UN condemns West Bank mosque attack
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UN condemns West Bank mosque attack

Top US envoy says PM was wrong on Iraq, and on interim Iran agreement; Arab envoys reportedly refuse invite to Congressional address

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
    US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill February 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook (L) with President Reuven Rivlin (Photo credit:  Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
    Apple CEO Tim Cook (L) with President Reuven Rivlin (Photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
  • Israel's Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog arrives to a press conference in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
    Israel's Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog arrives to a press conference in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
  • Illustrative: A Palestinian activist places a sign to boycott Israeli products at a supermarket in Bethlehem, West Bank,  February 11, 2015 (Mahmoud Illean/AP)
    Illustrative: A Palestinian activist places a sign to boycott Israeli products at a supermarket in Bethlehem, West Bank, February 11, 2015 (Mahmoud Illean/AP)
  • Palestinian Imam Ibrahim Abu Luha shows a burnt Koran, Islam's holy book, after a mosque was torched overnight in the West Bank village of al-Jaba, southwest of Bethlehem, February 25, 2015 .(photo credit: AFP/MUSA AL-SHAER)
    Palestinian Imam Ibrahim Abu Luha shows a burnt Koran, Islam's holy book, after a mosque was torched overnight in the West Bank village of al-Jaba, southwest of Bethlehem, February 25, 2015 .(photo credit: AFP/MUSA AL-SHAER)

Secretary of State John Kerry panned Benjamin Netanyahu’s judgment during his hearing in front of the US Congress. More Democratic lawmakers announced they will not attend the PM’s speech. Netanyahu said he won’t address Senate Democrats during his trip, and claims that world powers have “given up” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

A mosque near Bethlehem was damaged after an arson attack early Tuesday, in what authorities suspect was a hate crime.

The Times of Israel live blogged events as they unfolded.

Dermer invites UAE, Kuwait envoys to speech

Israel’s ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer invited the envoys from Arab countries United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to Netanyahu’s March 3 speech in front of Congress, according to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

According to the report, Dermer emailed his colleagues personally to ask them to come, but was rebuffed.

In addition, Goldberg reports that Israeli National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen told at least two individuals in Washington that he wished the speech was not going ahead, and that he “can’t quite believe that Netanyahu has so dramatically written off a president with almost two years left in office.”

PMO refuses to comment on Atlantic report

The Prime Minister’s Office has no comment in response to a Times of Israel inquiry over a report by The Atlantic magazine saying Israel invited at least two Arab ambassadors to Netanyahu’s upcoming Iran speech in the US Congress.

Search grows in Yemen for French woman, guide

Efforts intensify to find a French woman and her Yemeni interpreter kidnapped in crisis-hit Yemen, with relatives reaching out to tribal chiefs and Shiite militiamen in control of the capital.

Unidentified gunmen seized 30-year-old Isabelle Prime — a consultant working on a World Bank-funded project — and her interpreter Sherine Makkaoui from a car in Sanaa on Tuesday.

Their abduction has sparked a widening search, and prompted calls by France for its nationals to avoid the impoverished Gulf nation following months of unrest.

A Shiite Houthi rebel threatens Yemeni protesters during a rally against the control of the capital by Houthi rebels on January 24, 2015 in the capital Sanaa. (Photo credit: AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS)

A Shiite Houthi rebel threatens Yemeni protesters during a rally against the control of the capital by Houthi rebels on January 24, 2015 in the capital Sanaa. (Photo credit: AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS)

“We contacted various tribal leaders in Sanaa and in the provinces of Jawf and Marib to ensure their cooperation for the release of the two women,” Yassine Makkaoui, the uncle of the Yemeni abductee, tells AFP.

“We have also contacted, for the same reason, the interior ministry and the Houthis,” he adds, referring to the Shiite militia that has seized power in the capital.

— AFP

Jordan’s king meets new Saudi ruler

Jordan’s King Abdullah arrives in Saudi Arabia for bilateral talks with the newly enthroned King Salman.

The Saudi Press Agency reports that the Jordanian monarch is greeted at the airport by a senior royal.

The agency says the two kings are set to discuss a number of regional and international issues. The two countries are involved in airstrikes against Islamic State militants as part of a US-led coalition targeting the group in Iraq and Syria.

King Abdullah II of Jordan waits for a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill February 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit:AFP /BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)

King Abdullah II of Jordan waits for a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill February 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit:AFP /BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)

IS extremists burned a captive Jordanian pilot to death earlier this month, a killing that Salman condemned as an “odious crime” and which Jordan vowed to avenge.

Jordan’s king was most recently in Saudi Arabia in January to offer condolences after Saudi King Abdullah’s death.

— AP

Iran launches military exercises in Gulf

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards begin naval exercises Wednesday in the Strait of Hormuz, just a few hundred kilometers away from western vessels engaged in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The three branches of the elite army of the Iranian regime are participating in the regular military exercises, dubbed “Great Prophet”, off Qeshm Island.

It is unclear how long the drills will last.

An Iranian navy vessel launches a missile during a drill in the Sea of Oman in January 2012 (photo credit: AP/ISNA, Amir Kholousi)

An Iranian navy vessel launches a missile during a drill in the Sea of Oman in January 2012 (photo credit: AP/ISNA, Amir Kholousi)

State television shows an attack by “high-precision missiles” fired from the coast, and a helicopter on a replica of an “American” aircraft carrier.

Fast attack craft are also involved in the military exercises, which aim to “demonstrate the power” of the Navy in protecting Iranian interests in the Gulf, according to state television.

— AFP

Palestinians, settlers scuffle in Hebron

A group of Palestinians gets into an altercation with Israelis near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel Radio reports.

Extremist Knesset candidate Baruch Marzel is among the settlers in the dust-up.

Police intervene and separated the groups. No injuries are reported.

One Palestinian is arrested on suspicion of attacking one of the Israelis. Two Israelis are detained for questioning then released.

Jewish settler sits outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Jewish settler sits outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Six Anglo immigrants win Nefesh B’Nefesh prize

Six immigrants to Israel from English-speaking countries are awarded the 2015 Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize.

The $10,000 prizes will be awarded at an official ceremony in the Knesset in May.

Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber, founder and executive director of ITIM, which helps Israelis navigate the bureaucracy of religious authorities, won in the Community and Non-Profit category. He made aliyah from the United States in 1998.

Jon Medved, Founder and CEO of OurCrowd, who has invested in over 100 Israeli start-up companies, won in the Entrepreneurship and Technology category. He made aliyah in 1991 from the United States.
Professor Charles Sprung, director of Hadassah Medical Organization’s General Intensive Care Unit, who has published some 300 papers in prominent medical journals, won in the Science and Medicine category. He made aliyah in 1990 from the United States.

Israel Defense Forces Staff Sgt. Asaf Stein, PhD, who as a lone soldier put his academic career in biomedical engineering on hold to become a combat soldier in the IDF’s Golani Brigade, won in the IDF and National Service Young Leadership category. He made aliyah in 2012 from the United States.

Former Israeli basketball star and goodwill ambassador Tal Brody with Michigan State Representative Rudy Hobbs at a reception hosted at the home of Yoav Suesskind in Tel Aviv, November 12, 2012. (photo credit: courtesy of Project Interchange)

Former Israeli basketball star and goodwill ambassador Tal Brody with Michigan State Representative Rudy Hobbs at a reception hosted at the home of Yoav Suesskind in Tel Aviv, November 12, 2012. (photo credit: courtesy of Project Interchange)

Asher Weill, consultant and editor for all English publications for Limmud FSU, who founded the Jerusalem International Book Fair in 1961 and has published a wide cross-section of Israeli authors, statesmen and public figures in both Hebrew and English, won in the Culture, Sports and Arts category. He made aliyah in 1958 from the United Kingdom.

Chana Reifman Zweiter, founding director of Kaleidoscope/The Rosh Pina Mainstreaming Network, which focuses on improving interaction between the northern Israeli city of Akko’s Arab and Jewish elementary school students, won in the Education category. She made aliyah in 1992 from the United States.

An additional Lifetime Achievement Award was granted to Tal Brody, former player for the Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball team and currently Israel’s first Goodwill Ambassador, who made aliyah in 1970 from the United States.

The panel of judges included Colette Avital, a former MK and Israeli diplomat; David Gerstein, internationally renowned painter and sculptor; Barbara Goldstein, deputy executive director, Hadassah, Israel; Prof. Yonatan Halevy, director general, Shaare Zedek Medical Center; Steve Linde, editor-in-chief, The Jerusalem Post; Prof. Gabriela Shalev, president of the Higher Academic Council and Dean of the Law School, Ono Academic College; Rabbi Berel Wein, founder and director, The Destiny Foundation; and Yael Arad, the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal.

— JTA

German Jewish magazine to hide name in deliveries

A monthly German Jewish magazine will now deliver copies to subscribers in blank envelopes.

The magazine Jüdisches Berlin, or Jewish Berlin, is taking the measure, which will hide the publication’s name, as a response to recent anti-Semitic attacks across Europe.

“We decided to do so despite the significant additional costs to reduce the likelihood of hostility towards our more than 10,000 community members,” the magazine spokesman tells Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper.

The Guardian reports that in a foreword to the latest issue of Jüdisches Berlin, Gideon Joffe, chairman of the Board of the Jewish Community of Berlin, Germany’s largest Jewish communal organization, wrote: “Israelis are beaten up in Berlin solely on the grounds that they are Israeli Jews. We are not yet – I repeat yet – at the stage where Jews are being murdered in Germany just because they are Jews. But measures have to be taken to protect the democratic rule of law.”

Judisches Berlin, which features articles on Jewish life in Germany, was first published in 1998 and is issued 10 months of the year.

JTA

Top security adviser says he supports PM’s Iran speech

The Prime Minister’s Office says that National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen does not oppose Netanyahu’s Iran speech, and that he believes it is a necessary speech at this time, reports Haaretz’s Barak Ravid.

Earlier in the day, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported that Cohen expressed dismay recently in Washington over the planned address.

Teen stabbed for rejecting man’s advances

A 17-year-old girl from the Gilboa Mountain area in the north is stabbed at her school by a 23-year-old from a nearby town.

He tells police that he attacked the victim after she refused his advances, Ynet reports.

She is in moderate condition in Haemek Hospital in Afula.

Kerry to face Congress on Iran for 2nd day

John Kerry is scheduled to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), and before the House Appropriations subcommittee at 2 p.m. EST.

He is expected to face tough questions on a possible nuclear agreement with Iran. Yesterday he faced a skeptical Senate committee.

“The president has made clear — I can’t state this more firmly — the policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” he told members of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. “And anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, ‘Well, we don’t like the deal,’ or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. There is no deal yet. And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies on the fiscal year 2016 funding request for the State Department on February 24, 2015 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN)

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies on the fiscal year 2016 funding request for the State Department on February 24, 2015 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN)

US court hears case of woman not hired because of Muslim scarf

The Supreme Court is considering the employment discrimination claim of a Muslim woman who was turned down for a job by clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch after she showed up at her job interview wearing a black headscarf that conflicted with the company’s dress code.

The case being argued Wednesday explores when an employer must take steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of a worker or job applicant. Central to the case is that applicant Samantha Elauf never explicitly voiced her religious views or her need to wear a headscarf on the job, although the assistant store manager who interviewed her correctly assumed Elauf was a Muslim who dressed as she did for religious reasons.

Abercrombie & Fitch has since changed its policy on headscarves and has settled similar lawsuits elsewhere. But it has continued to fight Elauf’s claim at the Supreme Court.

Elauf was 17 when she interviewed for a “model” position, as the company calls its sales staff, at an Abercrombie Kids store in a shopping mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2008. She impressed the assistant store manager. But her application faltered over her headscarf, or hijab, because it conflicted with the company’s Look Policy, a code derived from Abercrombie’s focus on what it calls East Coast collegiate or preppy style.

At the time of the interview, the policy required employees to dress in a way that’s consistent with the clothing Abercrombie sells, and it prohibited wearing headscarves or anything in black. The company has said it changed its headscarf policy as early as 2010, but the ban on black clothing remains.

The woman who conducted the interview consulted with a more senior supervisor and then decided not to hire Elauf.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on Elauf’s behalf, and a jury eventually awarded her $20,000.

But the federal appeals court in Denver threw out the award and concluded that Abercrombie & Fitch could not be held liable because Elauf never asked the company to relax its policy against headscarves.

Organizations of state and local governments are supporting the company out of concerns that, if the EEOC prevails, they would be subject to more discrimination claims as large employers.

Muslim, Christian and Jewish advocacy organizations have weighed in on Elauf’s side, as have gay-rights groups.

— AP

Arab lawmakers to visit vandalized mosque

Politicians from the Joint (Arab) List announce that they will pay a visit to the mosque in the village of Jab’a near Bethlehem that was damaged in an arson attack early this morning.

Joint Arab List members (from left to right), Ayman Odeh, Masud Ghanayem, Jamal Zahalka and Ahmad Tibi sit together during a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Joint (Arab) List members (from left to right), Ayman Odeh, Masud Ghanayem, Jamal Zahalka and Ahmad Tibi sit together during a press conference in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Zionist Union candidate calls for split of Jerusalem

Zionist Union Knesset candidate Yossi Yona calls for the separation of Jerusalem, Army Radio reports.

Speaking at a panel at an Israeli high school, Yona says that “Jerusalem is for all intents and purposes a divided city, so we think there is no logic in keeping parts of East Jerusalem, and it is proper to discuss a division that would bring the Arab neighborhoods permanently into a state of Palestine.

His faction, battling with the Likud party for the opportunity to form the next government, says in response: “In our party, as opposed to others, everyone can express their opinions. Still, the one who will handle negotiations with the Palestinians is Isaac Herzog, who will do this while guarding uncompromisingly Israel’s security interests.”

Ras al-Amoud in East Jerusalem on October 21, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ras al-Amoud in East Jerusalem on October 21, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Rouhani seeks clergy support in Iran’s holy city

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as decision time looms for a nuclear deal with world powers, seeks to win the support of the religious community at the “backbone” of the Islamic republic.

“For the government and the people of Iran, Qom is not a city, but the symbol of religious life,” Rouhani, who faces criticism on the home front, says in a speech in the Shiite holy city.

Iranian women queue to cast their ballot for the parliamentary elections at Masoumeh shrine in the city of Qom, Iran, on Friday, March 2, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Kamran Jebreili)

Iranian women queue to cast their ballot for the parliamentary elections at Masoumeh shrine in the city of Qom, Iran, on Friday, March 2, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Kamran Jebreili)

At the heart of the Shia faith in Iran, Qom’s seminary hosts about 80,000 religious students, some from abroad.

“I want to make clear that the government needs Qom” with its clergy forming the “backbone” of Iran, he said, stressing the seminary’s independence would “never be compromised under the banner of a policy, a party or faction.”

The timing of his Qom visit, as nuclear negotiations enter the final stage, “can be seen as an effort to gain the support of religious leaders for a possible agreement”, reformist daily Shargh says.

— AFP

Egypt court to decide parliamentary elections’ fate

Egypt’s highest court will determine next week whether the laws regulating the country’s parliamentary elections are constitutional, threatening to further delay the vote scheduled for next month.

The Supreme Constitutional Court heard Wednesday the arguments of lawyers contesting the legality of the laws governing the electoral process on grounds that they violate Egypt’s principle of fair representation. Judge Anwar Rashad al-Assi said the court will make a rule this coming Sunday.

The legislative elections are due to begin on March 21, with phases running until May 7.

The parliamentary elections are the last phase in Egypt’s transitional plan, which was put in effect following the July 2013 military ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, after mass protests against him.

— AP

Islamic group leader discusses Temple Mount with Jordan

On the sidelines of Jordan King Abdullah’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the head of the world’s largest Islamic body meets with Jordan’s Islamic Affairs minister to discuss Muslim support for Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Iyad Madani, the secretary-general of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, paid a rare visit in January to the hilltop compound housing the Al-Aqsa mosque, where tensions have flared surrounding the holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

— AP

Christians flee villages after Syria kidnappings

The kidnapping of dozens of Assyrian Christians by the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria has prompted an exodus of terrified families fleeing their homes, activists say.

The United States condemned the mass abduction of Christians — the first of its kind in the war-torn country — and demanded the release of the 90 hostages.

Nearly 1,000 Assyrian Christian families have fled their villages in the northeastern province of Hasakeh since Monday’s kidnappings, says Osama Edward, director of the Sweden-based Assyrian Human Rights Network.

About 800 families have taken refuge in the city of Hasakeh and 150 in Qamishli, a Kurdish city on the border with Turkey, Edward says.

Most of the hostages were women, children or elderly, he added.

Edward tells AFP he believed the mass abduction was linked to the jihadists’ recent loss of ground in the face of US-led coalition air raids against IS that began in Syria in September.

“IS has been losing territory because of the international coalition’s strikes and they took the hostages to use them as human shields,” the activist says.

The jihadists, who are battling Kurdish fighters on the ground, may try to exchange the Assyrian Christians for IS prisoners, according to Edward.

He says the aim of the jihadists is to take over the Assyrian Christian village of Tal Tamer, which is located near a bridge over the Khabur river that links Syria to Iraq.

An Iraqi works on a temporary mosaic of Christian symbols made from the area's produce, including wheat, beans and lentils to commemorate an upcoming harvest feast, at the Chaldean Church of the Virgin Mary of the Harvest, in Alqosh,  June 15, 2014. (photo credit: AP)

An Iraqi works on a temporary mosaic of Christian symbols made from the area’s produce, including wheat, beans and lentils to commemorate an upcoming harvest feast, at the Chaldean Church of the Virgin Mary of the Harvest, in Alqosh, June 15, 2014. (photo credit: AP)

—  AFP

Turkish model faces jail for ‘insulting Erdogan’

A former Miss Turkey beauty queen faces up to 4.5 years in prison on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media, the state news agency reports.

Turkish prosecutors say an investigation had been launched against model Merve Buyuksarac after Erdogan’s lawyer lodged a complaint in November 2014 against a satirical poem taken from a magazine and posted on her Instagram site, Anatolia reports.

A file photo taken in April 2014 shows Turkey's then prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking to members of Parliament from his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party. (photo credit: AFP)

A file photo taken in April 2014 shows Turkey’s then prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking to members of Parliament from his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party. (photo credit: AFP)

The 2006 Miss Turkey, who was briefly detained last month, told an Istanbul court that she did not intend to insult the president.

In her testimony, Buyuksarac said she may have quoted a poem called the “Master’s Poem” from weekly Turkish satirical magazine Uykusuz.

But the 26-year-old said she later deleted it after one of her friends warned her that such posts could bring criminal charges in Turkey.

The “Master’s Poem” — which was shared by the model while Erdogan was serving as prime minister — criticises the Turkish strongman with lyrics adapted from the national anthem.

— AFP

US Foreign Affairs chair says he has ‘real concerns’ over nuke talks

In his opening statement ahead of John Kerry’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chairman Ed Royce (R-California) says that his committee “has real concerns over the direction of talks.”

He says it seems that increasingly the talks are “less about dismantlement more about the permanence of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Royce also says the administration was “tragically slow to react” as the Islamic State built up its power and grabbed swathes of land.

Top Democrat: Iran must have no path to nuclear weapon

Eliot Engel (D-New York), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tells John Kerry that the nuclear deal with Iran must make sure that “Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon.”

Kerry says Iran talks worth trying before using ‘more extreme measures’

John Kerry defends nuclear talks with Iran, saying that they are “worth trying before you go to more extreme measures that involve asking young Americans to again put themselves in harm’s way.”

‘Iran has complied fully with interim agreement’

Kerry says that the IAEA has signed off on the fact that “Iran has complied with every single component of the interim agreement.”

UUS Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies on the fiscal year 2016 funding request for the State Department on February 24, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN)

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies on the fiscal year 2016 funding request for the State Department on February 24, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN)

Iran ‘forever forbidden’ from nukes: Kerry

Kerry emphasizes that Iran is “forever forbidden” from having nuclear weapons because of its membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that will not change.

The Iranian path to a nuclear weapon is cut off for a long as they live by the NPT, Kerry says.

Netanyahu ‘wrong’ on Iran agreement, says Kerry

Kerry says that Netanyahu “was wrong” about the interim nuclear agreement.

He also pledges to share details of any agreement with Netanyahu.

“Today our department is on a call to their national security adviser,” Kerry adds, referring to Yossi Cohen.

“Israel is safer today with the added time we have given than they were before that [interim] agreement,” says Kerry.

Kerry also says that if an agreement happens, “We don’t lose one option that we have today if Iran cheats after an agreement.” The US would still have the option to sanction and to use the military option, Kerry says.

 

 

US will ‘hopefully’ know if Iran violates agreement

The US will ‘hopefully’ have the ability to know if Iran violates its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), says Kerry at a House hearing.

Kerry hopeful on Iran talks

“I’m not expressing confidence, I’m expressing hope” in Iranian nuclear talks, says Kerry in his House testimony.

“It remains to see if we can get that kind of agreement.”

 

 

Kerry continues to attack Netanyahu’s judgment

Kerry launches a verbal assault on Netanyahu’s judgment, saying “The Prime Minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq.”

Ariel Sharon, not Netanyahu, was prime minister at the time, so it is unclear what the secretary was referring to. In 2002, as a private citizen, Netanyahu did sound the alarm on Iraqi WMDs during a talk to a Congressional committee.

Netanyahu was also “extremely outspoken” about the interim agreement with Iran, says Kerry, and is now calling for it to be extended.

Kerry promises that “we won’t take a backseat to anybody in our commitment to the State of Israel.”

Referring to Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress, Kerry says, “I won’t prejudge his statement.”

World has ‘given up’ on stopping Iran: PM

In his sharpest criticism yet, Netanyahu says world powers “have given up” on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in ongoing negotiations.

Netanyahu makes the comments at a meeting of his Likud Party outside of Jerusalem. They come as Netanyahu plans to address the US Congress on the nuclear negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

The West fears Iran could build an atomic bomb with its nuclear program. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu says: “From the agreement that is forming it appears that they (world powers) have given up on that commitment and are accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons. They might accept this but I am not willing to accept this.”

— AP

Rahm Emanuel faces runoff in Chicago mayor race

After failing to persuade a majority of Chicago voters to back his re-election bid, Mayor Rahm Emanuel could face an even stiffer challenge in April against a runoff opponent aiming to consolidate the support of residents unhappy with how the former White House chief of staff has managed the nation’s third-largest city.

In a race Tuesday against four challengers, Emanuel discovered it wasn’t enough to spend millions of dollars on TV ads, earn the backing of the city’s business leaders, and secure the hometown endorsement of President Barack Obama. In order to keep the job, he’ll need to win another race in six weeks against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner who claims the backing of teachers, unions and neighborhood residents disillusioned with Emanuel.

Emanuel pledges to rev up campaigning immediately.

“We will get back out there, talking to our friends and families and neighbors as they make a critical choice about who has the strength, who has the leadership, who has the ideas to move this great city forward,” Emanuel tells supporters Tuesday evening.

The mayor is out greeting residents at a South Side transit station Wednesday morning. Garcia does the same, shaking hands and tossing campaign buttons to Chicago Transit Authority passengers at a downtown station.

“My campaign reached out to every part of the city of Chicago,” Garcia tells reporters there. “I’m very proud of it.”

Garcia and his supporters say they’re ready for another contest, with national groups poised to weigh in on the mayor’s race.

“This city deserves a mayor who will put people first, not big money, special interests,” Garcia says Tuesday night. “I will be that mayor.”

Illustrative photo of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaking at a news conference, October 15, 2013 (photo credit: AP/M. Spencer Green)

Illustrative photo of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaking at a news conference, October 15, 2013 (photo credit: AP/M. Spencer Green)

Former Bush adviser lambastes PM over speech

Veteran GOP security expert and former George W. Bush adviser Dov Zakheim pans Netanyahu’s recent decisions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, writing in the Foreign Policy website, “One must wonder what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, were thinking when they hatched a plan for the Israeli leader to address a joint session of Congress. Their clear disdain for the Administration blinded them to the reality that no Democrat could vote for additional sanctions once the issue became one of partisan politics. Netanyahu claims otherwise, but his protestations ring ever more hollow with each passing day.”

Obama supporter and former congressman Robert Wexler, left, debates Romney backer and former Pentagon official Dov Zakheim , right, at the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center. (Suzanne Pollak/JTA)

Obama supporter and former congressman Robert Wexler, left, debates
Romney backer and former Pentagon official Dov Zakheim , right, at the
Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center. (Suzanne
Pollak/JTA)

“He is right to oppose a deal that he views as bad for his country,” Zakheim continues. “But he is wrong to put the Israeli-American relationship at risk. He still has time to change his mind and stay home.”

Jewish congresswoman to skip PM’s speech

Jewish Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (Illinois) announces that she will not attend Netanyahu’s speech.

“After much thought, I have made the decision not to attend Prime Benjamin Minister Netanyahu’s (sic) March 3 scheduled address before a joint session of Congress, while still hoping it will either be postponed to a more appropriate date or delivered in a closed session,” she writes on her site.

“As a Jew, support for Israel is in my DNA. Throughout my nine terms in the US House, I have advocated that Congress and the Administration stand with Israel in a bi-partisan way to protect Israel’s security and very right to exist. I strongly agree with both the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the United States that Iran can never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon.

“As an eight year member of the House Intelligence Committee, I know for a fact that our security and intelligence agencies have never worked more closely, making it all the harder to swallow the Prime Minister coming to lobby our Congress, in the most public and heretofore prestigious settings, to reject U.S. efforts to peacefully eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran. As Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, said: ‘Netanyahu’s position will not change the West’s position on the Iranian issue, but his actions bring our relationship with the Americans to an extreme point and this might extract an unbearable price from us in the future.’ In talking to my Democratic colleagues, I believe this is not an idle concern.

“There is still time to reschedule or relocate the speech. Prime Minister Netanyahu, his Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, and House Speaker John Boehner should immediately rethink this dangerous mistake and follow the advice of former Ambassador Michael Oren who said: ‘It’s advisable to cancel the speech to Congress so as not to cause a rift with the American government.’ And I would add, so as not to bring Israel, the United States and perhaps the world closer to war with Iran.”

3 arrested in US for planning to join IS

Three men accused of plotting to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group and wage war against the United States were arrested on terrorism charges Wednesday, federal officials say.

Akhror Saidakhmetov, a Brooklyn resident and citizen of Kazakhstan, was arrested at Kennedy International Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, authorities said. Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, a resident of Brooklyn and citizen of Uzbekistan, had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. Abror Habibov, 30, accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov’s efforts, was arrested in Florida.

They are charged with attempt and conspiracy to provide material support. If convicted, each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The men are in custody, and it is not clear if they had attorneys who could comment on the charges. They are scheduled to appear in federal court later Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors say Juraboev, 24, first came to the attention of law enforcement in August, when he posted on an Uzbek-language website that propagates the Islamic State group ideology.

“Greetings! We too want to pledge our allegiance and commit ourselves while not present there,” he wrote, according to federal authorities. “Is it possible to commit ourselves as dedicated martyrs anyway while here?”

Officials say they believe he planned to travel from Turkey to Syria to join the terror group. Prosecutors say he, along with Saidakhmetov, 19, also threatened an attack in the U.S. if they were unable to join the Islamic State group. Juraboev’s plans included attacks against President Barack Obama or planting a bomb on Coney Island, officials say.

Federal officials say Juraboev identified Saidakhmetov as a friend and co-worker with a shared ideology. The two exchanged messages on how to get overseas, and Saidakhmetov and an informant watched videos of Islamic State group training camps in Syria, according to court papers.

Habibov operates kiosks that repair phones and sell kitchenware in malls in Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Philadelphia. He employed Saidakhmetov last fall and winter and said he would help fund his travel, though he did not mention a specific sum of money, prosecutors said. The two were spotted in Brooklyn purchasing a ticket for Saidakhmetov to travel to Turkey, officials said.

Virginia senator to skip PM’s speech

Roll Call reports that Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia will also stay away from Netanyahu’s Iran speech to Congress.

“As a long-time supporter of the US-Israel relationship, I believe the timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress — just days before Israeli elections — is highly inappropriate. On January 30, I delivered a letter to Speaker Boehner asking that the speech to Congress be postponed so that there was no appearance of US favoritism in a foreign election.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, meets with Senators Angus King, right, and Tim Kaine, on Sunday in Jerusalem (photo credit: Amb. Dan Shapiro/Facebook)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, meets with Senators Angus King, right, and Tim Kaine, on Sunday in Jerusalem (photo credit: Amb. Dan Shapiro/Facebook)

“There is no reason to schedule this speech before Israeli voters go to the polls on March 17 and choose their own leadership. I am disappointed that, as of now, the speech has not been postponed. For this reason, I will not attend the speech.”

Rivlin meets Apple CEO as company expands in Israel

Apple CEO Tim Cook meets President Rivlin, who praises Cook’s “unprecedented contribution to humanity.”

“It is a great privilege to host you and your team here in Israel,” Rivlin says. “Even for me, as one who prefers to write with a pen and paper, it is clear what a great miracle you have created when I look at my staff, and my grandchildren.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook (L) with President Reuven Rivlin (Photo credit:  Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Apple CEO Tim Cook (L) with President Reuven Rivlin (Photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Cook thanks Rivlin for his kind words, saying that he and his staff “ have an enormous admiration for Israel, not just as an important ally for the US, but as a place to do business.”

Apple has opened an R&D center in Herzliya, hiring dozens more engineers in recent months to fill positions there, according to Israeli media reports. According to sources in Apple’s Israeli operation, Apple has hired dozens of engineers who are “bringing with them knowledge that Apple does not currently possess, and they will get a finished product almost specifically made for them. It’s part of Apple’s new strategy of developing the technology it needs in-house, instead of relying on outside companies and contractors.”

Among the topics discussed by the two was the role of education in the advancement of weaker populations, and how Apple could help ensure that peripheral groups, like ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs, could become more integrated in Israel’s high-tech economy. “We must learn from you how to help our students also in difficult places, as you have done in many schools in the US,” says Rivlin.

— David Shamah

Al Jazeera staffers arrested in Paris for flying drone

Three journalists for TV station Al Jazeera are arrested in Paris after flying a drone from a park on the edge of the city, a judicial source says.

“The first was piloting the drone, the second was filming and the third was watching,” says the source.

The arrests come after multiple drone sightings over the capital for the past two nights, although there was no immediate suggestion that the arrested journalists were linked to the earlier incidents.

The trio are apprehended in the Bois de Boulogne, a park on the western edge of the city.

Flying drones over the French capital is banned by law, and the latest sightings come at a time of heightened vigilance following last month’s jihadist attacks.

The names and nationalities of the three journalists from Al-Jazeera’s international service are not given. They are aged 34, 52 and 68.

A police source says witnesses and security forces reported at least five sightings overnight Tuesday to Wednesday over central Paris — that may have been the same drone or several.

The tiny aircraft were spotted near the US embassy, not far from the Invalides military museum, the Eiffel Tower and several major thoroughfares leading in and out of the French capital, the source adds.

Authorities have been left scratching their heads as they remain unable to catch any of the operators or determine whether the flyovers are the work of pranksters, tourists or something more malicious.

There were five separate drone flights over parts of Paris the previous night.

US warns against attacks on Jordan’s malls

The US Embassy in Jordan warns of a potential threat of attacks against “high-end malls” in Jordan’s capital, as the kingdom takes part in airstrikes targeting the extremist Islamic State group.

The embassy says the threat to Amman shopping malls is “judged to be credible,” but that it had no information about the type or timing of any possible attack. It advises US citizens to stay away from the malls, adding that embassy staff and their families were already instructed to do so for the next few days.

Jordan has increased security at the malls, the embassy statement says.

Government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani says Jordan stepped up security measures after “regional events intensified,” an apparent reference to Jordan’s decision earlier this month to raise its profile in the military campaign against the Islamic State group. The decision comes after the extremists released a video that showed them burning to death a Jordanian fighter pilot trapped inside a metal cage.

Al-Momani did not comment specifically on the warning about the malls, saying only that “countries issue such warnings all the time.”

— AP

UN rep condemns mosque attack

Robert Serry, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, condemns the arson attack on the mosque in Jaba’a.

“I am concerned by this and all other religiously-motivated attacks and provocations by any party, which may further inflame an already volatile environment,” he says in a statement.

“A timely and thorough investigation, as well as bringing the perpetrators to justice, is critical. Extremists on both sides must not be allowed to turn this conflict into a religious one.”

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

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