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Most Americans say inviting PM to DC was wrong

Poll also finds US citizens increasingly believe Washington should stay out of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

  • Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II (C) leads a mass to honor the memory of the Egyptian Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Libya on February 17, 2015 at Saint-Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo's al-Abbassiya district. (photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP)
    Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II (C) leads a mass to honor the memory of the Egyptian Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Libya on February 17, 2015 at Saint-Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo's al-Abbassiya district. (photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP)
  • French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, eastern France, on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Patrick Hertzog)
    French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, eastern France, on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Patrick Hertzog)
  • In this May 8, 2014 file photo, Egypt's ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi sits in a defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse in Cairo, Egypt. (AP/Tarek el-Gabbas, File)
    In this May 8, 2014 file photo, Egypt's ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi sits in a defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse in Cairo, Egypt. (AP/Tarek el-Gabbas, File)
  • Celebrity interior designer Moshik Galamin expresses to Sara Netanyahu his shock at the dilapidated state of the kitchen at the Prime Minister's Residence. (YouTube: screenshot)
    Celebrity interior designer Moshik Galamin expresses to Sara Netanyahu his shock at the dilapidated state of the kitchen at the Prime Minister's Residence. (YouTube: screenshot)

A CNN poll found that most US citizens believe Congress Republicans should have consulted the White House before inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak there.

Earlier Tuesday, Adele Bitton, a girl who was seriously wounded in a terror attack two years ago, died from complications of pneumonia. She was four years old.

In the afternoon, several parties sharply criticized the prime minister’s conduct following the publication of a special State Comptroller report on expenditure at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

On Tuesday morning, seemingly countering Netanyahu’s calls during the past weeks to European Jews to come to Israel, French President Francois Hollande said that crimes against the Jews of France are a strike at the very values of the republic.

The Times of Israel followed events as they unfolded.

‘When French Jews are hurt the Republic is hurt’

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, eastern France, on February 17, 2015, following the desecration of around 300 tombs. (photo credit: Patrick Hertzog/AFP)

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a ceremony at the Jewish cemetery in Sarre-Union, eastern France, on February 17, 2015, following the desecration of around 300 tombs. (photo credit: Patrick Hertzog/AFP)

French President Francois Hollande reassures the Jews of France that “The republic will defend them with full force.”

During a ceremony in a Jewish cemetery where tombstones were vandalized last week, Hollande says: “I understand the unquiet sentiment which is troubling French people of the Jewish faith…I know very many of them consider leaving their homeland. They are French, they love France and their natural plae is France.”

The republic, Hollande says, “will defend you in all its force. Because through you it is the republic which is hurt – its values, its principles, its promise.”

— AFP

Libyan paper says 35 Egyptians kidnapped

A Libyan paper claims 35 Egyptian citizens were abducted across Libya on Monday, in retaliation for the Egyptian air force strikes on IS targets.

According to Israel Radio, the report says most of the captives are poor Egyptians who came to Libya looking for work in farming.

IS claims Damascus gas pipeline blast

The Islamic State terror group claims responsibility for an explosion of a gas pipeline in the southern part of Damascus, according to a report in al Jazeera. The network reported earlier that the pipeline transports gas to a power station in the area and that the blast caused a fire in the power station.

Writer Oz slams PM for worsening ties with US

Israeli author Amos Oz says that “those who do not understand the vitality of the alliance with the US for our future, should not lead us.”

Amos Oz in Jerusalem, May 3, 2010 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Amos Oz in Jerusalem, May 3, 2010 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Oz, speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies conference, directed his criticism at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his intention to speak to Congress next month.

He also says the current government is stepping farther away from the two-state solution and this causes him “great concern about the future.”

“For me, the idea of a bi-national state is a sad joke, you cannot after one hundred years of conflict put both sides in the same bed, you cannot be one happy family. We need a fair divorce and a duplex kind of house in this land.”

“If there are not going to be two states quickly, there is going to be a fanatical Jewish dictatorship,” Oz adds.

Police underestimated threat, says cartoonist

A photo taken on March 11, 2010 of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.(photo credit: Francois Campredon/AFP)

A photo taken on March 11, 2010 of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.(photo credit: Francois Campredon/AFP)

A Swedish cartoonist believed to have been the target of one of the deadly weekend Copenhagen shootings says that Danish police underestimated the terrorist threat since January’s Paris attacks.

“The attacker had good weapons, he had better weapons than the police… There was an escalation since the Charlie Hebdo attacks (in Paris) and the Danes have not caught onto that,” Lars Vilks, who has been forced into hiding, tells AFP.

“They did not step up security on Saturday. It was the same as we had previously… they must consider whether they need to be better armed,” Vilks adds, referring to the cultural center in Copenhagen that was the focus of the first of the twin attacks.

— AFP

EU calls for immediate withdrawal of heavy arms in Ukraine

The European Union calls for the immediate pull-back of heavy weapons from the frontline in eastern Ukraine and voices concern about the surge in fighting in a key flashpoint town.

“We recall once again the need for all sides to adhere strictly to the provisions of the package signed last week and carry out its measures without delay,” European Commission spokeswoman Catherine Ray says at a press briefing.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels have “to stop any military operation and to start the withdrawing today of heavy weaponry”, she says, referring to a key provision of the shaky truce signed last week.

“We remain concerned about the continued fighting in and around Debaltseve,” Ray said after street battles erupted for the first time in the besieged eastern Ukrainian town.

— AFP

‘What matters is the citizens, not the carpets’

Yesh Atid criticizes Prime Minister Netanyahu after the publication of a special state comptroller report on the management of the prime minister’s residence.

“The state comptroller’s report paints a picture that the citizens of Israel have long already understood. In Balfour Street in Jerusalem, there sits a totally disconnected man, a man who cares least of all about the real problems of real Israelis,” Yesh Atid said in a statement immediately following the publishing of the special comptroller’s report.

“What Israelis care about is buying an apartment, overcrowded classrooms and the living conditions of Holocaust survivors. What Israelis care about is the cost of living, for a middle class which cannot make ends meet,” the statement continues.

“What matters is the condition of citizens and not the condition of the carpets. Yesh Atid will continue to fight for what really matters to the citizens of Israel,” the statement concludes.

‘PM made electrician work in his Caesarea home on Yom Kippur’

The State Comptroller’s special report says the Netanyahu family called an electrician to come to the prime minister’s private residence in Caesarea, at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer, nearly every weekend between September and November 2009, including on Yom Kippur, Ynet reports.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira devoted a special clause in his report to electrical work carried out in the Caesarea mansion. When work needs to be carried out in the PM’s private home and there is doubt on whether to finance it privately or from public money, the “Committee of Three” needs to approve funding the work – a panel of three senior employees working in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Likud says report is useless without context

Likud hurries to publish a response to the special comptroller report:

“To our sincere regret, the ongoing media campaign which has surrounded this issue for weeks in advance of the report’s release, was a clear effort to remove the Prime Minister from office and the Likud from leadership through a focus on irrelevant minutia [sic] and distract from the real issues at hand: Who will defend the State of Israel in the face of the real security threats and pressure from the international community- Benjamin Netanyahu or Buji [Isaac Herzog] and Tzipi [Livni]?”

The statement continues in an effort to blur what conclusions the public may draw from the publication of the report:

“The report does not offer any comparisons to other official residences in Israel. This creates a significant problem is effectively establishing a proper benchmark for analysis because expenses of an official residence cannot be compared to that of a private home. For example, expenses of the President’s Residence are many tens of times higher than those of the Prime Minister’s Residence. Regarding the President’s Residence, the report does not address the budget breakdown or address specific details. Therefore, there is no basis for comparison which would allow the public to effectively evaluate what are acceptable benchmarks.”

Meretz wants to legislate cap on PM expenses

Meretz MKs Michal Rosin and Tamar Zandberg send Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett calling on him to enforce labor laws on employees at the Prime Minister’s Residence and stop his and his wife’s ‘abuse’ of them.

They say also they intend to submit to the Knesset a bill putting a cap on expenses at the Prime Minister’s Residence in the future.

Galon calls PM a ‘libertine hedonist’

Meretz chairwoman Zahava Galon says that “the libertine hedonism of Netanyahu is, more than all, an accurate reflection of this government’s complete disconnect from the citizens of the country and the adoption of corrupt norms more befitting a banana republic.”

Zahava Galon during a Knesset meeting (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zahava Galon during a Knesset meeting (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The criminal aspect of the report is important,” says Galon, “but bland when compared with the moral aspect – when the prime minister and his wife allow themselves to spend exorbitant amounts of money, untold in the history of the Prime Minister’s Residence. In the next Knesset I will initiate a bill that will put a cap on the budget allotted to the Prime Minister’s Residence.”

Morsi faces 5th trial for incitement to murder

An Egyptian military court will try deposed president Mohamed Morsi and 198 Islamist leaders and supporters over a deadly protest in 2013 following his overthrow, a prosecution source says.

The defendants in the trial, which will start on February 23, also include Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, the official MENA news agency reports.

In this May 8, 2014 file photo, Egypt's ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi sits in a defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse in Cairo, Egypy. (Photo credit: AP/Tarek el-Gabbas, File)

In this May 8, 2014 file photo, Egypt’s ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi sits in a defendant cage in the Police Academy courthouse in Cairo, Egypy. (Photo credit: AP/Tarek el-Gabbas, File)

Morsi, ousted in July 2013 by the army, already faces four trials but it will be the first before a military judge.

Military trials have been criticized for their harsh and swift verdicts.

The new charge against Morsi of incitement to murder stems from protests that broke out in Suez on August 14, the day police broke up pro-Morsi protest camps in the capital and killed hundreds of his supporters in clashes.

— AFP

Copts hold mass in memory of slain captives

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II leads a mass to honor the memory of the Egyptian Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Libya on February 17, 2015 at Saint-Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo’s al-Abbassiya district.

Egypt called for a UN-backed international intervention in Libya after launching air strikes on Islamic State group targets in the country following the jihadists’ beheadings of the Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach.

Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II (C) leads a mass to honor the memory of the Egyptian Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Libya on February 17, 2015 at Saint-Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Cairo's al-Abbassiya district. (photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP)

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II (C) leads a mass to honor the memory of the Egyptian Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Libya on February 17, 2015 at Saint-Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo’s al-Abbassiya district. (photo credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP)

PM’s lawyer dismisses report as ‘minor affair’

Lawyer Shuli Eshbol, who represents Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding the state comptroller’s report on his personal spending, says the report is “definitely a minor report.”

Eshbol tells Israel Radio that one must remember the Prime Minister’s Residence is not a private home, but an official dwelling where “dozens of people come and go every day.”

Eshbol admits that there were two years where expenses grew significantly, but blames this on the caretaker during those years, Manny Naftali.

Explosion, gunfire at Nigeria election rally

An explosion and gunshots sent crowds running at a campaign rally in southern Nigeria’s Rivers state on Tuesday, in the latest unrest before polls next month.

The violence erupted at the All Progressives Congress (APC) meeting of governorship candidate Dakuku Peterside in Okrika, the hometown of President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife Patience.

— AFP

Egypt wants UN intervention in Libya

Egypt calls for UN-backed international intervention in Libya after launching air strikes on Islamic State group targets following the jihadists’ beheadings of Egyptian Christians.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says “there is no choice” but to create a global coalition to confront the extremists in Libya, in an interview aired by France’s Europe 1 radio.

Egypt’s foreign minister was in New York seeking backing from UN Security Council members for military intervention and to demand “full support” against the jihadists, a ministry spokesman says.

The diplomatic push comes a day after Egyptian F-16s bombed terror bases in Derna and on the February 17 anniversary of the beginning of the 2011 NATO-backed revolt that ousted dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

— AFP

Terror victim Adele Bitton dies from penumonia

Adele Bitton, the four-year-old girl who was seriously wounded when Palestinian terrorists hurled rocks at a car she was traveling in two years ago on a West Bank roads, passed away.

Bitton died in the Schneider Hospital in Petah Tikva from complications of pneumonia.

“With great sadness we announce the passing of Adele Biton, who passed away this evening despite doctors’ efforts to save her. We send our condolences to the family,” the hospital says in a statement.

Bitton was hospitalized in the beginning of the week and her condition deteriorated badly since Tuesday morning.

Bitton was seriously wounded when he was in a car with her mother and sisters on Road 5 in the West Bank, after terrorists threw rocks at the car.

After prolonged hospitalization Bitton was taken for rehabilitation at Beit Lewinstein. She would be released home for weekends.

In April Beit Lewinstein said her rehabilitation was complete but the family demanded additional time at the center. The sides ended up in court, which ruled for the family, and Biton was given several additional months in Beit Lewinstein.

She only returned home in September after her family home in the community of Yakir was fitted with proper facilities. “Our Adele is coming home,” her mother, Adva Bitton said at the time.

IS ‘burns to death 45 people in Iraq’

Jihadist from the Islamic State group burned to death 45 people in the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, BBC quotes the local police chief as saying.

IS fighters captured much of the town, near Ain al-Asad air base, last week.

Read the full story here.

Canada cost of fighting IS group tops $100m.

The cost of Canada’s six-month bombing mission against the Islamic State group in Iraq was estimated at more than $100 million, according to officials Tuesday.

The independent parliamentary budget office put the tally at Can$128.8 million (US$103.8 million) to Can$166.40 million (US$134.1 million).

The budget office’s report comes after Defense Minister Jason Kenney said the costs would top Can$122 million (US$96.7 million).

The costs of previous recent military missions, including Libya, spiraled far beyond initial estimates provided by the government.

— AFP

Arrested Romanian ex-minister wants to wallpaper her cell

A former Romanian tourism minister in detention on corruption charges has asked to be allowed to wallpaper and paint her cell walls.

Marius Stribulea, lawyer to Elena Udrea, said his client, one of the most influential politicians of the past decade, wanted to renovate her current accommodation.

“As you know the conditions are not the best,” he said Tuesday. Mediafax reported she wanted to wallpaper her cell walls, as well as paint the bars and radiator.

Udrea was arrested last week for 30 days on charges of influence peddling and taking bribes. She denies wrongdoing.

The flamboyant politician was criticized for her close ties with Traian Basescu, Romania’spresident from 2004 to 2014. She ran for president in November elections, finishing fourth.

Stribulea said Bucharest police will examine the request.

— AP

Elena Udrea, member of the Romanian Parliament assists at the working session of the Parliament to lift her parliamentary immunity in Bucharest February 9, 2015. (photo credit: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP)

Elena Udrea, member of the Romanian Parliament assists at the working session of the Parliament to lift her parliamentary immunity in Bucharest February 9, 2015. (photo credit: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP)

4 arrested in Sweden for allegedly funding IS

Four people were arrested in Sweden for laundering money and working illegaly with intent to funnel the money to the Islamic State, according to a report in Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter.

The financial division of Swedish police announced in a statement that it is carrying out an “important operation” investigating six companies involved in accounting fraud.

A spokeswoman refused to divulge to AFP details of the investigation, saying the operational details are still confidential.

According to Dagens Nyheter, the people who were arrested have sent their money to Syria, presumably to finance Islamic State operations.

— AFP

Zionist Union clip mockingly raises funds to fix Prime Minister’s Residence

Young Zionist Union activists post a clip where they cynically raise money for the renovation of the Prime Minister’s Residence “because NIS 5.4 million [c. $1.4 million] is simply not enough.”

The tongue-in-cheek clip, Haaretz reports, starts with a caption saying “this week the citizens of Israel were exposed to hard-to-watch images of the difficult housing condition of a young couple hailing from Jerusalem and Caesarea.”

“We, the young generation of Zionist Union activists, could not remain aloof faced with the suffering and misery and the image of a carpet with a hole in it,” the caption continues.

In the clip the activists are seen asking people on the street for small change because “the house is falling apart” and “there is not enough water in the pool.”

The clip was posted following a clip released by the Netanyahu campaign headquarters on Sunday, where Sara Netanyahu is showing Moshik Glamin, a celebrity interior designer, the dilapidated, as she would have it, condition of the official prime ministerial residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.

Fighting between Assad troops, rebels forces continues in Quneitra

The al Miadin TV network reports that fire exchanges between the Syrian army and the rebel groups in Quneitra continue, on the evening hours of Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier reported that the Syrian army managed to take over villages north of Aleppo, and thus to block the supply routes of opposition forces from Turkey to Syria.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the observatory, told al Arabiya that Assad forces were trying to capture Aleppo in an effort to create an image of success that would improve Assad’s standing in the eyes of Iran and Russia.

France hands over jihadist suspect to Belgium

One of two Belgian brothers linked to a dismantled jihadist cell has been handed over to Belgium after he was arrested in France last month, the prosecutor’s office says.

The suspect, Souhaib El Abdi, 25, is now in custody and he will appear before a judge in the coming days, the office says.

El Abdi is suspected of “participating in a terrorist group” and of recruiting for the dismantled jihadist cell.

Belgium has been on high alert since a cell believed to have been plotting attacks on police on the street and in stations was dismantled on January 15. El Abdi’s brother Ismael was also linked to the plot.

— AFP

Menny Naftali lawyer tells Netanyahus: You should be ashamed of yourselves

Menny Naftali, the disgraced caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence who sued the Netanyahu couple after he was fired and then found himself on the receiving end of a salvo of accusations from the couple, held a press conference Tuesday evening where he responded to allegations by the prime minister’s staff that he was responsible for increased spending at the residence during the time he worked there.

“Do you blame Menny Naftali in spending millions on makeup, food and other personal expenses? Do you really suggest Menny Naftali spent, on his own, millions on beverage bottles?” asked Naftali’s lawyer during the press conference.

“Does your political goal really sanctify any means available? Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu, you should be ashamed of yourselves. It is time you stop abusing employees,” she said.

Naftali himself then spoke, and said the Netanyahus were known for turning away each and every person who worked at their house. “No caretaker lasted there for more than a year,” he said.

Earlier, Likud responded to a comptroller report on spending at the Netanyahu residence by saying expenses were actually going down and only began rising again after Naftali was hired.

Most Americans say inviting PM to DC was wrong

More than 60% of Americans believe that Republican congressional leaders should not have invited Netanyahu to address Congress without asking the White House first, CNN reports.

The poll additionally finds American feeling more and more that the US should stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 56% of people aged 50 or higher believe the US should stay out of the conflict, but the number rises to 75% among respondents younger than 50.

Read the full story here.

Netherlands cancels visas for imams’ visit

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders nixes visas for three controversial imams planning to visit the Netherlands next month, basing his decision on advice from the country’s anti-terror agency.

“The visas’ withdrawal follows information received from the Dutch Anti-Terrorist and Safety Coordinator (NCTV),” says Koenders’ spokesman Ahmed Dadou.

“It fits into the context of the (government’s) action program to prevent jihadism,” Dadou tells AFP.

He declines to name the imams, but according to Dutch media at least one is believed to have links to the Islamic State group.

— AFP

‘Cyber-attacks against Israel came from Gaza’

The American company Trend Micro says cyber-attacks against Israeli websites and computers over the past 18 months most likely came from Arab attackers, mostly inside the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reports.

The report by Trend Micro says hackers tried to steal data from computers belonging to government ministries and the IDF, as well as academic institutions. The servers from where most attacks came are located in Germany, the report said, adding that similar attacks were directed at computers in Egypt.

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