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Syrian president praises cooperation with Moscow for 'returning security to the country'; French envoy for Mideast peace confab meeting Israeli officials; Western Wall rabbi pulls support for egalitarian prayer space

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

  • File: Syrian President Bashar Assad listening to a question during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus, February 11, 2016. (AFP/JOSEPH EID)
    File: Syrian President Bashar Assad listening to a question during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus, February 11, 2016. (AFP/JOSEPH EID)
  • EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini speaks to journalists at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2015. (AFP/John Thys)
    EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini speaks to journalists at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2015. (AFP/John Thys)
  • Pope Francis pauses after laying a wreath of flowers in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on May 26, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
    Pope Francis pauses after laying a wreath of flowers in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on May 26, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a state awards ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 10, 2016. (AFP/Pavel Golovkin/Pool)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a state awards ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 10, 2016. (AFP/Pavel Golovkin/Pool)
  • As seen from the New Jersey Turnpike, smoke billows from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City after airplanes crashed into both towers, September 11, 2001. (JTA/AP/Gene Boyars)
    As seen from the New Jersey Turnpike, smoke billows from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City after airplanes crashed into both towers, September 11, 2001. (JTA/AP/Gene Boyars)
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the launch of the election campaign of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party for state elections in Magdeburg, eastern Germany, on February 13, 2016. (AFP/Ronny Hartmann)
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the launch of the election campaign of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party for state elections in Magdeburg, eastern Germany, on February 13, 2016. (AFP/Ronny Hartmann)
  • Knives found on two Palestinian women at the Zeitim checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem, March 14, 2016. (Israel Police)
    Knives found on two Palestinian women at the Zeitim checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem, March 14, 2016. (Israel Police)
  • Incoming Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman (Shin Bet)
    Incoming Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman (Shin Bet)
  • Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaking before an emergency session of the Security Council, March 3, 2016. (Courtesy)
    Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaking before an emergency session of the Security Council, March 3, 2016. (Courtesy)
  • A Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble in the Syrian city of Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobani, Jan. 30, 2015. (AP, File)
    A Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble in the Syrian city of Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobani, Jan. 30, 2015. (AP, File)
  • A picture purporting to show Palestinian-American Islamic State member Muhammad Jamal Amin. (Screen capture: Rudaw.net)
    A picture purporting to show Palestinian-American Islamic State member Muhammad Jamal Amin. (Screen capture: Rudaw.net)
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to a question during a press briefing, Tehran, Iran, February 20, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi, File)
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to a question during a press briefing, Tehran, Iran, February 20, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi, File)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 31, 2016. (Amit Shabi/Pool)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 31, 2016. (Amit Shabi/Pool)
  • The Ein Tzuba tunnel (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
    The Ein Tzuba tunnel (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

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

Moshe Kahlon says expulsion will deter terrorists

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) reiterates his support for an initiative to expel terrorists’ families from Israel, saying the move will act as a deterrent for terrorists.

“I believe in expulsion,” Kahlon tells reporters in the Knesset during a briefing marking a year since elections. “I was convinced by the security forces that expulsion is a deterrent.”

The finance minister, who would not elaborate on where the deportees would be sent, was referring to a bill submitted last week by Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, which would allow the government to expel the families of Palestinian attackers, if they were aware of or supported their activities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 5, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 5, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/Pool)

Kahlon, who sits on the high-level security cabinet, late last week announced he would back the controversial measure to deport the families of Palestinian terrorists.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also in favor of the bill, and has directed Attorney General Amichai Mandelblit to examine its legality. Mandelblit has in the past said the bill could contravene international law.

— Marissa Newman

Polish institute halts probe into WWII murder of 70 Jews

The Institute of National Remembrance in Bialystok is discontinuing the investigation into the murder of at least 70 Jewish citizens in Wasosz in northeastern Poland in 1941.

Prosecutors have not identified additional perpetrators besides the two Polish men already sentenced for the act shortly after World War II.

The murder in Wasosz occurred in July 1941. According to the Institute, there were murdered “not less than 70 persons of Jewish nationality,” which, according to the Polish Press Agency, “had been shot or killed with knives, axes, pins, or other similar tools.” The guns of local residents had been confiscated.

Researchers searching for human remains in Wasosz, the site of a massacre of Jewish villagers in 1941. (photo credit: Podlaska Archaeological Laboratory)

Researchers searching for human remains in Wasosz, the site of a massacre of Jewish villagers in 1941. (photo credit: Podlaska Archaeological Laboratory)

Prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew intended to carry out the exhumation of a mass grave in Wasosz to determine the exact number of victims. The exhumation would have allowed the transfer of the victims to a cemetery, where they would be buried in registered graves.

In August 2015, while on vacation from work, Ignatiew was removed from the investigation. The prosecutor appointed to pursue the investigation was Malgorzata Redos-Ciszewska.

The case of the events of July 1941 in Wasosz was the last investigation into the murders committed against Jews, led by the investigation division of the Institute of National Remembrance in Bialystok. Earlier cases involved events in Jedwabne, Radzilow, Szczuczyn and Bzury. All investigations have been discontinued.

— JTA

Argentinian judge denies request to reopen Nisman complaint against ex-president

A federal judge in Argentina rejects a request to reopen an investigation into allegations by the late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman that the former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her government covered up Iran’s role in the bombing of a Jewish center.

Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas turned down the request made in December by prosecutors to reconsider the complaint filed by Nisman four days before his still-unexplained death, which occurred on the day that he was to present evidence to Argentine lawmakers that Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 dead and hundreds wounded.

Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009. (AFP Photo/Juan Mabromata)

Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009. (AFP Photo/Juan Mabromata)

Prosecutor Raul Plee had asked the judge to review new information collected during a case dealing with the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Iran to co-investigate the bombing, with an eye toward reviving Nisman’s complaint. Iran has been accused of being behind the bombing.

— JTA

Zarif defends missile tests, blames Netanyahu for Mideast tension

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defends his country’s right to use ballistic missiles following a test last week, but dodges questions about anti-Israeli messages reportedly written on them.

Speaking in Wellington, New Zealand, Zarif says Iran has always reserved the right to defend itself.

“Anybody who is crazy enough to attack us, we will attack back using conventional weapons,” he said. “We hope that these conventional weapons will never be used because we do believe that in a war, everybody loses.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to a question in a joint press briefing with his Omani counterpart Yousuf bin Alawi after their meeting in Tehran, February 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarifin in Tehran, February 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Zarif was responding to questions following an address to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs. He’d earlier met with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to talk about trade, and on Tuesday will travel to Australia.

Iran’s Fars news agency reported that the rockets fired in last Wednesday’s missile tests the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” written on them.

Zarif says he hadn’t yet returned to Iran to check out those reports. When pressed about the issue, he said it was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama who were acting aggressively.

“I ask you to go ask Netanyahu why is he threatening to use force against Iran every day. Go ask Obama why he is threatening to use force against Iran every day,” Zarif says. “Why are they saying all options are on the table?”

— AP

Hamas commander reportedly killed in 9th tunnel collapse

A commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, is reportedly killed in a tunnel collapse on the Gaza border.

The collapse is the ninth in recent months.

Since January 26, at least 14 Gazans have been killed in tunnel collapses with both Israel and Egypt operating against the diggers.

The Ein Tzuba tunnel (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

The Ein Tzuba tunnel (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

Most of the cave-ins have been caused by Egyptian flooding of the border zone in its campaign to stop smuggling.

An Israeli-Egyptian blockade severely restricts the movement of people and goods into and out of the territory. The passages to Egypt are used for transit of commercial goods, cash, people and weapons, according to Israeli and Egyptian authorities.

More than 80% of Syrian children harmed by war — UNICEF

More than 80 percent of Syria’s children have been harmed by the country’s conflict, including growing numbers of those who were forced to work, join armed groups or marry young because of widening poverty, according to figures released by the UN children’s funds marking five years since the start of the conflict.

Peter Salama, the agency’s regional chief, calls on donor countries to make good on money pledges made at a Syria aid conference in London last month. His agency, UNICEF, seeks $1.16 billion for 2016 to help Syria’s children, including close to 3 million who are not in school.

Refugee children arrive at the Turkish border crossing gate as Syrians fleeing the embattled city of Aleppo wait on February 6, 2016 in Bab al-Salama, near the city of Azaz, northern Syria. (AFP/BULENT KILIC)

Refugee children arrive at the Turkish border crossing gate as Syrians fleeing the embattled city of Aleppo wait on February 6, 2016 in Bab al-Salama, near the city of Azaz, northern Syria. (AFP/BULENT KILIC)

The agency has so far received only 6 percent of the amount it seeks for this year. Salama says it would make more sense for donors to provide the funds early on and enable more effective, longer-term planning.

“Let’s stop the suffering now, let’s ensure that they (Syria’s children) have a future, and they see that they have a future,” Salama tells The Associated Press. “We have an opportunity still to save this generation.”

— AP

Second round of Iran elections set for April

Iranian state media says the country will hold a second round of voting on April 29 to fill 69 parliamentary seats for which no clear winner emerged during last month’s elections.

The run-off is necessary because under Iran’s election rules a member of parliament must win 25 percent of votes cast, but this only happened for 221 of the country’s 290 seats.

The first round on February 26 saw allies of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani make major gains against conservatives.

Iranians stand in line at a polling station during the parliamentary and Experts Assembly elections in Qom, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Friday, February 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iranians stand in line at a polling station during the parliamentary and Experts Assembly elections in Qom, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Friday, February 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

But neither group won a majority, meaning the outcome of the second round — which will involve only the top two contenders from the first vote for each seat left empty — could affect the balance of power in the legislature.

Conservatives won 103 seats last month while the pro-Rouhani coalition of moderates and reformists, dubbed the “List of Hope”, won 95, with other seats going to independents and minorities.

— AFP

5 Jewish Israelis arrested for attacking Arab youth

Police have arrested a 19-year-old man and four other Jewish Israelis on suspicion of attacking a Arab youth last week in Jerusalem, according to the Ynet news site.

The suspects are said to have accosted the victim in Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell Park last Wednesday, physically assaulting him and stealing his telephone. The victim suffered light wounds and needed medical care.

Police say the attack was “racially motivated,” Ynet reports.

“We are speaking about an incident with a clear racist backdrop,” Police commissioner Pinchas Sari-Levi is quoted as telling the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court during a request to extend the suspects’s detention.

Iraqi general: Palestinian-American member of IS surrenders

An Iraqi Kurdish general says a Palestinian-American member of the Islamic State group has given himself up to an Iraqi Kurdish military unit in the country’s north.

Major General Feisal Helkani of the Peshmerga forces identified the individual as Mohammed Jamal Amin, a Palestinian-American.

He says Amin surrendered on Monday morning near the town of Sinjar, which was retaken by Iraqi forces from IS militants late last year.

Helkani says Amin was carrying with him a large amount of cash, three cell phones and three forms of identification, including a United States driving license.

Iraqi forces have struggled to retake ground from the Islamic State, which despite a series of territorial losses in Iraq and Syria in the past six months, still controls large swaths of land in both countries.

— AP

Lawmakers gather in Germany to discuss anti-Semitism

More than 100 parliamentarians from nearly 40 countries are meeting at the Bundestag in Berlin for the third annual conference of the Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism.

“We all have to do our part,” says Michael O’Flaherty, director of the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency.

On the table are the challenges of Internet hate, community relations and anti-Semitism in sport, as well as legal, parliamentary and governmental responses to anti-Semitism. Best practices for combating anti-Semitism are being discussed at the three-day conference which started on Sunday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to address the conference attendees on Monday.

The Reichtag building which hosts Germany's parliament Bundestag is reflected in a puddle on a rainy autumn day in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The Reichtag building which hosts Germany’s parliament Bundestag is reflected in a puddle on a rainy autumn day in Berlin, Germany, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

In Berlin alone, the latest statistics from the Research and Information on Anti-Semitism organization showed that there were 34 percent more anti-Semitic incidents in 2015 than in the previous year.

Most anti-Semitic crimes are attributable to far-right perpetrators, but there is increasing concern about attitudes that new refugees have brought with them.

These attitudes “must be put on the table” as part of the integration process, Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in
Germany, tells the Protestant Press Service in advance of the conference, hosted by the Bundestag.

In remarks to the attendees, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert says that “there is a link” between the newcomers and anti-Semitism, though one cannot assume that all refugees share these views. “They were probably told that Israel was still the villain of the world,” he says. Their integration will involve “accepting Israel’s right to exist,” he adds.

— JTA

New Shin Bet chief gets committee okay

The Turkel Committee, which oversees senior governmental appointments, gives the green light for Shin Bet deputy director Nadav Argaman to take the agency’s top job, after being named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the position last month.

Argaman was drafted into the IDF in 1978, serving in an elite unit. In 1983, he joined the Shin Bet, where served in a variety of operative roles. From 2003 to 2007, Argaman was the Shin Bet’s representative in the US; he was made deputy head of the agency upon his return to Israel, and served in that role for three years.

Incoming Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman. (Shin Bet)

Incoming Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman. (Shin Bet)

In September 2014, he was appointed to Israel’s Committee on Atomic Energy. He returned to his former post as deputy Shin Bet chief in September 2015, at the request of outgoing director Yoram Cohen, in order to replace then-deputy chief Alsheich, who had just been named as the police commissioner.

He is set to replace outgoing director Yoram Cohen in May.

‘Fell in battle’ to be written on gravestone of off-duty soldier killed in stabbing

The Defense Ministry announces that Tuvia Weissman, an off-duty IDF soldier who was stabbed to death as he fought a knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist with his bare hands, is to be memorialized as having fallen in combat and not as a victim of terror.

“Fell in battle” will be written on Weissman’s grave, according to a recommendation of the army’s Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, according to a Defense Ministry statement.

Tuvia Yanai Weissman with his wife Yael and four-month-old daughter. Weissman was stabbed to death by Palestinian terrorists at a West Bank supermarket on February 18, 2016. (Facebook)

Tuvia Yanai Weissman with his wife Yael and four-month-old daughter. (Facebook)

Yanai Weissman’s widow, Yael Weissman, had protested a Defense Ministry decision to categorize her husband as a terror victim rather than as a soldier who fell during battle.

The couple and their baby were shopping at the Rami Levy supermarket in the Sha’ar Binyamin industrial park, north of Jerusalem, on February 18. They were on the far side of the supermarket when two Palestinian teenagers entered the store and began stabbing shoppers. Weissman, who was not armed, ran to help and was fatally stabbed. He was 21 years old.

Surrendered Palestinian-American IS fighter said to be Virginia-born

Muhammad Jamal Amin, a Palestinian-American IS fighter said to have given himself up to Iraqi Kurdish forces was born in the south eastern US state of Virginia, according to Kurdish news site Rudaw.

Rudaw reports Amin’s father is Palestinian while his mother hails from the Iraqi town of Mosul.

A picture purporting to show Palestinian-American Islamic State member Muhammad Jamal Amin. (Screen capture: Rudaw.net)

A picture purporting to show Palestinian-American Islamic State member Muhammad Jamal Amin. (Screen capture: Rudaw.net)

He was apparently on his way back to Turkey from Syria when he mistakenly walked into peshmerga hands.

Netanyahu condemns deadly Ankara terrorist attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns a car bombing in Ankara, Turkey, that left at least 37 dead and dozens wounded.

“Israel expresses solidarity with the Turkish people in the war against terrorism and calls on the international community to unite in the fight against terrorism,” reads a statement issued Sunday evening by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Turkish authorities arrested at least 29 people in anti-terror raids and fighter jets struck Kurdish separatist targets in Iraq on Monday, CNN reports, citing Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu agency. The raids and airstrikes targeted members and facilities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a separatist group that has been responsible for other attacks in Turkey.

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)

“Terror organizations and their pawns are targeting our innocent citizens in the most immoral and heartless way as they lose the fight against our security forces,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement while vowing to bring “down terror to its heels.”

Turkish authorities have not said who they believe is behind the attack.

Danny Danon urges UN to penalize Iran for missile tests

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon calls on the Security Council to punish Iran for its latest ballistic missile tests.

“Ignoring Iran’s violations will be a green light for continuing nuclear missile tests,” Danon says before an emergency session of the Security Council. “History has taught us that we cannot bury our heads in the sand, action must be taken against Iran,” he adds.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaking before to an emergency session of the Security Council, March 3, 2016. (Courtesy)

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaking before to an emergency session of the Security Council, March 3, 2016. (Courtesy)

Referring to the threat to wipe Israel off the face of the earth which was written on one of the missiles, Danon asks member nations, “if on it was written that England, France, Japan, or any other country, must be removed from the earth, would the Security Council sit silently?”

According to Danon, “punitive measures against Iran” are the only way to ensure Iran does not continue to test more missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Russia opposes sanctions on Iran for missile test

Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations says Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests were not in violation of a UN resolution and Russia will oppose imposing sanctions based on the tests.

Asked whether the Security Council should impose penalties on Iran, Vitaly Churkin said: “The clear and short answer is no.”

The council met Monday at the request of the United States to discuss the missile tests that US Ambassador Samantha Power has said were “provocative and destabilizing.”

A missile launched from the Alborz mountains in Iran on March 9, 2016, reportedly inscribed in Hebrew, 'Israel must be wiped out.' (Fars News)

A missile launched from the Alborz mountains in Iran on March 9, 2016, reportedly inscribed in Hebrew, ‘Israel must be wiped out.’ (Fars News)

But Churkin said Iran was not in violation of a UN resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal reached between Western powers and Tehran and calls on Iran to refrain from developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Tehran maintains that the latest missile tests, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, were not aimed at developing a nuclear capability.

Power said Iranian military leaders had claimed that the missiles were designed to be a direct threat to Israel and added: “We condemn such threats against another UN member-state and one of our closest allies.”

— AFP

PA rejects Israeli plan to halt operations in West Bank cities

The Palestinian Authority rejected an Israeli proposal to cease IDF operations in the two West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jericho, and instead demanded that the army halt its activities in all areas controlled by the Palestinian governing body.

The Israeli proposal was exposed by Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid.

The proposal was raised during talks between Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials over the past weeks regarding the continuation of security coordination in the West Bank, a Palestinian security source tells the Times of Israel.

According to the source, the Israeli officials proposed in the meetings that the IDF cease to operate in Ramallah and Jericho as a first step to enhance security coordination, and only then would the government consider applying the move to the entire West Bank. However, the Palestinian Authority officials rejected the offer and demanded that Israel present a comprehensive timetable for a full cessation of military activities in Palestinian-controlled territories in the region.

— Avi Issacharoff

2 of 4 soldiers released from hospital after Hebron attacks

Two of four soldiers injured in Palestinian attacks this morning have been released from hospital in “good health,” a spokesperson for the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem says.

A soldier hit by gunfire and another struck by shrapnel will remain in hospital overnight for observation, according to Shoham Rubio.

They were all lightly wounded in two shooting and car-ramming attacks outside the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, next to Hebron.

During the first incident, shortly before 7 a.m., two Palestinians plowed into a hitchhiking post at the Elias Junction with a car, emerged from the vehicle, and opened fire. Several minutes later, a second Palestinian vehicle plowed into soldiers at the scene of the first attack, lightly wounding one, the IDF said.

The attackers in both incidents were shot dead by troops.

— Judah Ari Gross

Kurdish footage shows American-Palestinian IS fighter surrendering

Footage has been released showing Muhammad Jamal Amin, a Palestinian-American IS fighter said to have given himself up to Iraqi Kurdish forces near the Syro-Turkish border.

In the video, filmed by Kurdish Iraqi peshmerga, Amin can be seen with his head bowed surrounded by armed militia men. He answers questions in Arabic about his family history and can be heard confirming he is from the United States and that he is Palestinian. In response to an interrogator’s question, he says he was in the city of Mosul, which is under IS control.

Kurdish news site Rudaw reports Amin was born in Virginia to an Iraqi mother and Palestinian father.

US ‘in touch’ with Iraqi authorities over surrendered IS fighter

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the subject with the media, says US authorities are aware of the reports that a US citizen allegedly fighting for IS “has been captured by peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.”

“We are in touch with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to determine the veracity of these reports. We have no further information to share at this time,” the official said.

— AP

Obama vows foreign policy progress before leaving office

US President Barack Obama says he’s confident he can make significant progress on foreign policy in the next 10 months.

Obama is addressing ambassadors and other diplomats recently returned from overseas posts during a conference at the State Department. He’s describing a stay-the-course approach to ongoing challenges.

The president says the US will keep fighting the Islamic State group on all fronts and work to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. He says he’ll also work to enforce a global climate agreement and engage with Asia.

Obama says he’s looking forward to his historic trip to Cuba starting Sunday. He says the US is helping create opportunity in Latin America.

— AP

2 Palestinian women caught with knives ‘on way to attack’

Two Palestinian women have been arrested after security forces found knives in their bags at the Zeitim checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem, police say.

Border Police and Military Police discovered and seized the weapons during a standard procedure search.

Knives found on two Palestinian women at the Zeitim checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem, March 14, 2016. (Israel Police)

Knives found on two Palestinian women at the Zeitim checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem, March 14, 2016. (Israel Police)

The two women, ages 24 and 28 from Abu Dis near Jerusalem, were arrested. Police say the initial interrogation revealed they were “on their way to carry out a terror attack.”

David Keyes officially named PM’s new English spokesman

Human rights activist David Keyes is officially named as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new foreign media adviser and spokesperson.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office saying he would start in the position “very soon.” In January reports emerged that Keyes has been tapped for the job.

Keyes thanked the prime minister “for the great honor to serve the State of Israel in light of the many challenges facing it,” the statement says.

David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights (Courtesy)

David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights (Courtesy)

Keyes, who is fluent in Hebrew and Arabic, currently serves as the executive director of Advancing Human Rights, an umbrella human rights organization operating Movements.org, a crowdsourcing platform connecting dissidents in closed societies with those who might be able to help all over the globe.

He is also the director of Cyberdissidents.org, which he founded while working for former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky in Israel. The site “highlight the voices of democratic online activists in the Middle East,” he told The Times of Israel during an extensive interview last year.

Clips showing Keyes “Punking Iran’s Nuclear Negotiators in Vienna,” and other protests have been taken down from YouTube in the past two months.

Iran says US court order on 9/11 compensation ‘ridiculous’

Iran rejects as “ridiculous” a US court ruling that the Islamic Republic pay more than $10 billion in compensation over the al-Qaeda-claimed 9/11 attacks.

A New York court last week ordered Tehran to pay $7.5 billion to victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — and $3 billion to insurers over related claims — after ruling that Iran had failed to prove that it did not help the bombers.

As seen from the New Jersey Turnpike, smoke billows from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City after airplanes crashed into both towers, September 11, 2001. (JTA/AP/Gene Boyars)

As seen from the New Jersey Turnpike, smoke billows from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City after airplanes crashed into both towers, September 11, 2001. (JTA/AP/Gene Boyars)

“This judgement is so ridiculous… more than ever before, it damages the credibility of the US judicial system,” state television quotes an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

“Such judgements also send a very dangerous message to terrorists and to their supporters: Kill people… not only will we not prosecute, but we will even target your greatest enemies instead,” Hossein Jaber Ansari says.

“We also see the US administration as a partner in such verdicts,” Ansari says.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, also criticizes the ruling.

“If they (the United States) want to prosecute anyone over the September 11 incident, it should be their allies in the region who created al-Qaeda and funded it,” he says.

AFP

Ben Shapiro, Breitbart reporter quit over Trump rally assault

The Breitbart News reporter allegedly roughed up last week at a Donald Trump press conference resigns from the conservative website, saying that she can’t work for an organization that doesn’t support her.

Michelle Fields, who said that she was grabbed by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as she attempted to question the candidate last Tuesday in Florida, is joined in her resignation by a Breitbart editor, Ben Shapiro.

Police in Jupiter, Florida, said Monday their investigation of the incident is ongoing. No charges have been filed. Lewandowski has denied the allegation. Trump told CNN that the incident, also witnessed by a reporter from The Washington Post, was probably “made up.”

After initially publishing Fields’ account, Breitbart posted a story doubting its own reporter, saying the “likeliest explanation” is that Fields was grabbed by a security officer, not Lewandowski.

Shapiro, in a lengthy statement first reported by BuzzFeed News, said Breitbart did nothing to support Fields outside of tepidly asking for an apology. “In the ultimate indignity, they undermined Michelle completely by running a poorly-evidenced conspiracy theory as their lead story,” Shapiro wrote.

Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew who can be seen sporting a black skullcap in regular appearances as a right-wing commentator on news shows, called Breitbart’s chief executive, Stephen Bannon, a bully who has shaped the company into “Trump’s personal Pravda.”

— AP contributed

Angela Merkel says Germany must confront anti-Semitism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says anti-Semitism in Germany must be confronted by the government and civil society together.

Speaking Monday to more than 100 legislators from some 40 countries gathered in Berlin for the third Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism, Merkel also says that Jews must feel free to speak up when they fear anti-Semitism — and they must be received with sympathy and concern.

Whether it is hate-filled criticism of Israel, vandalism of cemeteries or synagogues, “Anti-Semitism and other prejudices have no place in our society,” Merkel says.

Merkel commends the conference organizers for addressing anti-Semitism in sports, on the Internet and on the street.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the launch of the election campaign of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party for state elections in Magdeburg, eastern Germany, on February 13, 2016. (AFP/Ronny Hartmann)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during the launch of the election campaign of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party for state elections in Magdeburg, eastern Germany, on February 13, 2016. (AFP/Ronny Hartmann)

“If gravestones are defaced, then our country itself is defaced. If synagogues are vandalized, this shakes the foundations of our free society,” Merkel said. And demonstrators who call for the destruction of Israel are simply “giving vent to hatred of Jews.” In so doing, they “abuse the fundamental rights in our country to freedom of association and expression.”

Fighting all manifestations of anti-Semitism and hate is the “joint role of government and civil society.”

— JTA

Merkel defends German-Jewish leader fearful of Muslim refugees

Speaking to an interparliamentary conference on combating European anti-Semitism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Jews should feel free to express concerns over anti-antisemitism, whether from natives of refugees.

The chancellor defends the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, who she said has been harshly criticized for expressing fears about anti-Semitism among new refugees from Muslim lands. More than 1 million people have sought asylum in Germany in the past year.

“It is perfectly legitimate for someone to share his concern,” Merkel said, noting that many refugees “have grown up with certain stereotypes.”

— JTA

Putin orders withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the start of the pullout of the Russian military from Syria, starting Tuesday.

Putin says the move should help serve as a stimulus for Syria’s political talks. The president says he coordinated the move with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Putin said that the Russian airbase in Hmeimim in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia and a naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartous will continue to operate.

Pope Francis to visit Auschwitz

According to a schedule released over the weekend, Pope Francis will visit the former Nazi death camp on July 29 during a five-day visit to Poland to mark the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day.

Main Youth Day events are to take place in Krakow, about 40 miles from Auschwitz.

Francis will be the third pontiff to visit Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered about 1.5 million people, the vast majority of them Jews. Polish-born Pope John Paul II was the first pontiff to visit Auschwitz, in 1979. His successor, the German-born Benedict XVI, visited in 2006.

Pope Francis pauses after laying a wreath of flowers in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on May 26, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Pope Francis pauses after laying a wreath of flowers in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem on May 26, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Catholic Poles, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Soviet prisoners of war and political prisoners were also murdered at Auschwitz. Among the victims were two people now revered as Roman Catholic saints – Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar, and the Jewish-born philosopher Edith Stein, who converted to Catholicism as a teenager and became a Carmelite nun.

Auschwitz is now a memorial museum; last year it had 1.7 million visitors. Administrators of the site have announced special visiting conditions aimed at the hundreds of thousands of young people expected to converge on Krakow for World Youth Day.

— JTA

Mogherini says Iran missile tests don’t breach nuclear deal

United Nations Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini says Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests are not in violation of its nuclear deal and the European Union is not considering sanctions at this stage.

Mogherini however warns that last week’s missile tests, which Tehran insists are not aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability, could raise tensions in an already volatile region.

The tests are “not a violation of the (nuclear deal) as such,” Mogherini says after meeting the foreign ministers of the 28 EU nations in Brussels.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini take part in a press conference following their talks in the capital Tehran on July 28, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / BEHROUZ MEHRI)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) and EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini (left) take part in a press conference following their talks in Tehran, Iran, on July 28, 2015. (AFP/Behrouz Mehri)

“If there is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, this should be discussed in the appropriate UN bodies and not necessarily in the European Union Foreign Affairs Council.”

Mogherini says that “we expect Iran to fulfill all its international obligations.”

She added: “The point is we all see this as a major problematic element when it comes to regional relations… this would increase tensions in the Middle East at a moment when tensions are definitely not needed.”

— AFP

Western Wall rabbi pulls support for egalitarian prayer space — report

The Western Wall rabbi is withdrawing his support for a deal establishing a separate egalitarian prayer section at the holy site.

In a letter to ultra-Orthodox party leaders, Shmuel Rabinowitz urged the introduction of legislation to cancel the January deal and a 2013 district court ruling allowing the Women of the Wall group to pray in the main Orthodox section of the wall, Haaretz reports.

“I call upon you to act with the same determination to stop the holy site desecration at the Western Wall, whose spiritual damage is beyond imagination,” he wrote, according to Haaretz.

A member of the Women of the Wall wears a tallit (prayer shawl) as she prays holding a Torah scroll at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on March 11, 2016 (AFP/GALI TIBBON)

A member of the Women of the Wall wears a tallit (prayer shawl) as she prays holding a Torah scroll at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on March 11, 2016 (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

“For years I have stood alone in the struggle” against modern streams of Judaism, including Women of the Wall, seeking prayer rights at the site, Haaretz reported Rabinowitz writing. Women of the Wall have “now gone too far, they are seeking to tear down the wall and the people of Israel into bits and pieces.”

The deal expands the Western Wall’s existing non-Orthodox prayer section and creates a shared entrance with the Orthodox main section to its north. Women of the Wall, which holds women’s services in the Orthodox section, is to eventually move to the non-Orthodox section as part of the deal — which is backed by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Israeli government and the wall’s haredi management.

— JTA

French envoy for Mideast peace confab meets with Israeli officials

Pierre Vimont, the French Foreign Ministry envoy “for the preparation of the international conference to renew the Middle East peace process,” meets with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold.

Stressing that Vimont, who arrived in Israel yesterday for two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, came “at his own request,” an FM statement says that Israeli officials raised questions over the French initiative to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“The Israeli side stressed the importance of the principle of direct, bilateral negotiations without pre-stipulated conditions and the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility to fight terror and incitement,” reads the statement.

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

Pierre Vimont, France’s special envoy for peace initiative (YouTube screenshot)

The international summit is scheduled to take place in June or July, despite Israeli complaints that peace negotiations should take the form of direct talks.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France will not “automatically” recognize a Palestinian state if the conference does not go ahead, walking back pledges to do so by his predecessor Laurent Fabius.

Assad says Russia to draw down, not pull out

Syria’s state news agency is quoting President Bashar Assad as saying that the Russian military will draw down its air force contingent from Syria, but won’t leave the country altogether.

State TV also quoted Assad as saying Russia will decrease its presence to levels “in line with the situation on the ground and the continuation of the cessation of hostilities.”

Assad’s remarks follow Vladimir Putin’s announcement on Monday of a partial Russian pullout from Syria in support of ongoing peace talks.

Still from a video purporting to show a Russian air strike on the northern Syrian village of Al-Lataminah on September 30, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

Still from a video purporting to show a Russian airstrike on the northern Syrian village of al-Lataminah on September 30, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

Assad says the collaboration between Russian and Syrian forces has secured “victories against terrorism and returned security to the country.”

Russia deployed its air force to Syria last September to prop up Assad’s faltering government, which has been waging a five-year long war against internal opponents and jihadist militants.

— AFP

Knesset passes bill to jail Israelis who employ Palestinians illegally

The Knesset approves for second and third reading an amendment that will significantly increase fines and prison sentences for those who transport, accommodate or employ illegal Palestinian laborers.

The bill, advanced by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, comes after several fatal terror attacks carried out by Palestinians who were residing in Israel illegally. The bill is passed by a vote of 44-16.

“For the first time, the responsibility will be put on the employers who risk public security,” Erdan tells the plenary.

Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan attends a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs committee, February 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan attends a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, February 9, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

 

The amendment provides for penalties ranging from up to two years’ imprisonment and/or fines ranging from NIS 5,000 to NIS 75,000 ($1,290-$19,340) for individuals employing or providing accommodation to an illegal resident just once, with fines of up to NIS 226,000 ($58,265) and/or prison terms of up to four years for those doing so for more than two consecutive days.

It also widens the definition of “employer” to include any person or body that employs or facilitates the stay of illegal residents indirectly, such as contracting companies employing subsidiary companies which in turn, employ illegal laborers.

Corporations that subcontract labor will have to set up their own supervisory mechanisms to ensure that all workers have the correct papers. Those caught subcontracting illegal workers on an ongoing basis will face fines of up to NIS 452,000 ($116,530).

For the first time, police will be able to close — for 30 days — building sites, restaurants and any other businesses found to be employing illegal residents, and the courts will be able to extend such closures.

The courts will also be given the powers to cancel a corporation’s business license and building permits.

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Zarif defends missile tests, blames Netanyahu for Mideast tension

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defends his country’s right to use ballistic missiles following a test last week, but dodges questions about anti-Israeli messages reportedly written on them.

Speaking in Wellington, New Zealand, Zarif says Iran has always reserved the right to defend itself.

“Anybody who is crazy enough to attack us, we will attack back using conventional weapons,” he said. “We hope that these conventional weapons will never be used because we do believe that in a war, everybody loses.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens to a question in a joint press briefing with his Omani counterpart Yousuf bin Alawi after their meeting in Tehran, February 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarifin in Tehran, February 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Zarif was responding to questions following an address to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs. He’d earlier met with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to talk about trade, and on Tuesday will travel to Australia.

Iran’s Fars news agency reported that the rockets fired in last Wednesday’s missile tests the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” written on them.

Zarif says he hadn’t yet returned to Iran to check out those reports. When pressed about the issue, he said it was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama who were acting aggressively.

“I ask you to go ask Netanyahu why is he threatening to use force against Iran every day. Go ask Obama why he is threatening to use force against Iran every day,” Zarif says. “Why are they saying all options are on the table?”

— AP