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Hamas said to have prevented Islamic Jihad rocket fire after West Bank shootout

TV report says terror group wanted to launch projectiles from Gaza as response to gun battle in which 3 of its members killed

Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group's military wing in the city Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, April 2, 2022. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group's military wing in the city Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, April 2, 2022. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

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

Police detain 8 over rioting at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate amid Ramadan celebrations

Police say eight Palestinians have been detained during clashes at the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, as Palestinians gather to celebrate Ramadan.

Police say the suspects hurled stones and other items at officers. They add that some of the rioters were also involved in unrest last night as well. It is the third night in a row of clashes at Damascus Gate.

“Whoever chooses to disturb the order, riot, and engage in violence of any kind, harms first and foremost the large public of worshipers, merchants, and visitors, the vast majority of whom wished to celebrate Ramadan in peace and security, while maintaining freedom of worship,” police say in a statement.

“We will not allow those inciting and violent margins [of society] to disrupt order. We call on the public to mark the month of Ramadan legally, obey police instructions, and avoid violence and disturbances of any kind,” the statement adds.

Gunfire heard near Gush Etzion and northern West Bank settlement

Heavy gunfire is heard in the Gush Eztion area of the West Bank in the past hour, according to local authorities.

The military says the gunfire is from the Bethlehem area, and likely not aimed at troops or settlements.

Meanwhile, the settlement of Avnei Hefetz in the northern West Bank orders citizens to remain indoors after shots were allegedly fired from a Palestinian vehicle near the town.

There are no reports of injuries in either incident.

France announces expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats

PARIS — France says it will expel 35 Russian diplomats as part of a joint European action after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“France decided this evening to expel a number of Russian personnel with diplomatic status stationed in France whose activities are against our security interests,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.

A ministry source, who asked not to be named, says 35 Russian diplomats will be expelled.

“This action is part of a European approach,” the foreign ministry statement added. “Our first responsibility is always to ensure the safety of French people and Europeans,” it says.

Germany today expelled a “significant number” of Russian diplomats in what Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called a response to the “unbelievable brutality” the Kremlin had unleashed in Ukraine.

Berlin’s move, AFP has learned, involves 40 Russians. Lithuania said it was expelling Russia’s ambassador over Russian aggression in Ukraine.

There has been outrage across Europe over killings in the town of Bucha near the capital where dozens of bodies were found in mass graves or littering the streets near Kyiv over the weekend.

The Kremlin has rejected Western accusations that Russian forces were responsible.

Governor of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region says Russians preparing large assault

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian troops are preparing for a big attack in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, the local governor Sergiy Gaiday says on Telegram, urging a mass evacuation.

“We see that equipment is coming from different directions, they are bringing manpower, they are bringing fuel,” Gaiday says in a video statement.

“We understand that they are preparing for a full-scale big breakthrough,” he adds.

Gaiday urges residents to leave the region as soon as possible.

“Please don’t wait for your homes to be bombed,” he says in a separate video.

“Do not hesitate,” he adds, specifying that 1,000 people were evacuated today.

A senior Pentagon official says Russia has removed about two-thirds of the troops it had around Kyiv — who were mostly sent back to Belarus with plans to redeploy elsewhere in Ukraine.

New Israeli Air Force chief Tomer Bar takes up post

Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar takes over as the new head of the Israeli Air Force, replacing Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin after five years.

Bar, 52, previously led the military’s Force Design Directorate, which is tasked with overseeing the development of new combat and weapons techniques.

Norkin, who has led the air force since 2017, will retire from the military after some 37 years.

Hamas said to have prevented Islamic Jihad rocket fire after West Bank shootout

Gaza’s Hamas rulers prevented Palestinian Islamic Jihad from lobbing rockets toward Israel after three of the latter terror group’s operatives were killed in a West Bank firefight with Israeli security forces over the weekend, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Germany to expel 40 Russian diplomats after ‘unbelievable brutality’ in Bucha

Germany is expelling 40 Russian diplomats in response to the killings in Bucha and says further measures with partners are being prepared.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says today that the images received from the Ukrainian town following the withdrawal of Russian troops “shows an intent to destroy that goes beyond all boundaries.”

Baerbock says the Bucha images also reveal the “unbelievable brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.”

The German top diplomat says, “We must fear similar images from many other places occupied by Russian troops in Ukraine” and that “we must counter this inhumanity with the strength of our freedom and our humanity.”

She adds “it must also be clear that we must stand up for our freedom and be prepared to defend it.”

She says the Russian diplomats expelled “have worked here in Germany every day against our freedom, against the cohesion of our society,” and that their work is “a threat to those who seek protection with us.”

Baerbock says she told the Russian ambassador, “We will not tolerate this any longer.”

14 said arrested in Jerusalem over past 3 days for alleged attack plans, incitement

Security forces have arrested 14 East Jerusalem residents in the past three days on suspicion of planning attacks or inciting others to carry out attacks, Channel 12 news reports.

The report also says police believe that they can contain clashes at the Damascus Gate if they continue at the scale of the past two nights.

Separately, the network says Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas told senior members of his Fatah movement to help prevent any escalation in tensions.

Merkel defends 2008 decision to block Ukraine from NATO after Zelensky criticism

BERLIN — Former German chancellor Angela Merkel defends her 2008 decision to block Ukraine from immediately joining NATO, rejecting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s criticism as Russia’s invasion clouds her 16-year legacy.

Zelensky in a late-night address had described as a “miscalculation” a Franco-German-led decision at the NATO summit in Bucharest to not admit his country to the alliance despite a push from the United States.

“I invite Ms. Merkel and Mr. (Nicolas) Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years,” he said, referring to the alleged atrocities against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops that world powers have described as “war crimes,”

The Ukrainian president also accused the European leaders of seeking to appease Russia with their stance then.

But Merkel in a short statement issued by her spokeswoman today says she “stands by her decisions in relation to the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.”

“In view of the atrocities uncovered in Bucha and other places in Ukraine, all efforts by the government and the international community to stand by Ukraine’s side and to bring an end to Russia’s barbarism and war against Ukraine have the former chancellor’s full support,” adds the spokeswoman.

Germany had deemed it too early for Ukraine to join NATO in 2008 because it found that the political conditions were not met at that point.

Merkel, who retired from politics late last year after four consecutive terms in power, had once been hailed as the leader of the free world.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has exposed flaws in her legacy, with critics saying she left Germany and Europe vulnerable with her detente policy towards the Kremlin leader.

Netanyahu congratulates populist leaders of Hungary, Serbia on reelections

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu congratulates populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic after the two claimed victory in their countries’ respective elections yesterday.

“I’m sure the fruitful cooperation with Israel will continue under their leadership,” he says.

While serving as premier, Netanyahu developed ties with Hungary and other Central European nations, seeking to use their membership in the EU to influence moves relating to Israel. Serbia is not a member of the EU.

Orban said last summer that it was a “challenge” for him having Netanyahu out of office.

Lithuania expels Russian ambassador over alleged atrocities in Ukraine

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania announces that it will expel Russia’s ambassador and recall its envoy in Moscow in reaction to increasing signs that Russian forces may have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

The Baltic country also decides to close a Russian consulate in the port city of Klaipeda, where it has a large offshore LNG import terminal.

“Lithuania strongly condemned the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in occupied Ukrainian cities, including the brutal massacres in Bucha. All war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine will not be forgotten,” Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says today.

He adds that Lithuania’s ambassador to Ukraine is returning to Kyiv and that Lithuania’s European Union and NATO partners have been informed of its decision to expel the Russian ambassador. He calls on them to do the same.

In neighboring Latvia, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics says that Riga will narrow diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation, according to the Baltic News Service. No decision was made regarding reducing the ties.

Kohavi: IDF has foiled at least 10 attacks in past two weeks

Military chief Aviv Kohavi says the Israel Defense Forces has foiled at least 10 terror attacks in the past two weeks.

“At least 10 terror attacks have been prevented in the past two weeks thanks to intelligence and operations. Even at this moment, we are focused on thwarting further attacks,” Kohavi says at a ceremony for the new Israeli Air Force chief.

“This is the IDF’s main mission at the moment. We will act wherever, as required, and using all methods to stop terrorism,” he adds.

Gantz appears to criticize Lapid over Damascus Gate visit: ‘Let’s not do provocative things’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz appears to criticize Foreign Minister Yair Lapid over the latter’s visit to the Damascus Gate yesterday.

“There are a lot of guys who want to hang out in a lot of places and in all sorts of scenarios. Forethought for the trip is nice,” Gantz tells Radio 103FM. “Generally, without getting into the trip itself, let’s not do provocative things that undermine stability.”

He also notes Lapid was with the deputy security minister, saying it was “completely legitimate” for them to tour the Jerusalem site.

Gantz’s comments came after Lapid’s visit to the Damascus Gate, which regularly sees clashes between police and Palestinians, was criticized by the Palestinian Authority and Arab Israeli political leaders.

Biden urges war crimes trial against Putin over Bucha killings

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden calls for a war crimes trial against Russia President Vladimir Putin and says he’ll be seeking more sanctions after reported atrocities in Ukraine.

“You saw what happened in Bucha,” Biden says. He adds that Putin “is a war criminal.”

Biden’s comments to reporters come after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Bucha, one of the towns surrounding Kyiv where Ukrainian officials say the bodies of civilians have been found. Zelensky called the Russian actions “genocide” and called for the West to apply tougher sanctions against Russia.

The bodies of 410 civilians have been removed from Kyiv-area towns that were recently retaken from Russian forces, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova, said. Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of at least 21 people in various spots around Bucha, northwest of the capital.

European Commission Presient Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, tweets that the European Union will send investigators to Ukraine to help the local prosecutor general “document war crimes.”

Russia launches probe focusing on ‘false information’ about killings in Kyiv suburbs

A Russian law enforcement agency says it has launched its own investigation into allegations that Ukrainian civilians were massacred in suburbs of Kyiv which were held by Russian troops, focusing on what it calls “false information” about Russian forces.

The Investigative Committee claims Ukrainian authorities made the allegations “with the aim of discrediting Russian troops” and that those involved should be investigated over possible breaches of a new Russian law banning what the government deems to be false information about its forces.

Russian law enforcement has launched several investigations since Russian troops entered Ukraine, typically into incidents such as the shelling of areas held by Russia-backed separatists.

Absorption minister to visit Ukraine in bid to encourage further immigration

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata says she will fly to Ukraine tomorrow as part of efforts to encourage immigration to Israel amid the Russian invasion.

“There is a certain slowdown in arrivals of new immigrants. We’ll see how to deal with the issue,” she says at a press conference today.

Tamano-Shata also appears to take a swipe at the Finance Ministry.

“There’s a feeling that the ministry has one hand tied behind its back and the necessary funding still haven’t been released,”

Mariupol mayor says ’90 percent’ of besieged city destroyed

KYIV, Ukraine — The southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has been “90 percent” destroyed after being besieged by Russian forces, its mayor Vadym Boichenko says today.

“The sad news is that 90 percent of the infrastructure in the city is destroyed and 40 percent is unrecoverable,” Boichenko tells a press conference. Around 130,000 people remained trapped in the city, he says.

In Bucha, Zelensky says world will recognize killings as ‘genocide’

BUCHA, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says the killings of dozens of people in a town outside the capital Kyiv reclaimed from Russian forces will be designated as “genocide” by international leaders.

“These are war crimes and it will be recognized by the world as genocide,” Zelensky says during a visit to Bucha, where bodies were discovered strewn throughout the town after it was reclaimed by Kyiv’s army.

Bennett speaks with Modi after delaying India trip over COVID diagnosis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks by phone with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after postponing his planned trip to India this weekend because he contracted COVID-19.

According to a statement from Bennett’s office, the premier thanked Modi for condemning the recent deadly terror attacks in Israel. The two also discussed “global and regional issues, including the Iranian nuclear issue,” the statement says.

The two also agreed to work on finding an alternative date for Bennett’s trip, which was scheduled to highlight 30 years of official bilateral ties.

US urges suspension of Russia from UN rights council

GENEVA — The United States plans to seek a suspension of Russia from its seat on the UN’s top human rights body in the wake of rising signs that Russian forces may have committed war crimes in Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield says today.

Any decision to suspend Russia would require a decision by the UN General Assembly in New York.

Russia and the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France and the United States — all currently have seats on the 47-member rights council, which is based in Geneva. The United States rejoined the council this year.

Thomas-Greenfield mentioned the US plan in a meeting with Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca, her office says.

In New York, General Assembly spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak says today that no request for a meeting on the issue has been received yet.

Ukraine’s Zelensky visits Bucha following killing of civilians

BUCHA, Ukraine — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky visits the town of Bucha outside the capital Kyiv where dozens of corpses, some with their hands bound, were discovered after Russian forces withdrew.

“Every day, when our fighters enter and retake territory, you see what’s been happening,” the Ukrainian leader tells reporters in the town devastated by fighting, wearing a bulletproof vest and accompanied by military personnel.

Health minister Horowitz visits Israeli field hospital in Ukraine

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz visits the Israeli field hospital at Mostyska in western Ukraine, which has been treating patients since it opened over two weeks ago.

Horowitz is the first Israeli minister to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24.

Spokesman of PA leader Abbas condemns Lapid’s ‘irresponsible’ visit to Damascus Gate

A spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemns Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s “irresponsible” visit to Damascus Gate yesterday.

“The continuing actions of the occupation army, its police provocations, and the incursions of settlers [at the Temple Mount holy site] will lead the situation to explode,” Abbas spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh says.

Ted Cruz endorses Jewish candidate Josh Mandel in Ohio’s crowded GOP Senate primary

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Texas Senator Ted Cruz endorses former Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel in the heated Republican primary for an open US Senate seat, a potentially critical campaign boost just as early voting is set to begin in the Midwestern battleground.

Cruz’s decision could be particularly valuable among conservative voters in the absence of an endorsement in the race by Donald Trump, who has yet to weigh in despite candidates working hard to woo him — and he may not.

Cruz, who sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 that Trump won and may run again in 2024, is one of the highest-profile Republicans in the Senate. He and Mandel share an affinity for trying to exploit cultural divisions for political gain.

Polling shows Cleveland investment banker Mike Gibbons slightly edging Mandel at the top of the crowded GOP field vying to replace retiring Republican Senator Rob Portman. Also running in the May 3 primary are former state Republican chair Jane Timken, author and venture capitalist J.D Vance, state Senator Matt Dolan and entrepreneurs Mark Pukita and Neil Patel.

Early voting begins tomorrow.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Cruz says he chose Mandel because he will stand up to “radical democrats” who want to exploit crises facing the nation “to deliver socialism to America.”

“A United States Marine, Josh is a proven fighter for our American way of life, a champion for the unborn, and a stalwart advocate for our religious liberties,” Cruz says.

In an interview, Mandel says that if he is elected, he looks forward to “being reinforcements for conservative fighters like Ted Cruz.”

Police say Yamina MK questioned on suspicion of fraud, forgery

Police confirm Yamina MK Abir Kara was questioned today by anti-corruption unit for illegally casting a double vote in the Knesset last year.

According to a police statement, Kara is suspected of fraud, breach of trust and forgery.

Kara has maintained the double vote was an accident.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said to receive Israeli citizenship

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has received Israeli citizenship, the Ynet news site reports.

According to the report, Prokhorov arrived several days ago on a private jet from Switzerland and has since filed all the necessary paperwork to become a citizen under Israel’s Law of Return.

Prokhorov, who is listed by Bloomberg as Russia’s 12th richest individual with a net worth of $13.8 billion, has not been sanctioned by the US, EU or UK in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as have other Russian oligarchs over their ties to President Vladimir Putin.

He currently owns the largest gold producer in Russia and was a previous owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets basketball team.

Prokhorov also tried his hand in politics, running unsuccessfully in the 2012 Russian presidential elections, when Putin regained the presidency after a stint as prime minister.

Elon Musk takes 9% stake in Twitter, share price soars

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has taken a 9.2% stake in Twitter, purchasing approximately 73.5 million shares, according to a regulatory filing today.

Musk’s stake in Twitter is considered a passive investment, which means Musk is a long-term investor who’s looking to minimize his buying and selling of the shares.

Yet in recent weeks, Musk has raised questions about free speech on Twitter and asked whether failing to adhere to its basic principles undermines democracy.

He has also pondered starting up a rival social media network, and industry analysts were skeptical about whether the mercurial CEO would remain on the sidelines for long.

Twitter’s stock surged 25% before today’s opening bell.

Musk has said that he was “ giving serious thought” to creating a rival social media platform and has clashed repeatedly with financial regulators about his use of Twitter.

US seizes Viktor Vekselberg’s yacht after search by agents, Spanish police

PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain — The US government seized a mega yacht in Spain owned by an oligarch with close ties to the Russian president, the first in the government’s sanctions enforcement initiative to “seize and freeze” giant boats and other pricey assets of Russian elites.

Spain’s Civil Guard and US federal agents descended on the yacht at the Marina Real in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Associated Press reporters at the scene saw police going in and out of the boat this morning.

The seizure is confirmed by two people familiar with the matter. The people can’t discuss the matter publicly and speak to AP on condition of anonymity. A Spanish Civil Guard spokesman confirms that officers from the Spanish police body and from the FBI are at the marina searching the vessel this morning and says further details will be released later.

UN rights chief says she’s ‘horrified’ by Bucha killings, cites possible war crimes

GENEVA — The UN human rights chief says she is “horrified” by images of dead bodies in Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital, after Russian soldiers retreated, warning of possible war crimes.

“I am horrified by the images of civilians lying dead on the streets and in improvised graves in the town of Bucha in Ukraine,” Michelle Bachelet says in a statement.

“Reports emerging from this and other areas raise serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes, grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law,” she says.

In 8th annual competition, birders aim to photograph the most species in 24 hours

The eighth annual birdwatching contest in Eilat, southern Israel, kicks off, with competitors vying to photograph as many species as possible within 24 hours in a given area.

Organized by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the international organization Birdlife, the competition attracts birders of all ages from Israel and around the world.

The record, set in 2018, is the sighting of 183 species.

Funds raised in previous years have been earmarked to help the fight against illegal hunting in countries such as Georgia, Greece and Cyprus.

This year, the cash will go toward saving the European turtledove, which is in danger of extinction in Israel and globally.

Lapid to visit Athens to meet Greek PM, hold joint talks with FMs of Greece, Cyprus

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will fly to Athens tomorrow to meet with Greek leaders, his office announces.

His itinerary includes meetings with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias. He is also scheduled to hold a trilateral meeting with Dendias and Cypriot foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

The trip comes amid signs of warming ties between Israel and Turkey, a regional rival of Greece and Cyprus. Jerusalem has developed closer ties with Athens and Nicosia in recent years as its ties with Ankara soured, with the three countries cooperating on energy and holding joint military drills.

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