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Live updates (closed)Latest: Kerry says he spoke to Lavrov on Assad’s use of chemical weapons

IDF reopens closed military zone in Golan Heights

Access temporarily restricted to area near village of Majdal Shams for fear that members of Druze community will come to protest there

  • Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a party meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem May 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a party meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem May 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot, seen here when he was still a major general. (Flash 90)
    Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot, seen here when he was still a major general. (Flash 90)
  • Michael Oren (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
    Michael Oren (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
  • Egypt's deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi raises his hands from behind the defendant's cage as the judge reads out his verdict sentencing him and more than 100 other defendants to death, at the police academy in Cairo on May 16, 2015. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
    Egypt's deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi raises his hands from behind the defendant's cage as the judge reads out his verdict sentencing him and more than 100 other defendants to death, at the police academy in Cairo on May 16, 2015. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Barack Obama in the White House, October 1, 2014 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Barack Obama in the White House, October 1, 2014 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

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

Death sentence for Morsi, 5 Muslim Brotherhood leaders

An Egyptian court confirms the death sentence handed to ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi over a mass prison break during the 2011 uprising that eventually brought him to power.

Judge Shaaban al-Shami confirms the ruling after consulting with the country’s religious authority as required by Egyptian law in cases involving the death penalty. The religious authority issues non-binding opinions on such sentences.

The ruling will automatically be appealed. The judge also confirms death sentences for five other jailed leading members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group.

The military overthrew and detained Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, in July 2013 amid massive protests demanding his resignation.

— AP

Michael Oren tears into Obama’s Israel policy

Kulanu MK and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren pens a scathing attack of US President Barack Obama’s policies toward Israel, claiming both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama made “mistakes,” but “only one leader made them deliberately.”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador during Obama’s first term in office, recounts various gaffes committed by the Israeli government, including announcing expansion of settlements on the eve of visits by top US officials, the (in)famous lengthy “lecture” by Netanyahu during a photo op with Obama at the Oval Office, and the prime minister’s speech to Congress earlier this year.

Oren absolves Netanyahu of some of the incidents, citing the fact that the missteps were taken by midlevel staffers without the prime minister’s knowledge (e.g., two instances where settlement expansion was announced just as Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to arrive in Israel). Netanyahu apologized personally, Oren notes.

President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014.  (photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

US President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Obama, on the other hand, deliberately deviated from several long-held traditions in the US-Israel relationship, airing disagreements in the media, and pointedly skipping Israel on his first Middle East tour after being elected. Another principle Oren says Obama did not follow is “no surprises” – i.e., refraining from public announcements of US expectations of Jerusalem until the issues had first been ironed out away from the cameras and microphones.

According to Oren,

Israeli leaders typically received advance copies of major American policy statements on the Middle East and could submit their comments. But Mr. Obama delivered his Cairo speech, with its unprecedented support for the Palestinians and its recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear power, without consulting Israel.

Michael Oren speaking at an embassy reception in Washington. (photo credit: CC-BY IsraelinUSA, Flickr)

Michael Oren speaking at an embassy reception in Washington, when he was serving as Israel’s ambassador to the US. (photo credit: CC-BY IsraelinUSA, Flickr)

Oren’s account leads up to what he sees as the potentially most harmful consequence of the rift in US-Israeli relations – the negotiations conducted behind Israel’s back with its “deadliest enemy” – Iran. As a US ally in the region, Israel, “though small, remains democratic, militarily and technologically robust, strategically located and unreservedly pro-American.”

He ends his piece by warning against further “erosion” of the “vital alliance” between the US and Israel.

White House denies July invite for Netanyahu

Netanyahu was not invited to meet Obama in the White House in July, tweets AFP correspondent Andrew Beatty:

IDF will act to prevent slaughter of Syrian refugees, says IDF chief

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot says that the IDF is concerned about a potential influx of refugees who may try to infiltrate the Golan Heights border, escaping the civil war tearing Syria apart.

In Eisenkot’s first appearance as IDF chief before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he says Syria is in advanced stages of disintegration.

There are hundreds of thousands of homeless people in Syria and millions in neighboring countries, says Eisenkot, mostly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

The IDF will act to prevent a massive influx of refugees but will also take humanitarian action to prevent a slaughter of the fleeing refugees.

— Mitch Ginsburg

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

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

Gazan extremists growing stronger – IDF chief

The security situation in the West Bank is stable, IDF Chief Staff Eisenkot tells the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Eisenkot says 70,000 Palestinian workers enter Israel with permits, and even as tens of thousands of others enter without security clearances, cooperation between the IDF and Palestinian security forces is good.

Eisenkot says the situation in the Gaza Strip is complex, partly because of feuds between Hamas and other terror organizations active in the Strip.

Israel, Eisenkot says, is trying to improve the economic situation in Gaza, including allowing the entrance of trucks carrying supplies to the territory. The IDF maintains a tit-for-tat policy with Hamas, in which rocket fire is answered by a closing of border crossings.

The top IDF officer says organizations more extreme than Hamas are growing stronger in the Strip and acting more openly. The military is trying to hinder their growth while also countering the tunnel digging activity of Hamas.

— Mitch Ginsburg

Suspect arrested in West Bank vehicular terror attack

The Shin Bet security service, in cooperation with the IDF and Israel Police, arrested Muhammad Yussef Arafa’ia, a 22-year-old resident of Hebron, on suspicion that he was responsible for a terror attack at the Alon Shvut junction last month.

Arafa’ia allegedly rammed the vehicle he was driving into three people who were hitchhiking at the junction, injuring them.

1st Arab modern art museum in Israel to open

Israel’s first Arab museum of modern art will open tomorrow in Sakhnin.

AMOCA, the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art, is a joint initiative of Israeli sculptor Belu Simion Fainaru and artist Avital Bar Shai and the Sakhnin Municipality. Fainaru and Bar Shai will be managing directors at the museum.

The AMOC A will present local and international contemporary works of art, with an eye to promoting peace and dialogue through artistic activity.

A ceremony inaugurating the museum will be attended by the wife of President Reuven Rivlin, First Lady Nechama Rivlin, and Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Gna’im, on Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the AMOCA building, near the Doha Stadium in Sakhnin.

Abir Athalla, Untitled, 2011, one of the pieces on show at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art. (Courtesy)

Abir Athalla, Untitled, 2011, one of the pieces on show at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art. (Courtesy)

Cengiz Tekin, Untitled, 2010, one of the pieces on show at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art. (Courtesy)

Cengiz Tekin, Untitled, 2010, one of the pieces on show at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art. (Courtesy)

Jeanno Gaussi, Fragments from Kabul, 2007, one of the pieces on show at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art. (Courtesy)

Jeanno Gaussi, Fragments from Kabul, 2007, one of the pieces on show at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art. (Courtesy)

Bahrain sentences Shiite leader to 4 years

A Bahraini court sentences the country’s leading Shiite opposition figure to four years in prison amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the tiny island kingdom.

Sheikh Ali Salman, a key figure in the 2011 uprising against the Sunni monarchy, was convicted of insulting the Interior Ministry, which oversees police, inciting others to break the law and inciting hatred against naturalized Sunni citizens, many of whom are of South Asian descent and serve in the country’s security forces.

However, the court found Salman not guilty of the most serious charge he faced, which was inciting violence and calling for the overthrow of the monarchy, which carried a potential life sentence. His defense lawyer, Abdullah al-Shamlawi, said Salman can appeal.

Salman, 49, is the secretary-general of the al-Wefaq political opposition group and was arrested in late December. The charges against him stem from speeches he made between 2012 and 2014.

— AP

Tory MPs have ‘high level of concern’ about Iran deal

Conservative British MPs express strong reservations about the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 ahead of the 30th June deadline for talks.

Fifteen MPs participated in a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on “Iran and the proposed nuclear agreement,” led by Guto Bebb, MP. Among the lawmakers who joined the debate was former defense secretary Liam Fox MP, and Nadhim Zahawi, MP, a candidate to be chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

The MPs outlined a series of major concerns with the emerging deal, including the premature lifting of sanctions, insufficient verification mechanisms, the danger of time-limiting the most severe restrictions for a mere 10 years, and Iran’s retention of a uranium enrichment infrastructure far in excess of that required for a genuine peaceful civilian nuclear power program.

Emphasizing that Iran has not earned the right to be entrusted with a nuclear program, MPs pointed to Iran’s proven record of financially and materially supporting terror groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

Following the debate, Guto Bebb MP, said: “The large attendance for this morning’s debate is testament to the high level of concern among Conservative MPs at the emerging nuclear deal. Iran has not been obligated to make enough concessions over its nuclear program to sufficiently reassure the international community that it has no ambitions to develop nuclear weaponry. As the Minister said: ‘It is right that we should leave no stone unturned in the quest to reach an agreement. But we must not, and will not, do a bad deal. The stakes are too high.’”

Liberman says he may consider joining gov’t

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says that if the government approves building 1,000 more apartments in Ma’ale Adumim, he will consider joining the coalition.

Writing on his Facebook page after a visit to the West Bank city jsut outside Jerusalem, Liberman says that “unlike others, we come to visit there also after the election, not only before it. One of the reasons we are not partners in the current government is the prime minister’s refusal to fulfill his obligations and build in Ma’ale Adumim. There is no doubt that in any arrangement, Ma’ale Adumim will remain part of Israel and this is why there is no reason not to build there. I hope this government comes back to its senses and returns to building in the area.

“During the visit I also met with Mayor Benny Kashriel, who is a Likud member, and I told him that after the prime minister and defense minister will sign an approval to build 1,000 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, we will seriously consider joining the government.”

Donald Trump set to announce presidential bid

Donald Trump, the flamboyant real estate magnate and television personality whose fortune is valued at $9 billion, is set to announce that he intends to make a long-shot run for the US presidency on the ticket of the Republican Party.

Trump, 69, is expected to announce his 2016 intentions on Tuesday at a New York skyscraper that bears his name.

Known in the US as The Donald, Trump is a celebrity, a businessman and a master of self-promotion. He will be entering an increasingly crowded presidential race, punctuated by such big names as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who is the son and brother of two former US presidents, and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Should Trump enter the Republican presidential primary contest, he would be required to reveal intimate details about his personal finances. The disclosure would include his net worth, sources of income, liabilities and assets. He would have to reveal the same information for his wife and dependent children.

If he gets in, Trump is ready to do so. On Tuesday, he will share details about his wealth, according to a person close to his potential campaign who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to preempt the announcement.

— AP

US billionaire Donald Trump advises Israelis to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu in a video released on Tuesday (YouTube screen capture)

US billionaire Donald Trump in a video advising Israelis to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu. (YouTube screen capture)

Physicians for Human Rights denounces proposed force-feeding law

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) urges the Knesset to reject a proposed bill that would legalize the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners, which would violate medical ethics and international law, the NGO says in a statement.

“Israel’s force-feeding bill contravenes established medical ethics, which unequivocally prohibit force-feeding as a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” says Sarah Dougherty, PHR’s senior anti-torture fellow.

“Medical professionals should never be used as instruments to inflict harmful and coercive measures on detainees and to violate their human rights. We join our colleagues around the world in urging the Israeli government to immediately reject this bill,” she continues.

The Knesset will vote on the proposed changes to Israel’s Prisons Act in two weeks, at which point they could be fast-tracked into law. This amendment would permit the force-feeding of a hunger-striking prisoner when the head of the Israel Prison Service receives permission from a district court, following a doctor’s certification that the prisoner’s health is in serious danger.

The court’s ability to consider non-medical factors — such as prison order and state security — and to use classified evidence in determination on force-feeding, was further cause for concern, adds PHR.

“Hunger-striking is often the only means detainees have available to protest unlawful detention and inhumane conditions,” continues Dougherty. “People have a right to make their own decisions about their health and to refuse unwanted treatment, and medical personnel must respect this fundamental principle.”

IDF declares closed military zone in part of Golan Heights

The IDF declares a closed military zone in a small area near the Druze village of Majdal Shams, in the northern Golan Heights.

The decision to restrict access to the area comes after assessments that members of the Druze community from the Galilee and the Carmel area in the northwest of Israel will come to the Golan Heights to protest near the border fence against the danger which their brethren in Syria are facing from rebel groups, especially the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front.

Battles have been taking place in the village of Hader, in Syrian territory, about two kilometers (1.24 miles) from the border fence. A Druze officer in the Syrian Army was killed in the battle, as well as five resident of the village.

Arab media outlets were quoted by Walla, a Hebrew news website, as saying that part of the village was taken over by rebels, but there were no confirmations of the report.

FILE: Demonstrators gather along Syria's border with Israel before trying to cut through a line of barbed wire and head into the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, as seen from the Druze village of Majdal Shams, on June 5, 2011 (photo credit: Flash90)

Demonstrators gather along Syria’s border with Israel before trying to cut through a line of barbed wire and head into the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, as seen from the Druze village of Majdal Shams, on June 5, 2011. (photo credit: Flash90, File)

Energy Minister Steinitz in meeting with gas tycoon Tshuva

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Yitzhak Tshuva have been meeting since the early afternoon hours, Channel 2 reports.

Tshuva is a tycoon in control of significant amounts of Israel’s gas reservoirs, along with US company Noble Energy.

The two are trying to reach an agreement on the division of revenue between the state and the private investors on the huge amounts of natural gas found in the Mediterranean, as well as on a mechanism for capping the price of gas to Israel’s citizens — the consumers.

Nochi Dankner, left, owner of IDG Group and Isaac Tshuva, owner of Delek Group in 2007 (photo credit: AP/Denise Truscello)

Businessman and investor Nochi Dankner (left), and gas tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva, 2007 (AP/Denise Truscello)

‘Jailed Belgian millionaire has ties with prominent Israeli politicians’ — report

A European Jewish millionaire — against whom Interpol issued an international arrest warrant and who has been held in a Montenegro prison for more than three months — has ties with several prominent figures in Israeli politics, Channel 2 reports.

Serge Muller, a Belgian citizen, was arrested in Montenegro immediately after the signing ceremony that sealed the sale of Montenegro Defense Industry (MDI) to Belgrade-based CPR Impex and Israeli ATL Atlantic Technology Ltd., on March 4.

He was arrested by the Antwerp Police just as he was attempting to cross into Albania. Muller is a well-known figure in Europe’s diamond capital of Antwerp. When he was arrested near the Albanian border, he was on his way to the airport in Tirana, en route to catch a flight to Israel, according to the website Euarasia Review.

According to a report on Channel 2, Muller is a personal acquaintance of former justice minister Yaakov Neeman as well as current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. He reportedly donated funds to the Likud and also maintains ties with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the station reports.

“Minister Erdan does not know the man and has never met him, Hundreds of people donated to the minister’s campaign and the donations were all legal,” according to a statement from Erdan’s office.

Levin’s office says that “the minister does not know Mr. Muller and was not aware of the allegations. Had he known, he would not have accepted the donations.”

The Muller family responds: “The family donated over the years to the Zionist enterprise, the State of Israel and those who seek its benefit, all according to the law and without expecting any recompense, even in retrospect.”

Palestinian government mulls resigning over Gaza

The Palestinian government is considering resigning over its inability to act in the Gaza Strip, with two senior officials telling AFP the move will come within 24 hours.

“The government will resign in the next 24 hours because this one is weak and there is no chance that Hamas will allow it to work in Gaza,” says Amin Maqbul, secretary general of the ruling Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council.

The government’s intention was confirmed by another senior Palestinian official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Islamist Hamas movement ruled Gaza for seven years, but its administration stepped down last June when the Ramallah-based consensus government was sworn in.

Comprised of independent technocrats, the government lineup was agreed by both Fatah and Hamas and was given a mandate to govern both the West Bank and Gaza, ending seven years of separate administrations.

But in practice, it has been unable to extend its authority to Gaza, which was devastated by a deadly 50-day war with Israel last summer and where Hamas remains the de facto power.

“After the government resigns, we will start consultations to form a new government,” Maqbul told AFP, without saying whether the new lineup would be pieced together in consultation with Hamas.

— AFP

Kerry says he spoke to Lavrov on Assad’s use of chemical weapons

US Secretary of State John Kerry says at a press conference that he spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov regarding the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar Assad, Reuters reports.

Kerry comments that the US is working on all fronts to deal with the issue and adds that America’s “patience” is running out in face of the regime’s targeting of its own people.

Referring to the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin — on increasing the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles that Russia will have — Kerry says every person should be concerned when the leader of a strong nation makes such announcements, according to Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a press conference announcing a reconfirmation and revision to the "Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation," created by the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee on April 27, 2015. (photo credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry, April 27, 2015 (AFP/Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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