The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
A-G nixes Women of the Wall priestly blessing
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rules the Women of the Wall cannot hold a priestly blessing prayer service on Sunday at the Western Wall.
The attorney general meets with representatives from the Israel police, prime minister’s office, Justice Ministry and Religious Affairs Ministry, as well as the Western Wall rabbi.
Following the meeting, he says the pluralistic group cannot hold their “Birkat Kohanot” prayer service in the women’s section of the Western Wall on Passover, since it contravenes the traditional customs, thus violating the rules of the Western Wall. In Orthodox practice, the prayer is solely recited by male descendants of the priestly caste.
Family of suspected bomber finds his will — report
Hamas on Thursday praises a young Palestinian it says was a member who carried out a Jerusalem bus bombing earlier this week that wounded 20 people.
The 19-year-old died on Wednesday, two days after an explosive device blew up on a bus in southern Jerusalem and sparked a fire.
The man was named by the Palestinian health ministry as Abdel Hamid Abu Sorur from Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem in the West Bank, without giving further details.
The Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center website carries an interview with Abu Sorur’s father, saying he had been asked to identify his son’s badly burned body.
It says the family had discovered a will written by Abu Sorur shortly before his death.
Women of the Wall said set to appeal to High Court
The Women of the Wall group will lodge a petition with the High Court against the attorney general’s decision to prevent them from holding a priestly blessing service at the Western Wall on Sunday, Haaretz reports.
The petition could be filed as soon as today, the report says.
Dozens of cops attend funeral of Holocaust survivor
Dozens of policemen attend the funeral of a Holocaust survivor, after the state fails to track down any of her relatives.
The 79-year-old woman was found in her apartment in Ma’alot two weeks ago, according to the Walla news site.
After attempts to locate the woman’s relatives in Israel and abroad failed, police sent local cops to the funeral, and dozens of other policemen showed up as well.
The woman was not identified in the report.
Obama, Gulf allies meet in Saudi Arabia on security
US President Barack Obama meets Thursday with top officials from six Arab nations to discuss regional security issues in the Persian Gulf including the fight against the Islamic State.
The meetings in Riyadh are meant to build on a similar summit convened last year at Camp David, the American president’s Maryland retreat. They reflect an effort by the White House to reassure and coordinate with important but wary Mideast allies that harbor serious doubts about Obama’s outreach to Iran and US policy toward the grinding civil war in Syria.
Obama and officials from the US-allied countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council open up talks Thursday morning by posing for a group photo. The leaders, meeting around a circular table in an ornate meeting room in the Diriyah Palace, make polite conversation and smile for cameras, but offer no remarks.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and CIA Director John Brennan also attend the meeting.
The White House has said the summit meeting will include three sessions. One is aimed at fostering regional stability and another at counterterrorism efforts including efforts to defeat al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants. A third session will focus on Iran, which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states see as a destabilizing rival in the region.
‘Life begins at 90,’ Peres tells Queen Elizabeth II
Former Israeli president Shimon Peres sends Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II a happy birthday video message telling her that “life begins at 90.”
The Queen’s 90th birthday takes place on Thursday, although the official celebrations in the United Kingdom will be held in June. In September, Elizabeth II became the country’s longest-reigning monarch, after ascending to the throne at the age of 25.
Peres, who is 93, tells the queen in his message sent on Thursday: “From my own experience I can tell you that in my judgment — life begins at the age of 90, and they go up better and better. It is really a blessing not just a wish, a blessing to you, to us, that you will continue to guide, to inspire, to offer a smile, to the young and the old and make our lives different, despite all the problems and wars we went through. You are a great leader for the free world; you are a great hope for the coming generations. God bless you.”
In an official note sent for the occasion, Peres says further: “For nine decades the world has been graced by your reign. You are a beacon of light to your nation and serve as a source of inspiration for individuals across the world.”
He sends the queen a birthday gift – a hand-painted silk scarf with a motif of Jerusalem on it.
Paris suspect Abdeslam charged over Brussels shootout
Key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam has been charged over a deadly shootout with police in Brussels a week before the suicide blasts in the Belgian capital, his lawyer says Wednesday.
“He has been charged with attempted murder either alone or jointly,” lawyer Sven Mary tells AFP when asked about Abdeslam, who is due to be extradited to France in coming days.
One Islamist suspect was killed and four police were wounded in the gunbattle at an apartment in the Forest district on March 15, three days before Abdeslam was arrested and a week before the March 22 Brussels attacks.
Arab League calls for special court to try Israel
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi calls Thursday for a special criminal court to be set up for Israel, at a meeting to condemn an announcement that Israel will never return the Golan.
Delegates to the 22-member Arab bloc based in Cairo are expected to pass a resolution denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge Sunday the Golan Heights would remain Israeli “forever.”
Israel was acting like “a country that is above the law and accountability,” Arabi tells delegates at the start of the meeting.
He demands “a special criminal court for the Palestinian cause” to try Israel, like the ones set up for Serbian war crimes.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Cairo and delegate to the Arab League, Ahmed Qattan, accuses Israel of trying to profit from the conflict in Syria.
“The Zionist entity is exploiting the years of crisis in Syria,” he says.
Golan to remain part of Israel, PM tells Putin
In Moscow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Golan Heights will remain part of Israeli territory, the Russian Interfax news agency reports.
“I have come to Russia to step up coordination on security matters, to prevent mistakes, misunderstandings,” Netanyahu says, referring to Syria, according to the report.
The prime minister also stresses that Israel will do “everything” to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining advanced weapons.
Hamas deploys forces on Egypt-Gaza border
Hamas has deployed forces along the Egyptian-Gaza border to counter Cairo’s concerns it is aiding terrorists from the Islamic State group in Egypt’s lawless Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt accuses Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, of providing a safe haven for IS’s Sinai affiliate through a network of smuggling tunnels, which Hamas denies.
On Thursday, armed Hamas men took up positions along the 13-kilometer border, with fighters in pickup trucks patrolling back and forth.
Hamas says the deployment is part of an agreement reached with Egyptian officials last month. Analysts describe it as a unilateral step by Hamas to send assurances to Cairo.
Relations between Hamas and Egypt soured after the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi; Hamas and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party were close allies.
— agencies, Times of Israel staff
PM outlines ‘red lines’ on Syria in Russia talks
In his meeting with Putin, Netanyahu outlines Israel’s “red lines,” which include blocking Hezbollah from obtaining advanced weapons and keeping a new “terror front” from appearing on the Golan Heights, according to the TASS news agency.
He reiterates that Israel will not relinquish the Golan Heights.
“With an agreement or without, the Golan Heights will remain part of [Israel’s] sovereign territory,” he says, according to the Russian news agency.
Suspect in October West Bank stabbing arrested
Security forces arrest a man suspected of stabbing an Israeli in the West Bank in October, the Walla news website reports.
The Palestinian is suspected of stabbing Meir Pavlovsky in Kiryat Arba, seriously injuring him.
Trump says bathroom laws ‘discriminatory’
Donald Trump says he believes transgender people should be able to use whichever bathroom they choose.
Speaking at a town hall event on NBC’s “Today” Thursday, Trump says North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom law,” which directs transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates, has caused unnecessary strife.
“There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” he says.
Still, he says he’s opposed to the move to create new, non-gendered bathrooms open to anyone, calling that push “discriminatory in a certain way” and “unbelievably expensive for businesses and the country.”
He says if Caitlyn Jenner, formerly former Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner, were to walk into Trump Tower, she could use whichever bathroom she wanted.
9/11 commissioner urges release of report’s 28 secret pages
A former ambassador and congressman who sat on the 9/11 Commission is urging the release of 28 pages that have been kept secret.
Tim Roehmer says the public should be allowed access to the material, which reportedly focuses on Saudi Arabia’s possible role in the September 11 attacks that killed thousands.
Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show Thursday, Roehmer says panel investigation “did not discover” any role by “senior, high-level” Saudi government officials.
But he also says it’s possible that financing in support of the al-Qaeda inspired attack came from Saudi sources. Four airplanes were hijacked and used in the attack on US soil. Two flew into the World Trade Center in New York, another struck the Pentagon in suburban Arlington, Virginia, and a fourth crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Lufthansa flight to Israel suffers engine failure
A Lufthansa flight from Munich to Tel Aviv is forced to turn around after one of its engine fails, according to The Aviation Herald.
The plane takes off, “leveled off at 3000 feet and returned to Munich for a safe landing,” according to the report.
In Saudi Arabia, Obama pledges vigilance against Iran
Obama on Thursday pledges to remain vigilant against Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East as he tries to allay concerns of Persian Gulf allies wary of his nuclear deal with their regional rival.
“None of our nations have an interest in conflict with Iran,” Obama says as he meets with top officials from six Arab nations at a Gulf summit in Saudi Arabia.
Obama, finishing his brief trip to the kingdom, says he and the Gulf leaders had agreed about ways to move forward in campaign the Islamic State group, with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council agreeing to “increase their contributions to the fight.”
He says the nations had also agreed to help Iraq. That was a nod to Obama’s request to Gulf countries to step up their financial and political support for rebuilding Iraq after years of war.
No injuries as Israeli troops shot at in West Bank
An unidentified assailant opens fire at Israeli troops at the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank, police say.
There are no injuries.
The security forces “return fire toward the source of the gunfire,” police say.
— Judah Ari Gross contributed
Israel confirms bus bomber killed in attack
The Israel Police confirms that the 19-year-old Palestinian who was killed in the Jerusalem bus terror attack was the bomber.
It says Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour, 19, from Beit Jala in the Bethlehem area, “is associated with Hamas.”
Police say the army and Shin Bet security service have arrested several Hamas members from the Bethlehem area who are suspected of helping plan Monday’s bombing, which injured 20 people.
Their names remain under a gag order.
Shin Bet: Jerusalem bus attack was suicide bombing
The Shin Bet security agency confirms the Jerusalem bus attack on Monday was a suicide bombing, as a gag order on the case is partially lifted.
The agency, like police, says several Hamas members from Bethlehem have been arrested in connection with the attack.
The terrorist, Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour, 19, from Beit Jala in the Bethlehem area, was the only fatality. Twenty people were injured, one of them seriously.
Women of the Wall going ahead with priestly blessing
Women of the Wall says it will proceed with the priestly blessing on Sunday, despite the attorney general’s ruling barring the group from doing so. Mandelblit said earlier the practice violated the Western Wall’s “local custom.”
“We disagree with the attorney general’s jurisdiction since the holidays prayers of Shaharit and Mussaf include in them the Priestly Blessings, and these prayers are part of the ‘local custom’ as stated by the ruling of Judge Sobel,” says Riki Shapira, an attorney and Women of the Wall board member, in a statement.
“It is infuriating that the decision was given to us at the last moment, without the benefit of hearing our side before making it, as required by Israel’s Administrative Law. Also, the decision was made at such a time that we cannot appeal it to the Supreme Court,” she says.
“Women of the Wall believe that following today’s events, hundreds of women will join the women’s festive prayer that will take place, as planned, on Sunday morning, first day of Hol Hamoed, at 8:45 AM, in the women’s section of the Western Wall,” she added.
Shapira says transportation will be provided from “all over the country, just as planned.”
Iran rejects US court decision on terror reparations
Iran rejects the US Supreme Court decision Wednesday that cleared the way for families of victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and other attacks linked to Iran to collect nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
“This is totally rejected. It is theft … it is like stealing Iran’s money and we condemn it,” says Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari, according to Reuters.
The court’s 6-2 ruling directly affects more than 1,300 relatives of victims, some who have been seeking compensation for more than 30 years. They include families of the 241 US service members who died in the Beirut bombing.
Other families who are not covered by Wednesday’s decision also could benefit because they now stand to reap a larger share of a government-administered fund intended for victims of state-sponsored terrorism.
— AP contributed
France announces summit to relaunch peace talks
France will host a meeting of ministers from 20 countries on May 30 to try to relaunch the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announces on Thursday.
In an interview with four newspapers including Israel’s Haaretz and pan-Arab daily Al Quds Al-Arabi, the minister says however that Israel and the Palestinians would not be invited to the meeting in Paris.
Wakil family donates $27 million to U of Sydney
A Jewish family foundation donates more than $27 million to The University of Sydney.
The gift from the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation is the largest donation to the University of Sydney since it was founded in 1850.
In 2015, the Wakils gave an unprecedented $10.8 million to the Sydney Nursing School in order to establish 12 annual nursing scholarships.
The gift will enable construction of the main building of the University of Sydney’s proposed Health Precinct. For the first time, multiple health disciplines will come together in a purpose-built facility to translate research into education and clinical services.
Cruz says Trump bowing to ‘political correctness’
Ted Cruz is criticizing Donald Trump for opposing North Carolina’s new bathroom law, saying his rival is giving in to “political correctness.”
Trump said earlier Thursday that North Carolina should not have passed the law directing transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate.
Cruz supports the North Carolina measure and says, “Grown adult men, strangers, should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls.” He says his view is “basic common sense.”
Cruz is campaigning in Frederick, Maryland, where voters will cast their ballots Tuesday.
100,000 Israelis going to Turkey despite terror threats
More than 100,000 Israeli tourists are heading to Turkey over the Passover holiday, despite repeated warnings by the Israeli government to avoid the country at all costs due to an ongoing terror threat, Channel 2 reports.
Turkey is the most sought-after destination among Israelis next week, the TV report says. The number of Israeli tourists is up 15% from last year.
Most of the tourists are Arab Israelis, the report says. And most will travel through Istanbul en route to their destinations.
Local Hamas branch took credit for attack
A local Hamas branch in Bethlehem’s al-Ayda refugee camp — rather than the leadership of the Gaza-based organization — took credit for the attack immediately after it was revealed that the suspect had died from his wounds on Wednesday.
The Hamas leadership in Gaza wrote in a statement on Thursday that they “celebrate” the Jerusalem bus bombing on Monday, but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack.
The Israel Police and Shin Bet say the bomber was linked to Hamas. Israel has arrested several Hamas members from the Bethlehem area in connection with the terror attack, that has injured 20 people.
— Dov Lieber
Jerusalem suicide bomber’s grandmother hails ‘martyr’
The grandmother of the Jerusalem suicide bomber praises her grandson in a Facebook post for “avenging your grandfather,” who was apparently killed by Israeli forces.
Changing her profile picture to a photo of Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour, the woman — whose profile says she lives in Syria — also says he was obsessed with “the intifada.”
“I spent three and a half years with my grandson, the Palestinian martyr and hero. He was really concerned about Palestine and the occupation. When he woke in the morning, he would ask about the intifada, how many operations there were and who was martyred,” she writes.
“He loved all the heroic martyrs and all the Palestinian factions. His main concern was revenge for his grandfather the martyr Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour, who did not belong to any fraction or organization. He was a tough and stubborn Palestinian who loved Palestine and hated the occupation and the collaborating Palestinian Authority,” she writes.
— Dov Lieber
Netanyahu says Putin meeting ‘very successful’
Netanyahu says his meeting with Putin was “very important, very successful.”
He says Israeli, Russian air force generals also met to discuss coordination in Syria.
The prime minister says an agreement to grant Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union pensions — what he describes as a “very painful” issue to tens of thousands of Israelis — will be resolved in June in Moscow.
The Israeli prime minister announces he will return to Russia on June 7.
IDF chief reportedly says PA increased counter-terror efforts
IDF chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told the high-level security cabinet this week that the Palestinian Authority has increased its efforts to combat terror, Channel 2 reports.
The TV report says the PA has arrested both would-be lone wolf attackers and worked to break up terror cells. It describes the increase “from 10% to 40%.”
Pop icon Prince dead at 57 — report
Pop icon Prince — one of the most influential but elusive figures in music — has died at his compound in Minnesota at the age of 57, entertainment website TMZ reports Thursday, citing unnamed sources.
Local authorities say a death investigation is underway at Prince’s Paisley Park complex, but do not give the identity of the fatality.
Prince became an international sensation in the 1980s, when he popularized the Minneapolis sound of danceable funk. His 1984 album “Purple Rain” is often described as one of the greatest of all time.
Don’t put Tubman on $20 bill, says Trump
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump says Thursday he opposes placing an image of one-time slave Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, saying she should grace the rarely used $2 note instead.
“Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take someone off the bill,” Trump tells NBC’s “Today” show when asked about the US Treasury’s plan to remove the 19th century president and make Tubman the first African-American to be featured on American currency.
Citing Jackson’s “history of tremendous success for the country,” Trump says it would be nothing but “pure political correctness” to displace him from the widely used note.
“Maybe we do the $2 bill” for Tubman, Trump adds. “I would love to see another denomination, and that could take place. I think it would be more appropriate.”
Palestinians back French confab on peace talks
The Palestinians say they strongly support a French initiative to hold a ministerial meeting, probably on May 30, as a first step to an international conference aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki says Palestinian and French leaders agreed during meetings in Paris a few days ago that the French initiative should move ahead and not be jeopardized by Palestinian efforts to get the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that would condemn Israeli settlements as an obstacle to peace.
He says an Arab ministerial committee will be meeting very soon to decide when to give “the green light” to circulate the draft resolution to council members.
Malki spoke after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi, the current council president.
30 injured in bus accident at Carmel Tunnels
Thirty people are injured in bus accident at the Carmel Tunnels, near the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
Police say the bus collided with a truck.
3 seriously hurt in bus collision; one critical
Emergency services are resuscitating one critically injured person at the scene of the bus crash in northern Israel, according to Channel 2.
Three people are in serious condition, according to the TV report.
HRW accuses Egypt police of torturing detained children
Human Rights Watch accuses Egyptian police on Thursday of detaining and torturing 20 people, including eight children, saying there was a pattern of abuse in the North African country.
The New York-based group says in a report that six people arrested in the coastal city of Alexandria in February had reported to relatives that they were tortured with electric shocks and beatings.
They had been accused of protesting without a permit, vandalism and arson, and joining an illegal group.
A police official tells AFP that the allegation in the report “was illogical and clearly fabricated.”
HRW says that police had initially refused to admit they were holding the detainees for more than a week.
When the detainees appeared in court a week later, police said in a report to the prosecutor they had just been arrested.
“Some Egyptian officials have disappeared children and apparently tortured them, then faked arrest records to cover it up,” the report quotes HRW’s children’s rights director Zama Coursen-Neff as saying.
“The authorities have turned a blind eye to the reports of abuse and refused to investigate.”
It says six of the detainees told relatives they were suspended by their arms, electrocuted in the genitals and punched.
Women of the Wall ‘regretfully’ accepts A-G decision
Women of the Wall says it will not include the priestly blessing in their prayer service on Sunday morning.
Earlier statements from the group indicated they would proceed with the priestly blessing despite the attorney general’s ban.
“Please pay attention that we accept his decision, though regretfully, but shall hold a festive prayer as planned,” a spokesperson says. “We will not include Birkat Kohanot as intended initially.”