or will be diluted in-country, we and Iran have not come to an agreement on that, even tentatively. So the notion that in the last 24 hours there has been some breakdown in that agreement on that issue just isn’t accurate.”
Obama says US must ‘never fear negotiations’
Obama defends controversial negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, during a ceremony in honor of the late Senator Ted Kennedy.
During the ceremony, where Obama dedicates a museum and learning center in Kennedy’s name, he says that Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to attend but is currently working to finalize negotiations with Iran. Obama lauds Kerry for “standing up for a principle that Ted and his brother, President Kennedy, believed in so strongly: let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate.”
113 orphaned boys celebrate Bar Mitzvah together
113 orphans took part in a mass Bar Mitzva at the Western Wall in Jerusalem earlier today, with all expenses covered by donors. Many of the families in attendance came from economically disadvantaged backgrounds where the prospect of such a complete celebration would never have been possible.
The one thing common to all of 113 boys is the loss of at least one parent, to illness, tragic accident or in some cases suicide.
The event was sponsored by the Colel Chabad organization.
Erdogan insists Iran visit still on
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists he is still planning to visit Iran next week, despite a war of words with the Islamic republic triggered by the Yemen crisis and his accusations Tehran is seeking domination of the region.
Majority Sunni Muslim Turkey said it supports the Saudi-led operation against Iran-allied Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen to restore order in the country.
Meanwhile Iran announces it “invited” the Turkish envoy to the foreign ministry for an explanation after Erdogan said last week that Tehran’s bid for domination of the region could no longer be tolerated.
“We are keeping the program of our visit (to Iran) but we are watching developments in Yemen,” Erdogan tells reporters at Istanbul airport before heading on a visit to Slovenia, Slovakia and Romania.
“The developments in Yemen are for us very, very important,” he says.
In another jab at Iran after arriving in Slovenia, Erdogan says all those outside Yemen “involved in this attack against its territorial integrity” should leave now.
Iranian deputy FM skeptical on chance for deal
The Iranian deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, is pessimistic about the possibility of reaching a framework agreement between world powers and Iran on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and says it is “very possible that we will find out tomorrow we cannot reach solutions and the talks will need to continue in a different form.”
Araqchi says “it could not be argued that significant progress was reached in these talks.”
Earlier Monday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov left Switzerland for Russia. Moscow said he would be back in Lausanne tomorrow if a deal is reached.
The Chinese foreign minister said, on the other hand, that gaps were narrowing and a framework deal was within reach by March 31, the White House-set deadline for a framework agreement, ahead of a final agreement with a deadline of June 30.
Loyola U. students vote for Israel divestment
The Student Government of Loyola University in Chicago narrowly passes a resolution to divest from companies that do business with Israel.
The vote on March 26 was 15 to 15, with two abstentions. The speaker of the student senate broke the tie with a vote in favor of the resolution.
More than an hour of public debate and three hours of debate by student senators preceded the vote, according to the university’s student newspaper, the Loyola Phoenix. The voting was anonymous due to fear of reprisals.
The companies named in the resolution are Caterpillar, United Technologies Co., Raytheon, and Valero.
The tie-breaking vote came from an intern for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, the College Fix news website reported. The CAIR Chicago chapter assisted the Loyola Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, which sponsored the resolution, after it was temporarily suspended from holding campus activities following the harassment of a Jewish group on campus.
The Loyola Student Government passed a divestment resolution in March 2014, but the resolution was vetoed by the student body president. The university also issued a statement at the time that it would not adopt the student’s divestment proposal if passed.
Egypt warships reportedly bombing Yemen
Egyptian battle ships bombarded Houthi rebel positions in Yemen, east of the port city of Aden in the southwestern part of the country, Sky News in Arabic reports.
According to other reports some of the bombs hit Houthi vehicles, but another salvo struck at a convoy of vehicles where loyalists of deposed Sunni President Ali Abdallah Saleh were traveling.
Ex-CIA chief says Iran is ‘like Nazi Germany’
Iran is trying to expand its empire much like Hitler’s Germany before World War II, former CIA Director James Woolsey tells MSNBC on Monday, citing the Islamic Republic’s moves to extend its influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
“They are doing it on a highly ideological basis. They never cease chanting ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to the United States,'” Woolsey tells the American news network. “They are an imperial power and trying to become more of an imperial power.”
Woolsey calls for a halt in the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, which are led by US Secretary of State John Kerry: “Given Iran’s aggressiveness and the fanaticism of its leaders, I don’t think we can do a reasonable deal with them. They’ll cheat.”
Read the full story here.
Air raid kills 45 at Yemen displaced camp
An air strike killed dozens of people at a camp for displaced people in northwest Yemen, aid workers say, as Arab warplanes bombarded rebels around the country.
The International Organization for Migration says 45 internally displaced people were killed and 65 wounded at the al-Mazrak camp in Hajja province.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman tells AFP that the organization has 75 staff on hand assisting the victims.
Earlier, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said 15 dead bodies and 30 wounded were taken to a hospital where it operates near the al-Mazrak camp. “It was an air strike,” said MSF’s Middle East program manager Pablo Marco.
The al-Mazrak camp has since 2009 been housing Yemenis displaced by the conflict between northern Houthi rebels and the central government. Marco said 500 new families had arrived at the camp over the past two days.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition has been pounding rebel positions in Yemen since early Thursday.
Small Palestinian demo for Land Day in J’lem
A few dozen Palestinians gathered at Damascus Gate of the Old City on Land Day, singing nationalistic songs. A number of local officials attended the gathering, including PLO official and former Jerusalem affairs minister Hatem Abdul Qader.
As demonstrators moved from the gate to Sultan Suleiman Street, they were stopped by Border Police and cavalry, which arrested at least one man. The gathering dispersed with no further incident.
– Elhanan Miller
PA mufti calls on Muslims to ‘liberate Palestine’
Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of the Palestinian Authority, said last week that “the land of Palestine is Waqf, i.e., inalienable religious endowment, according to Islamic law. It must neither be relinquished, nor must any part of it be sold… It is the duty of the leaders of the [Islamic] nation and its peoples to liberate Palestine and Jerusalem.”
Hussein was appointed in 2006 by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the position, which is the most senior religious post in the PA.
The mufti made the comments at a conference of Muslim scholars “over 46 countries,” according to a report in al-Hayat al-Jadida, according to Palestinian Media Watch, an NGO that monitors Palestinian public media outlets.
Turkish plane crash-lands over bomb scare
A Turkish Airlines plane crash-lands in Morocco after an anonymous caller tells the airline there is a bomb on the plane.
Security sources are examining the reliability of the information. The plane was bound for Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Gov’t approves large housing project for Jerusalem Arabs
The Regional Planning Committee at the Interior Ministry approves a master plan for the construction of thousands of homes for the Arab population in the a-Sawahara neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
As part of the program, 2,200 new homes will be built, and several hundred houses — which were built without permits — will be retroactively approved.
The decision was passed, Ynet reports, despite a significant effort by right-wing activists to nix the plan. Jerusalem Municipality council member Aryeh King, a radical right-wing activist, sent Interior Minister Gilad Erdan a letter in which he claimed the plan was not fully thought-out and that construction on the ground will widely exceed the details of the plan.
UK election campaign officially begins
British Prime Minister David Cameron warns voters they face a “stark choice” in May’s tight election, as he kicks off campaigning after a ceremonial visit to Queen Elizabeth II.
Cameron spent 25 minutes with the 88-year-old head of state in Buckingham Palace formalizing the dissolution of parliament before a May 7 election expected to be Britain’s closest in decades as his Conservatives battle Ed Miliband’s opposition Labour party.
The short, chauffeur-driven journey from 10 Downing Street up The Mall to Buckingham Palace was once a constitutional necessity for British premiers, but is now a mere courtesy call following the introduction of fixed-term parliaments in 2011.
Cameron, who remains prime minister for the duration of the election campaign, then addressed voters back at Downing Street.
“In 38 days’ time, you face a stark choice. The next prime minister walking through that door will be me or Ed Miliband,” he said.
“After five years of effort and sacrifice, Britain is on the right track. This election is about moving forward and as prime minister here at Number 10, that is what I will deliver.”
Iran says US drone killed 2 Revolutionary Guards
Iran says a US Unmanned Aerial Vehicle attacking in Iraq killed two advisers to the Revolutionary Guards.
A statement published by the Revolutionary Guards says the sortie took place a week ago, shortly after coalition forces started aerial assaults intended to help Iraqi forces reclaim control of Tikrit.
The communique says the two advisers were buried on Sunday.
The US Embassy in Baghdad clarified that the international coalition was only aiming at Islamic State targets and that all aerial attacks were being coordinated with Iraqi authorities.
IDF officer lightly hurt by rock throwers
An IDF officer was lightly hurt today when a Palestinian protester threw a rock at him during a demonstration near Tzur Hadassah, approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) southwest of Jerusalem.
The soldier was treated on the scene and was not taken to the hospital.
Hamas furious at Abbas for calling on Sunni world to intervene in Gaza
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are furious at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for urging an Arab intervention in the Gaza Strip akin to the Saudi-led assault on Yemen, the Anadolu press agency reports.
The two movements organized a march on Sunday night that kicked off in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza to denounce Abbas’s remarks, according to the agency.
Abbas’s comments came on the last day of the Arab League summit, which concluded in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday. Abbas warned of attempts to establish a separate state in the Gaza Strip through a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, the agency reports.
During the Sunday march, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said that Gazans “won’t have mercy on anyone that attacks Gaza.
“We won’t be merciful to Abbas, just like we weren’t merciful to Netanyahu,” he added, referring to the summer war between Hamas and Israel.
“Abbas had previously described Gaza as a rebellious region and seeks to pit the world against his own people, not to mention that he works with the Israelis against his Palestinians,” al-Masri said. He urged members of Fatah to repudiate the remarks by Abbas.
Israel Police seeks help in search for missing soldier
The Israel Police seeks the public’s assistance in its search for missing soldier Alexander Haikin, 21.
Haikin, from Rehovot, was last seen on Saturday, March 28, on the fourth floor of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, wearing a blue tracksuit and carrying a blue backpack.
Haikin is 1.75 meters tall, brown eyed and of medium build, with close-cropped hair.
He was supposed to return to his base in Julis from leave on March 22.
Anyone who has seen Haikin is requested to contact the Rehovot Police at 08-9371500 or 08-9371481, or to dial 100 for the Israel Police emergency hotline.
Oops — passport numbers of world leaders sent to wrong email address
A clerk in the Australian immigration division accidentally emailed the wrong personal details of world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to a report in The Guardian, the clerk emailed the personal details of leaders who attended the G20 summit in Brisbane in November last year to the organizing committee of the Asian Cup football competition, which was held in Australia early this year.
The following information was emailed: the name, place of birth, job, nationality, passport number and visa number of Obama, Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Apparently the clerk used Microsoft Outlook and started typing an email address, but did not notice the auto-complete function completed the email address of the incorrect name.
PM: ‘Message from Lausanne: Aggression is rewarded’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says “the deal taking shape in Lausanne sends a message that there is no price to pay for aggression, even the opposite — Iran’s aggression will be rewarded. The moderate and responsible countries in the region, with Israel at the helm but also many other countries, will be the first to be hurt by such an agreement.
“It is incomprehensible how forces supported by Iran continue to conquer more and more land, and in Lausanne they close their eyes to this aggression,” Netanyahu adds.
He is referring to the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 states, which have been taking place in Lausanne, Switzerland, for the past week and a half; and to the war in Yemen by the Houthis, a subsect of Shiite Islam, against the country’s Sunni president and government.
Iran, the world’s most powerful Shiite nation, has been tacitly supporting the Houthi rebels.
ADL sees 21% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in 2014
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 21 percent in 2014 compared to 2013, the first year in almost a decade that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise.
“While the overall number of anti-Semitic incidents remains lower than we have seen historically, the fact remains that 2014 was a particularly violent year for Jews both overseas and in the United States,” says ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman.
“The fatal shootings in Overland Park, Kansas, at a Jewish community center building and at a senior residence by a white supremacist whose goal was to ‘kill Jews’ and other violent episodes were tragic reminders that lethal anti-Semitism continues to pose a threat to American Jews and larger society as well,” continues Foxman.
A marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents was noted during the 50 days of war last summer in Gaza between Hamas and Israel, known as Operation Protective Edge. Anti-Semitic acts, the ADL notes, manifested on the fringe of anti-Israel movements during and after the operation as Jewish individuals and institutions became the targets of anti-Semitic rhetoric and acts of vandalism.
Shin Bet nabs Jerusalem man who tried joining IS
The Shin Bet announces today that Khalil Adel Khalil, born in 1990 and a resident of the A-Tur neighborhood in Jerusalem, was arrested on March 1 for association with the Islamic State.
According to a Shin Bet statement, Khalil said during his interrogation that he worked as a medical staffer at the Eitanim Hospital and that already in August 2014 planned to travel to Syria with his friend Sami a-Aziz Abu Sneina and to join the Sunni extremist terror group in Syria.
The two men said they decided to join IS after watching recruitment videos online.
Khalil confessed that, before leaving Israel, he told his family and bosses he wanted a vacation in order to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Khalil and Abu Sneina, however, each bought a one-way-ticket to Turkey. From Istanbul they traveled to a safe house in the south of the country, where they met other IS recruits, including two other Israeli Arabs.
But Khalil resurfaced in Israel several weeks later and was arrested for interrogation by the Shin Bet. Today, an indictment was served at the Jerusalem District Court accusing the suspect of attempting to join an unlawful organization, attempting to contact foreign agents and traveling to illegal destinations.
Topol to receive Israel Prize
Israeli theater and film actor Chaim Topol is to receive the Israel Prize for his life’s work, it was announced today.
The selection committee remarked that Topol’s activity made a mark on the foundations of stage performance and that his influence is felt, to this day, in Israeli entertainment, music and cultural life.
Topol rose to fame in the star role in Fiddler on the Roof, a musical about Jewish life in Russia in the 19th century, adapted from a play and filmed in 1971. He was nominated for an Academy Award for the role.