Ex-IDF chief calls for peace talks with Palestinians
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Ex-IDF chief calls for peace talks with Palestinians

Brussels arrests 3 for alleged connection to Paris attacks; demonstrators disrupt PM address at Negev conference

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz in May 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz in May 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Times of Israel covered today’s events as they unfolded.

PM’s speech disrupted by environmental protesters

Environmental activists barge their way into a conference in the southern town of Yeruham and disrupt a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Army Radio reports.

They call on him to develop existing towns in the southern desert instead of building new ones, as is planned. “Stop killing the Negev!” they cry.

“I was deeply impressed by the spontaneity of your protest,” Netanyahu says. “The Negev won’t be built just by one point or another. It will be built by a complex of actions we’re taking.”

He dismisses their calls as “an example of populist politics.”

“The most advanced companies in the world are coming to the Negev. When was that? How do you think we create jobs? You think the government has a money tree, from which you can pick and pick. You need to put up a economy tree.”

Iran’s drunk driving stats ‘alarming’

Police in Tehran arrested 2,900 drunk drivers last year, a top official said Tuesday, describing the figures, which come despite the Islamic Republic’s official prohibition of alcohol, as “alarming.”

The offenders were detained in the 12 months up to March 2016, the Iranian capital’s prosecutor general Abbas Jafarabadi said, according to the judiciary’s official news service.

Alcohol has been banned in Iran since the revolution in 1979 and those who break the law can be fined, lashed or sentenced to prison time. Only the country’s Christian minority has the right to produce wine for religious purposes.

However, demand for all types of drink fuels smuggling from neighboring Iraq and Turkey. The inflated prices charged by illegal networks has also spurred cheaper locally produced beer, wine and spirits.

According to official figures, there are 200,000 alcoholics in Iran among the 79 million population. Some experts believe that more than one million Iranians regularly consume alcohol.

In recent years police have used breath tests in roadside checks, recognizing the magnitude of the problem.

The fine for offenders has also been doubled from 2,000,000 rials (around $60) to 4,000,000 rials.

The report that quoted Jafarabadi did not detail any nationwide drunk-driving arrest statistics.


Two Russian pilots killed in Syria chopper crash

Two Russian military pilots were killed when their helicopter crashed near the central Syrian city of Homs, the Defense Ministry said on Tuesday, adding that the aircraft had not been under fire.

“Two crew members died,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The crash of the Mi-28 attack helicopter happened in the early hours of Tuesday, the ministry said, adding the bodies had been recovered and brought to Russia’s Hmeimim air base.

“According to a report from the crash site, the helicopter was not fired at,” the Defense Ministry added, saying experts were looking into the reasons of the accident.

The crash takes Russia’s official combat death toll in Syria to seven.


‘Mossad spies’ appear in Romanian court

Romanian media reports that two alleged former Mossad spies arrested earlier this month on suspicion of espionage were arraigned at a Bucharest court, where they asked to be released to house arrest.

Ron Weiner and David Geclowicz reportedly cooperated with investigators and admitted to being sent to Romania to investigate and hack email accounts of various officials, including the country’s anti-corruption czar.

Romanian media reported Monday that two local media moguls hired Weiner and Geclowicz to spy on and intimidate chief anticorruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi.

Police question suspect ‘very close’ to interior minister

A person “very close” to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri was questioned under caution by the police in a investigation into suspected irregularities in real estate holdings, Channel 2 reports.

Suspected Israeli spies to remain jailed

The remand of two Israelis suspected of espionage in Romania is extended by a local court for another eight days. They had been seeking house arrest.

German soldiers investigated for Islamist sympathies

At least 29 German soldiers have gone to Syria or Iraq in recent years, and at least 65 active soldiers are being investigated for possible Islamist sympathies, according to an internal German military report published by DPA.

Israeli soccer player breaks 61-year goal record

Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi has broken a 61-year-old Israeli league record for most goals in a season with six matches still to play.

Zahavi, 28, broke the record in a home match against Beitar Jerusalem on Monday that Maccabi won 3-2.

Zahavi scored twice in the 41st and 90th minutes, bringing his season total to 31. The victory put Maccabi atop the Israeli Premier League standings.

The previous record of 30 goals dated back to the 1954-55 season and was held by Nissim Elmalich.

Israeli top-selling paper Yedioth Ahronoth carried Zahavi’s feat on its front page on Tuesday.

Zahavi was named 2013 and 2014 Israeli soccer player of the year and has played with the national team since 2010.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League play-off round second leg soccer match against Switzerland's FC Basel at the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League play-off round second leg soccer match against Switzerland’s FC Basel at the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)


Turkey travel warning to remain in place for Passover

Israel’s severe warning against travel to Turkey is expected to remain in place throughout the Passover holiday because of the threat of an Islamic State attack, a senior counter-terrorism official says.

Turkey is a major resort destination for many Israelis during the spring holiday.

The official calls on Israelis to cancel their travel plans to Turkey and calls on travel agencies to allow cancelations without a fee. Similar travel warnings are in place to Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula.

‘Exit as quickly as possible,’ Israel tells citizens in Turkey

Israel again instructs its citizens to avoid visiting Turkey and for those already there “to exit as quickly as possible,” in light of the approaching travel season.

On Friday, Israel issued a dramatic announcement, raising the threat level for Turkey to the highest possible level, which designates a large, concrete threat.

Speaking to journalists, a senior counter-terrorism official in the Israeli government reviews the travel warnings ahead of Passover and the spring season, when many Israelis take advantage of the holidays to go abroad.

The official would not discuss the specific intelligence that led to the drastic announcement, but instead cites a general “situational assessment.”

“We encourage Israelis to cancel their vacations in Turkey, to change them to other destinations through their travel companies. We also have been in contact with the travel agencies over the past week to ensure that they are adhering to the requests of citizens to change their destinations to countries that aren’t under a travel warning,” he says.

However, he adds, layovers in the country’s airports are not considered an issue at this time.

Travel to the Sinai Peninsula should also be avoided, in light of the fighting between the Islamic State and Egyptian forces there, the official says.

In Europe, Israelis should be “more aware” and be cautious of “standing out” as Israelis in their dress and speech, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau says in a statement.

And citizens should be wary of traveling to Africa, specifically the Horn of Africa, Nigeria and Tunisia, because of the threat of various terror groups there, according to the Counter-Terrorism Bureau.

— Judah Ari Gross

Belgium arrests 3 connected to Paris attacks

Belgian police arrested three people in a Brussels suburb on Tuesday during a new raid linked to the investigation into the November Paris attacks, federal prosecutors say.

“Three people were arrested and held for questioning,” a statement says, adding the raid took place in the southern Brussels suburb of Uccle.


2 Islamist activists arrested for pirate radio messages

Two activists of the Islamic Movement Northern Branch are under arrest on suspicion of using a pirate radio station in Rahat to disseminate messages in support of the outlawed group, police say.

Udi Adam named new Defense Ministry head

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon appoints Maj. Gen. (res.) Udi Adam as the new director-general of the Defense Ministry to replace the outgoing Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad.

For over 30 years, Adam served in a variety of combat and command positions in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the Northern Command.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and newly appointed Defense Ministry Director Udi Adam (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (right) and newly appointed Defense Ministry Director Udi Adam (Defense Ministry)

“The Defense Ministry faces a number of serious challenges in a variety of areas,” Ya’alon says in his announcement, citing the IDF’s Gideon plan and the aid agreement with the United States.

“Over the past few weeks I have considered a number of suitable candidates for the position, and I have arrived at the conclusion that Udi Adam is the right man at this time to lead us successfully through these challenges,” Ya’alon says.

To get this position, Adam was approved by both an appointments committee and the government, the defense ministry says in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Saudis gave Israel written pledge about Tiran – Ya’alon

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon says that Israel received written guarantees from Saudi Arabia that Riyadh would respect the freedom of passage of Israeli ships through the Straits of Tiran following Egypt’s transfer of the strategic islands in the waterway to Saudi control.


‘Israel offered Palestinians a Netanyahu-Abbas powwow’

Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman tells Army Radio the government offered to end IDF operations in Area A of the West Bank and arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Man returns antique rifle to IDF

As part of the IDF campaign to let Israelis return army gear without consequences, a man returned a 1907 Berthier rifle which he said belonged to his father, was used in World War II, smuggled into British Mandate Palestine and used again during the 1948 Independence War.

Herzog dismisses concerns over possible probe

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog shrugs off any concerns about a possible criminal probe into suspected financial irregularities, saying “I’m completely calm.”

Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv, he says that “the role of a leader is to cope. To cope with crises, to cope with criticism and also to deal with plots.”

“I will go wherever I need to, I will give answers to every question, to every claim, to every defamatory and malicious word and we’ll put this saga behind us,” he says.


Gantz says Israel’s greatest challenge: Education and inequality

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz says at the INSS conference in Tel Aviv that Israel’s “greatest challenge isn’t security, but education and inequality.”

Syrian journalist shot by IS in Turkey dies

A Syrian journalist who was shot in the head by Islamic State group jihadists in southern Turkey died in the hospital on Tuesday, activists say.

Hours before Mohammed Zaher al-Shurqat died from his wounds, IS claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack in the town of Gaziantep via a website.

Syrian activist Assaad al-Achi, who also lives in Gaziantep, confirmed the journalist’s death, as did fellow activist Ibrahim al-Idelbi, who also lives there.

“This is a threat to all free thinkers who are fighting extremism and living in Turkey,” Idelbi tells AFP via the Internet.


Ugandan Jews closer to recognition by Israel

A Jewish community in Africa has moved one step closer to gaining formal recognition from the Israeli government.

The Jewish Agency said in a letter to Israel’s Conservative movement that the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda, a community whose members formally converted to Judaism under Conservative auspices, are a “recognized” community, Haaretz reported Tuesday.


Ex-IDF chief calls for push for peace with Palestinians

Former IDF chief Benny Gantz says at the INSS conference in Tel Aviv that Israel “needs to find any way to reach a political agreement [with the Palestinians] because otherwise we’ll be stuck in the quagmire.”

He calls on Israel to push for a negotiated resolution of the conflict on the local, regional and global level. “Even if it fails, and we’ll need to continue to live by the sword — we need to be capable to look at our kids in the eyes and tell them we tried.”

US Navy to name destroyer for ex-Jewish senator

The Navy is naming a destroyer for Carl Levin, the dean of Jewish senators prior to his retirement and once the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“It is a great honor to name this ship in recognition of such a dedicated public servant,” Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, said Monday in a statement.

The next Arleigh Burke class destroyer, DDG 120, will be named Carl M. Levin. According to the release, the destroyer is “capable of fighting air, surface and subsurface battles simultaneously.”

Levin, of Michigan, who retired following the 2014 elections after serving 36 years, was key in shepherding through funding for the military during his last eight years in the Senate, when he served as chairman of the committee.

In the statement, Levin said he and his family were “deeply moved by this singular honor.”

Levin has maintained a public profile since his retirement, emerging last year as a defender of the Iran nuclear deal.


Iranian supreme leader meets Italian PM

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Tehran and tweets a photo of it.

Police suspect Deri associate of corruption offenses

Police investigators searched the home and office of a close associate of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, and both he and his daughter were brought in for questioning under caution for two alleged corruption charges and financial irregularities, Channel 2 reports.

Deri himself may be brought in for questioning later this week.

The identity of the man who was questioned is under police gag order.

Palestinian driver who killed settler charged with manslaughter

A Palestinian driver who killed an Israeli man in a suspected terror attack in October will be changed with manslaughter, not murder.

The family of Avraham Asher Hasano, 54, a father of seven from the settlement of Kiryat Arba, express outrage at the decision of the military prosecutor to charge the driver of the truck who him with with manslaughter.

Hasano exited his vehicle after his car was hit by rocks and was struck by a passing truck. The driver of the vehicle turned himself in to Palestinian police and said it was an accident.

Breaking the Silence urges IDF chief to probe settlers

Breaking the Silence calls on the IDF chief of staff to investigate connections between far right-wing activists in the settlements and the IDF.

“From hundreds of testimonies we’ve gathered, it appears that relations and cooperation between IDF soldiers and settlers range across a wide spectrum of areas: many army units are stationed next to settlements and even within them, soldiers are regularly hosted in the homes of settlers, settlers are clearly integrated into operational activities, sometimes as those who instruct the soldiers and officers in the field, and even cooperate in the process of making operational decisions.”

Poll: UK Muslims more anti-Semitic than general population

A poll of British Muslims revealed that they are more anti-Semitic than the general population, and also differ from the larger community on numerous social issues.

The poll was conducted for a television documentary that will air Wednesday called “What British Muslims Really Think.”

According to reports in several British media outlets, the poll found that while 6 percent of the British population in a parallel poll believed Jews are “responsible for most wars,” more than 25 percent of Muslim respondents held that view. In addition, nearly 40 percent of the Muslims polled said Jews had “too much control over global affairs,” a view held by just 10 percent of the overall British population.


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