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Police phone hacking of key witness in Netanyahu case could force trial delay

Court will need to decide whether to halt proceedings, as claims that a key witness’s phone was hacked could affect his upcoming testimony; prosecutors pressing police for answers

Security guards stand outside the District Court in Jerusalem. May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Security guards stand outside the District Court in Jerusalem. May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Border Police troops come under fire near Jenin

During “routine security activity” earlier this evening, an off-road vehicle with several Palestinian gunmen drives near officers near Jenin and opens fire, a police spokesperson says.

Border Police troops return fire, but the gunmen flee the area, police say.

Police say no injuries are caused, but the officers’ vehicle is damaged by the gunfire.

Forces are now scanning the area.

Defense Ministry said to freeze export licenses for Israeli ‘cyber attack’ tech

Amid the growing controversy over NSO Group and other Israeli spyware software being used by various countries to remotely hack into phones — including reportedly those of dissidents and opposition activists in oppressive regimes — the government is freezing export licenses for Israeli “cyber attack” tech, Channel 13 reports.

The unsourced report says the Defense Ministry will also not renew licenses for states in the region that are currently due to renew them, as it conducts an in-depth review into their usage.

The report does not say whether this includes licenses for NSO or other phone hacking spyware.

TV report: Israel aided in US effort to track down Islamic State chief

Channel 13 cites unnamed foreign sources as saying Israel “was involved and aided” in the US efforts to track down Islamic State chief Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

The network says that “it can be assessed, according to security sources, that Israel assisted in the intel tracking” of Qurayshi “and helped, utilizing its sources in Syria, to create that intelligence window” that allowed the US to act.

The second leader of Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. (Courtesy)

US says new intel shows Russia plotting false flag attack

The US has obtained intelligence indicating that the Russian government developed a plan to stage a false attack that would depict the Ukrainian military or its intelligence forces assaulting Russian territory to help establish a pretext for military action against Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official says.

The scheme included the production of a graphic propaganda video that would show staged explosions and would use corpses and actors depicting grieving mourners, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment and speaks on the condition of anonymity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting via a videoconference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on January 12, 2022 (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

The plan, which was revealed in declassified intelligence shared with Ukrainian officials and European allies in recent days, is the latest allegation by the US and Britain that Russia is plotting to use a false pretext to go to war against Ukraine.

The US has not provided detailed information backing up the intelligence findings. The official says that the Biden administration is making a concerted effort to publicize the intelligence in the hopes that it dissuades Russia from moving forward with an invasion of Ukraine.

Police phone hacking of key witness in Netanyahu case could force trial delay

The Jerusalem District Court will likely need to decide on Monday whether to halt Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial until police and prosecutors can clarify the extent to which phone hacking was used in the cases against the former prime minister.

Channel 12 news notes it is highly likely the trial will see delays, as revelations that a key witness’s phone was hacked could affect his testimony and the wider trial.

So far reports have indicated that police, lacking approval, accessed data from the phone of Shlomo Filber, a former director-general of the Communications Ministry and longtime confidant of Netanyahu who is a state’s witness in Case 4000.

Channel 12 reports this evening that Filber’s phone was accessed in 2017. Police brass have reportedly told justice officials that the data was downloaded accidentally and was never given to investigators in the Netanyahu cases.

The Jerusalem District Court seen on January 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s attorneys have demanded to know exactly how widespread the use of the spyware was, what use was made of the materials, and where the materials were kept. Prosecutors have responded that they are examining the matter.

Filber is set to begin his testimony in about two weeks. His testimony could very well be delayed until all material relating to him is given to the defense and the court.

If it turns out that phones of other witnesses were accessed, this could have even greater repercussions for the trial.

However, speaking to Channel 12, criminal attorney Boaz Koenig notes that in Israel, unlike the US, evidence obtained illegally is not necessarily inadmissible in court.

Netanyahu on Wednesday evening called the revelations an “earthquake.”

Likud’s faction chair Yariv Levin termed them “a giant Watergate affair, here in Israel.”

Food giant Osem nixes planned increase in product prices

After saying it would delay a planned price hike of various products by several months, food giant Osem announces it is nixing the planned increase altogether, amid ongoing public pressure.

The company says it is doing so despite “an unprecedented rise in operating costs in the past year,” out of “a true desire to be attentive to the feelings of the Israeli public.”

Phone hacking in Netanyahu case said to hurt trust between police, prosecution

Channel 13 news reports the revelation of police allegedly hacking the phone of a key witness in the trial against Benjamin Netanyahu has sparked a crisis of confidence between police and the state prosecution.

The report says police initially assured the prosecution that no spyware had been used to access phones in the Netanyahu case, and only changed their tune after justice officials insisted that they check the matter.

Police are now insisting that there was only a single case in which phone data was accessed without approval — reportedly the phone of state’s witness Shlomo Filber — but the prosecution is not necessarily convinced.

Former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber arrives for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, on February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Gantz on US op that killed IS chief: ‘An important message to the world’

MANAMA — Defense Minister Benny Gantz hails the United States’ overnight operation against Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in northern Syria, saying it sent a message not only to the terror group but to the world about America’s willingness and ability to conduct bold operations.

“It broadcasts an important message to the Middle East. The message is that there is the operational and strategic determination of the utmost significance. As a rule, the American modus operandi is to do big actions, and they have the ability to do so,” Gantz tells reporters at the end of his visit to Bahrain.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Haaretz Democracy Conference in Jaffa, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“I think it is very important, it is an important message to the world — that when America wants to do something, it can,” he says, in an apparent nod to Iran and the prospects of an Israeli, or Israeli-American, strike on its nuclear program.

Asked if the US had told Israel about its plans to go after al-Qurayshi in advance or if Israel was involved in the operation, Gantz refuses to comment.

“I won’t get into details about the conversations with the Americans. At the end of the day, this was an American operation, an independent and important one, including actions on the ground,” he says.

Top Boris Johnson aide quits after PM’s ‘scurrilous’ attack on Labour leader

An influential aide to Boris Johnson quits after the British prime minister made a widely debunked claim attacking the opposition Labour leader over a notorious pedophile.

The departure of Johnson’s long-term ally Munira Mirza as head of Downing Street’s policy unit deepens the prime minister’s woes, after police launched an investigation into a series of lockdown-breaching parties.

He has faced demands to resign over the “partygate” affair, and came under fresh attack after trying to link Labour leader Keir Starmer to veteran TV host Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011 aged 84.

In parliament on Monday, Johnson shocked many on his own side when he aired a conspiracy theory prevalent among far-right groups that Starmer had personally failed to prosecute Savile.

Mirza says in her resignation letter that “there was no fair or reasonable basis for that assertion,” according to The Spectator magazine.

Johnson’s remark in parliament “was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse,” she says. “You are a better man than many of your detractors will ever understand, which is why it is so desperately sad that you let yourself down by making a scurrilous accusation against the leader of the opposition.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Anglesey, North Wales, on January 27, 2022. (Carl Recine/Pool Photo via AP)

Foreign Ministry summons Ukraine’s envoy for reprimand over angry comments

The Foreign Ministry has summoned Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk for a reprimand over his Facebook post, The Times of Israel has learned.

The message was conveyed by Gary Koren, Deputy Director-General of the Eurasia and the Western Balkans Division.


Ukraine’s ambassador ‘appalled’ by Israeli FM’s comments on Russia standoff

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk rails at Foreign Minister Yair Lapid after the latter said yesterday he does not believe there will be a violent confrontation between Ukraine and Russia.

“At the moment, the [Israeli] assessment is that we don’t see a violent confrontation soon. I also don’t think a world war is about to start there,” Lapid told Axios.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Korniychuk says he is “deeply appalled by the recent remarks of Mr. Lapid regarding his vision of the ‘Russia-Ukraine conflict.’

“I would like to remind Mr. Minister that it is not a conflict — it is a WAR, that Russia aggressively and cynically conducts against Ukraine. It is a shame, that Mr. Lapid has not noticed the war in the center of Europe which lasts for eight years already.”

Ambassador of Ukraine to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk comments on the recent statements made by Israeli Foreign Minister…

Posted by Embassy of Ukraine in the State of Israel on Thursday, February 3, 2022

“Unfortunately, Mr. Minister reiterates rhetoric of Russian propaganda and ignores the disturbing massages from his own strongest allies – USA, Britain and EU — regarding the high possibility of full scale Russian military invasion into Ukraine in coming weeks.

He adds: “I would suggest Mr. Lapid to have a phone conversation not only with the minister of foreign affairs of aggressor state but also communicate with Ukrainian side, to see the real picture instead of using Russian clichés.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 6, 2021. (Oliver Fitoussi/Flash90)

Report: Second Israeli company exploited iPhone flaw to hack into phones

A second Israeli company beyond NSO Group exploited a flaw in iPhone security to hack into phones, numerous sources tell Reuters.

Five individuals with knowledge of the matter say QuaDream gained the ability last year, around the same time as NSO, letting the companies break into the phones without the user needing to click any link.

Bill Marczak, a security researcher with Citizen Lab, tells Reuters that the company’s so-called “zero-click” abilities appear to be “on par” with NSO’s.

Illustrative image of the passcode screen of an iPhone. (ymgerman/iStock by Getty Images)

French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in hospital after ‘minor’ stroke

Jean-Marie Le Pen, a French far-right veteran whose daughter is hoping to unseat President Emmanuel Macron in elections just over two months away, has been hospitalized after a “minor” stroke, aides say.

Le Pen, 93, was admitted to the hospital late Wednesday as a “precaution” and is expected to return home this weekend, his longtime adviser Lorrain de Saint Affrique says.

“Medical exams have shown there’s no immediate risk,” he says, adding that the “minor” attack occurred during a dinner Monday at his home outside Paris, which saw him lose his vision “for a minute or a minute and a half.”

French founder of the far-right Front National party Jean-Marie Le Pen poses during a photo session at his home in Saint-Cloud, on January 14, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)

Palestinians confront winter COVID surge fueled by Omicron

Palestinians are facing a winter coronavirus surge driven by the Omicron variant, placing stress on the medical system even though vaccines are widely available.

The Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry reported over 70,000 active cases in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip today, more than twice the number at the height of previous surges.

The real figure is likely much higher, as Omicron tends to cause milder symptoms, especially in vaccinated patients, and many people are testing at home.

At least 268 people have been hospitalized in the parts of the West Bank administered by the Palestinian Authority, including 80 in intensive care and 24 people on ventilators. Gaza currently has at least 63 serious cases.

The PA has reported at least 4,859 deaths in the West Bank and Gaza since the start of the pandemic.

A health care worker takes a nasal swab sample from a Palestinian woman in a COVID-19 testing center, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022 (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Biden says IS leader died in ‘act of desperate cowardice’

US President Joe Biden describes the death of the Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quryashi, who blew himself up during a US raid in Syria, an “act of desperate cowardice.”

“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others in the building, he chose to blow himself up… rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed,” Biden says in remarks from the White House.

Israeli executive at Amnesty: Apartheid report problematic, lacks strong foundation

An Israeli executive at the Israeli branch of Amnesty International speaks out against the organization’s scathing report on the Jewish state, which deemed it an “apartheid” regime.

Tal Gur-Arye, resource development director at Amnesty, writes in a Facebook post that he is “not content with this report,” whose conclusions are “problematic, to say the least.”

“While there is undoubtfully an institutional system of discrimination against Palestinian citizens, the claim that this amounts to apartheid, does not enjoy a strong foundation in international law, academia, and civil society, yet alone the same claim made about Palestinians residing in other countries,” he says.

He says he attempted to influence the report and that his positions were heard but generally not accepted.

As promised – This week has not been easy, and it has followed an exceptionally complicated period,…

Posted by Tal Gur-Arye on Thursday, February 3, 2022

He adds: “My support to Amnesty International as a movement has not waivered, and I believe that the movement promotes global change in a direction that is right and just. Despite my strong disagreement with this specific report, I will continue my work in the organisation.”

Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Burqa on December 17, 2021 (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Netanyahu lawyers demand to know what materials were acquired via spyware

Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers have appealed to the Jerusalem District Court to instruct prosecutors to reveal precisely what material was gathered as part of the investigations into the former premier using phone-hacking software.

The request comes in light of reports that at least one person tied to the case was hacked by police without court approval.

Watch Biden’s remarks on death of Islamic State leader in US op in Syria

US President Biden is about to give live remarks on the special operation in Syrian that killed the leader of Islamic State. The press briefing will be livestreamed here.

Bennett lauds US killing of IS leader: ‘The world is a safer place now’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praises the US for the Syria operation that killed the leader of Islamic State.

“The world is a safer place now… I commend our great ally the United States and the brave American soldiers for executing this daring operation.”

Netanyahu attorney: Olmert’s demand for psychiatric review slanderous, blackmail

The Netanyahu family’s lawyer responds to former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s demand that the family be examined by a psychiatrist as part of their libel lawsuit against him.

Olmert has refused to back down from comments he made about the family’s sanity, and has said they should be forced to reveal their medical records and undergo an examination if they wish to disprove his assertions.

The family’s attorney writes to the court: “Unfortunately, instead of the defendant backing down, letting go and expressing remorse, he continues to file slanderous requests… This is a blatant attempt at blackmail whose clear intent is to dissuade the plaintiffs from defending their rights.”

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert arrives for a court hearing on the lawsuit of the Netanyahu family against him, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, on January 10, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool)

Meretz MK: We won’t allow authorization of Evyatar outpost, period

MK Yair Golan of the left-wing Meretz party says his coalition faction “will not allow” the establishment of an authorized settlement in the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, “period.”

“We will not allow Evyatar to be established, period,” he tells Ynet. “We entered this government while swallowing a mammoth-sized pill because it was decided that a yeshiva would be allowed to operate there. To now go for a further step of establishing a community there — we won’t let it happen, and that needs to be clear to anyone who wants this government to continue to exist.”

Deputy Economy and Industry Minister Yair Golan, a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, in his office at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2022. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

News broke Wednesday that former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit had approved a compromise deal between the government and settlers to legalize Evyatar in his final hours in office on Tuesday. The move, which is hotly controversial among the ideologically diverse government coalition, still requires the final approval of Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Labor too has warned that approving the outpost will threaten the stability of the coalition.

WSJ: US believes Iran’s nuclear program too advanced for 2015 deal to be effective

Washington believes the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran can no longer achieve the key condition of keeping Tehran one year away from a breakout to a nuclear bomb, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The US assesses that the time Iran would need to build a bomb if it decides to do so is now much less, the report says. This assessment has been shared by various Israeli officials who have said they believe Iran would need only a few short months at this point.

The report says this likely means American officials cannot agree to a return to the previous accord, and may be demanding alterations to account for the advancements in the nuclear program.

In tit for tat, Moscow shutting down Deutsche Welle bureau in Russia

Russia says it will close the bureau of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and revoke its employees’ accreditations in Russia in response to Berlin’s ban on the German-language channel of Russian state TV network RT.

The Russian foreign ministry says in a statement it will also “terminate the satellite and other broadcasting (output) of Deutsche Welle” on Russian territory.

NATO says Russian buildup in Belarus is biggest in 30 years

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expresses concern that Russia is continuing its military buildup around Ukraine, and that it has now deployed more troops and military equipment to Belarus than at any time in 30 years.

Russia now has more than 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, raising concern that Moscow might invade again, as it did in 2014, and destabilize the Ukrainian economy. Russian officials deny that an invasion is planned.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talks speaks during a joint press with Sweden and Finland’s Foreign ministers after their meeting at the Nato headquarters in Brussels on January 24, 2022. (JOHN THYS / AFP)

“Over the last days, we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus. This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg tells reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

He says Russian troop numbers in Belarus are likely to climb to 30,000, with the backing of special forces, advanced fighter jets, Iskander short-range ballistic missiles and S-400 ground-to-air missile defense systems.

Louis C.K. to do 3 Tel Aviv gigs this month

Though he remains something of a pariah in the US, comedian Louis C.K. is returning to Israel this month for three shows.

Currently available tickets for the shows in Tel Aviv are very expensive, starting at some NIS 1,000 ($300) a pop.

Biden says Islamic State’s leader killed in overnight special forces op in Syria

The US says Islamic State’s current leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in the overnight special forces operation in Syria.

“Last night at my direction, US military forces in northwest Syria successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our Allies, and make the world a safer place,” US President Joe Biden says in a statement.

“Thanks to the skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi—the leader of ISIS. All Americans have returned safely from the operation. I will deliver remarks to the American people later this morning. May God protect our troops.”

A senior US official says the IS leader blew himself up during the operation.

The second leader of Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, born Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi (Courtesy)

The White House issues a photo of the president and vice president monitoring the operation.

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern tests positive for COVID

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern has tested positive for COVID-19.

Stren says in a statement he is quarantining but feels good and is continuing to work remotely.

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern speaks at a Yesh Atid party conference in Shefayim, September 22, 2021. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Rights group slams Lebanon for ‘flawed’ murder probes

Human Rights Watch accuses Lebanon of “flawed” assassination probes and urges donors to review millions of dollars in aid to security forces in a country where crimes often go unpunished.

“The unsolved murders and shoddy homicide investigations are a reminder of the dangerous weakness of Lebanon’s rule of law in the face of unaccountable elites and armed groups,” Aya Majzoub of Human Rights Watch says.

Lebanon is gripped by political and economic dysfunction to the point that even investigations into the 2020 Beirut port blast which killed more than 200 people and ravaged entire neighborhoods have yet to identify a single culprit.

The US-based watchdog reviewed preliminary investigations into the murders of four people since 2020, including Lokman Slim, an intellectual and outspoken critic of the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement.

End of pandemic in sight for Europe, WHO says

Two years after the outbreak of COVID-19, Europe could soon enter a “long period of tranquility” due to high vaccination rates, the milder Omicron variant and the end of winter, the WHO says.

WHO Europe director Hans Kluge says the respite is “a ceasefire that could bring us enduring peace… This context leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquility.”

Widespread immunity thanks to vaccines and infections, combined with the change of season, also puts Europe in a better position to fend off any resurgence in transmission, he says, “even with a more virulent variant” than Omicron.

World Health organization Director for Europe Hans Kluge arrives for a press conference in Rome, Italy, February 26, 2020. (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

“It is possible to respond to new variants that will inevitably emerge — without re-installing the kind of disruptive measures we needed before.”

Prosecutors conducting ‘in-depth review’ of phone hacking claim in Netanyahu trial

The state prosecution says it is carrying out “an in-depth review” into media reports that phone hacking was used by police without approval in Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal cases.

The prosecution has updated the attorneys of defendants in the cases on the inquiry.

Yesterday’s report claimed that cops hacked the phone of a key person involved in the cases against the former prime minister and extracted a large amount of data.

According to Channel 12, the person may have been Shlomo Filber, a former director-general of the Communications Ministry and longtime confidant of Netanyahu and a state’s witness in Case 4000.

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