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UN chief asks Israel to reverse West Bank land seizure

One suspect killed in Brussels terror raid; President Rivlin lands in Moscow for meeting with Putin amid Russia pullout from Syria

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a visit to the northern border of Israel on August 18, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot during a visit to the northern border of Israel on August 18, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
  • Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
    Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
  • US actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks during a press conference at a Syrian refugee camp, in the eastern city of Zahleh, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    US actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks during a press conference at a Syrian refugee camp, in the eastern city of Zahleh, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

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

Police question soldier in alleged stabbing attempt

Police are questioning a soldier who said he narrowly escaped a stabbing attempt at the entrance to an airport in northern Tel Aviv.

Officials were treating the case as being “nationalistically motivated,” a spokesperson said, a phrase that indicates a terror attack.

The soldier provided a description of the suspect, but police are withholding that information as they search.

TA schools on high alert as manhunt for alleged terrorist continues

Due to the ongoing manhunt for a suspected terrorist who allegedly attempted to carry out a stabbing attack in north Tel Aviv earlier today, the municipality announces that schools in the area are on high alert.

Children in schools in north Tel Aviv will only be allowed to go home if accompanied by an adult.

Earlier, a soldier said he narrowly escaped a stabbing attempt at the entrance to an airport in northern Tel Aviv, according to police.

Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The alleged stabber is said to have escaped the scene in his car and large forces were deployed to search for the suspect in the busy city.

Police said the suspect was in a car and drove up to the soldier at a bus stop near the entrance to the Sde Dov airport.

The incident occurred at the intersection of Rokach boulevard and Ibn Gabirol boulevard, police said.

Russia’s Syria withdrawal caught Israel by surprise

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot says Israel was caught off-guard by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on Monday that Moscow’s forces will begin withdrawing from Syria.

Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot, seen here when he was still a major general. (Flash 90)

Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot, seen here when he was still a major general. (Flash 90)

Speaking at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he says Syria will never return to its previous state, and may be permanently divided into six distinct regions.

Police say TA schools can operate as usual

Police say children in schools in north Tel Aviv can leave return to their homes as usual at the end of the school day, despite an ongoing manhunt for a suspected terrorist who allegedly attempted to carry out a stabbing attack in the city earlier today.

Schools in the area had previously said they would not release children to their homes unless accompanied by adults in light of the search.

Army Radio should stay out of civilian matters – Eisenkot

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot says he believes it is inappropriate for Army Radio to comment on civilian matters.

He does not for thee station to be shut, however.

IS leader al-Shishani dies of wounds from US strike in Syria

Top Islamic State commander and feared ethnic Chechen jihadi fighter Omar al-Shishani dies of wounds suffered in a US airstrike in Syria, a senior Iraqi intelligence official and the head of a Syrian activist group says.

There is no immediate confirmation of his death from the Islamic State group but the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency denies he was killed, saying that the “he was not subjected to any injury.” The outlet quotes an unnamed “source” for the denial, without giving further details or evidence that al-Shishani was still alive.

An American spokesman for the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in Iraq said the alliance was also confirming the militant commander had died.

Omar al-Shishani (YouTube screenshot)

Omar al-Shishani (YouTube screenshot)

The red-bearded ethnic Chechen was one of the most prominent IS commanders, who earlier served as the group’s military commander for the territory it controls in Syria. He later became the commander of the group’s ground forces, according to Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar and author who closely follows the group.

— AP

Site of 1503 shipwreck tied to Vasco da Gama found off Oman

The 500-year-old wreckage of a Portuguese ship piloted by an uncle of explorer Vasco da Gama is found off the coast of Oman, archaeologists say, a discovery that includes the recovery of an incredibly rare coin.

The Esmeralda sank during a violent storm near al-Hallaniyah Island in the Indian Ocean in May 1503, killing commander Vicente Sodre and all those aboard.

Beginning in 2013, a team from the British company Blue Water Recoveries and the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture explored a site in the island’s Ghubbat ar Rahib Bay. They later determined the debris found there came from the long-missing ship, one of two lost in the storm from da Gama’s second voyage to India.

Among the stone shot, ceramics, a bell and other debris, divers discover an incredibly rare silver coin called an Indio, of which only one other is known to exist today, says David L. Mearns, the director of Blue Water Recoveries. The coins were forged in 1499 after da Gama’s first voyage to India, which helps date the wreckage, he says.

In this undated photo made available by Blue Water Recoveries company on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, divers excavate the wreck site of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's ship, Esmeralda which sank in a storm in May 1503 off the coast of Al Hallaniyah island in Oman's Dhofar region. (Blue Water Recoveries company via AP)

In this undated photo made available by Blue Water Recoveries company on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, divers excavate the wreck site of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s ship, Esmeralda which sank in a storm in May 1503 off the coast of Al Hallaniyah island in Oman’s Dhofar region. (Blue Water Recoveries company via AP)

“That was an amazing discovery,” Mearns says. “It was like a thing you read about in a Hollywood story.”

The archaeologists announce their findings in an article published by The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Ayoub al-Busaidi, the supervisor of marine archaeology at the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture, says this marked the first underwater excavation carried out by his country. He says it inspired officials to continue to explore the waters around the sultanate for other finds.

“Oman is now looking at outside archives to read about the relationships and trade between Oman and the outside” world, al-Busaidi says.

— AP

Iran hopes Syria talks will defeat ‘enemies’

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader tells the visiting Syrian deputy foreign minister that Iran hopes Syria peace talks in Geneva will be a success and that the Damascus government will be “victorious against enemies.”

The official IRNA news agency cites Ali Akbar Velayati as telling Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad that Tehran officials “are hopeful that you succeed in the talks as you were successful in war and defending Syrian territory.”

Velayati, an adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says that “despite plenty of damages to Syria, the country resisted against serious attacks, equivalent to a little world war, and became victorious.”

He says that Iran, as well as Shiite-led Iraqi cabinet and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, played a key role in helping Damascus’ government.

— AP

Police say Tel Aviv knife incident not a terror attack

The suspected knife incident in north Tel Aviv was not terror-related, police investigators say.

They add that witness accounts and video footage from the scene at Sde Dov indicate that a solider was approached by a homeless person.

The soldier apparently mistook the man for a terrorist.

Police are continuing their investigation.

Angelina Jolie, in Lebanon, says world has failed refugees

Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood actress and special envoy for the UN’s refugee agency, says the international community must address the root causes of the global refugee crisis.

Under the pouring rain at a press conference Tuesday in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Jolie says: “We cannot manage the world through aid relief in the place of diplomacy and political solutions.”

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have sought refuge in the Bekaa. Lebanon hosts well over a million Syrian refugees, who now account for nearly a fifth of its population.

US actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks during a press conference at a Syrian refugee camp, in the eastern city of Zahleh, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

US actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks during a press conference at a Syrian refugee camp, in the eastern city of Zahleh, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Jolie says she had hoped to be in Syria helping victims return to their homes on the fifth anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar Assad. She says it’s “tragic and shameful that we seem to be so far from that point.”

— AP

2 Yitzhar residents arrested for allegedly hurling stones

Two residents of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar are arrested on suspicion of throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles near the entrance to the village of Asira al-Qibliya, east of the city of Nablus.

The two, aged 18 and 16, are arrested at the Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva where they learn.

PM offers condolences to Ivory Coast after terror attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Ivory Coast President Alassane Dramane Ouattara and expresses his condolences, and the solidarity of the Israeli people, over a terrorist attack that occurred Sunday at a resort in the African country.

The prime minister says Israel is ready to assist in the fight against terrorism.

Netanyahu invites Ouattara to visit Israel.

People leave the beach after heavily armed gunmen opened fire at a hotel in the Ivory Coast beach resort of Grand-Bassam, March 13, 2016. (AFP/ISSOUF SANOGO)

People leave the beach after heavily armed gunmen opened fire at a hotel in the Ivory Coast beach resort of Grand-Bassam, March 13, 2016. (AFP/ISSOUF SANOGO)

Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate claimed a deadly attack by heavily armed gunmen on an Ivory Coast resort on Sunday that killed at least 16 people, US-based monitors said.

The strike, which targeted three hotels in the former French colonial capital that is popular with Western expatriates, killed 14 civilians and two special forces troops, he said.

The resort lies on the Gulf of Guinea around 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the commercial hub Abidjan.

Shots fired at Brussels police during search linked to Paris attacks

Shots are fired at a Belgian police officer in the capital Brussels as they carried out an operation linked to the Paris attacks, Belgian prosecutors tells AFP.

“Police were fired at,” says Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor, adding that the search in the southern Forest district was “linked to the Paris attacks investigation.”

Two suspects are on the run after the incident, the Derniere Heure newspaper reports.

— AFP

French envoy meets Israelis, Palestinians on peace plan

Palestinian leaders express hope for a new French push for peace efforts in talks with a Paris envoy, after he faced skepticism in meetings with Israel.

Pierre Vimont, France’s point man on efforts to hold an international peace conference by the summer, holds talks in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, foreign minister Riyad al-Malki and top negotiator Saeb Erekat.

“The French ideas are timely, the French ideas are realistic and the French ideas are the only thing in town, and those who care about peace between Palestinians and Israelis must fully support the French ideas,” Erekat says.

France launched the effort earlier this year to host an international conference to revive peace talks. It initially vowed to recognize a Palestinian state if talks failed, but French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault later said the recognition would not be automatic.

File: Pierre Vimont, France's special envoy for peace initiative (Youtube screenshot)

File: Pierre Vimont, France’s special envoy for peace initiative (Youtube screenshot)

Vimont on Monday met Israeli foreign ministry director general Dore Gold, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel wants direct negotiations with the Palestinians and sought to “understand the initiative’s logic” during talks with Vimont.

“The Israeli side emphasized the importance of direct, bilateral negotiations, with no prior conditions between the parties,” he said.

— AFP

US ‘treasure hunter’ arrested after night in Jerusalem cave

A US tourist is arrested after spending a night in a cave below Jerusalem’s Old City in what may have been a search for mythical buried treasure, police and media reports say.

The tourist was found on Friday after spending the night in Zedekiah’s Cave, also known as Solomon’s Quarries, a 20,000-square-meter area beneath the Muslim quarter of the Old City.

Haaretz reports that the 19-year-old tourist, who was not identified, hid inside the site at closing time on Thursday before digging in different areas of the cave.

Several worthless limestone rocks were found in his backpack, police say.

Haaretz reports that the odd expedition may have been linked to “Jerusalem Syndrome” — the name given to what some tourists experience when they are overwhelmed while visiting the Holy Land due to its religious significance.

Zedekiah’s Cave is the remnant of what was once the largest quarry in Jerusalem, dating back at least to the Second Jewish Temple period, from the sixth century BCE to the first century CE.

Several myths are associated with the site, including treasure supposedly buried there.

Under Jewish tradition, King Zedekiah sought to escape through it during the destruction of the First Jewish Temple in 586 CE.

It has also served as a ceremonial site for Freemasons.

— AFP

BDS activists stick anti-Israel labels on products in Canadian stores

Two Canadian corporations promise vigilance after pro-Palestinian activists plastered their products with anti-Israel stickers.

In recent weeks, Facebook posts by those advocating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel have shown warning labels affixed to bottles of Israeli wine for sale in Vancouver and grocery products at a store in Calgary.

“Shopping was fun!” announced Calgary BDS activist Billie Jones on her Facebook page earlier this month. A photo there shows anti-Israel labels stuck on several grocery products.

The photo reveals the act took place at an outlet of No Frills, a chain owned by the Canadian grocery giant Loblaw Corp. Ltd.

“I can confirm that an individual placed stickers on some products in a Calgary No Frills last week,” Catherine Thomas, Loblaw’s director of external communications, says in response to a JTA query.

“The stickers were removed immediately by store staff,” Thomas adds. “However, no one saw the person who applied them. In instances like this, our general practice would be to ban the individual from the store moving forward.”

The stickers read: “Warning! Made in Israel: A country violating international law, the 4th Geneva Convention, and fundamental human rights…#BDS.”

They were stuck on Pampers diapers, made by Procter & Gamble, one of the largest clients of an Israeli company that supplies diaper products; on Coffee-mate, made by Nestle, which has a large business footprint in Israel; and McCafe coffee by McDonald’s, which BDS activists say has partnered with US Jewish groups to promote trips to Israel.

Meanwhile, stickers proclaiming “Israeli apartheid, don’t buy into it” were affixed to five bottles of Efrat white wine, made in the Judean Hills of Israel and the West Bank, at a Vancouver liquor store. Photos of the stickers on the wine bottles also were posted on Facebook.

Employees “immediately” removed the stickers, says Viola Kaminski, a spokeswoman for the British Columbia Liquor distribution branch.

“While this appears to be an isolated incident at this point, we are advising store managers to be extra vigilant in monitoring these wines,” Kaminski says. “Our corporate loss prevention team is also aware of this issue and is advising store security teams to continue monitoring these wines carefully as well.”

— JTA

Toronto attacker says ‘Allah’ told him to stab soldiers

A man who stabbed two Canadian soldiers at a military recruiting office in Toronto on Monday night says he was acting on orders from “Allah,” police say.

Police chief Mark Saunders tells a press conference that suspect Ayanle Hassan Ali appears to have acted alone and that so far “there is nothing to suggest the accused is working with anyone or in concert with any organization.”

— AFP

3 Belgian police injured during anti-terror raid

A Brussels police official says that three police officers have been slightly injured when shots were fired during an anti-terror raid in the Belgian capital.

The police official, who requested anonymity because the operation was still ongoing, says the exact circumstances of the incident were still unclear, or whether the police officers were struck by bullets or injured in another way.

Media reported that the anti-terror raid took place in the Forest neighborhood, which is close to Molenbeek, home of several people involved in the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris that killed 130 people.

— AP

Israel seizes 600 acres of West Bank land

Israel declares 234 (about 600 acres) hectares of West Bank territory as state land, officials say, leading a watchdog to warn of possible settlement expansion that could increase tensions with Palestinians.

COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for implementing government policies in the Palestinian territories, says the move was taken “in accordance with the decision of the political level.”

It gives no further explanation nor more details, but settlement watchdog Peace Now says the land involved is south of the Palestinian city of Jericho and close to the Dead Sea.

Peace Now says the land — equivalent in size to more than 250 soccer fields — is the biggest reclassification since a seizure of 400 hectares in 2014.

The NGO says the order to seize the land was signed on March 10 as US Vice President Joe Biden wrapped up a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, though COGAT refused to comment on the timing.

Palestinians who claim ownership of the land can appeal the decision within 45 days.

Peace Now says the land could help link up and potentially expand local Jewish settlements.

“This declaration is a de facto confiscation of Palestinian lands for the purpose of settlement,” a statement says.

“Instead of trying to calm the situation, the government is adding fuel to the fire.”

— AFP

Iran says it recovered information from US sailors’ devices

Iran has retrieved thousands of pages of information from devices used by US Navy sailors who were briefly detained in January, the country’s state television reports.

The report quotes Gen. Ali Razmjou, a naval commander in the powerful Revolutionary Guard, as saying that information filling about 13,000 pages was retrieved from laptops, GPS devices and maps.

He says the move falls within Iran’s rights under international regulations, and that the information recovered could be used in “various fields.” Iranian authorities returned all the devices taken from the Americans even though it had the right to confiscate them, he says.

This photo released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, shows detention of American Navy sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)

This photo released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, shows detention of American Navy sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)

The Guard plans to publish a book on the incident based on international reactions and coverage of the event, Razmjou adds.

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, which is responsible for American naval forces in the Gulf, says it was aware of the report but had no immediate comment.

The sailors, nine men and one woman, were detained for less than a day in January after they drifted into Iranian waters off Farsi Island, an outpost in the middle of the Persian Gulf that has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats since the 1980s.

— AP

Turkey IDs Ankara bomber as PKK rebel who trained in Syria

Turkey’s Interior Ministry has identified the attacker who carried out a deadly suicide attack in Ankara as a 24-year-old woman who allegedly joined the Kurdish rebels in 2013 and trained in Syria.

A government statement identifies the bomber blamed for killing 37 people, including herself, as Seher Cagla Demir.

People carry an injured person after an explosion in the busy center of Turkish capital, Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP)

People carry an injured person after an explosion in the busy center of Turkish capital, Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP)

The statement says Demir joined the PKK rebels, crossed into Syria and received what it called “terror training” from a PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish militia.

— AP

Anti-Semitic slogans, swastikas painted on synagogue in France

Unidentified individuals painted anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas on a synagogue in the French city of Verdun but failed to break in.

Congregants discovered the vandalism on Saturday morning, Jean Blacharz, the local community’s vice president, tells the L’Est Républicain daily. He adds that the incident was the first of its kind in recent memory in Verdun, in northeast France.

“I am speechless, shocked and outraged at this incident,” Blacharz says.

Two black swastikas were drawn on a relief shaped like the Tablets of Testimony that adorns the synagogue’s entrance. “Screw the Jews” and another profanity were written on an exterior wall.

The vandals also kicked open an outer door, but were unable to enter the more sturdy portal behind it.

Police are investigating the incident and have placed extra security around the small community’s house of worship.

— JTA

UN chief says success in Syria talks is crucial

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is appealing to all parties in the Syria conflict to make the current negotiations successful, warning that the consequences of failure “are too frightening to contemplate.”

Marking the fifth anniversary of the Syrian uprising on Tuesday, Ban says President Bashar Assad’s government could have responded to the demands of protesters “with genuine dialogue and reform.”

He says other states in the region and elsewhere could have united to help stabilize Syria rather than use it as a battlefield.

Instead, Ban says, over 250,000 people have been killed, nearly half the population has been forced from their homes, and the world has been confronted “with an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.”

Ban says those responsible for using chemical weapons, siege and starvation as a tool of war, torture and indiscriminate bombing of civilians “must be held to account.” He again urges the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

— AP

Rivlin lands in Moscow for meeting with Putin

President Reuven Rivlin lands in Moscow for a two-day trip during which he will meet with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and leaders of the local Jewish community.

“There’s a need for coordination with Russia in the current situation we’re in,” Rivlin tells traveling press on the flight. “Everybody agrees that the Islamic State organization is a danger for the entire world, but fundamental Shiite Iranian fundamentalist Islam is for us just as dangerous.”

Cazeneuve says French and Belgian police came under fire in Brussels

French and Belgian police came under fire in Brussels during a search operation linked to the Paris attacks, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says.

“A team made up of Belgian and French police came under fire, apparently from assault weapons, during a raid,” he says after arriving in the Ivorian capital following a weekend shooting rampage by jihadists that killed 18.

In this photo taken on Monday Feb. 16, 2015, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, at his office in Paris. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

In this photo taken on Monday Feb. 16, 2015, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve gestures during an interview with the Associated Press, at his office in Paris. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

“I’m being prudent because the operation is ongoing and I won’t make any other comment than to confirm that this did take place,” he tells a news conference.

— AFP

Paris suspect Abdeslam not target of Brussels raid

One of the main suspects from November’s attacks in Paris, Salah Abdeslam, was not the target of a police search in Brussels on Tuesday, a French police source says.

“The operation was not targeting Salah Abdeslam. It was aimed at people connected to one or several of the 11 Belgians who have been charged,” the source tells AFP.

— AFP

Hundreds march in Gush Etzion in protest of terrorist attacks

Hundreds of settlers are marching from the settlement of Karmei Tzur to the Gush Etzion Junction in protest of recent terrorist attacks in the area.

Roads in the area are blocked to traffic and the IDF and police are securing the marchers.

Obama dismayed by campaign’s ‘vulgar and divisive rhetoric’

President Barack Obama says he was deeply disturbed by the “vulgar and divisive rhetoric” directed at women and minorities as well as the violence in the 2016 presidential campaign, a swipe at Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

Without mentioning the candidate by name, Obama uses a St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at the Capitol to express his concern with the political discourse and the protests that have escalated to attacks at Trump rallies. Trump has spoken of barring Muslims and deporting immigrants living here illegally.

Obama receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks assailing the tenor of the campaign and pleading for civility.

“We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities, and Americans that don’t look like us or pray like us or vote like we do,” Obama says. “We have seen misguided attempts to shut down that speech however offensive it may be.

“We live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold. In response to those events we’ve seen actual violence, and we’ve heard silence from too many of our leaders,” Obama says.

The president reminded the audience of Republicans and Democrats, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, that the world is watching the US candidates and what they say.

“In America there aren’t laws that say we have to be nice to each other … But there are norms, there are customs, there are values that our parents taught us and that we try to teach to our children,” the president says.

— AP

Netanyahu reveals salary slip

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s gross salary is NIS 48,815 shekels, but after tax deductions amounting to NIS 31,166, the Israeli leader is left with a net salary of NIS 17,645, according to a salary slip for last month released by the Prime Minister’s Office.

This is the first time the prime minister releases his slip since January 2011.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also releases his paycheck for February. Herzog’s gross salary is NIS 45,356. After deductions, his net salary is NIS 20,317.

Kerry to visit Moscow for Syria talks

Secretary of State John Kerry says he will travel to Moscow next week to discuss Russia’s withdrawal of forces from Syria and the political transition process in the war-torn country.

Kerry says he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with an eye toward pushing peace talks forward in light of the new development, saying “we have reached a very important phase in this process.”

Earlier, warplanes and troops stationed at Russia’s air base in Syria started leaving for home after a partial pullout order from Putin the previous day, a step that raised hopes for progress at newly reconvened UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva.

Putin’s announcement took the US and many of its allies by surprise. US officials have said they are cautiously optimistic about what the withdrawal may mean.

One suspect killed in Brussels terror raid

Police shoot dead one suspect during a major Belgian-French anti-terror operation in Brussels linked to the Paris attacks, Belgian media reports say, citing the federal prosecutor’s office.

The prosecutor’s office could not be immediately reached to confirm the reports but a spokesman told AFP earlier that four police were wounded in the massive security operation in the south of the city.

— AFP

Syrian opposition raises detainees at talks

The UN envoy to Syria says opposition officials have raised the issue of detainees in government jails at indirect peace talks being held in Geneva.

Staffan De Mistura tells reporters after meeting the opposition delegation that progress has been made on humanitarian aid and the reduction of violence but not on the issue of detainees.

The release of detainees was a key opposition demand ahead of the indirect peace talks.

Senior opposition official George Sabra says tens of thousands of detainees are being held by the Syrian government. He says government prisons are not places “to hold prisoners but to kill them.”

Another opposition official, Basma Kodmani, says an average of 50 detainees are killed in Syrian custody every day.

De Mistura and Sabra say they spoke about aid reaching the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya.

UN chief asks Israel to reverse West Bank land seizure

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urges Israel to reverse its confiscation of land in the West Bank, describing the decision as “an impediment to the two-state solution” in the Middle East.

The appeal comes after Israel declared 234 hectares of West Bank territory to be state land, fueling concerns of a new spike in tensions with the Palestinians.

“Such actions appear to point toward an increase in settlement activities and demonstrate that Israel is continuing to push forward in the consolidation of its control of the West Bank,” says UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“Settlements are illegal under international law and the secretary-general urges the government of Israel to halt and reverse such actions in the interest of a just and comprehensive peace and a just final status agreement,” he says.

— AFP

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Rivlin lands in Moscow for meeting with Putin

President Reuven Rivlin lands in Moscow for a two-day trip during which he will meet with President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and leaders of the local Jewish community.

“There’s a need for coordination with Russia in the current situation we’re in,” Rivlin tells traveling press on the flight. “Everybody agrees that the Islamic State organization is a danger for the entire world, but fundamental Shiite Iranian fundamentalist Islam is for us just as dangerous.”