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UN says North Korea enhanced its nuclear, missile programs in 2019 — report

Confidential report said to conclude Pyongyang breached United Nations sanctions, also illicitly imported refined petroleum, exported coal

This image made from video of an undated still image broadcast in a news bulletin by North Korea's KRT on May 15, 2017, shows leader Kim Jong Un at what was said to be a missile test site at an undisclosed location in North Korea. North Korea on Monday, May 15, 2017, boasted of a successful weekend launch of a new type of "medium long-range" ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead. (KRT via AP Video)
This image made from video of an undated still image broadcast in a news bulletin by North Korea's KRT on May 15, 2017, shows leader Kim Jong Un at what was said to be a missile test site at an undisclosed location in North Korea. North Korea on Monday, May 15, 2017, boasted of a successful weekend launch of a new type of "medium long-range" ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead. (KRT via AP Video)

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

Israeli woman on Japanese cruise ship suspected to have coronavirus

An Israeli woman with a fever on board a quarantined cruise ship off the Japanese coast is awaiting the results of a test for coronovirus, Hebrew-language media reports.

The woman is not named. Eight to 14 Israelis are believed to be on the vessel.

National Japanese broadcaster NHK reported earlier today that around 60 more people on board the quarantined Diamond Princess moored off Japan have been diagnosed with novel coronavirus.

Russian-backed Syria offensive displaced close to 700,000 since December — UN

A Russia-backed regime offensive on the last major rebel bastion in northwestern Syria has displaced close to 700,000 people since December, the United Nations tells AFP.

The violence in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo has displaced 689,000 people, says David Swanson, spokesman for the United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office, OCHA.


Australian parliament to call for extradition of Leifer in child sex abuse cases

The Australian Parliament is expected to pass a motion calling for Israel to immediately extradite a former school principal wanted on dozens of charges of child sex abuse.

Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem, February 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The motion has been introduced by lawmakers from both the government and opposition in the House of Representatives and increases pressure on Israel to end a legal wrangle over Israeli-Australian dual citizen Malka Leifer that has drawn out over six years.

Several government and opposition lawmakers have argued in favor of the motion, but the vote will be held at a later date. No lawmaker has spoken against the motion.

“I say to anyone, both in Australia and Israel, that anyone who is assisting further delays is choosing to help an adult evade consequences after they’ve robbed children of innocence and dignity,” Josh Burns, an opposition lawmaker who proposed the motion with government lawmaker Dave Sharma, tells Parliament.

“Anyone who who is helping Leifer should be held to account as well,” he adds.

— AP

Iran opposition figure goes on trial — report

An Iranian opposition figure who had been living in exile before being arrested in a Revolutionary Guards operation has gone on trial in Tehran, Fars news agency says.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced the arrest of Ruhollah Zam in October, describing him as a “counterrevolutionary” who was “directed by France’s intelligence service.” It did not specify where he was arrested.

Zam, who reportedly lived in Paris, ran a channel on the Telegram messaging app called Amadnews. He is accused by authorities of playing an active role in anti-government protests sparked by economic hardship during the winter of 2017-18.

Telegram shut down Amadnews in 2018 after Iran demanded it remove the account for inciting an “armed uprising.”

At a court hearing, the prosecution read Zam’s indictment containing 15 counts, says Fars, which is close to ultra-conservatives.

Iranian state television announces meanwhile that it will broadcast a “documentary” about Zam this evening.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Iran to stop broadcasting videos of “confessions” by suspects, saying they “violate the defendants’ rights.”


Five Turkish soldiers killed by Syrian regime fire in Idlib — reports

Five Turkish soldiers have been killed by Syrian regime artillery fire in the northwestern province of Idlib, local media reports.

Another five soldiers were wounded in the assault and the military retaliated, the Turkish NTV broadcaster says quoting the defense ministry. Last week, seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian were killed in regime shelling in Idlib.


Maryland school probes Nazi flag seen hanging in window

Officials for a public school in Maryland are investigating after a Nazi flag was pictured hanging in a classroom window over the weekend.

Witnesses saw the flag while attending a basketball game at Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick and photos of it quickly spread online, US news outlets report.

The Nazi flag was used in a World War II history class and left hanging in the window, visible to the outside, Frederick County Public Schools superintendent Theresa R. Alban says in a statement obtained by news outlets.

Alban says officials will “take appropriate action” today to figure out what led up to the flag being hung there.

“The flag was removed as soon as our administrators were made aware. An apology was sent to the community,” Alban tells WTTG-TV. “This does not reflect the values of our school system.”

Principal Daniel Lippy says in an email to the school community that the administration has taken steps “to ensure that this never occurs again.”

— AP

Man stabbed to death in Ashdod; circumstances unclear

A 20-year-old man is stabbed to death in the coastal city of Ashdod, in a suspected murder.

Initially reported to be seriously wounded, the man succumbs to his wounds.

The circumstances of the incident are not immediately clear.

Russian envoy condemns alleged Israeli strikes in Syria as ‘provocative’

Russian ambassador to Syria Alexander Efimov slams alleged Israeli strikes in Syria, the latest of which killed more than 20 Syrian and Iranian military officials.

“The Israeli raids are, of course, provocative and very dangerous for the situation in Syria,” Efimov says in an interview with Sputnik Arabic, according to an English translation by Syrian news site Al-Masdar. “The rockets are falling not only in the areas bordering Israel, but also reaching areas deep in Syria, in the eastern part of the country and even in residential areas in Damascus. It is regrettable that civilians become victims of these raids.”

“A flagrant incident occurred during the Israeli attack on the night of February 6, when a plane carrying about 172 passengers came under Syrian air defense fire during the response. It is good that they were able to redirect it to the Hmeimim Airbase at the appropriate time,” Efimov says, echoing an accusation voiced by Moscow’s Defense Ministry.

“In addition to the clear violation of Syrian sovereignty and the real threat to the lives of innocent people, all of this increases the possibility of conflict over Syria and runs counter to efforts to achieve stability and a political settlement,” he adds.

Netanyahu: Israel will only annex Jordan Valley with US support

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will only annex the Jordan Valley with US approval, not unilaterally.

During a tour of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, Netanyahu adds that the annexation does not depend on approval from the Palestinians.

Netanyahu says the move is being delayed because an Israeli-US team is working on the exact mapping of the territory.

With Red Cross mediation, Israel returns Syrian man’s remains to his family

Israel facilitates the transfer of a Syrian man’s remains back to his home country through the Quneitra border crossing in the Golan Heights after his body washed ashore in Israel a few months ago, the Red Cross says.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it served as a “neutral mediator” between Israel and Syria, which are technically still at war with one another, in order to return the man’s body to his family for burial.

“The transfer today will allow the family to finally mourn their loved one in accordance with their custom and to allow the family to know of their loved one’s location,” the ICRC says.

A Red Cross spokesperson says the body was found in Israeli waters after the man drowned at sea. A DNA test was used to determine his identity, and his family was contacted. Following coordination between the two sides and the United Nations peacekeepers who serve along the border, the body was sent into Syria through the Quneitra crossing.

“We thank the authorities on both sides for their assistance in carrying out this action,” the Red Cross says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Iran: US killing of Soleimani weakens fight against Islamic State

The head of Iran’s nuclear program says the US killing of a high-ranking Iranian general has weakened the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group in the region.

Ali Akbar Salehi tells a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna that last month’s drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani showed “the US administration has not yet come to its senses in recognizing the realities on the ground.”

Washington targeted Soleimani, who headed Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force, saying that he was planning attacks on Americans. In his role, Soleimani was also critical to efforts to mobilize militias in Iraq to fight the Islamic State group, and Salehi calls him “the most instrumental element in combating ISIS.”

Tehran retaliated for the killing of Soleimani by launching a barrage of missiles on on two Iraqi military bases hosting American troops. There were no fatalities. Salehi reiterates. However, that Iran is prepared to do more.

“Be it known as my country strongly retaliated once, it will never hesitate to strike back when necessary,” he says.

— AP

France condemns Iran satellite launch, urges Tehran to respect obligations

France condemns a bid by Iran to put a satellite in space, urging Tehran to abide by international obligations on its controversial ballistic missile program.

“France condemns this launch which calls on technologies used for ballistic missiles and, in particular, intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the French foreign ministry says in a statement after Iran said it “successfully” launched a satellite yesterday but failed to put it into orbit.

Recalling Iran’s obligations under a 2018 UN Security Council resolution, the ministry adds: “Iran’s ballistic program hurts regional stability and affects European security. France calls on Iran to fully respect its international obligations in this matter.”


Incendiary balloons found in Beersheba, Sdot Negev

Police say more incendiary balloons have been found in Israel after they were apparently launched from the Gaza Strip by terrorists.

One bundle attached to a suspected explosive device was found in the Sdot Negev region, police say, and the other is located on the outskirts of the city of Beersheba.

Sappers are called in to neutralize the threats.

Balloon launches have intensified since the unveiling of the US peace plan last month.

Palestinians withdraw request for Security Council vote on US Mideast plan – diplomats

The Palestinians have abandoned their request for a vote at the UN Security Council tomorrow on rejecting the US Middle East peace plan, over a lack of international support, diplomats say.

Introduced by Indonesia and Tunisia, the resolution risked not having nine out of 15 votes in its favor, the minimum required for adoption provided there is no veto by a permanent member, the diplomats tell AFP.


Netanyahu admits he made Bennett defense minister for political reasons

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says openly that he appointed Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett as defense minister for the purpose of preventing the latter from joining forces with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

The admission comes during a campaign event streamed online.

Netanyahu says that after previous elections, Gantz tried to build a coalition by luring several MKs from Netanyahu’s religious right-wing bloc of supporters. He doesn’t name them, asking the crowd to “guess” who they are, but then leaves no room for doubt.

“I thought I need to make a swift move,” he says. “I appointed a defense minister.”

More than 100 US soldiers suffered brain damage from Iranian attack — report

More than 100 US soldiers suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of an Iranian missile attack on a base in Iraq last month. That number is more than 50 percent higher than the number previously reported — 64 — according to the Reuters news agency.

Quoting US officials, the report says the American military is preparing to report the new toll. It says the Pentagon declined to comment.

PLO member says Palestinians nixed UN vote because draft failed to condemn US

A senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) confirms to Turkish news agency Anadolu that the Palestinians have pulled their request for a United Nations Security Council vote against the US Middle East peace plan.

The report says the withdrawal is due to the updated draft resolution failing to include a condemnation of the United States.

Meanwhile, senior Israeli officials are quoted by Channel 13 as claiming that the Palestinians have not withdrawn their request. That report says the UN vote has merely been delayed, as there are still disagreements and discussions regarding the text of the resolution.

Palestinian officials say UN vote request pulled due to heavy diplomatic pressure

The Ynet news website quotes Palestinian officials as saying the reason the Palestinian Authority has pulled its request for a Security Council resolution against the Trump peace plan is heavy pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas and on the members of the UN body.

Meanwhile, the Israel Hayom newspaper quotes sources close to Abbas as saying: “We pulled the request because we didn’t want to humiliate ourselves.”

Senior PA official Erekat says Palestinians haven’t pulled UN vote request

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat is quoted by Hebrew-language media as casting doubt on reports that the PA has withdrawn its request for a UN Security Council vote against the US peace plan.

“A draft resolution has been filed and is still under discussion,” he is quoted as saying. “When the consultations are over, we will make a final decision without minimizing or changing our principles, and then it will be presented for a vote.”

He adds that PA President Mahmoud Abbas will nevertheless speak at the Security Council meeting tomorrow, as originally planned.

Bar Refaeli said to finalize plea deal in which she is spared prison time

Supermodel Bar Refaeli has already finalized a plea bargain with prosecutors that would see her escape a prison sentence for tax evasion, and it will be officially signed in the coming days, Channel 12 reports, without citing a source.

The reported plea deal will see Refaeli’s mother, Tzipi, serve time behind bars instead of her. The family will pay between 10 and 15 million shekels ($3-4.4 million), of which eight million ($2.3 million) have already been paid.

Model Bar Refaeli poses for photographers upon arrival at the Dior ready-to-wear Fall-Winter 2019-2020 collection in Paris, February 26, 2019. (Thibault Camus/AP)

Explosion hits US military vehicles near Baghdad — reports

An explosion has hit a convoy transporting US troops south of Baghdad, according to several news outlets, including Al-Arabiya.

The reports say the explosion targeted military vehicles in the area of Yusufiyah near the Iraqi capital, amid tensions between the US and Iran.

Seeking moderate votes, PM said considering tapping Barkat as finance minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering appointing Likud MK Nir Barkat as finance minister in the coming days, seeking to attract moderate right-wing voters, Channel 12 reports, without citing a source.

Barkat would be replacing Mosahe Kahlon, who is stepping down from politics and is not running in the March 2 elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (right) hold a press conference at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem, February 23, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)

Netanyahu’s office denies he will tap Barkat as finance minister

The Prime Minister’s Office denies an unsourced Channel 12 report that said Benjamin Netanyahu is considering tapping Nir Barkat as finance minister instead of Moshe Kahlon in the coming days.

“The agreement between the prime minister and Minister Kahlon is that the minister will remain in his post until the election,” the PMO says in a statement. “Any report otherwise is untrue.”

North Korea enhanced its nuclear, missile programs in 2019 — report

A 67-page UN report filed to the Security Council concludes that North Korea continued enhancing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in 2019, breaching UN sanctions, the Reuters news agency reports.

The confidential report is also said to reveal that Pyongyang “illicitly imported refined petroleum and exported some $370 million worth of coal with the help of Chinese barges.”

“In 2019, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not halt its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which it continued to enhance, in violation of Security Council resolutions. Despite its extensive indigenous capability it uses illicit external procurement for some components and technology,” the independent UN sanctions monitors were quoted as saying.

No casualties reported in explosion targeting US troops in Iraq

The explosion on a convoy carrying US troops south of Baghdad is said to have caused only damage and no casualties, according to Al-Arabiya.

The blast, likely from an improvised explosive device (IED), targeted a convoy of civilian vehicles that were carrying the American soldiers.

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