ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Live updates (closed)Latest: Exit poll projects ruling party win in Armenia ‘milestone’ vote

Police rescue IDF soldier from ultra-Orthodox mob

PM will reportedly make goodwill gestures towards Palestinians at Trump’s request; US changing anti-Israel culture at UN, envoy Haley says; Arab NGOs pledge more than $260m in aid for Syria

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Police rescuing an ultra-Orthodox IDF soldier who was trapped in a bookstore by an angry mob of ultra-Orthodox protesters in Jerusalem on April 2, 2017. (Screen capture: Kikar Hashabat)
    Police rescuing an ultra-Orthodox IDF soldier who was trapped in a bookstore by an angry mob of ultra-Orthodox protesters in Jerusalem on April 2, 2017. (Screen capture: Kikar Hashabat)
  • President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
    President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley  addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, March 27, 2017. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)
    US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, March 27, 2017. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and IAF commander Major General, Amir Eshel at the unveiling of the David's Sling missile defense system at the Hatzor Air Force base on April 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and IAF commander Major General, Amir Eshel at the unveiling of the David's Sling missile defense system at the Hatzor Air Force base on April 2, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
  • A picture taken on April 2, 2017, shows Israel's David's Sling missile defence system during a ceremony to announce its operational capacity at the Hatzor Air Force base. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ
    A picture taken on April 2, 2017, shows Israel's David's Sling missile defence system during a ceremony to announce its operational capacity at the Hatzor Air Force base. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ
  • Garbed in white and sounding silver trumpets, priests-in-training prepare for a practice Passover sacrifice. (Courtesy of The Temple Institute)
    Garbed in white and sounding silver trumpets, priests-in-training prepare for a practice Passover sacrifice. (Courtesy of The Temple Institute)
  • French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen gestures as she gives a speech during a campaign meeting on April 2, 2017 at the Bordeaux-Lac exhibition center in Bordeaux, western France. ( AFP PHOTO / GEORGES GOBET)
    French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen gestures as she gives a speech during a campaign meeting on April 2, 2017 at the Bordeaux-Lac exhibition center in Bordeaux, western France. ( AFP PHOTO / GEORGES GOBET)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.

Mandelblit says no conflict of interest in PM’s role in broadcaster issue

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped down as communications minister he can remain involved in the public broadcaster issue, nor does his involvement constitute a conflict of interest.

“Regarding the media, there are specific situations in which the prime minister is prevented from handling… however these restrictions do not apply to the entire media landscape, and there are issue in which the prime minister is entitled to be involved in without presenting a conflict of interest,” Mandelblit says in a legal opinion.

The legal opinion is given in response to requests by lawmakers seeking clarification whether Netanyahu’s involvement in the debate over the new Israel Broadcasting Association was allowed.

Chechnya police reportedly execute 3 gay men

A respected Russian newspaper says it has uncovered information that police in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya have rounded up more than 100 men suspected of homosexuality and that at least three have been killed.

The report in Novaya Gazeta says it confirmed the information with sources in the Chechen police and government, but gave no details.

The report was denied by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s spokesman, who suggested there are no homosexuals in the Muslim-majority region. Ali Karimov said, according to the state news agency RIA Novosti, “it’s impossible to persecute those who are not in the republic.”

The Kremlin-backed Kadyrov is widely accused of extensive human rights violations. He has brought Islam to the fore of Chechnya’s daily life, including opening what is called Europe’s biggest mosque.

Woman lightly hurt in East Jerusalem rock-throwing

A woman is lightly injured when rocks were thrown at her car in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur, police say.

The woman is treated at the scene for light injuries, and security forces are searching the area for the perpetrators.

Israel set to unveil newest missile defense system

The David’s Sling anti-missile system is set to be unveiled at the Hatzor Air Base later in the day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and other top IDF officials are expected to attend the ceremony in central Israel.

The newest member of Israel’s missile system is designed to shoot down incoming rockets with ranges of 40-300 kilometers (25-190 miles).

IDF Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch stands in front of the David's Sling missile defense system at the Hatzor Air Base in central Israel on April 2, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
IDF Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch stands in front of the David’s Sling missile defense system at the Hatzor Air Base in central Israel on April 2, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Red Cross says Colombia landslide death toll rises to 234

The toll rises risen to 234 dead in a violent landslide in Colombia caused by the overflowing of three rivers swollen by torrential rain, the local Red Cross says.

Hardest-hit was the southwestern town of Mocoa, in the Amazon rainforest basin, with the previously reported number of fatalities hitting 206.

People walk through the rubble left by mudslides following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo department, southern Colombia on April 1, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / LUIS ROBAYO)
People walk through the rubble left by mudslides following heavy rains in Mocoa, Putumayo department, southern Colombia on April 1, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / LUIS ROBAYO)

At least 202 people were wounded, more than 100 people missing, 300 families affected and 25 homes destroyed, the Colombian Red Cross says, citing information complied from rescue workers.

— AFP

PM: David’s Sling an ‘important milestone’ in US-Israel defense cooperation

David’s Sling, Israel’s newest missile defense system officially becomes operational at an unveiling ceremony in the Hatzor IDF base in central Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes US military officials to the ceremony, and says the David’s Sling is an “important milestone” in US-Israeli defense cooperation.

“Together we can meet challenges a lot better than any of us can alone,” he says. “In this case, the white and blue is better together with the red, white and blue.”

He thanks the US for its longstanding support of the Israeli military.

Turning to Hebrew, Netanyahu says the “pioneering technology” of David’s Sling will help protect Israel against its enemies.

“I will repeat myself, that whoever wants to strike us will be beaten, and those who threaten our existence are putting their own lives at risk,” he says.

The David’s Sling anti-missile system is designed to shoot down incoming rockets with ranges of 40-300 kilometers (25-190 miles).

Liberman says ‘no alternative’ to missile defense system

At the ceremony unveiling David’s Sling, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says the new missile defense system in indispensable for Israel’s security.

“There is no alternative to this system, Liberman says. “Thanks to this system, we will be able to deal with our enemies, which we unfortunately have.”

The new David’s Sling missile defense system is being unveiled at the Hatzor military base in central Israel.

Hamas rejects Liberman’s insinuation it killed own official

The spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing rejects an insinuation by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that the Gaza-based terror group was behind the recent assassination of one its top commanders, Mazen Faqha.

“We affirm that no one is responsible for the crime apart from the Zionist enemy, and it will not succeed in any of its declared or hidden attempts to disclaim or to shuffle the cards,” the spokesperson says.

In a hit that Hamas chiefs linked to Israel’s Mossad, Faqha was shot dead on March 25 near his home in Gaza City, with a weapon equipped with a silencer.

Hamas blamed Israel for the assassination, but earlier Liberman said the terror group was “known for its internal assassinations — let them look there.”

— Dov Lieber

Egypt court backs islands’ transfer to Saudi Arabia

An Egyptian court issues a new ruling in support of a government accord to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, a deal that has sparked protests, according to lawyers.

In the latest in a series of contradictory judicial rulings on the case, the urgent matters court in Cairo follow a verdict by Egypt’s highest administrative court that went against the islands’ transfer.

The deal to hand over the islands, signed during an April 2016 visit by Saudi King Salman during which Riyadh showered Egypt with aid, provoked accusations that Cairo had “sold” the strategic islands.

Cairo said the two islands — Tiran and Sanafir — were Saudi territory to start with, but had been leased to Egypt in the 1950s.

The accord has sparked street protests and a legal battle between the government, which insists along with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that the islands are Saudi, and lawyers opposed to the measure.

— AFP

Ultra-Orthodox group threatens anti-draft protest at airport

An ultra-Orthodox group behind a series of recent protests against the arrest of draft dodgers from the community is threatening to block traffic to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in an upcoming protest.

A statement from the Committee to Save the World of Torah, says it will hold a protest at the airport in order to bring the issue to the attention of “the whole world.”

“Due to the government’s escalation of the harassment of prisoners from the Torah world, it has been decided to expand the protest at this time in order that it will reach the ears of the entire world,” the announcement says.

— Alexander Fulbright

US changing anti-Israel culture at UN, Haley says

US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley says recent steps taken at the UN are changing the culture of anti-Israel bias at the world body.

“We changed the Israel bias that’s happening at the United Nations by making sure we call out anyone that focuses on that as opposed to focusing on the conflicts,” Haley tells ABC News. “We made sure that a ridiculous report that came out comparing Israel to apartheid state — we had that report pulled down. The director resigned.”

“We are now changing the culture at the United Nations and with that we’re changing the culture in the world in the discussions that we’re having,” she says.

Haley has recently spearheaded a US boycott of the UN Human Rights Council for what the Trump administration says is an anti-Israel bias. Last week she told the annual AIPAC conference that the “days of Israel bashing are over” at the UN.

Vote on new public broadcaster delayed until after Passover

A vote to implement the agreement reached last week between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon regarding the new public broadcaster is postponed until after the Passover holiday, the coalition says.

The vote — originally scheduled to be held in a special session on Wednesday — is reportedly being delayed after the Likud-led coalition realized the bill would not be ready in time.

Members of the new broadcaster are expected to petition the High Court of Justice in an effort to overturn Thursday’s deal, which dismantled the news division of the yet-to-air network.

Haley says ‘no question’ Russia meddled in US elections

US ambassador to the United Nations says there is “no question” the Russian government interfered in the 2016 American presidential elections.

In an interview to ABC news published today, Haley says “certainly I think Russia was involved in the election. There’s no question about that.”

The US envoy says there is “no love” between Washington and Moscow, and that she is “beating up” on Russia at the world body.

Haley insists the Trump administration is holding Russia accountable on issues regarding Syria, Iran and human rights violations.

“They get that we’re getting our strength back, that we’re getting our voice back and that we’re starting to lead again,” she says.

Palestinian armed with screwdriver arrested at West Bank checkpoint

Israeli troops arrest a Palestinian armed with a screwdriver in the northern West Bank, the army says.

The Palestinian man approached the soldiers’ post near the Tzufim settlement.

The soldiers called for him to stop, and the man “surrendered himself to them,” without the use of force, according to the IDF

— Judah Ari Gross

At Trump’s request, PM to make goodwill gestures to Palestinians — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to make a series of goodwill gestures towards Palestinians at the request of the Trump administration, the Haaretz daily reports.

Netanyahu reportedly told members of his security cabinet last week the measures will aim to bolster the economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to Haaretz, the measures could include allowing Palestinians to build in Area C of the West Bank, the part of the territory under full Israeli civil and military control.

The prime minister told his cabinet during the meeting on Thursday that Trump is eager to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and stressed the importance of Israel supporting the US initiative.

Alleged Palestinian counterfeiter nabbed with $800,000 in fake cash

Police say a Palestinian man in possession of nearly a million dollars of US currency has been arrested in the West Bank.

The 35-year-old man from the Hebron-area village of Yatta is detained after an undercover investigation by Israeli security forces into a suspected counterfeiting ring.

At the time of his arrest, Israeli troops uncover $800,000 in a suitcase the suspect is carrying.

Police say their investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Bennett says curb on West Bank building a ‘missed opportunity’

The staunchly pro-settlement Education Minister Naftali Bennett criticizes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement to curb settlement building in a goodwill gesture to US President Donald Trump as a “strategic missed opportunity.”

“The story here isn’t President Trump, it’s the position of the Israeli government,” Bennett tweets.

“This was a strategic opportunity that was missed,” he says. “Instead of presenting an alternative, we were passive.”

Bennett says Netanyahu’s handling of the US request will “lead to nowhere but frustration.”

He goes on to call self-imposed restrictions on settlement construction “balanced and reasonable, provided that they’re actually implemented.”

Bennett adds that the arrangement with Washington does not include a quantitative limit.

“From my experience, we will have to make sure this is implemented.”

2 Palestinians arrested in connection with Old City stabbing

Police arrest two Palestinian from East Jerusalem in connection with yesterday’s stabbing attack in the Old City.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court has made a statement issuing a gag order on the details of the investigation.

Yesterday, 17-year-old Ahmad Jazal from the northern West Bank stabbed two Jewish youths in the Muslim Quarter before fleeing the scene. He then stabbed one of the police officers chasing him before he was shot dead by security forces.

Ahmad Jazal, 17, from the West Bank village of Sebastia, near Nablus, in a selfie he took on the Temple Mount before he attacked Israelis and was killed in the Old City on April 1, 2017 (via Twitter)
Ahmad Jazal, 17, from the West Bank village of Sebastia, near Nablus, in a selfie he took on the Temple Mount before he attacked Israelis and was killed in the Old City on April 1, 2017 (via Twitter)

In new charter, Hamas ambiguous on Palestinian state along ’67 lines

A pan-Arab news channel publishes what it says is the text for the new and much-anticipated charter of the Gaza-based terror group Hamas.

Contradicting previous reports, the text published by the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen does not explicitly state that Hamas is prepared to accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

While the text calls for “the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state along June 4, 1967 lines, with the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes,” the Hamas document stops short of endorsing the plan, instead calling it a “national consensus formula.”

In multiple places, the published text says Hamas will not retract its call to retake all of historic Palestine through violent means.

“Hamas will not give up on any part of the land of Palestine no matter the reasons, circumstances or pressures, and no matter how long the occupation remains. Hamas rejects any alternative to completely liberating Palestine from the river to the sea,” the charter reportedly says.

Hamas also attempts to do away with the anti-Semitic content found in the group’s original charter from 1988.

“Hamas distinguishes between the Jews, as the people of the book (i.e., Bible), and Judaism as a religion on the one hand, and between the occupation and the Zionist project, on the other hand, and believes that the conflict with the Zionist project is not a conflict with the Jews because of their religion,” the published text says.

The report says Hamas will declare the new charter in the coming days.

— Dov Lieber

2 East Jerusalem Palestinians arrested for alleged online incitement

Police arrest two East Jerusalem Palestinians for alleged incitement posted to their social media accounts, a police spokeswoman says.

A statement says the two suspects, aged 20 and 24, are not associated with each other, but both had uploaded posts to their Facebook accounts praising terrorists for carrying out attacks against Israelis.

Police have requested a court remand the suspects into custody until the legal proceedings against them have been completed.

Egypt military says top jihadist killed in Sinai airstrike

Egypt’s military says a founding member of a jihadist group in northern Sinai that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State has been killed in an airstrike.

A total of 18 “extremely dangerous” insurgents have been killed, with others wounded, in raids carried out on March 18, the military announces on its Facebook page.

Among those killed, it says, is Salem Selmi el-Hamadeen, known as Abu Anas al-Ansari, a founder and senior member of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to IS in November 2014.

— AFP

Police rescue IDF soldier from ultra-Orthodox mob

Police are called to rescue an ultra-Orthodox IDF soldier who was trapped inside a Jerusalem bookstore by an angry mob of ultra-Orthodox protesters.

Several dozen residents of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim hurled any-Semitic insults at the solider who barricaded himself inside the shop.

Photos and videos of the incident show police escorting the solider from the premises. The protesters also hurl insults at the female police officer, calling her “shiksa,” a disparaging Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman.

The solider declined to file a police complaint.

The incident comes on the heels of a number of demonstrations held by the ultra-Orthodox community recently, protesting the arrest of members of the community for draft dodging.

Arab NGOs pledge more than $260m in Syrian aid

More than $260 million (NIS 944 million) is pledged in humanitarian aid for Syria following a meeting in Doha involving the UN and 25 Arab NGOs from across the region.

Attending the conference is the Qatar Red Crescent, several organizations from the Gulf Cooperation Council and charities from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Qatari state media says the total number of pledges stands at $262 million (NIS 951 million).

The meeting comes ahead of a European Union two-day conference on war-torn Syria later this week in Belgium.

Syrian families at the Zaatari refugee camp, on the Jordanian border with war-ravaged Syria on March 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
Syrian families at the Zaatari refugee camp, on the Jordanian border with war-ravaged Syria on March 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

White House denies holding ‘formal’ settlement talks with Israel

The White House is not holding “formal negotiations” with Israel over the settlement issue — contrary to widespread reporting in US and Israeli media — an administration official tells The Times of Israel.

“I would dissuade you from the notion that there is some set of formal negotiations regarding settlements,” the official says. “We continuously discuss a range of issues, including how to improve the overall climate.”

That denial of specific talks on settlements comes after Israel Radio reported that US efforts to limit Israel’s settlement activity — led by Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt — were suspended after the two parties failed to reach an agreement.

“These reports are inaccurate,” the official insists.

— Eric Cortellessa

High court forbids Passover sacrifice next to Temple Mount

The High Court of Justice upholds a police decision to bar a group of Temple Mount activists from carrying out a ritual slaughter of a sacrificial animal adjacent to the Jerusalem holy site during the upcoming Passover holiday.

Each year during the Jewish holiday, a group called the Temple Mount Institute hold a ritual slaughter of a sheep or goat at various places in Jerusalem with permission from police.

The group this year requested to hold the religious ceremony at Davidson Park, an archaeological site adjacent to the West Wall and Temple Mount complex.

Garbed in white and sounding silver trumpets, priests-in-training prepare for a practice Passover sacrifice. (Courtesy of The Temple Institute)
Garbed in white and sounding silver trumpets, priests-in-training prepare for a practice Passover sacrifice. (Courtesy of The Temple Institute)

Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi on Thursday denied the request, citing the close proximity to the flashpoint holy site.

The Temple Mount Faithful appealed the decision to the High Court, but justices today tell the group Halevi’s decision is binding, and call the precaution “appropriate.”

Exit poll projects ruling party win in Armenia ‘milestone’ vote

The ruling Republican Party leads parliamentary elections in Armenia, held for the first time since constitutional reforms transformed the ex-Soviet country into a parliamentary republic, an exit poll says.

President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party receives 46 percent of the vote, while an opposition alliance led by Gagik Tsarukian, a former arm wrestler and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, comes in second with 25%, according to an exit poll conducted by Armenia’s Sociologists’ Association and Baltic Surveys/Gallup International.

A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Yerevan, on April 2, 2017, as Armenians vote in legislative elections for the first time since the adoption of constitutional reforms aimed at transforming the ex-Soviet country into a parliamentary republic. (AFP PHOTO / KAREN MINASYAN)
A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Yerevan on April 2, 2017, as Armenians vote in legislative elections for the first time since adopting constitutional reforms aimed at changing the ex-Soviet state into a parliamentary republic. (AFP PHOTO / KAREN MINASYAN)

Two more opposition forces — the Elk Coalition and the nationalist Dashnaktsutyun party -– are set to enter the parliament with 10% and 5% of the vote respectively, pollster Gevorg Poghosyan of Armenia’s Sociologists’ Association tells a news conference.

— AFP

France’s Le Pen renews anti-Islam remarks ahead of election

With just three weeks before the first round of France’s presidential election, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is working to galvanize voters with the anti-Islam rhetoric that is one of her trademarks.

Le Pen addresses thousands of supporters in the southwest French city of Bordeaux, where she vows to “uncompromisingly fight Islamist fundamentalism which seeks to impose its oppressive rules in our country.”

French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen gestures as she gives a speech during a campaign meeting on April 2, 2017 at the Bordeaux-Lac exhibition center in Bordeaux, western France. ( AFP PHOTO / GEORGES GOBET)
French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen gestures as she gives a speech during a campaign meeting on April 2, 2017, at the Bordeaux-Lac exhibition center in Bordeaux, western France. ( AFP PHOTO / GEORGES GOBET)

She also criticizes the headscarves that some Muslim women wear, saying “girls in France should be able to dress as they wish” and “shouldn’t be forced to bury themselves under clothes of another age.”

Polls suggest Le Pen is one of the top contenders in the election’s first round on April 23, but would lose in the May 7 runoff.

— AFP

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