The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Netanyahu phones left-wing party leaders

Exhausting all possibilities to form a coalition Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, Labor’s Merav Michaeli, and Meretz leader Nitzan Horovitz, Channel 12 news reports.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu called Mansour Abbas, chairman of Islamist party Ra’am, for the first time since the March election in a bid to get him to support direct elections, a proposal the incumbent prime minister has thrown his weight behind as his other attempts at forming a government after last month’s elections have so far fallen flat.

In his conversations with left-wing party heads, Netanyahu reportedly attempted to muster support for direct elections at a later stage, if the change bloc, guided by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, fails to form a government.

Defense Ministry unveils reform plan for PTSD, rehabilitative care for veterans

The Defense Ministry unveils its general plan to reform rehabilitative care for wounded Israel Defense Forces veterans, focusing most of its efforts on simplifying the byzantine bureaucracy and doing away with the current practice of conducting invasive background checks into those applying for assistance.

The ministry’s long-maligned Rehabilitation Department has come under renewed intense scrutiny in recent weeks after an IDF veteran, who had long struggled to receive help from the ministry set himself on fire outside the department’s offices in Petah Tikva earlier this month. The veteran, Itzik Saidyan, remains in critical condition in Sheba Medical Center, with burns covering his entire body, which his doctors said have caused infections that endanger his life.

Screen capture from video of IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan talking about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Channel 12 News)

The ministry’s reform proposal, named “One Soul,” deals with both general issues involving the Rehabilitation Department and specific ones regarding the care for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

This includes creating a faster and easier process of recognizing injuries that were caused by or occurred during military service; legal assistance during the recognition process; increasing the number of services available online; and adding staff to the department.

The proposal also calls for the creation of a center for researching PTSD and a national PTSD committee, an increase in the number of treatments for PTSD offered by the ministry, and offering funding for alternative care not offered by the department.

Pope tells Hariri he hopes to visit Lebanon

Pope Francis reaffirms his desire to visit Lebanon in a meeting with prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, but the latter says it will only happen once a new government is formed.

During a private audience lasting around 30 minutes, the 84-year-old pontiff said he would like to visit Lebanon “as soon as the conditions are favorable,” according to a Vatican statement.

He expressed his “closeness to the Lebanese people, who are experiencing a moment of great difficulty and uncertainty” and called upon “all political forces to urgently commit themselves to the benefit of the nation.”

Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri speaks to journalists after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March. 22, 2021. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)

Hariri, a three-time premier selected in October to form a new government, tells Lebanese media following the meeting that the pope would visit “only after the formation of a government.”

“That’s a message for the Lebanese, that we must form a government, so that all the forces and all the people come together, so that we can take Lebanon forward with our friends,” he says.

Amid growing outcry, KKL-JNF delays controversial vote on buying West Bank land

Amid growing pushback from members and supporters abroad, the chairman of the Jewish National Fund decides to delay a controversial vote scheduled today on allowing the agency to purchase land in the West Bank.

The decision followed a letter to KKL-JNF chairman Avi Duvdevani by seven board members representing centrist and left-wing organizations demanding that the push to change the agency’s policy be suspended.

“We have no intention of acting forcefully. This is not our way. We want to make an orderly and relaxed decision on this issue. I hope this step [of delaying the vote] will contribute to promoting a good and matter-of-fact discussion,” Duvdevani writes in a message to the board members notifying them of the decision.

The KKL-JNF chairman did not provide a new date when the vote would be held.

IDF troops foil drug-smuggling on Egypt border; suspect shot dead

The IDF says that troops killed an alleged Israeli drug smuggler on the Israel-Egypt border after the car he was in sped toward them.

According to the army, three “suspicious vehicles” were identified approaching the border fence from the direction of Israel but despite soldiers calling for them to stop, one of the vehicles accelerated in their direction.

In response, the soldiers opened fire, killing one of the suspects.

Meshi-Zahav suicide note: ‘I’m sorry. I have already received my punishment’

The Kan public broadcaster reports the contents of a suicide note found at the scene of the attempted suicide of disgraced Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.

“I’m sorry. I have already received my punishment. Try to remember the good I did. Always try to remember what I forgot: ‘There is an eye that sees and an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written down,'” he wrote, paraphrasing the Ethics of the Fathers, according to a photo of the note provided by Kan.

“I have always loved, and am very ashamed. Yehuda,” he signed the letter.

The suicide attempt took place less than two months after bombshell reports revealed numerous allegations of rape and sexual assault against Meshi-Zahav.

Meshi-Zahav is currently in critical condition in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital.

Two sons of Meshi-Zahav claim that the note was faked, Channel 12 reports, adding that they plan to file a police complaint over the publication of the letter.

Hamas warns against delaying next month’s Palestinian election

The head of the Hamas slate of candidates for next month’s scheduled Palestinian election, Khalil al-Hayya, says that any postponement, however small, would undermine efforts to restore unity.

“A postponement would push the Palestinian people into the unknown, and I warn that this will complicate the situation, perpetuate and reinforce the division,” Hayya tells AFP.

“This would cause great frustration among the population and young people, and could lead to serious reactions,” says Hayya, the second most powerful Hamas leader in Gaza after political chief Yahya Sinwar.

Abbas called a parliamentary election across the Palestinian territories for May 22, to be followed by a presidential election on July 31, saying that it was the fruit of a reconciliation deal struck with Hamas last September after a decade of false starts.

But with his once-dominant Fatah movement under challenge from breakaway factions as well as Gaza’s ruling Islamists, there has been mounting speculation the 86-year-old president may yet again postpone the twin polls originally scheduled for 2010.

World leaders pledge to lower carbon emissions at US-led summit

World leaders including China’s President Xi Jinping, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel are addressing a virtual global summit on climate change hosted by US President Joe Biden.

Speaking from their home countries, the world leaders pledge action to lower carbon emissions, although they differ on details.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga emphasizes the global nature of the event, saying, “Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, everyone.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the effort “is not bunny hugging” but is about growth and jobs — and the survival of the planet.

Merkel calls the battle against climate change “a huge task.”

Netflix buys Israeli school shooting series ‘Blackspace’

Netflix has bought the rights to “Blackspace,” a new Israeli thriller set during a high school shooting.

The eight-part series follows a police investigation into a massacre of four students at an Israeli high school, carried out by masked killers. While the police at first suspect Palestinian workers present in the building, it becomes clear that the murderous act may have been carried out by students themselves.

Written by Anat Gafni and Sahar Shavit and directed by Ofir Lobel, “Blackspace” was produced by Chaim Sharir and Mosh Danon of Israel’s Drama Team, and Pascal Breton and Lionel Uzan of Federation Entertainment for Israeli channel Reshet 13.

“Blackspace” has also been sold to Germany’s RTL, NPO in the Netherlands and a streaming service in Latin America.

Health Ministry issues travel warning for 7 high-infection countries

The Health Ministry issues a travel warning to countries with high coronavirus morbidity rates, as well as some experiencing an outbreak of new variants.

According to the ministry, both vaccinated and non-vaccinated citizens should avoid travel to Turkey, India, Ethiopia, Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine and South Africa.

In addition to those countries, the ministry has recommended against unnecessary international travel.

Court rescinds restraining order on Likud activist who harassed Elkin’s wife, kids

The Jerusalem District Court on rescinds a temporary restraining order against a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who verbally harassed the wife and kids of Ze’ev Elkin, a right-wing lawmaker who left the ruling Likud to join a rival party.

“The court has ruled that it is my legitimate right to demonstrate,” says Rami Ben-Yehuda following the ruling.

Videos posted to Twitter earlier this week showed a group of Likud activists cursing and screaming at Elkin’s wife, Maria, as she stood by herself outside her home. “You’re a lunatic, you’re a liar, you’re a traitor,” screamed one Netanyahu supporter, later identified as Ben-Yehuda.

A pro-Netanyahu supporter who verbally attacked Maria Elkin, wife of New Hope MK Ze’ev Elkin, outside their Jerusalem home on April 19, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

“Your husband has betrayed Israel. You have betrayed Israel,” Ben-Yehuda continued, later adding that she “goes with Arabs” and “collaborates with Al Jazeera,” in reference to the international Arabic news channel. He also called her a “Russian traitor.”

Jordan releases 16 of 18 arrested over attempted coup

Jordan’s prosecutor has released 16 people accused of taking part in an alleged plot to destabilise the kingdom but kept in detention two key suspects, state media says.

The decision concerning suspects in the case “to destabilise security and stability in Jordan” was taken at the request of King Abdullah II, Al-Mamlaka television and Petra news agency reports.

However, state prosecutor General Hazem al-Majali says key suspects Bassem Awadallah, a former royal court chief, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, an ex-special envoy to Saudi Arabia, would remain in detention.

King Abdullah was quoted by the royal court as saying he had called for the release of “brothers” who were “misled, wronged, dragged behind this sedition” so they could be with family as soon as possible during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Jordan’s King Abdullah delivers his speech at the European parliament, in Strasbourg, eastern France, January 15, 2020. (Jean-Francois Badias/AP)

State media said the king made the move after lobbying by a number of key figures from across Jordan who asked him to show tolerance.

When the news of the alleged plot first broke earlier this month, Abdullah’s half-brother Prince Hamzah was suspected of involvement. But authorities said later he would not stand trial as his case had been resolved within the royal family.

Health ministry director: Indian variant could be less responsive to vaccine

In a briefing to reporters, the director-general of the Health Ministry says vaccines may be less effective against the “Indian variant” of the coronavirus, adding it has a number of mutations that make it more infections.

“We don’t feel comfortable with it,” Chezy Levy says.

The Health Ministry has so far confirmed seven cases of the variant among seven unvaccinated travelers who returned to Israel from abroad, without revealing where.

The majority of cases were identified through tests conducted at Ben Gurion Airport while the remainder were identified while the arrivals were still quarantining, national coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said earlier this week. He added that not very much is known about the new variant but that it appears to spread rapidly.

Russia to pull back troops, but keep weapons near Ukraine

Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu orders troops back to their permanent bases following massive drills amid tensions with Ukraine, but says that they should leave their weapons behind in western Russia for another exercise later this year.

“I consider the goals of the snap check of readiness fulfilled,” Shoigu says. “The troops have shown their capability to defend the country and I decided to complete the drills in the South and Western military districts.”

Shoigu says the troops should return to their bases by May 1, but he ordered to keep the heavy weapons deployed to western Russia as part of the drills for another massive military exercise later this year.

Ukraine’s president said the Russian troops’ pullback will help ease tensions and thanked international partners for their support.

“The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy writes on Twitter. He notes that Ukraine remains vigilant, but “welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence and deescalate the situation in Donbas.”

Head of US forces in Mideast blames ‘incompetence’ for Syrian missile that landed in Israel

The head of American forces in the Middle East supports the Israel Defense Forces’ claim that an errant Syrian anti-aircraft missile was responsible for the sirens heard in southern Israel last night.

Speaking before the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie says the incident “reflects incompetence in Syrian air defense, where they were responding to Israeli strikes on targets in Syria. I do not believe it was an intentional attack but just rather [a] lack of capability.”

McKenzie jokes that the surface-to-air missile went “ballistic, literally.”

Dutch PM opens musuem at one of Holland’s most infamous Nazi camps

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte inaugurates a museum on the former grounds of Camp Amersfoort, one of the Netherlands’ most infamous Nazi camps, 80 years after its construction.

“We are confronted here by the unimaginable suffering that happened in the place,” Rutte says at the opening. “We let the stories sink in and we learn from the lessons they offer to us today.”

National Monument Camp Amersfoort is a large, underground and dark space dominated by the portraits and personal stories of about 47,000 people who were imprisoned at the facility in the center of the Netherlands.

Jews being escorted by German troops to the Amersfoort Concentration Camp during World War 2. (Facebook)

At least 850 of the prisoners at Camp Amersfoort were Jews, according to Nazi documents, though the real number is probably much higher, the museum’s website states.

The Jewish prisoners were imprisoned briefly along with communists, dissidents, homosexuals and those who tried to evade forced labor. But Jewish prisoners were shipped within a few weeks at most to Westerbork, a facility in the eastern Netherlands where mostly Jews were imprisoned, and from there to death camps in Poland.

Jewish teen charged for breaking into US Capitol on January 6

The FBI files charges against a 19-year-old Brooklyn man for breaking into the US Capitol during the January 6 riot.

Dovid Schwartzberg confessed to breaking into the building along with the pro-Trump mob and recording several videos. A tipster informed the FBI after security cameras and social media video captured images of Schwartzberg, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap, inside the Capitol building.

Rioters loyal to US President Donald Trump storm the US Capitol in Washington, January 6, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

He turned himself into the FBI in New York on Tuesday and was released on bail.

Schwartzberg told FBI agents that he “wanted to be where the action was” and willingly entered the building on the day that Congress was meeting to affirm the results of the 2020 presidential election. The charges include violent entry, disorderly conduct and knowingly entering a restricted building.

Anti-Semitic incidents rise in Berlin, despite COVID lockdowns

The number of anti-Semitic incidents documented in Berlin last year increased by 13%, despite the city’s multiple COVID-19 lockdowns that have kept people at home.

Berlin’s Research and Information Center Antisemitism, or RIAS, recorded 1,004 anti-Semitic incidents in the German capital last year, 118 more than there were in 2019, RIAS writes in a report published this week.

RIAS was able to ascertain a motive in 49% of the cases it recorded in 2020. Of that portion, 27% was attributable to the far right. Almost 9% of the incidents were classified as connected to a conspiracy theory. Israel-related anti-Semitism and Islamist incidents accounted for more than 7% of the cases and another 3% was “political,” RIAS wrote.

Of the incidents RIAS recorded, 17 were physical assaults, compared to the 33 incidents of that category recorded in 2019. But the number of cases of anti-Semitic vandalism increased from 28 in 2019 to 43 last year.

Over 5 million Israelis now fully vaccinated against COVID after 2nd shot

Over 5 million Israelis have received two COVID-19 vaccine shots, according to new Health Ministry figures.

With close to 5,000 people receiving their second shot today, the total number of people to have been fully vaccinated stands at 5,003,113. The number of people to have received at least one shot is 5,372,417.

With Israel’s vast vaccine campaign showing results, just 113 new coronavirus cases were recorded since yesterday, bringing the total number of cases diagnosed since the start of the pandemic to 837,668.

In ‘actual’ suicide note, Meshi Zahav describes allegations against him as ‘a pack of lies’

Channel 12 news publishes parts of what it claims is an “actual” real suicide note left by disgraced Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi Zahav after earlier reports quoted what his family says is a fake letter.

“We live in a brutal world, more brutal than the animal world,” he wrote, referring to the allegations against him, according to the network.

“You brought against me a pack a lies, on the verge of absurd: pedophile, necrophile — only cannibal is missing,” the letter reportedly said.

The channel said there was no apology or remorse for his alleged sexual abuse in the letter.

Meshi Zahav remains in critical condition in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital.

Attorney general to announces charges against UTJ’s Litzman — TV

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is set to announce a string of criminal charges against United Torah Judaism No. 2 Yaakov Litzman, Channel 13 reports.

Litzman is suspected of fraud and breach of trust for using his office to illicitly provide assistance to alleged serial sex abuser Malka Leifer, as well as on a separate bribery charge for allegedly helping to prevent the closure of a food business that his own ministry had deemed unsanitary.

Mandelblit will announce the charges in the coming days, the network says.

In January, Litzman stepped down as chair of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party after 18 years at the helm.

High Court orders government to explain why ministries remain unmanned

The High Court of Justice orders the government to explain by Sunday why a number of ministerial positions remain unfilled, as Israel remains without a justice minister amid feuding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“The situation in which there are no permanent ministers creates a governing vacuum and the question is if a situation like this can continue,” Chief Justice Esther Hayut says during a hearing on the issue.

Besides the Justice Ministry, among the other posts that remain without ministers are the Science and Technology Ministry, the Social Welfare Ministry and the Higher Education Ministry.

There has been no justice minister since early this month after Gantz’s maximal 3-month term as acting justice minister expired. Netanyahu can’t take the role since he is a criminal defendant, and has blocked attempts to approve another candidate.

Poll: 49% of public in favor of direct vote for PM

A poll released by Channel 12 news finds that 49 percent of the public support Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to introduce a direct election for the prime minister, while 25% oppose it.

Netanyhau thrown his weight behind the idea as his other attempts at forming a government after last month’s elections have so far fallen flat.

If such an election were held, it could buy Netanyahu more time as prime minister and help consolidate his power. However, it would not change the party divisions in the Knesset, and he would still be short of a clear majority.

Russian doctors urge Navalny to ‘immediately’ end hunger strike

Alexei Navalny’s private doctors urge him to call off his hunger strike as soon as possible after the jailed Kremlin critic began refusing food on March 31.

Cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin and several other doctors said in a statement that they are asking President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic opponent “to immediately halt the hunger strike to preserve your life and health.”

Poll: Netanyahu leads in direct election for PM with 36%

A poll released by Channel 12 news asked respondents who they would vote for if a direct election for prime minister were to be held today.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out top with 36 percent, followed by Yair Lapid with 23%. Benny Gantz was in third with 9%; then both Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar each with 8%.

Netanyahu has been pushing a proposal to introduce such a direct election.

Jewish NYC councilman pleads guilty to tax fraud

Chaim Deutsch, a Brooklyn politician who chairs the Jewish Caucus of the New York City Council, pleads guilty to tax fraud.

Deutsch, a Democrat, filed a 2015 tax return that included “false and fraudulent information” related to outside income from his real estate management company, according to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Appearing in Manhattan federal court, he pleads guilty to one count of filing a false tax return and agreed to pay back $82,076 in taxes, plus interest. He faces up to one year in prison and maximum fine of $100,000 at his sentencing on July 29.

Deutsch did not return media requests for comment and did not say whether he would be stepping down from the City Council before term limits end his time in office after November.

Deutsch ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year in a campaign that relied on cultivating Orthodox Jewish and Russian immigrant voters in the southern parts of his district, which includes the heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Midwood.

Police clash with Arab protesters in Jerusalem as Jewish extremist group rallies

Violence is reported in Jerusalem near the Old City and Damascus Gate, as Arab protesters clash with police and hundreds of activists from a Jewish extremist group converge on the scene as well.

A police officer is injured in the face, after reportedly being hit by a rock thrown by an Arab rioter.

Hundreds of police are deployed at the scene. Police use flashbangs and water cannons to break up protests, with the sounds from the blasts rolling across the center of the capital.

Jerusalem has seen several days of violence after a number of assaults on Jews that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail. Along with the recent violence in Jerusalem toward Jews, there have also been attacks on Arabs, with chants of “death to Arabs” heard during the assaults.

Jewish extremist group Lehava called for a protest Thursday night in a show of “national honor.”

Several wounded, arrested as police clash with Arab, Jewish protesters in capital

Violent clashes are reported between right-wing and Arab protesters and police near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.

According to Channel 12, hundreds of activists of the extremist Lehava group broke through police barriers at the scene and were pushed back by officers.

Several people have been injured and several arrested amid the rioting.

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