The Times of Israel livebloged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Israel confirms it’s holding bodies of two terrorists killed Friday
The defense liaison to the Palestinians confirms that Israel is holding the remains of two Hamas gunmen who were shot dead as they opened fire on Israeli soldiers on Friday, and says Gazans won’t enjoy a restoration of calm until the bodies of Israelis are returned.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai says that in total Israel is currently in possession of the bodies of 24 Palestinian terrorists who were killed since the 2014 Gaza war.
Palestinian media previously reported that the two slain Hamas members were in Israel’s custody, but the military would not confirm the claim until now.
On his Arabic-language Facebook page, the liaison writes that Israel will not return the bodies until Hamas hands over the remains of two fallen IDF soldiers and two live Israeli civilians.
“Israel will not rest and the residents of Gaza will not know peace until the Israelis are returned from the Gaza Strip and our soldiers will be brought for burial in Israel,” he writes.
— Judah Ari Gross
Pope says Holy Land conflict wounding ‘defenseless’ in Easter message
Pope Francis says the Holy Land is “experiencing… the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenseless,” in his annual Easter message.
The pontiff is also calling for an end to “carnage” in Syria and for “reconciliation” in the Middle East in the “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) address.
“Today we implore fruits of peace upon the entire world, beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria,” Francis says.
Appealing to the “consciences of all political and military leaders,” Francis urges “that a swift end may be brought to the carnage.”
Rivlin has no plans to attend Independence Day event — sources
President Reuven Rivlin reportedly has no intention of attending the Mount Herzl torchlighting ceremony for Independence Day, amid a bruising fight over who has the right to speak at the official state event.
The ceremony, run by the Knesset and traditionally kept apolitical, has become the arena for a fight between Culture Minister Miri Regev and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, after Regev said she wanted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rivlin to speak at the event. Edelstein has refused to let this happen.
The head of state and head of government are traditionally not part of the event, in order to keep it free of politics.
Sources close to Rivlin tell Ynet news that the president has not received an invitation and doesn’t plan on going. According to the report, Rivlin has turned down similar invitations in the past in keeping with tradition.
Timbuktu jihadist leader handed to ICC for war crimes trial
The International Criminal Court says authorities in Mali have handed over a jihadist leader for prosecution on war crimes charges.
Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud is accused of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Timbuktu while the town was under the control of extremists between April 2012 and January 2013.
In a statement released late Saturday, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says Al Hassan was accused of persecution on “both religious and gender grounds.” Those allegations include rape and sexual slavery through forced marriages.
During the jihadist rule in Timbuktu, the extremists imposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic Shariah law.
A French-led military operation in 2013 forced Al Hassan and others from power, though elements have continued to stage numerous attacks on Malian and international forces.
Former IDF chief rabbi Avichai Rontzki dies at 66
Avichai Rontzki, a former IDF chief rabbi, has died at the age of 66 after a battle with cancer.
Rontzki, from the settlement of Itamar, served as chief rabbi of the army from 2006 to 2010 and later made an unsuccessful bid for the Knesset.
Politicians, mainly from the right, are eulogizing him ahead of his funeral, scheduled for 5 p.m.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls him a “fighter and sage, who loved the people of Israel and the Land of Israel.”
Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett praises Ronski as a “daring commander” for his service in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
“He was an educator and a leader, but for me he was mainly a teacher and a partner. … You’re already missed,” he says.
Report: 22 Israelis injured in Romania bus crash
Several Israelis have reportedly been injured in a bus crash in Romania. The Israeli Foreign Ministry says it is contact with authorities in Bucharest on rescue efforts.
Officials say 24 people were on the bus, which was on its way to a salt mine near Slanic, but not all were injured. Media reports list the number of injured at 22. The extent of the injuries or cause of the crash is not immediately known.
Gaza health officials lower death toll to 15
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has lowered the death toll from deadly clashes with Israeli forces over the weekend from 16 to 15. It was not clear what accounted for the change.
In addition to the deaths, the ministry lists 1,479 injuries, including 805 from live fire, 154 from rubber bullets, 425 from tear gas inhalation and 95 marked as “other.”
The number includes renewed clashes that broke out Saturday.
Jordanian parliament accuses Israel of war crimes
Jordan’s Parliament is condemning Israel for violence on the Gaza border Friday, with Senate president Faisal Al Fayez accusing the Jewish state of “war crimes” during a joint session with the lower house.
“The international community must realize that Israel, as an occupying power, is responsible for the aggressive acts,” Fayez says, according to the state-run Petra news agency
Erdogan calls Netanyahu ‘terrorist’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accusing Netanyahu of being “a terrorist” after the prime minister rejected Ankara’s “moral lessons” over deadly clashes in Gaza.
“Hey Netanyahu! You are occupier. And it is as an occupier that are you are on those lands. At the same time, you are a terrorist,” Erdogan says in a televised speech in Adana, southern Turkey.
Netanyahu earlier Sunday lashed out at Turkey in response to its president’s claim that Israel mounted an “inhumane attack” on Palestinians during Friday’s mass protests on the border with Israel.
“The most moral army in the world will not accept moral preaching from someone who for years has been bombing a civilian population indiscriminately,” he said, in apparent reference to Ankara’s ongoing battle against the Kurds.
— with AFP
Trump administration backs PLO in keeping terror victims from suing
The Trump administration is siding with the Palestine Liberation Organization in urging the Supreme Court to reject an appeal from American victims of terrorist attacks in the Middle East more than a decade ago.
The victims are asking the high court to reinstate a $654 million verdict against the PLO and Palestinian Authority in connection with attacks in Israel in 2002 and 2004 that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more.
After an appeals court said offices the Palestinians maintain in Washington were not sufficient to allow a lawsuit in an American court, the Justice Department said it agrees.
An official decision to reject the appeal could come as early as Monday. If the court decides to hear the case, it could say so by the middle of this month.
If the appeals court decision is left in place, it would close the courthouse door to US victims of “many acts of terrorism overseas in which terrorists maim and kill indiscriminately, without regard to nationality,” says Theodore Olson, a lawyer for the victims.
The administration says it is “far from clear” that so many claims would be kept out of court.
Kuwait sentences couple to death over grisly murder of Filipina maid
A Kuwaiti court has sentenced in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife to death by hanging over the murder of a Filipina maid, a judicial source says.
The court issues the sentence in the first hearing in the case of Joanna Demafelis, the 29-year-old maid whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this year.
The sentencing can still be appealed if the couple returns to Kuwait, the source tells AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Lebanese-Syrian couple was arrested in February in the Syrian capital Damascus following an Interpol manhunt.
Syrian authorities handed the husband, Nader Essam Assaf, over to Lebanese authorities, while his Syrian wife remained in custody in Damascus.
Palestinians say at least 1 person shot near Gaza border
Palestinian media is reporting on renewed fighting on the Gaza border near Khan Younis in the southern Strip.
A graphic video tweeted by the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network shows a man with a head wound, apparently from sniper fire.
#BREAKING | Israeli occupation snipers just shot and seriously injured a Palestinian young man with special needs on the south-eastern borders of Gaza Strip! #GreatReturnMarch pic.twitter.com/LkH9JsNRng
— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) April 1, 2018
There are reports of multiple injuries.
Breaking news: 2 dangerous injuries young men just arrived to the hospital in khan younis town south of Gaza Strip after the Israeli snipers shoot them during the protests of #GreatReturnMarch pic.twitter.com/L1KMtVXpFI
— Ÿousef🇵🇸 (@Joo_Gaza) April 1, 2018
The IDF does not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Egypt, Jordan slam Israel over Gaza violence
The Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers are condemning Israeli actions on the Gaza border and calling for international protection for Palestinians.
“We reject the violence that Palestinians are being subjected to, and we look forward to an important meeting on the matter by the Arab League in Saudi Arabia soon,” Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry says in a joint press conference with Jordan’s Ayman Safadi, according to Al Arabiya.
Safadi adds that Amman continues to reject the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Hamas head reportedly visits tent city on Gaza border
A Hebrew-language news outlet reports that Hamas in Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar says the so-called March of Return protests will continue until the Gaza border is gone, rejecting any peace with Israel.
According to Hebrew news site Ynet, Sinwar made the statements while visiting one of the tent cities set up near the Gaza border where thousands are camped out as part of the protest Sunday.
However, there are no other reports of Sinwar visiting the tent city or making the statements.
“We came to say that Hamas will not sit in palaces or tunnels. We came to say that we are with you; today begins the march of return and it won’t stop until the border is opened,” he said, according to the report.
“We are here to remind you that there will be no peace with the enemy and any attempt or plan will not convince us to make peace,” he is said to have added, in apparent reference to the US’s nascent plan for Mideast peace.
Deal for Ghouta rebels to evacuate reportedly reached
A final deal appears to have been reached for fighters and civilians to leave the last opposition-held area of Eastern Ghouta, paving the way for Syria’s regime to retake all of the one-time rebel enclave near Damascus.
The agreement brokered by government ally Russia would see fighters with the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction leave Ghouta’s main town of Douma for opposition territory in northern Syria, state media and a monitoring group say.
There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels, but state news agency SANA reports a deal has been reached for the group’s fighters to head to rebel-controlled town of Jarabulus in the northern province of Aleppo.
The retaking of Eastern Ghouta would mark a major milestone in President Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to regain control of territory seized by rebel factions during Syria’s seven-year civil war.
Former Hamas head says group has more ‘surprises’ for Israel
Former Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal says the terror group has more in store for Israel in upcoming confrontations on the Gaza border.
“We will not give up the right of return. Gaza surprised Israel with something new, and we have more surprises,” he says from Turkey.
In Gaza City, current Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh says he’s proud of the “children of Palestine” who participated in Friday’s events.
“Our children and people sent a message to the world that we are determined to achieve the right of return and end the blockade,” he says.
Haniyeh made a rare visit to the border area during Friday’s violent confrontations between protesters and troops.
— Khaled Abu Toameh
Chinese space station to crash back to Earth in coming hours
China’s defunct Tiangong 1 space station is hurtling toward Earth and is expected to re-enter the atmosphere within hours, with Israel inside the massive range of areas across the globe where pieces may crash back to earth.
Most of the craft should burn up on re-entry, so scientists said it poses only a slight risk to people on the ground.
The European Space Agency forecasts that the station, whose name translates as “Heavenly Palace,” will re-enter sometime between Sunday night and early Monday.
The Aerospace Corp. predicts Tiangong 1’s re-entry will take place within 2 ½ hours of either side of 3:10 a.m. Israel time.
Based on the space station’s orbit, it will come back to Earth somewhere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south, a range covering most of the United States, China, Africa, southern Europe, Australia and South America.
Out of range are Russia, Canada and northern Europe.
Man lightly injured in West Bank stoning
A man has been taken to a Jerusalem hospital with light injuries after his car was pelted by stones in the West Bank.
The man, 31, has injuries to his chest and cuts to his face from broken glass, the Magen David Adom rescue service says.
The incident occurs on Route 60, north of Ramallah.
Left-wing activists rally outside Likud HQ to stop Gaza fighting
Several dozen Israeli activists, mostly from the left, are rallying outside Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters to stop the bloodshed in Gaza.
Activists holding signs emblazoned with the logos of Peace Now and Meretz call for Israel to “stop the shooting.”
— חדשות עשר (@news10) April 1, 2018
“Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in security, and in order to do so, we must lift the siege on Gaza now and put an end to the terrible distress there, and strive to end the occupation and promote peace between two states living side by side – Israel and Palestine. This is what we must demand from the government now – stop the fire, completely change direction,” the group Standing Together, which organized the rally, said in a press release earlier Sunday.
The Hebrew-language news site Ynet puts the number of protesters at about 250.
West Bank rock-thrower nabbed — IDF
IDF soldiers arrest a Palestinian suspect who is believed to have thrown rocks at an Israeli bus, shattering the windshield and lightly injuring the driver, the army says.
A group of soldiers that had been positioned nearby quickly responded to the rock-throwing and arrested the suspect, the army says.
He has been brought in for questioning.
Bernie Sanders says he doesn’t buy Israeli version of events in Gaza
Senator Bernie Sanders is continuing to insist that Israel overreacted against Palestinian protesters in Gaza on Friday, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that he does not buy Israel’s explanation.
“I think from my what my understanding is, tens and tens of thousands of people were engaged in a nonviolent protest. It’s a difficult situation, but my assessment is that Israel overreacted on that,” he says.
Sanders also says the US needs to take a more active role in solving the crisis in Gaza, and criticizes US President Donald Trump for saying the US is pulling out of Syria very soon.
“The US has got to be involved in dealing with the terrible tragedy in Gaza. Gaza is a disaster right now. We’re gonna continue to see those kinds of demonstration and protests,” he says.
On Saturday, he tweeted “The killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza is tragic.”
“It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response,” Sanders, who was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and the first Jewish presidential candidate to win nominating contests in a major party, added in his tweet.
The killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza is tragic. It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 31, 2018
Egypt media body fines newspaper over election coverage
Egypt’s media regulatory body has fined an Egyptian newspaper 150,000 Egyptian pounds ($8,527.5) and called for an investigation over a front-page report it published saying the state rallied voters to participate in the presidential election.
Sunday’s decision by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation says it has called for an investigation into Al Masry Al Youm by the Press Syndicate, naming its chief and news editors specifically, and demanded that the daily issue an apology to the National Election Authority.
Pro-government media and the state’s regulatory bodies have largely criticized foreign media’s coverage of the election.
Since 2017, Egyptian authorities have blocked some 500 websites including those of independent media and rights groups. Several local reporters have also been jailed, and a British journalist was expelled in February.
Netanyahu to Erdogan: No, you are the occupier
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is continuing the back and forth insult battle with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sending out a fresh tweet aimed at the Turkish president.
“Erdogan isn’t used to being talked back to. He should get used to it. Someone who occupies Northern Cyprus, invades the Kurdish region and massacres civilians in Afrin — cannot lecture us on morals and values,” he tweets.
Erdogan earlier called Netanyahu a terrorist and occupier.
IDF girds for more Gaza protests after relatively calm day
Despite relative calm on the Gaza border on Sunday, the IDF is continuing to prepare for more mass protests of the kind seen Friday, erecting new barriers on the border fence to keep Gazans from being able to sneak into Israeli territory, Channel 10 news reports.
Some 350 Gazans protested near the border Sunday, according to Israeli reports.
Palestinians claim nine were injured, including one with a serious head wound. The numbers are far lower than the estimated 30,000 who protested Friday and thousand who showed up on Saturday.
There is no official comment from the Israeli military.
Israeli doctors flown to Romania to help bus crash victims
The Foreign Ministry says two Israeli doctors are being flown to Bucharest after a group of Israeli tourists were injured in a bush crash there.
Twenty-three Israeli tourists were hurt when their minibus crashed on a visit to a Romanian salt mine, local authorities said.
None suffered serious injury, but passengers were taken to hospital as a precaution, emergency services spokesman Florin Chivu says, after the crash near the Unirea mine at Slanic Prahova in southern Romania.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry says all 23 are being kept overnight at local hospitals.
Chivu says 25 people were on board in total, including eight children, when the vehicle overturned.
Police are investigating the cause of the accident on a highway leading to one of the regions’ key tourist sites.
— with AFP
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