The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
PA’s Abbas may cut salary payments to Gaza Strip
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warns he will take “unprecedented steps” to end the political division between his West Bank-based autonomy government and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Speaking to Palestinian diplomats in Bahrain on Wednesday, he says of the divide, “These days, we are in a dangerous and tough situation that requires decisive steps, and we are [ready] to take these decisive steps. Therefore, we are going to take unprecedented steps in the coming days to end the division,” he is quoted as saying by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Abbas does not explain, but could try to use financial pressure to extract concessions from Hamas, which seized Gaza from his Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum says Thursday that “the language of threats and dictating orders” would not be accepted.
The escalating rhetoric comes ahead of a planned meeting between Abbas and US President Donald Trump that will likely focus on a possible resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations about Palestinian statehood. No date has been set, but a Palestinian advance team heads to Washington later this month.
Abbas may be threatening to stop paying some 60,000 salaries to non-working PA employees in Gaza, funds intended to ensure continued loyalty to Abbas in the Strip, but which have inadvertently propped up the economy under Hamas.
Russia pushes for UN probe into Syria chemical attack
BEIRUT — Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow expects the United Nations’s chemical weapons watchdog to conduct an extensive probe into last week’s chemical attack in Syria.
Sergey Lavrov says Thursday that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should both visit the Syrian air base, which the US said had served as a platform for the attack, and the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the northern Idlib province that was hit to get a full and objective picture.
He said Russia vetoed a Western draft UN resolution Wednesday because it failed to mention the need to inspect the area of the attack.
The US blamed the Syrian government for launching the attack, but Russia claimed that the victims were killed by toxic agents released from a rebel chemical arsenal hit by Syrian warplanes.
Tens of thousands attend Passover priestly benediction in Jerusalem
Tens of thousands participate in a priestly benediction ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, recalling the blessings of the priests in the ancient Jewish temples that stood by the site.
The blessing, drawn from Numbers 6:23-27, is among the oldest blessings in the Jewish tradition.
Hundreds of police, Border Police, volunteers and medical crews were on hand at the annual Passover event, police said.
Germany favors ban on boat exports to Libya to stop migrants
BERLIN — The German government says it would support a ban on the export of boats from the European Union to Libya as part of measures to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
Smugglers use often rickety vessels to ferry thousands of migrants from the north African country to Europe each month. Mass drownings are common when the overloaded boats capsize or sink.
In a response to questions from Left Party lawmakers, the German government says it considers “imposing restrictive measures” on EU exports of boats, engines and vehicles to Libya to be an appropriate measure to crack down on people smuggling.
Headquarters building of France’s Le Pen hit by arson
PARIS — A building housing French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s campaign headquarters is hit by an arson attempt on Thursday, firefighters and police say, with only minor damage caused.
Firefighters are called around 2:40 a.m. local time to the ground floor offices of an insurance company on the upmarket Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in central Paris.
A fire service spokesman says the fire was “quickly brought under control” and damaged only the door and a doormat.
The upper floors of the building, on one of the French capital’s most exclusive streets close to the president’s Elysee Palace official residence, house the campaign offices of far-right National Front (FN) leader Le Pen.
The anti-globalization, anti-EU Le Pen is neck-and-neck with centrist Emmanuel Macron in polls for the first round of presidential elections on April 23.
A police source said the cause of the fire was “not natural and probably criminal,” adding that the graffiti slogan “FN vs KLX” was found nearby.
A group calling itself “Fight Xenophobia” contacted AFP to claim the attack, which it said was carried out with “Molotov cocktails.”
The caller, who refused to give a name, also claimed to have carried out a similar attack on a far-right newspaper and said the action would continue until the election.
Syria accuses US of bombing IS chemical stores, ‘killing hundreds’
The Syrian military says the US-led alliance in Syria bombed a toxic chemical storehouse belonging to Islamic State jihadists, causing a yellow cloud to rise into the air and killing hundreds of civilians.
The claim, made by the official SANA news service, is not immediately confirmed by any other sources.
According to SANA, the coalition “carried out an airstrike against a position of ISIS terrorists” on Wednesday evening “in the village of Hatla to the east of Deir Ezzor, causing a white cloud that became yellow as a result of the explosion of a huge store that includes a large amount of toxic materials.”
The purported airstrike “killed hundreds, including large numbers of civilians, due to the suffocation resulted from inhaling toxic substances.”
The government in Damascus drew international opprobrium and a US missile strike last week after Western governments accused the Assad regime of employing the nerve agent sarin in bombings in the town of Khan Sheikoun in the northern Idlib province, killing over 80 people, including some 27 children.
Man caught driving double the speed limit on Route 6
Traffic police officers catch a driver hurtling down Route 6 in central Israel at 226 kilometers per hour (140 mph) on Thursday.
Police say the man, in his 40s, claimed he did not notice the speed. The speed limit on Route 6 is 110 kph (74 mph).
The man is taken into custody and his driver’s license is suspended.
Rivlin slams Haaretz column for ‘defamation,’ ‘vast hatred’
President Reuven Rivlin slams the “defamation” and “vast hatred” contained in a column published by the left-wing newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday.
In his op-ed, columnist Yossi Klein called the nationalist-religious community “more dangerous than Hezbollah, more than drivers in car-ramming attacks or kids with scissors. The Arabs can be neutralized, but [nationalist-religious Israelis] cannot.”
He accused the community of hiding its true intentions, which are “to rule the country and cleanse it of Arabs.”
“Yossi Klein’s words are defamation that exposes a vast hatred and undermines any capacity to dialogue or criticize,” Rivlin says Thursday. “Religious Zionism is part of this land, better and more rooted than all its slanderers.”
US-led coalition denies Syrian accusations of deadly bombing
The spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition against Islamic State, issues a vociferous denial of accusations by the Syrian government that coalition bombings resulted in a chemical cloud that killed hundreds.
Earlier today, the Syrian military charged that the US-led alliance bombed a toxic chemical storehouse near Deir Ezzor belonging to Islamic State jihadists, causing a yellow cloud to rise into the air and killing hundreds of civilians.
The claim by the official SANA news service could not be confirmed from other sources.
Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, spokesman for the US-led operation, says on Twitter the claim is “not true” and calls it “intentional misinformation.”
— OIR Spokesman (@OIRSpox) April 13, 2017
Japan PM: N. Korea may be capable of sarin-loaded missiles
TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warns Thursday that North Korea may be capable of firing a missile loaded with sarin nerve gas toward Japan, as international concern mounts that a missile or nuclear test by the authoritarian state could be imminent.
“There is a possibility that North Korea is already capable of shooting missiles with sarin as warheads,” Abe tells a parliamentary panel on national security and diplomacy.
Abe is responding to a question about Japan’s readiness at a time of increased regional tension. A US navy aircraft carrier is heading toward the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang prepares for the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung this weekend. And with US-South Korean wargames ongoing, North Korea is intensifying rhetoric warning it would retaliate strongly against any aggression.
North Korea, which never signed the international Chemical Weapons Convention, is believed to have up to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, according to a South Korean defense white paper, though the North has never acknowledged it.
Misdirected coalition strike killed 18 partner forces in Syria – officials
WASHINGTON — A US-led coalition airstrike in support of local forces fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria accidentally killed 18 of the friendly fighters, the coalition says Thursday.
“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position,” a coalition statement reads.
“The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position.”
The strike occurred south of Tabqa on April 11.
Assad says regime firepower ‘not affected’ by US strike
DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar Assad says a barrage of US missiles against a military airport after a suspected chemical attack has not diminished his government’s ability to carry out strikes.
“Our firepower, our ability to attack the terrorists hasn’t been affected by this strike,” he tells AFP on Wednesday in an exclusive interview in Damascus.
He says peace talks on resolving his country’s war are ineffective because Washington is “not serious” about ending the conflict.
“The United States is not serious in achieving any political solution. They want to use it as an umbrella for the terrorists,” Assad says.
He also warns that he would only allow an “impartial” external investigation of last week’s suspected chemical attack in Idlib province that killed over 80 people, including dozens of children.
“We can only allow any investigation when it’s impartial, when we make sure that unbiased countries will participate in this delegation in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicized purposes.”
Assad ally Russia on Wednesday vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding Syria cooperate with an international investigation of the attack.
Arab rights group seeks end to Passover ban on bread in hospitals
An Arab rights group says it plans to file a legal appeal protesting a ban on bringing leavened bread products into Israeli hospitals during the Passover holiday.
In a statement Thursday, Adalah-The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel says the ban forces Arab Israelis to adhere to Jewish religious law, which forbids the consumption of leavened bread during the holiday. Adalah says it is the third consecutive year that the organization has sought to overturn the ban.
China says lack of Palestinian state is ‘historical injustice’
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be revived in an effort to correct the “historical injustice” of Palestinians not having their own state.
Wang’s comments on Thursday come at a press conference following his meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki in Beijing, the Associated Press reports.
Wang says it is “unfair” that Palestinians still do not have an independent state 70 years after a UN resolution called for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
“This kind of historical injustice must be corrected. It cannot continue,” Wang says.
Maliki encourages China “to do more” to bring peace to the Middle East.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Beijing in March for meetings with top Chinese officials that focused largely on enhancing economic ties between the countries.
Route 4 brought to a halt by ultra-Orthodox protest
Route 4, a major highway near Tel Aviv, is stopped in both directions by some 300 ultra-Orthodox men who are protesting outside the Hadarim jail.
The demonstrators are protesting the incarceration of a member of their community who allegedly assaulted a police officer during an arrest.
Police are urging that drivers use alternate routes.
Russia blocks app used to organize protests
MOSCOW — Russia bans the use on its territory of a smartphone app widely used like a walkie-talkie to organize demonstrations and other gatherings.
The app, called Zello, reportedly is popular among long-distance truckers in Russia who are conducting strikes to protest a road tariff system.
Zello, based in the United States, says Russia halted the use of the app late Wednesday. The agency that oversees electronic communications in Russia, Roskomnadzor, announced earlier in the week that the service would be ended because Zello did not comply with an Internet law.
That law demands that internet services store copies in Russia of all messages sent via them for six months and make them available to authorities on demand.
A statement on Zello’s company blog called the requirement “absurd.”
PA severs ties to UNRWA over proposed changes to school curriculum
The Palestinian Authority Education Ministry on Thursday announces it is suspending ties with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) over plans by the agency to reform its curriculum.
The ministry, in a statement, calls the possible changes to the curriculum an “affront to the Palestinian people, its history and struggles,” and says the suspension will continue until the agency’s “positions are corrected.”
UNWRA has over 312,000 students in its schools across the West Bank and East Jerusalem (50,000 total) and Gaza (262,000).
The UN agency has not formally published any plans to change its curriculum, but leaks to the Arab press of possible changes have led to outrage over recent weeks in Gaza and the West Bank.
The changes, according to Arab media reports, include revisions to the map of “historic Palestine” to exclude references to cities inside Israel as Palestinian cities — a phenomenon that numerous studies of Palestinian textbooks has labeled as “incitement.”
According to COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry agency responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, in a report published at the end of March, part of the reform to the UNRWA curriculum “is a balanced representation of Jerusalem as having religious significance to the three major monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), and mentioning that Muslim believers have access to the holy sites.”
“UNRWA additionally sought to amend textbooks in cases where the content showed gender bias, lacked objectivity and incited violence against Israel,” COGAT added.
— Dov Lieber
No signs of a crime in death of NY judge found by river
NEW YORK — There are no signs that a crime was committed in the death of the first black woman on New York State’s highest court, police say Thursday after her body was found on the bank of the Hudson River.
Medical examiners are still planning to perform an autopsy on 65-year-old Sheila Abdus-Salaam.
The New York City police harbor unit retrieved her body from the Hudson on Wednesday, a day after she was reported missing.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Abdus-Salaam to the state’s Court of Appeals in 2013, calls her a “trailblazing jurist.”
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” Cuomo says. “Through her writings, her wisdom and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”
Renowned AIDS researcher Mark Wainberg drowns on vacation in Florida
MONTREAL — Dr. Mark Wainberg, a renowned AIDS researcher, drowns in Florida while vacationing for Passover.
According to news reports, a family member lost sight of Wainberg while he was swimming off the coast of Bal Harbour on Tuesday, then found him and brought him to shore unresponsive. Officers on the beach administered CPR, and the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue transported the 71-year-old Wainberg to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, 7News in Miami reports.
“He was a leader in our field and a mentor,” Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease researcher, tells The Globe and Mail. “He was a pioneer in the fight against HIV.”
A graduate of McGill University, Wainberg researched AIDS for nearly 35 years. He was best known for identifying 3TC (Lamivudine) as one of the first effective anti-viral treatments that helped extend the survival of HIV/AIDS patients almost indefinitely.
Wainberg was based at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital’s Lady Davis Institute and was director of the McGill University AIDS Center. He once served as president of the International AIDS Society and received numerous accolades, including the Order of Canada and France’s Légion d’Honneur.
300,000 visit parks and reserves Thursday
Some 300,000 people visit Israel’s nature reserves and national parks Thursday in the midst of the Passover holiday.
Schools, government agencies and many businesses close during the seven-day Passover holiday, making this period a popular time for internal tourism.
Some 130,000 people visit official national parks, crowding into Masada, Ein Gedi, Tel Dan and other well-known sites.
Germany still hunting those behind Dortmund bus attack
BERLIN — German investigators say Thursday they have found no evidence so far that an Iraqi detained after the Borussia Dortmund bus attack was involved in the bombing, but he is suspected of membership in the Islamic State group. The search for the bomber or bombers continues.
Three explosions on Tuesday evening near the soccer team’s bus wounded a Dortmund player and a police officer as they headed to a Champions League match against Monaco.
Federal prosecutors say the 26-year-old Iraqi — identified only as Abdul Beset A. in line with German privacy laws — allegedly joined IS in Iraq by late 2014 and led a unit of about 10 fighters involved in preparing kidnappings, extortions and killings.
He traveled to Turkey in March 2015 and remained in contact with members of IS after arriving in Germany in early 2016, prosecutors say.
However, “so far the investigation has turned up no evidence that the suspect participated in the attack,” they say in a statement.
Traffic resumes on Route 4 after ultra-Orthodox protest; 13 arrested
Thirteen people are under arrest as police break up a protest by haredi demonstrators that brought a major highway in central Israel to a standstill Thursday.
Route 4 was briefly stopped in both directions by some 300 ultra-Orthodox men who protested, outside the Hadarim Prison, the incarceration of a member of their community who allegedly assaulted a police officer during an arrest.
The highway is reopened.
Southern desert highways closed due to flooding
Two highways in the Negev Desert, Route 90 near Eilat and Route 40 near Mitzpe Ramon, are closed in both directions due to flooding from late-in-the-season rains Thursday.
— חדשות 10 (@news10) April 13, 2017
Desert rains often converge into narrow riverbeds, called wadis, and cause dangerous flooding that can sweep away roads and hikers.
Police are warning Israelis to avoid the closed areas.
US drops largest-ever non-nuclear bomb in strike on IS in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says US forces in Afghanistan dropped the military’s largest non-nuclear bomb on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan.
Adam Stump is a Pentagon spokesman. Stump says it was the first-ever combat use of the bomb, known as the GBU-43, which he says contains 11 tons of explosives. The Air Force calls it the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb. Based on the acronym, it has been nicknamed the “Mother Of All Bombs.”
Stump says the bomb was dropped on a cave complex believed to be used by IS fighters in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, very close to the border with Pakistan.
Suspect arrested in swastika attack on DC Jewish center, church
Police in Fairfax, Virginia, arrest and charge a suspect for spray-painting anti-Semitic graffiti on the city’s Jewish Community Center and a nearby church.
On Wednesday, police arrest Dylan M. Mahone, 20, at his home, based on surveillance video of the incidents, which occurred Tuesday, according to a statement by the Fairfax County Police Dept. He is also accused of posting anti-Semitic flyers on campus at the Northern Virginia Community College in March.
Mahone is detained and charged with two counts each of felony destruction of property, placing a swastika on religious property with the intent to intimidate and wearing a mask in public to conceal one’s identity. The college’s police have also charged Mahone with similar crimes.
On Tuesday, “Hitler was right,” swastikas and the “SS” symbol were found spray-painted on the exterior of the JCC building. In addition, “Defend America; No Muslims,” was spray-painted across the church door. “Jesus knows no traitors” was written over the church’s Holy Week schedule, and a sign that read “Say NO to anti-Muslim bigotry” was crossed out.
Anti-IS strike rules unchanged under Trump — US general
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The rules of engagement governing US-led strikes against the Islamic State group have not been changed under US President Donald Trump’s administration, a top military commander says on Thursday.
After taking office in January, Trump ordered the development of a “new plan” to defeat IS, and called for recommendations on changing rules of engagement and “policy restrictions” that go beyond the requirements of international law.
“We still have the same rules of engagement; those authorities were delegated before any change in administration,” Brigadier General Rick Uribe, a senior commander in the US-led coalition against IS, tells journalists in Baghdad.
“We have not changed our procedures due to a change in… administration,” says Uribe, who emphasizes that the coalition carefully reviews potential targets in order to avoid civilian casualties.
Despite Trump’s vows to increase the pace of action against IS and his assertion that he supports killing the families of militants, current efforts against the jihadists largely mirror those in place under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Coalition strikes have come in for criticism in recent weeks after Iraqi officials said that scores of civilians were killed in west Mosul.
The coalition is now investigating a March 17 strike it said it carried out in an area where civilian casualties were reported, and Belgium — a member of the coalition — is also probing whether its warplanes were involved in civilian deaths.
FBI director: Public should be aware of agenda-driven fake news
WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey says Americans should be aware of foreign efforts to undermine confidence in US elections and mindful of the possibility that what they’re reading might be part of an organized disinformation campaign.
Comey says the Russian government has for years tried to weaken public faith in democratic processes around the globe, and recently has resorted to more sophisticated tactics.
He is asked at a Newseum event Wednesday night what Americans could do to protect against the meddling of a foreign government in politics. His response: “The most important thing to be done is people need to be aware of the possibility that what they’re reading has been shaped by troll farms, looking to push a message on Twitter to undermine our confidence” about the electoral process.
US intelligence agencies said in a January report that Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s American presidential election in favor of Republican Donald Trump included paid social media users, or “trolls.” Part of the goal was to spread information to “denigrate” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who lost the November election, according to the report.
The FBI is investigating, including whether the Kremlin coordinated with Trump campaign associates.
Egypt says second church suicide bomber identified
CAIRO — Egypt’s interior ministry says Thursday it has identified the bomber who targeted a Palm Sunday service at a Coptic Christian church in the northern city of Tanta, killing 28 people.
On Wednesday, the ministry named the bomber who struck outside a church in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria. A total of 45 people were killed in the two attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State group.
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