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As coalition teeters, snap polls show gridlock could continue after new election

Surveys on all three major TV networks show Likud gaining seats but lacking a clear path toward building a stable government, following defection of Yamina MK

Workers count votes in Israel's national elections wearing and divided in groups by sheets of plastic masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Workers count votes in Israel's national elections wearing and divided in groups by sheets of plastic masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

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

US commits to additional $100 million in missiles for Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman holds a FGM-148 Javelin, an American-made portable anti-tank missile, at a checkpoint near Kharkiv on March 23, 2022. (Sergey Bobok/AFP)
A Ukrainian serviceman holds a FGM-148 Javelin, an American-made portable anti-tank missile, at a checkpoint near Kharkiv on March 23, 2022. (Sergey Bobok/AFP)

A new US commitment of Javelin missiles means the West soon will have provided Ukrainian fighters with 10 anti-tank weapons for every Russian tank in their country, says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The US says it will give an additional $100 million for more Javelin missiles for Ukraine, and has provided $1.7 billion for Ukraine’s defense and aid since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

“In terms of what they need to act quickly and act effectively, to deal with the planes that are firing at them from the skies, the tanks that are trying to destroy… their cities from the ground, they have the tools that they need,” Blinken says of Ukraine’s forces. “They’re going to keep getting them, and we’re going to keep sustaining that.”

Gantz voices commitment to remaining in faltering coalition

Defense Minister Benny Gantz gives a press conference at IDF Central Command headquarters on March 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz gives a press conference at IDF Central Command headquarters on March 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says that he is working to stabilize the current government following the defection of Yamina MK Idit Silman this morning.

“I spoke with the prime minister today and we are working to try and preserve the government,” Gantz says following a meeting of his Blue and White faction. “Blue and White has been and will continue to be the most disciplined and central faction in the coalition.”

Gantz says that his party wants the government to remain in place “and in that sense nothing has changed since yesterday.”

At right-wing rally, Netanyahu calls on more coalition MKs to defect: ‘Come home’

Right wing activists call for the return of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a demonstration against the current government in Jerusalem, April 4, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
Right wing activists call for the return of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a demonstration against the current government in Jerusalem, April 4, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Thousands of right-wing demonstrators gather in Jerusalem as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a campaign speech.

“Everyone in the coalition with a heart and a conscience — come back home. Come back to the right,” Netanyahu says following the defection this morning of Yamina MK Idit Silman, leaving the coalition without a simple majority.

Netanyahu repeats his demand for the current government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, to go home.

Demonstrators chant “Bennett, go home.” A few of the rally’s many participants wear the black and yellow shirts associated with the ultra-nationalist Lehava movement.

“Go home, because you’re hurting the country’s Jewish identity,” Netanyahu says.

Netanyahu adds that the current government is not doing enough for “young settlement” in the West Bank, a right-wing term used to refer to Jewish hilltop outposts illegal under Israeli law.

“Go home because you’re weak against Iran and again terrorism,” the former premier says.

Snap polls show likely gridlock following a new election

Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party, and his wife Galit vote in the city of Ra'anana, Israel, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party, and his wife Galit vote in the city of Ra'anana, Israel, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Snap polls carried out in the wake of Yamina MK Idit Silman’s defection from the governing coalition show that despite Likud gaining seats, there is still no clear path for either side to build a government after a new election.

With Silman’s exit, the current government is teetering on the blink of collapse after losing its one-seat majority, holding just 60 seats at the moment.

According to a poll published on the Kan public broadcaster, Likud would receive 35 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 19 seats; Blue and White, Religious Zionism and Shas with 8; United Torah Judaism with 7; Joint List and Yamina with 6; Meretz, Labor and New Hope with 5; and Ra’am and Yisrael Beytenu with 4 each.

A poll published on Channel 13 shows Likud jumping to 38 seats from its current 30, and Yesh Atid receiving 17, with Blue and White getting 9, Religious Zionism 8, Yamina, Shas and UTJ 7, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor and the Joint List 6, Meretz 5, Ra’am 4 and New Hope not passing the electoral threshold.

On Channel 12 meanwhile, the poll shows Likud receiving 35 seats, Yesh Atid 17, Shas 9, Blue and White 8, UTJ, Labor and Religious Zionism 7, the Joint List 6, Yamina, Meretz, Ra’am and Yisrael Beytenu 5, and New Hope 4.

In all three of the polls, the Netanyahu bloc would not be able to form a majority coalition without the support of a party currently in the government.

Biden denounces ‘major war crimes’ in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden speaks to reporters upon arriving at Fort McNair in Washington on April 4, 2022. (Mangel Ngan/AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks to reporters upon arriving at Fort McNair in Washington on April 4, 2022. (Mangel Ngan/AFP)

US President Joe Biden denounces the widespread killing of Ukrainian civilians allegedly by Russian troops in Bucha as “war crimes.”

“I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures from Bucha, just outside of Kyiv: bodies left in the streets as Russian troops withdrew, some shot in the back of the head with their hands tied behind their backs,” Biden says at a labor union event.

“There’s nothing less happening than major war crimes,” he says.

UN to vote tomorrow on suspending Russia from human rights council

Photos from the war in Ukraine are shown on a screen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York City on April 5, 2022. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)
Photos from the war in Ukraine are shown on a screen as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York City on April 5, 2022. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

The Unted Nations General Assembly will vote tomorrow on whether to suspend Russia from the UN’s leading human rights body.

The move was initiated by the United States in response to the discovery of hundreds of bodies after Russian troops withdrew from towns near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, sparking calls for its forces to be tried for war crimes.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield made the call for Russia to be stripped of its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in the wake of videos and photos of streets in the town of Bucha strewn with corpses of what appeared to be civilians.

General Assembly spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak says the assembly’s emergency special session on Ukraine will resume at 10 a.m. EDT tomorrow when the resolution “to suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation” will be put to a vote.

Blinken says Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is a terror organization

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media before departing for Brussels from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, April 5, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media before departing for Brussels from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, April 5, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is a terror organization as reports swirl about the possibility of Washington delisting the group from its terrorist designations as part of an overall nuclear deal.

Asked in an interview on NBC whether or not the IRGC is a terrorist organization, Blinken replies: “So, they are.”

Pressed if they will continue to be so, Blinken says: “I’m not going to get into the details of where we are on the negotiations. I would say simply that I’m not overly optimistic at the prospects of actually getting an agreement to conclusion, despite all the efforts we put into it and despite the fact that I believe we would be – our security would be better off. We’re not there. We’ll have to see if we can close.”

Iran’s demand for the IRGC to be delisted as a terrorist organization — something vehemently opposed by Israel — has reportedly been a key sticking point in the final negotiations over a return to the Iran nuclear deal.

Bennett declares he intends to maintain government stability despite defection

MK Idit Silman, the coalition chair, pictured with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during voting in the Knesset on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Idit Silman, the coalition chair, pictured with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during voting in the Knesset on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following an emergency meeting of his Yamina faction, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declares that the continued goal is a stable coalition.

“The main thing we need to currently be dealing with is the stability of the faction and of the coalition,” he says in a statement from his party following the meeting. “I spoke with all of the party leaders — everyone wants to continue with this government. This government is working on behalf of the citizens of the country.”

The prime minister says that there is “an opportunity here to take this event, to learn from it and to fix the gaps that have been created… the alternative is more elections and maybe more elections after that, and a return to the days of dangerous instability.”

Bennett did not publicly criticize Yamina MK Idit Silman for her decision this morning to defect from the government, leaving it teetering on the brink of dissolution without a clear majority.

“Idit suffered through persecution for months, verbal harassment at the worst level” by supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu and Bezalel Smotrich, he says. “She described to me the threats to the workplace of her husband and to the Bnei Akiv [youth group] of her kids. In the end she broke.”

Bennett slammed at party meeting for using phrase ‘West Bank’ last month

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

At an emergency party meeting convened earlier today after the surprise defection of Yamina MK Idit Silman, members of Naftali Bennett’s own party reportedly tore into the prime minister for use of the phrase “West Bank” last month.

“It can’t be that you used the phrase ‘West Bank,'” MK Nir Orbach reportedly told Bennett at the party meeting, according to Hebrew media reports of leaks. “It has nothing to do with the other parties in the coalition, it’s paying a price in our own ideological home, you put me in an impossible situation.”

Right-wing figures reject the use of the term “West Bank,” which refers to the area as the western bank of the Jordan River, and instead use the phrase Judea and Samaria, the biblical term for the region.

Bennett, a former settler leader, used the phrase at a press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month.

US working with allies to gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine

Dozens of bodies wait to be buried at a cemetery in Bucha, outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Dozens of bodies wait to be buried at a cemetery in Bucha, outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The US Justice Department is working with European allies and prosecutors in Ukraine to investigate potential war crimes after Russia’s invasion.

Attorney General Merrick Garland says that US prosecutors across the world are working to collect evidence and to “collect the information on atrocities that we have all seen in both photographs and video footage.”

He points specifically to photos and videos from Bucha, where Associated Press journalists have witnessed evidence of killings and torture, including charred bodies.

But Garland stops short of calling for a tribunal like the one set up to hold Nazi leaders to account after World War II. He says US prosecutors in Paris are meeting with the French war crimes prosecutor, and that other Justice Department lawyers had met with prosecutors in Europe “to work out a plan for gathering evidence with respect to Ukraine.”

Smotrich says fall of government is ‘only a matter of time’

Head of the Tkuma party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of Channel 20 in Jerusalem, on March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Head of the Tkuma party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of Channel 20 in Jerusalem, on March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Religious Zionism MK says that the fall of the current government after the defection of Yamina MK Idit Silman is only a matter of time.

“The right won majorly in the [last] election, there is an overwhelming majority for the right in the Knesset,” he tells Channel 12 news, adding that lawmakers must put “the State of Israel at the center and not the individual.”

Smotrich says that “the replacement of the government is just a matter of time, and it will happen.”

Silman’s defection from the coalition leaves it with just 60 seats, one short of a majority, but the future of the government remains in question with several possible ways forward.

Smotrich did not confirm or deny that he had helped write the letter of resignation that Silman submitted this morning.

US slaps sanctions on two of Putin’s adult daughters

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Mahmud-Ali Kalimatov, the head of the Republic of Ingushetia during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, March 30, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Mahmud-Ali Kalimatov, the head of the Republic of Ingushetia during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, March 30, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The White House announces sanctions on two daughters of Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s war on Ukraine, saying family members were known to hide the Russian president’s wealth.

It also declares “full blocking” sanctions on Russia’s largest public and private financial institutions, Sberbank and Alfa Bank, and says all new US investment in Russia is now prohibited.

In addition to Putin’s adult daughters, the new sanctions also target the family of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

Ukraine envoy walks out of Lapid-Gantz briefing over use of word ‘conflict’

Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk, interviewed at his country's embassy in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2022. (Times of Israel)
Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk, interviewed at his country's embassy in Tel Aviv, March 22, 2022. (Times of Israel)

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk walks out of a briefing given by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, after Gantz calls the Russian invasion a “conflict” and discusses Israel’s ties with both sides.

“Mr. Gantz started to talk about the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and that they are talking with both Ukrainian and Russian friends or colleagues,” Korniychuk tells The Times of Israel.

“Listen, if on the 42nd day of the war, with the bloodshed and massacre that Russia has been doing against innocent Ukrainian people, you are still calling this a conflict, there is really nothing to talk about,” Korniychuk continues.

Gantz’s spokesperson denies that he used such language. “He spoke about dialogue with both countries and about mediation efforts,” she says.

No one from Lapid’s or Gantz’s office has reached out to him, Korniychuk says.

The two senior ministers were discussing Israel’s stance on Iran, Ukraine, terrorism and more with 80 foreign ambassadors in Herzliya.

“It’s really sad for me, because this gentleman clearly has lots of the information,” laments Korniychuk. “Israel is having a unique position from the rest of the Western world. This is the only country that behaves like that,” he continues.

Korniychuk also says that Gantz refused to meet with a high-level Ukrainian delegation that was visiting Israel in recent days. “He says he has no time to meet.”

Sergey Shefir, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky, former ambassador to Israel Hennadii Nadolenko, and Jewish parliamentarian Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk were part of the visiting delegation.

Lapid speaks to Chinese counterpart about Iran, Ukraine

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (second from left) speaks at the Fifth Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation meeting, January 24, 2022. (MFA)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (second from left) speaks at the Fifth Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation meeting, January 24, 2022. (MFA)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the Iranian threat and the war in Ukraine, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Lapid calls for a speedy end to the war in Ukraine and the need for a diplomatic solution, according to the statement. The two also discuss bilateral ties, cooperation over the COVID-19 virus, and strengthening the government-to-government relationship through the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation.

Lapid updates Wang on last week’s Negev Summit and other “important regional developments.”

In January, at the Joint Committee virtual meeting, the countries signed a three-year plan to regulate cooperation and government-to-government dialogue through 2024.

The Joint Committee was established in 2014 as a comprehensive bilateral dialogue framework for senior government officials. January’s meeting was the fifth time the committee has convened, and the first since 2018.

The meeting was part of a series of events marking 30 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and China.

Putin claims Ukraine responsible for ‘crude and cynical provocation’ in Bucha

Communal workers carry a body of a civilian man in town of Bucha, not far from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on April 3, 2022. (Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
Communal workers carry a body of a civilian man in town of Bucha, not far from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on April 3, 2022. (Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses Ukrainian authorities of being behind “crude and cynical provocations” in the city of Bucha in conversation with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the Kremlin says.

“Vladimir Putin informed [Orban] about the situation regarding talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives and also gave [his] principled assessment of the Kyiv regime’s crude and cynical provocation in the city of Bucha,” the Kremlin says, after Ukrainian officials said hundreds of civilians were found dead when Russian troops withdrew from the town.

NATO chief warns Ukraine war could last ‘months, even years’

A view of the Mariupol theater damaged during fighting in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, on April 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)
A view of the Mariupol theater damaged during fighting in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, on April 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says there is no sign Russian President Vladimir Putin has dropped “his ambition to control the whole of Ukraine” and the war could last for a long time.

“We have to be realistic and realize that this may last for a long time, for many months, for even years,” Stoltenberg says ahead of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. “And that’s the reason why we need also to be prepared for the long haul, both when it comes to supporting Ukraine, sustaining sanctions and strengthening our defenses.”

Estonian PM says Israel should push back on Putin’s ‘de-Nazification’ claims

Kaja Kallas, leader of the Reform Party casts her ballot in a polling station during Estonia's general election in Tallin, on March 3, 2019. (Raigo PAJULA / AFP)
Kaja Kallas, leader of the Reform Party casts her ballot in a polling station during Estonia's general election in Tallin, on March 3, 2019. (Raigo PAJULA / AFP)

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas says Israel should more strongly condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s false claim that he is seeking to “de-Nazify” Ukraine as a pretense for Russia’s invasion.

In an interview with the Walla news site, Kallas declines to criticize Israel overall for its careful stance on the ongoing war and attempts to not alienate Moscow.

“Every country decides on their own policies,” she says. “I understand that President Zelensky has asked your prime minister to be the mediator, so you can’t be a mediator if you have chosen a side in this war, so I understand where you are coming from.”

Kallas says it is important that “we are on the right side of history,” but adds that it is “really not up to me to say” if Israel should be doing more to assist Ukraine.

However, she adds, “one thing that is very specific to Israel is that Putin is using this argument of de-Nazification, and I think this deeply undermines the sufferings of your people, and you could be more vocal about this, saying that this is not OK, it’s really playing on the suffering that the Jews have had.”

Kyiv tells residents of east Ukraine to evacuate ‘now’ or ‘risk death’

A man holds fragments of a rocket launched by the Russian forces at night, a rocket crater behind him, in the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A man holds fragments of a rocket launched by the Russian forces at night, a rocket crater behind him, in the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukraine tells residents of the country’s eastern regions to evacuate “now” or “risk death” due to a feared Russian attack.

“The governors of the Kharkiv, Lugansk and Donetsk regions are calling on the population to leave these territories and are doing everything to ensure that the evacuations take place in an organized manner,” deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk writes on Telegram.

Poland issues public guidelines on preparing for ‘crisis and war’

Refugees walk at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Refugees walk at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland, after fleeing the war from neighbouring Ukraine, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Poland’s government issues a guide that instructs the public how to prepare for a crisis like war and what to do during attacks with weapons ranging from conventional to chemical and nuclear.

Posted on the Government Security Center’s website this week, the “Be Ready – Guide for Times of Crisis and War” gives detailed instructions in written form and videos.

European Union and NATO member Poland supports neighboring Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s military invasion and is calling for European imports of Russian energy sources to stop. The tough stance has raised concerns among some ordinary Poles.

The guide describes public warning systems in the event of shelling, advises people to stock up on water, food, medication, batteries and flashlights in case of power cuts. It also includes advice on preparing for an evacuation, seeking protection during shelling or shooting, and what to do during a chemical or nuclear attack.

The center says it is obliged to prepare the public for various difficult scenarios and the guide is not necessarily due to the war in Ukraine. Previous guides addressed situations like floods and harsh winter weather.

Hungary’s Orban says he urged immediate ceasefire in call with Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a joint news conference after their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a joint news conference after their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to put in place an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, and invited the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine to meet the Russian leader in Budapest.

“I suggested to President Putin that he declare an immediate ceasefire,” Orban tells a press conference, saying he had spoken to the Russian president. “His response was positive, but with conditions,” Orban says, without elaborating.

The Hungarian leader, reelected on Sunday, adds that he had invited Putin to Budapest along with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for talks.

Bennett convenes meeting of Yamina faction – without Silman

Naftali Bennett, right, and Ayelet Shaked seen in the Knesset plenum during voting for the president in Jerusalem on June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Naftali Bennett, right, and Ayelet Shaked seen in the Knesset plenum during voting for the president in Jerusalem on June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett convenes a meeting of his Yamina faction, which has narrowed to just five seats following the dramatic defection of MK Idit Silman.

Silman followed in the footsteps of fellow Yamina MK Amichai Chikli in exiting the coalition, but remaining in the Knesset, leaving the narrow 61-seat coalition with only 60 votes and no majority.

The future of the current government hangs in the balance with no clear coalition and the potential of another election on the horizon.

COVID czar: Cases will likely rise over holidays, but masks could be gone by summer

People some with face masks shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People some with face masks shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on February 8, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

COVID czar Salman Zarka says he expects virus cases to rise over the upcoming Passover holiday, but that Israel’s indoor mask mandate could be gone by the summer.

“I’m very concerned. I imagine that infections will rise over the holidays and the masks will stay with us for a while longer, past May 1” when the mandate is currently set to expire, Zarka tells reporters during a briefing, saying a “sixth wave” is possible after the holiday, which is often marked by large family gatherings.

However, he adds, “I believe that this summer will be mask-free. If a new variant does not appear in the next two-three months we will discuss lifting more restrictions.”

Israel has maintained an indoor mask mandate largely since the start of the outbreak, with the exception of a period of less than two weeks last summer.

Zarka notes that despite the high rate of infections from Omicron, Israel has not succeeded in developing herd immunity. “We are not succeeding in developing herd immunity because every variant has the ability to infect,” he says. “The danger of the next variant will continue to worry us.”

3 Palestinians detained in Old City, one of whom was found with knife

A knife found on a Palestinian suspect in Jerusalem's Old City on April 6, 2022. (Israel Police)
A knife found on a Palestinian suspect in Jerusalem's Old City on April 6, 2022. (Israel Police)

Police say officers detained three Palestinians from Nablus who were illegally in Israel, one of whom was carrying a knife.

The officers questioned the three men, all in their 20s, in Jerusalem’s Old City, during which a knife fell from the person of one of the suspects, police say.

The men have been taken to a local police station to be questioned. Police did not say if they were suspected of planning an attack.

Palestinians from the West Bank must obtain a special permit to enter Israel, including Jerusalem. During upcoming Ramadan prayers on Friday, Israel has eased these restrictions to allow children, women, and some men to freely visit the Temple Mount.

Iran says it gave answers on suspect uranium traces to UN’s nuclear watchdog

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran says it supplied the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog with documents explaining the discovery of suspect enriched uranium traces, state media reports, the first acknowledgement from Tehran that it had answered the agency’s long-standing demands.

The head of Iran’s civilian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, says Iran on March 20 sent the requested explanations about several former undeclared sites in Iran where there was evidence of past nuclear activity.

The deadline came as part of an agreement announced last month to resolve the problem of undeclared uranium particles in Iran by June — long a source of tension between Tehran and the UN atomic watchdog.

The thorny issue is separate from now-stalled talks to revive Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which collapsed four years ago when former president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, Iran has vastly expanded its nuclear work.

UK’s Johnson says Bucha killings in Ukraine not ‘far short of genocide’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference following a special meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24, 2022. (Henry Nicholls/Pool via AP)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference following a special meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels, Belgium, on March 24, 2022. (Henry Nicholls/Pool via AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the alleged massacre of Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops in the town of Bucha “doesn’t look far short of genocide to me.”

“I have no doubt that the international community, Britain very much in the front rank, will be moving again in lockstep to impose more sanctions and more penalties on Vladimir Putin’s regime,” he tells reporters.

Dutch government places hold on 12 yachts ordered by Russian oligarchs

The Bermuda-flagged luxury yacht "Solaris" belonging to Roman Abramovich sails near the Aegean coastal resort of Bodrum, Turkey, March 21, 2022. (IHA via AP)
The Bermuda-flagged luxury yacht "Solaris" belonging to Roman Abramovich sails near the Aegean coastal resort of Bodrum, Turkey, March 21, 2022. (IHA via AP)

The Dutch government says it is making sure a dozen yachts ordered by super-wealthy Russians are not delivered to anyone as part of sanctions imposed over the war in Ukraine.

Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra writes in a letter to parliament that the oft-complicated ownership structures of such yachts are being actively investigated and that no such vessel will be allowed to leave its construction yard.

Many Russian oligarchs that are now targeted by European Union sanctions have looked to the Netherlands, a traditional seafaring nation, for the super-luxury yachts that the world’s wealthiest people sometimes covet.

“The situation is, at the moment, that in five yards there are 12 yachts under construction for so-called Russian ultimate beneficial owners,” Hoekstra says. “Because of the current export measures, these vessels should not be delivered.”

Smotrich reportedly helped Silman write resignation letter

(L) Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich  speaks during a Knesset faction meeting, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90) and (R) Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(L) Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset faction meeting, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90) and (R) Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina MK Idit Silman’s surprise resignation letter was reportedly partially written by none other than Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich, a staunch critic of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

According to Kikar Hashabbat reporter Ishay Cohen, “the bureau of Bezalel Smotrich” is the creator of the document and had worked on it, according to the document properties. While being interviewed on the Kan public radio this morning, Smotrich refused to confirm or comment on claims that he prepared the document.

Others have suggested that Silman was simply using an office computer that formerly belonged to Smotrich to write the letter.

Last week, in the wake of a string of deadly terror attacks, Smotrich harshly blamed Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked for setting up a government along with “terror supporters,” a right-wing code name for elected MKs from the Islamist Ra’am party. Both Bennett and Shaked vehemently rejected the accusation, saying that terror in Israel did not start nine months ago when their government was established, and accused Smotrich of cynically exploiting the tragedies.

Boosted security granted to Yamina MK Silman after defection

MK Idit Silman, chair of the Knesset Health Committee leads a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MK Idit Silman, chair of the Knesset Health Committee leads a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Additional security is reportedly being posted to protect Yamina MK Idit Silman, who defected from the coalition this morning in a dramatic announcement.

According to Hebrew media reports, Silman will receive a personal bodyguard after a series of threats against her via social media.

Silman, who was the coalition whip, announced today that she is leaving the previously 61-seat coalition, meaning it no longer has a majority in the Knesset and a new election is likely.

Horowitz: We can and must resolve this coalition crisis

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz leads a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan SindelFlash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz leads a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan SindelFlash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, the Meretz party head, insists that the current coalition crisis after the defection of Yamina MK Idit Silman is not terminal.

“The crisis in the coalition should and can be resolved,” Horowitz tweets. “Meretz is a responsible partner and we are committed and will continue to serve in the government, because this is an important government that works and promotes moves that have been neglected for years.”

Horowitz adds that “this is how everyone should behave who puts the good of the state and Israeli society first.”

Silman — whose defection means the current government loses its narrow 61-seat majority — harshly criticized Horowitz earlier this week for a letter he sent urging hospitals to uphold a High Court ruling allowing hametz — leavened bread — to be brought into hospitals during the week of Passover, when consuming or owning bread is forbidden under Jewish law.

Gantz, Lapid talk terror and Iran in address to 80 ambassadors stationed in Israel

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) at an event for foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel, March 6, 2022 (Sivan Shahor Anava/GPO)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) at an event for foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel, March 6, 2022 (Sivan Shahor Anava/GPO)

Even as the governing coalition is thrown into turmoil, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz lay out Israeli positions on key diplomatic and security issues to 80 foreign ambassadors stationed in the country, including the recent wave of deadly terror attacks.

He tells the diplomats that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror cell killed in an overnight raid near Jenin early Saturday morning was under surveillance for two days. He also discusses the recent case of a terrorist who wrote on Facebook about his intention to carry out an attack, and the man’s arrest in Israel the following day.

At the same time, Gantz lays out the measures Israel has taken to strengthen the Palestinian Authority over the past year, and calls on the international community to invest in the Palestinian economy as a means of ensuring stability.

Turning to Iran, the defense minister calls for the implementation of a robust “Plan B” to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

Gantz joins Lapid in condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and war crimes committed in the country, and the foreign minister lays out the humanitarian aid Israel is providing to Ukrainians.

With Ramadan underway, and Passover and Easter upcoming, Lapid describes the steps Israel is taking to ensure freedom of worship in the country during the holidays.

Joint List chief says party won’t be a ‘lifeline’ for Bennett’s coalition

Joint List party chairman MK Ayman Odeh attends an Internal Security Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Joint List party chairman MK Ayman Odeh attends an Internal Security Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh says that the opposition Arab parties “will not be a lifeline” for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, as the razor-thin coalition weathers its most severe crisis since its establishment last June.

“We are apparently heading for elections,” Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh tells the Haaretz daily.

The coalition was thrown into turmoil this morning after Knesset whip Idit Silman announced her intention to join the opposition. The current Israeli government now has only 60 backers, leaving it without a simple majority to pass legislation.

Odeh appears to rule out joining the coalition in order to preserve the frail and fractious government that replaced former premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This is a bad government, one we cannot be a part of. And another important issue needs to be taken into account: Bennett, [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked, and others will not agree for us to support such a government,” Odeh says.

The Joint List party chief does not explicitly rule out supporting the coalition from outside, however.

In the 1990s, ultra-Orthodox parties withdrew from the government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, causing a coalition crisis.

The Arab parties supported Rabin’s coalition from without in the hopes that he could reach a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

But Arab Israeli lawmakers are far less likely to support Bennett, a right-winger who rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Many right-wing coalition lawmakers would also likely reject support from the Joint List, which they see as a red line.

The Joint List is composed of three factions: Odeh’s Communist Arab-Jewish Hadash party, the Palestinian nationalist Balad party and Ta’al, led by Ahmad Tibi.

Balad party chief Sami Abou Shehadah, widely seen as the most radical lawmaker in the group, also tells Nazareth-based Radio al-Shams that the party “will not provide a safety net for either Bennett or Netanyahu.”

But Abou Shehadeh also says that the party will meet in the coming days to discuss “all the options available to us.

Question marks still hover over how Ta’al’s two parliamentarians, Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi, will respond. Both are widely respected lawmakers and have voiced a willingness to work with the coalition in the past.

Ta’al party officials could not be reached for comment.

PM to meet with all members of Yamina, coalition party heads throughout the day

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a military base near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, April 5, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a military base near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, April 5, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett concludes his meetings with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Yamina MK Nir Orbach.

The premier is set to meet with all members of his Yamina party as well as the heads of the parties within his coalition later in the day.

The premier is holding emergency meetings after his party member whip Idit Silman said she was leaving the coalition and amid speculation that others from Yamina may follow.

Fireworks canceled at central Independence Day ceremony out of concern for veterans

People watch fireworks during a show to mark Israel's 71st Independence Day in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
People watch fireworks during a show to mark Israel's 71st Independence Day in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

There will be no firework display at the nation’s central Independence Day ceremony on May 4 due to concerns over the impact they have on military veterans, the Ynet news site reports.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper makes the announcement and calls on local authorities to follow suit and scrap fireworks displays.

One of the main events in Israel for Independence Day is the traditional torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, which regularly features soldiers performing elaborate foot drills and concludes with a firework display.

There has been concern for years over the impact the Independence Day fireworks have on military veterans and others with PTSD from wars or terror attacks. Another date of concern has traditionally been the Purim festival, which some mark with the use of firecrackers.

Shaked to meet with Bennett, with speculation of further coalition resignations rife

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at the first government conference, at the Israeli parliament, on June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at the first government conference, at the Israeli parliament, on June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has been invited to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Shaked has for years been rumored to be eyeing a return to the Likud party, having begun her career as a staffer for Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Additionally, she has frequently clashed with coalition partners from left-wing parties.

However, she has a fractious relationship with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara — last year she was heard in leaked recordings describing them as “dictators” and “tyrants” with a “lust for power,” adding that the opposition chief only cared about his ongoing corruption trial.

Bennett to meet with Orbach as he attempts to shore up support within Yamina

Yamina MK Nir Orbach attends a Knesset committee meeting on September 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina MK Nir Orbach attends a Knesset committee meeting on September 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will meet with Yamina MK Nir Orbach in Tel Aviv in the coming hours.

Orbach has often wavered in his support for the coalition and is widely seen to be another potential defector.

Army Radio reports Orbach has been consulting with advisers in recent hours about possible next steps.

In Knesset speech, Netanyahu calls on more coalition lawmakers to defect

Speaking at a special Knesset session convened to discuss recent terror attacks, Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu repeats his congratulations to Idit Silman on her announcement that she is quitting the coalition.

“Today we are happy – congratulating MK Idit Silman on making the right decision. We all accept her with a warm embrace and open arms. Come home – to the real right, to the national camp,” Netanyahu says.

“Join Idit. Together we will form a strong national government that will take care of all Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu says in a speech that is not taking place in the plenum, which is currently undergoing renovations.

The Likud leader calls the government “weak” and says other coalition members should resign.

Only around a third of lawmakers appear to be present.

Terror suspect with explosive device arrested in overnight West Bank raid, police say

Explosive device police say they found in a terror suspect's scooter during arrest raid in Jenin, April 6, 2022 (Israel Police)
Explosive device police say they found in a terror suspect's scooter during arrest raid in Jenin, April 6, 2022 (Israel Police)

Police say undercover officers arrested a terror suspect in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank at dawn.

During the arrest, an explosive device was found hidden in the suspect’s scooter near his home, police say.

The Palestinian man has been taken to the Shin Bet security agency for further questioning.

The arrest comes as part of Operation Breakwater — targeting individuals suspected of planning future attacks, as well as some thought to be tied to recent deadly attacks in Israel.

Silman has quit the coalition — could Netanyahu’s Likud return to power?

Benjamin Netanyahu attends a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset, on January 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu attends a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset, on January 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Now that Idit Silman has resigned from the government and is reportedly set to join Likud in the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu’s party has three potential paths for its possible return to power.

The first option would be for it to pass a law to dissolve the Knesset. To pass, this would require the support of at least 61 of the 120 members of Knesset.

The bill would therefore necessitate the widespread backing of the current opposition, including members of the six-strong Joint List of Arab lawmakers, and the support of some lawmakers not currently in the opposition, for example Silman and rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli.

With the Knesset in recess, scheduling a vote on such a bill is thought to be unlikely before Passover at the end of next week, but could be arranged soon after that.

(If such a bill were to pass, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would be automatically appointed prime minister for the transition period through new elections and the establishment and swearing-in of a new government.)

The second option would be for Likud to form an alternative government in the current 24th Knesset, although it appears it would struggle to do so — Likud has 29 seats, Religious Zionism has seven, Shas has nine and United Torah Judaism has seven — a total of 52.

Even if Yamina were to split apart, and Silman and Shikli were able to convince other defectors to join them, such as Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and MK Nir Orbach, that would only take a Likud-led bloc to 56 seats out of the 120-member Knesset. It would still need further support from within the current coalition ranks, such as, potentially, disaffected members of Benny Gantz’s eight-strong Blue and White party.

The final and third path it could take is currently irrelevant: It could prevent the passing of a budget thus causing the coalition to fall; however, that option will only be possible next year.

Haredi party chief denies saying Netanyahu shouldn’t lead opposition

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in the Knesset on November 24, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) in the Knesset on November 24, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

The leader of an ultra-Orthodox party denies making comments that implied he thought the opposition should consider picking a leader other than Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

“What was published in my name, that we supposedly do not support Netanyahu for prime minister, is not true,” Gafni says in a statement, according to the Israel National News site.

Gafni is responding to a Ynet report that said the United Torah Judaism leader believes the opposition should think carefully when deciding who could form a potential government after Yamina’s Idit Silman quit the coalition.

Last year Gafni said that perhaps the Likud party should have replaced Netanyahu as leader in order to avert the formation of the current government.

As the coalition was sworn in last June, Gafni said Netanyahu stepping aside to let a different Likud lawmaker form a government “may have been the right thing to do.”

In resignation letter, Silman tells Bennett ‘it’s time to recalculate the route’

MK Idit Silman, the coalition chair, pictured with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during voting in the Knesset on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Idit Silman, the coalition chair, pictured with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during voting in the Knesset on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 releases a copy of the letter Yamina’s Idit Silman sent to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, announcing her resignation from the coalition.

“I call on you and the rest of my friends: it’s time to face the truth,” Silman writes.

“We tried, but it’s time to recalculate the route and try to form a Jewish and Zionist government,” she says. “Let’s join hands and express the values for which we were elected.”

“I am attentive to the sincere protest of the electorate whose support we won and whose votes elected us, as well as the pain of those who did not vote for us but belong to the national camp,” Silman writes. “I am terminating my membership in the coalition.”

Haredi party chief says opposition needs to look at who has best chance at forming new coalition – report

UTJ MK Moshe Gafni reacts during a session in the plenum hall of the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni reacts during a session in the plenum hall of the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The leader of an ultra-Orthodox party says the opposition should think carefully when deciding who could form a potential government after Yamina’s Idit Silman quit the coalition.

“We should also take stock of who is most worthy and who has the most chance of forming a government immediately without having to go to the polls,” says United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni, according to the Ynet news site.

Last year Gafni said that perhaps the Likud party should have replaced Benjamin Netanyahu as leader in order to avert the formation of the current government.

As the coalition was sworn in last June, Gafni said Netanyahu stepping aside to let a different Likud lawmaker form a government “may have been the right thing to do.”

Horowitz cancels meeting with Palestinian Authority counterpart — report

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz leads a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan SindelFlash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz leads a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan SindelFlash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz has canceled a planned visit to Ramallah today to meet with his Palestinian counterpart, the Ynet news site reports.

Sources told the site that the meeting had been arranged in recent days between Horowitz and Mai al-Kaila, but that the visit was now canceled in the wake of Idit Silman’s resignation from the coalition.

Silman is reportedly eager to join the opposition Likud party and become health minister in any future government the faction could form.

Horowitz and Silman clashed this week on the issue of allowing non-kosher-for-Passover food into hospitals during the upcoming holiday.

Netanyahu to meet with advisers amid reports Silman may join Likud

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 14, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on February 14, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is set to hold talks with key advisers in the coming hours, Army Radio reports.

According to unnamed senior officials in the Likud party, Silman may join the faction if she is given a reserved slot on the slate and the promise of the Health Ministry portfolio.

Silman alone joining the party is unlikely to give the opposition the majority it would require to form a government.

Silman offered reserved slot on Likud slate, promise of health portfolio

Coalition whip MK Idit Silman (L) and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz attend a press conference at the Knesset, October 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Coalition whip MK Idit Silman (L) and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz attend a press conference at the Knesset, October 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Yamina’s Idit Silman has reached an agreement with the Likud party in which she would receive a reserved spot on the party slate and would be made health minister in a potential government, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

There is no public comment from Silman on the reports, which appear to have come from information leaked by Likud.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to back Silman when she announced she was leaving the coalition, saying he wished to “congratulate her on behalf of the masses of the people of Israel who yearned for this moment.”

Silman, who served as coalition whip until her dramatic announcement this morning, also held the position of head of the Knesset’s Health Committee.

She clashed this week with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz for ordering hospitals to allow patients and visitors to bring hametz, or non-kosher-for-Passover food, onto their premises during the upcoming Passover holiday — though the minister was only instructing institutions to abide by a previous top court ruling on the matter.

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