The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
Israeli youth handball teams in Qatar spark social media outcry
The presence of Israeli teams at a youth handball tournament in Doha has sparked calls on social media for Qataris to withdraw their children from the competition.
Israel sent a boys’ team and a girls’ team to the Handball World School Championship, a biannual international tournament for students aged 15 to 18, played since the early 1970s.
It is not the first time Israeli athletes have competed in Qatar, but their participation has brought renewed scrutiny to Doha’s foreign policy eight months into a diplomatic crisis with its Arab neighbors.
On Twitter, users claiming to be Qataris accused Doha of trying to normalize relations with Israel.
“I ask all parents to withdraw their children and prevent them from participating in this normalization of relations,” one user wrote in Arabic.
“Now it is the time to speak to your children about Palestine.”
Another tweeted that the tournament was “recognition of an occupier.”
IDF completes training exercises along northern border
The IDF Galilee Division has completed a series of large-scale exercises designed to prepare the military for a rapidly unfolding war in Lebanon, the army says.
“Conscripted soldiers, along with reservists, took part in the exercise. They practiced a rapid call-up of reservists, as well as operational capabilities and readiness to fight in Lebanese terrain,” the Israel Defense Forces says.
During the tank brigade’s exercise, the troops simulated “a variety of scenarios, and were required to practice logistic and operational efficiency over a prolonged period of fighting,” according to the statement.
The drills came amid heightened tensions in the country’s north, following aerial clashes between Syrian regime forces and the Israeli air force, after it struck a number of Iranian military installations inside Syria.
— Judah Ari Gross
Iran’s Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections
Iran’s hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the immediate holding of free presidential and parliamentary elections in a letter to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The call from a man, whose name is synonymous with the bloody repression of mass protests against his controversial re-election in 2009, marked a new act of defiance against a political establishment that has long since turned against him.
“The immediate holding of free presidential and parliamentary elections — of course without their being engineered by the Guardian Council and without interference by military or security bodies so that people have a free choice — is an urgent necessity,” he wrote.
Ahmadinejad makes no specific reference in his letter to a wave of unrest that swept Iran over the new year but it comes as the country’s divided political factions argue over how to respond.
During the 2009 protests against Ahmadinejad’s re-election, dozens of people were killed as the regime deployed militia to back up police.
Thousands of people were detained and his two reformist challengers — Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi — remain under house arrest.
Ex-top graft investigator convicted of failing to report bribery attempts
A former top police corruption investigator is convicted of failing to report an attempted bribe offered to him by a well-known rabbi.
Former police deputy commissioner Menashe Arviv, who once headed the national police force’s top corruption and fraud investigative body Lahav 433, is convicted by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court of the relatively minor crime of “failure to carry out an official duty.”
The conviction comes as part of a plea bargain that saw fraud and breach of trust charges excised from the indictment.
Arviv failed to report close ties he maintained with Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto and at least two bribery attempts by Pinto while serving in a variety of senior positions in the police, including as deputy head of the Tel Aviv police, as Israel Police liaison to the United States and as head of Lahav 433.
Remand extended for ex-Netanyahu spokesman suspected of trying to bribe judge
Nir Hefetz, a former spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family sees his detention extended for another three days over bribery suspicions.
Hefetz is suspected of suggesting in 2015 that a judge could be appointed attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife Sara.
At the remand hearing, police told the judge that Hefetz, who was arrested on Sunday, was exercising his right to remain silent.
The alleged attempts to bribe a judge has been dubbed by police as Case 1270, and is one of several corruption scandals involving the prime minister.
Russia says will consider UN ceasefire in Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow will consider supporting a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Syria if it does not cover fighters from the Islamic State group and the al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee.
Lavrov’s statement this afternoon comes amid a dire humanitarian crisis in the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus. Syrian opposition activists and paramedics on Thursday reported a fresh round of violence as bombing in rebel-held eastern Ghouta left 13 people dead.
Lavrov says in comments relayed by Russian news agencies that Russia is proposing the wording for the UN resolution that would exclude the IS, the al-Qaeda linked group as well as unspecified “groups that cooperate with them and systematically shell residential areas of Damascus.”
Iranian official warns Tehran could leave nuke deal if no economic benefit
A senior Iranian official says Tehran may choose to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with six world powers if major international banks continued to avoid doing business in the Islamic Republic.
“If the same policy of confusion and uncertainties about the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) continues, if companies and banks are not working with Iran, we cannot remain in a deal that has no benefit for us,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi says according to Reuters. “That’s a fact.”
Belgian police lock down part of Brussels amid reports of gunman
Belgian police have sealed off part of a Brussels suburb amid media reports that an armed man could be at large.
Armed police officers reportedly hiding behind buildings and staking out a building rooftop in the Forest neighborhood of the Belgian capital.
Broadcaster RTL quotes Forest mayor Marc-Jean Ghyssels as saying that police “suspect the presence of an armed man.”
A suspect in the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015, Salah Abdeslam, hid in Forest and was caught up in a shootout with police in a nearby apartment.
Case 4000 suspect Shaul Elovitch heckled during remand hearing
Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch, a chief suspect in Case 4000, is verbally assailed in court by social activist Barak Cohen, during a remand hearing.
Elovitch, suspected of ordering positive coverage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family on the Walla news site — which he owns — in return for business benefits, is heckled by Cohen in the courtroom.
“Are you a state witness yet? Maybe open up on Netanyahu and save us from this tyrant already?” Cohen shouts. The presiding judge reprimands security personnel for failing to stop the incident.
Elovitch’s remand has been extended by four days.
Israel gets first female ultra-Orthodox judge
The Judicial Appointments Committee is meeting today to select new judges for various court positions across the country.
One of the freshly announced appointees is Israel’s first female ultra-Orthodox judge.
Another noteworthy appointment is that of justice Eilona Lindenstrauss-Arieli, the daughter of former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, to the Nazareth District Court.
The committee is also set to announce its picks for two new Supreme Court justices.
Belgian police warn residents in Brussels neighborhood to stay inside
Belgian police are warning residents in a Brussels neighborhood to stay inside amid media reports that an armed man could be at large.
Masked police, some with automatic weapons, are aiming their guns high at a building near the Place Saint-Denis in the Forest neighborhood of the Belgian capital.
A police helicopter is flying overhead.
Broadcaster RTL quotes Forest mayor Marc-Jean Ghyssels as saying that police “suspect the presence of an armed man.”
Hundreds of African migrants protest detentions
Hundreds of African migrants protest Thursday outside an Israeli prison where at least nine have been incarcerated under Israel’s controversial new policy of expelling or imprisoning them.
They march a short distance from the Holot open detention center to Saharonim Prison, chanting slogans and carrying signs demanding the prisoners’ release.
They say they are on a hunger strike and vow to continue it until a solution is reached.
Israel is preparing to deport thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese who entered the country illegally and who do not have asylum claims under examination.
Egyptian court sentences 21 to death on terrorism charges
An Egyptian court has sentenced 21 people to death and seven others to up to life in prison over belonging to a group believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State group, the state-run MENA news agency reports.
Beside the 21 death sentences, the court handed down life sentences — which in Egypt are equal to 25 years — to four defendants, and 15-year-sentences to three others, MENA says.
The 28 on trial were charged with belonging to an outlawed group linked to IS, disrupting public order, possession of weapons and endangering society among other charges. Of the total, only 12 are in custody while the others — 16 suspects — are at large.
Rights groups have repeatedly criticized similar mass sentencings in Egypt and called on authorities to ensure fair trials.
Belgian police say incident involving suspected gunman not terror-related
Belgian police say an incident involving a suspected armed man in Brussels is not terror-related.
Brussels police spokeswoman Kathleen Calie says that officers from Belgium’s special federal force were deployed to the Forest suburb following witness accounts that an armed person could be at large.
— Guillaume Woelfle (@GuiWoelfle) February 22, 2018
A search of one building produced nothing, and a second search is ongoing.
Calie says “we can rule out terrorism.”
Sweden warns of possible Russian meddling in upcoming election
Sweden’s intelligence service is warning “foreign powers” could try and meddle in the Nordic nation’s upcoming general election, singling out Russia in light of alleged interference in the last US vote.
However, the Swedish Security Service (Sapo), which is responsible for tackling espionage and terrorism, says in an annual report that Sweden’s “robust” and “decentralized” electoral system is tough to influence.
“It cannot be ruled out that certain foreign powers will take advantage of the Swedish election campaign to enhance conflicts in Swedish society and attempt to weaken the democratic system,” says Sapo head Anders Thornberg in the document.
“Russian espionage constitutes the greatest security threat” against non-NATO member Sweden, Sapo warns, adding that a third of Russian diplomats in the country are spies.
Elovitch’s wife remanded in custody until Monday
Iris Elovitch, wife of Bezeq chief shareholder Shaul Elovitch, has been remanded in custody until Monday.
Iris, along with her husband and the couple’s son Or, is suspected of involvement in bribery as part of Case 4000.
Police suspect Bezeq received regulatory benefits from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in exchange for Elovitch giving the premier and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which he also owns.
Earlier in the day Elovitch himself was also remanded in custody until Monday.
Deri completes new round of police questioning
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says he has completed a new round of questioning by police in an ongoing investigation into corruption suspicions against him.
“As usual I answered all the questions,” he tweets. “Everything is fine and will be even better, God willing.”
Flight delays at Ben Gurion Airport as workers launch surprise strike
Workers at Ben Gurion International Airport launched a surprise strike Thursday afternoon, causing delays at Israel’s main flight hub.
Delays are said to mostly be affecting departures, with holdups of up to 90 minutes reported.
There is no immediate word on the cause for the work stoppage.
Police say solid evidence against suspected murderer of elderly British Israeli
Police say they have amassed a solid body of evidence against the suspected murderer of an elderly British Israeli in the city of Netanya in January.
Authorities believe the 37-year-old suspect broke into the home of 79-year-old Alan Kaye, robbed him and murdered him with a hammer.
According to the Jewish Telegraph, widower Kaye came to live in Israel in 2010 to be near his daughter and grandchildren.
Hefetz tells court he is allowed little sleep, limited access to doctors
During his remand hearing earlier, Nir Hefetz, a former spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family, complained of suffering in jail.
Hefetz told the court he was being allowed only few hours of sleep a night and was “exhausted,” according to Hadashot news.
He also claimed that when he felt unwell and asked to see a doctor, he was rebuffed by police.
“I collapsed on the cell floor, and only then did a medic come,” Hefetz told the court.
Swastika graffiti found at West Bank tomb of Yehoshua bin Nun
Jewish worshipers who came to pray at the tomb of biblical prophet Yehoshua bin Nun in the West Bank overnight say the holy site was found graffitied with swastikas and disaparaging Arabic epithets.
The prayers at the tomb, located near the settlement of Ariel, went forward without incident.
צלבי קרס וכתובות נאצה רוססו על קברו של יהושע בן נון סמוך להתנחלות אריאל. במהלך הלילה הגיעו לקבר כאלף איש, בעליה המסורתית לכבוד יום ז' באדר, יום פטירת משה רבנו @OrHeller (צילום: ביטחון שומרון) pic.twitter.com/H4mPROcMF8
— חדשות עשר (@news10) February 22, 2018
Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan calls to arrest those responsible.
“The tomb of Yehoshua bin Nun is a holy site of top historical importance. I call on security forces to capture the vandals,” he says.
Egypt says 7 soldiers, 71 jihadists killed in Sinai op
Seven Egyptian soldiers and 71 jihadists have been killed since the launch of a wide-ranging operation to quell an Islamic State group affiliate in Sinai earlier this month, Egypt’s military says.
“As a result of the heroic combat operations by our armed forces…seven heroes of the armed forces were martyred,” military spokesman Colonel Tamer Rifai says at a press conference on state television.
“71 extremists have been killed and five arrested,” he says.
Rifai adds that 1,852 other suspects have been rounded up in the operation that began on February 9, following an ultimatum by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to end the deadly insurgency.
Outrage over Iran minister’s presence at UN rights meet
Critics voice outrage that Iran’s justice minister will travel to Geneva next week to address the UN’s top human rights body, despite facing Swiss and EU sanctions over rights violations.
Brussels and Bern have slapped sanctions on Alireza Avayi, maintaining that, as Tehran’s former top prosecutor, he was “responsible for human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners’ rights, and an increase in executions.”
According to exiled members of the Iranian opposition, he played a key role in a 1988 massacre of political prisoners.
“Allowing Avayi to address the Human Rights Council is disgraceful and would make a mockery of the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms,” says Shahin Gobadi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Qatari envoy to Gaza calls for emergency aid
Qatar’s point man for the Gaza Strip is calling on the world to send humanitarian aid urgently to the Palestinian territory.
Mohammed Al-Emadi says Gaza is “on the verge of collapsing” and that if things do not improve, another war could break out between its Hamas rulers and Israel.
He says the cost to help Gaza is “nothing,” compared to the cost of war.
Al-Emadi has been meeting with Israeli, Palestinian, and UN officials. He spoke at a Jerusalem hotel.
UN watchdog says Iran sticking to nuclear deal
Iran is still sticking to the 2015 nuclear accord, a UN atomic watchdog report says, four months ahead of US President Donald Trump’s deadline to fix its “disastrous flaws.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency document, the ninth since the deal came into force in January 2016, shows Iran complying with the accord’s key parameters.
The number of centrifuges to enrich uranium is below the agreed level of 5,060, while Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium “has not exceeded 300 kg,” says the report.
Russian MP says Moscow tested ‘over 200 new weapons’ in Syria
Russia has tested over 200 new types of arms in Syria during its campaign in support of President Bashar Assad, a senior Russian lawmaker says.
“As we helped the brotherly Syrian people, we tested over 200 new types of weapons,” says Vladimir Shamanov, a former commander of Russia’s airborne troops who now serves as head of the Russian Duma’s defence committee.
“It’s not an accident that today they are coming to us from many directions to purchase our weapons, including countries that are not our allies,” he says. “Today our military-industrial complex represented our army in a way we can be proud of.”
Mother of Palestinian killed by IDF in Jericho: ‘Allah take revenge upon them’
The mother of a Palestinian man killed by Israeli soldiers in Jericho this morning says she hopes god avenges her son.
“Allah take revenge upon them,” she says of the Israeli soldiers who shot the man, in a video aired by Channel 10. “I pray to Allah to accept him into heaven as a martyr and bring ruin and loss upon their mothers, just as I have lost my son because of them.”
The man’s sister commends his actions, saying they bring “pride for us and for Palestine. It is all for Palestine.”
The army says the man tried to attack soldiers with a metal table during a riot in the West Bank city. Soldiers were filmed striking him repeatedly and apparently fatally wounding him during the arrest.
State witness Filber’s testimony may implicate former PM aid Nathan Eshel
The testimony of state witness Shlomo Filber in Case 4000 may implicate another close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — former chief of staff Nathan Eshel, Channel 10 reports.
Eshel was forced to resign his position as the prime minister’s bureau chief in 2012, amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
There are no immediate details on how Eshel allegedly fits into the investigation.
Filber, the former Communications Ministry director, has reportedly agreed to testify that he was instructed by Netanyahu to provide regulatory benefits to telephone company Bezeq in exchange for Bezeq’s chief shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which Elovitch owns.
Police ‘seek to question PM again’ in Bezeq, submarine probes
Police are seeking another round of questioning of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hadashot TV news reports.
Investigators want to question Netanyahu on Case 3000, involving alleged corruption in multi-billion-shekel naval deals; and Case 4000, involving alleged bribery of Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch, in return for postive coverage.
A date has not yet been set, and discussions between the police and the Prime Minister’s Office are ongoing.
PA police rescue US delegation attacked by Palestinians
In the second incident of its kind in recent weeks, a US delegation visiting the West Bank has to be rescued by Palestinian Authority policemen, after being attacked by Palestinian protesters.
Today’s incident takes place outside the offices of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research Survey in Al-Bireh, the twin city of Ramallah.
Members of a US delegation visiting the premises are forced to leave under police protection, after scores of Palestinian activists threaten to expel them by force.
PA anti-riot policemen, some of them wearing masks covering their faces, escort the US guests to a police van, taking them to a secure location.
— Khaled Abu Tomaeh
Justice Hila Gerstel ‘refused to confront’ bribery suspect before police
Retired justice Hila Gerstel, who police suspect was offered a bribe by a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has refused to confront the man who allegedly conveyed the offer to her in 2015, Channel 10 reports.
According to the report, Gerstel, now retired, was asked by police to hold a confrontation with strategic adviser Eli Kamir, a friend of hers. Kamir is suspected of relaying an offer from Nir Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former spokesperson, to appoint Gerstel to the post of attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife Sara.
Gerstel reportedly refused, setting conditions for such a confrontation. Surprised law enforcement officials are said to have considered questioning Gerstel under caution due to her refusal, but eventually decided against it.
Police still hoping to recruit former PM spokesman Nir Hefetz as state witness
A police source tells Hadashot news that officials are continuing efforts to recruit former spokesman for the Netanyahu family Nir Hefetz as a state witness.
Police reportedly believe Hefetz could be an asset that would provide valuable information in the four criminal cases involving the prime minister.
Hefetz is a suspect in Case 4000, which involves the alleged bribery of Shaul Elovitch, the owner of the Walla news website and the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecom company Bezeq.
He is also a suspect in Case 1270, in which he allegedly offered in 2015 to have judge Hila Gerstel appointed attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife, Sara.
Prof. Alex Stein and Prof. Ofer Grosskopf selected as new Supreme Court justices
The Judicial Appointments Committee has chosen Prof. Alex Stein and Prof. Ofer Grosskopf as new justices of the Supreme Court.
The two will replace the retiring judges Yoram Danziger and Uri Shoham.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut says the two are “candidates of the highest quality, with excellent professional reputation…I have no doubt that they will both contribute greatly to Israel’s Supreme Court.”
Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked also calls the two “superb candidates” and says she has no doubt they will “leave their mark” on Israel’s justice system.
Netanyahu spokesman takes leave of absence ‘due to stress of probes’
Shai Hayek, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has taken a leave of absence from the Prime Minister’s Office after testifying before police on corruption allegations involving the prime minister, Hadashot news reports.
Hayek has reportedly hired a lawyer and is refusing to speak to the media.
Associates say he has experienced high stress due to the ballooning investigations involving Netnayahu.
Conservatives cheer Pence when he mentions Trump’s Jerusalem move
Vice President Mike Pence earns one of his biggest applause lines at an influential conservative conference when he cites President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Pence, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, outlines the promises that Trump has fulfilled his first year in office.
“America once again stands without apology as leader of the free world,” he says. “For decades after one president after another promised to move our embassy to the capital of our most cherished ally, on Dec. 6, President Trump made history when the United States of America recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.”
That got huge applause from the activists at the American Conservative Union’s annual conference, which has become a focal point of the conservative movement.
Pence slams N. Korean leader’s ‘tyrannical’ sister after near meet
US Vice President Mike Pence has assailed the North Korean leader’s sister who sat near him at the Olympics as part of an “evil family clique” that oppresses millions.
Pence has choice words for the North Korean leader’s sister, who was given wide press coverage during her appearance at the games.
“The sister of Kim Jong Un is a central pillar of the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet, an evil family clique that brutalizes, subjugates, starves, and imprisons its 25 million people,” he tells thousands attending the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“For all those in the media who think I should have stood and cheered with the North Koreans, I say: the United States of America doesn’t stand with murderous dictatorships, we stand up to murderous dictatorships,” Pence says, to loud cheers.
French court denies release of rape-accused Islamic scholar
A French court has dismissed a bid by Tariq Ramadan, the prominent Islamic scholar detained on rape charges, to be released on health grounds, legal sources say.
Ramadan’s lawyers have pushed for his release since he was detained on February 2, arguing his multiple sclerosis and nerve damage could not be adequately treated behind bars.
The Oxford University professor, a prominent TV pundit whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, denies charges that he raped two Muslim women in France.
A court-ordered medical examination last Thursday found that the 55-year-old Swiss academic’s condition was compatible with detention.