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Netanyahu said to gripe to Zuckerberg that Facebook working against his voters

Report says CEO of social media giant did not directly address claims during phone call initiated by PM to allege bias on the platform

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking on the phone at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 28, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking on the phone at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, April 28, 2014. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)

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

US forces clash with regime loyalists in northeast Syria

BEIRUT — US troops in northeast Syria confront regime loyalists with an airstrike and live fire after one of their patrols came under attack near the city of Qamishli, a war monitor says.

American forces killed one regime loyalist in the rare clash in the regime-held village of Khirbet Amo, east of Qamishli, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and an AFP correspondent in the area.

US warplanes launched one strike before the confrontation ended with the American convoy pulling out of the area, the monitor and the correspondent says.

— AFP

French academic jailed in Iran ends hunger strike

TEHRAN, Iran — French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah, jailed in Iran since June, ended a six-week hunger strike today, according to her lawyer.

“Adelkhah responded to a written request from civil and political activists and ended her hunger strike at midday today,” lawyer Said Dehghan tells AFP.

Dehghan expresses relief that Adelkhah had ended the hunger strike that she began on December 24, but says she remained fragile.

“Her mental and physical condition is not good, she has been weakened,” he says. “Her voice was difficult to hear and she has difficulty walking.”

Fariba Adelkhah (France 24 screenshot)

Adelkhah, a specialist in Shiite Islam and a research director at Sciences Po University in Paris, is in Evin prison in Tehran as she awaits her trial.

Adelkhah’s French colleague Roland Marchal was arrested while visiting her, according to Dehghan, who represents both academics.

Their case has raised tensions between Iran and France, which has called for them to be released as a “gesture” of goodwill.

Iran has repeatedly criticized France for what it calls its “interference” in the case.

The Islamic Republic does not recognize dual nationality.

— AFP

Iranian minister apologizes over mock spacesuit post

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s information minister apologizes today for posting a photo on Twitter of what appeared to be a Halloween-type costume representing a spacesuit, in an effort to promote the idea of a manned space program for his country.

The official IRNA news agency quotes Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s information and communications technology minister, as saying his department’s advertising team “undeniably made a mistake in choosing the image” and expressed his apologies to “the people and space scientists” of Iran.

The photo, posted on Jahromi’s Twitter account and depicting what looks like costume of a spacesuit with an Iranian flag sowed on the front, caused a stir on social media, with many Iranians turning to sarcasm and commenting about the fake spacesuit. After his apology, Jahromi removes the photo from his account.

The timing of the minister’s faux pas is also unfortunate. An Iranian rocket failed to put a satellite into orbit on Sunday, the latest setback for a program the US claims helps Tehran advance its ballistic missile program.

The attempted launch followed two failed launches last year, of the Payam and Doosti satellites, as well as a launchpad rocket explosion in August. Also, a fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February 2019 killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.

— AP

Mumbai attack mastermind jailed in Pakistan on terror charges, lawyer says

LAHORE, Pakistan — The alleged mastermind of a deadly attack on India’s financial capital over a decade ago has been sentenced to jail in Pakistan for nearly six years on separate terror charges, his lawyer says today.

Hafiz Saeed is found guilty of “being part of a banned terrorist outfit” and “having illegal property,” his lawyer Imran Gill tells AFP.

He is wanted in India for allegedly planning a shocking 2008 attack in Mumbai, when 10 Islamist militants armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and other explosives killed 166 people and injured hundreds more on a three-day rampage. Among those killed were six Israelis at Mumbai’s Chabad center.

Lawyer Imran gill gave no details about Saeed’s conviction apart from saying he would be kept in prison in the eastern city of Lahore.

Security officials stand guard as vehicles carrying Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, leave the anti-terror court after a court verdict, in Lahore on February 12, 2020. (Murtaza Syed/AFP)

The firebrand cleric — declared a global terrorist by the United States and United Nations, and with a $10 million bounty on his head — is the leader of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamist charity.

Its militant wing Lashkar-e-Taiba is believed by Washington and Delhi to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks.

Saeed has denied involvement, but has spent years in and out of varying forms of detention in Pakistan, sometimes under house arrest, on various charges.

For the most part he has been free to move at will around the country, enraging India which has repeatedly called for his prosecution.

— with AFP

Syria says threats show Erdogan ‘disconnected from reality’

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian government describes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “disconnected from reality” after he threatened to attack regime forces “everywhere” in Syria.

“The head of the Turkish regime comes with empty… statements only issued by a person disconnected from reality,” state news agency SANA quotes a source at the foreign ministry as saying today.

— AFP

US ambassador plants tree at official Jerusalem residence for Tu Bishvat

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman plants a tree at his official residence in Jerusalem, with KKL-JNF calling it the first tree to be planted at the US embassy in the city.

Friedman plants the tree in honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, which was on Monday.

“In commemoration of Tu Bishvat, the ‘New Year of the Trees’ and a day of ecological awareness, we plant, together, an olive tree which like our presence in the Holy City, is strengthening,” Friedman is quoted as saying in a statement from KKL-JNF.

“Just like the tree, may our relationship with Israel grow bigger and stronger,” he adds.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) and KKL-JNF head Daniel Atar plant a tree for Tu Bishvat at the US ambassador’s residence in Jerusalem, February 12, 2020. (Rafi Ben Hakoon/KKL-JNF)

Foreign Ministry asks Japan to let Israelis off quarantined cruise ship

The Foreign Ministry has asked Japanese authorities that a number of Israelis on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan because of the coronavirus be let off the vessel.

The ministry says it has asked Japan to weigh “other quarantine possibilities,” according to a statement.

“The Israeli embassy in Japan is taking care to ensure that the Israeli citizens are receiving… regular supply of medicine and kosher food,” the ministry says.

The Foreign Ministry is also working to obtain a letter from Japanese authorities allowing the Israelis on board to fly back to Israel when the quarantine period ends. There are some 15 Israelis on the ship.

“We’ll make every effort to bring the Israelis on the corona[virus] ship back to Israel, while strictly following the required conditions to protect the public,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz says.

Japan’s health ministry said earlier today that 39 new cases of the Wuhan virus were confirmed on the ship, bringing the total to 174.

UN rights council publishes ‘database’ of companies operating in settlements

The UN Human Rights Council publishes a “database” of 112 companies it says are conducting business in West Bank settlements.

In a report released today, the council says the companies’ activities “raised particular human rights concerns.”

The list is dominated by Israeli companies, including banks and construction firms. But it also lists a number of international firms, including travel companies Airbnb, Expedia and TripAdvisor, tech giant Motorola and construction and infrastructure companies including France’s Egis Rail and British company JC Bamford Excavators.

— with AP

FM calls UN settlement list a ‘shameful surrender’ to anti-Israel actors

Foreign Minister Israel Katz rips the UN Human Rights Council for publishing a “black list” of companies operating in West Bank settlements.

In a statement, Katz calls the list “a shameful surrender to the pressures of countries and organizations” that he says want to harm Israel.

“The decision of the commissioner [Michelle Bachelet] to continue with the anti-Israel line of the Human Rights Council is a stain on the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Katz says.

“The commissioner failed to maintain the honor of the UN… this decision will have consequences for our relations with the council and the commissioner,” he adds.

Yesha Council, Yamina slam UN ‘blacklist’ of companies in settlements

Settlement leaders and right-wing lawmakers are fuming over the UN Human Rights Council’s publication of a list of companies operating in West Bank settlements.

“The UN again proved it is a biased, non-neutral body that acts against the State of Israel. We fully condemn the publication of the list, which has clear anti-Semitic features,” the Yesha Council umbrella group says in a statement.

Yesha says the companies included on the list are “working to strengthen the economy in the area and are contributing to peace more than the UN has done in all its years of operation.”

The pro-settlement Yamina party says the “blacklist” underlines the need to apply Israeli sovereignty over settlements and other parts of the West Bank, which it is campaigning on.

“The hypocritical organization with special standards for Israel won’t deter us from realizing our rights in all areas of the Land of Israel,” it says in a statement.

Palestinians: UN list of companies operating in settlements is ‘a victory for international law’

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki welcomes the UN Human Rights Council’s publication of a list of companies that it says are working in settlements in the West Bank.

“The publication of this list of companies and parties working in the settlements is a victory for international law,” he says in a statement posted on the ministry’s Facebook page.

Malki also calls on member states of the UN Human Rights Council to study the list and to recommend and instruct the companies on it to terminate their operations in the settlements.

Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom, also welcomes the publication of the list.

“A good day for peace & the international rules based order. And a timely message for those who push us towards chaos & lawlessness,” he tweets.

— Adam Rasgon

Gantz calls publication of UN list ‘a dark day for human rights’

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz calls the UN rights council’s publication of a list of companies active in West Bank settlements “a dark day for human rights.”

On Twitter, Gantz says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has “lost touch with reality.”

Rivlin says UN list ‘recalls dark periods in our history’

President Reuven Rivlin weighs in on the UN’s publication of a list of companies operating in West Bank settlements.

During an event as his official residence in Jerusalem, Rivlin hails Israeli companies included on the list as “patriots.”

Though his office doesn’t promote individual firms, “when Israeli businesses are under the threat of boycott, we will stand with them,” Rivlin says.

“Boycotting Israeli companies does not advance the cause of peace and does not build confidence between the sides. We call on our friends around the world to speak out against this shameful initiative, which recalls dark periods in our history,” the president says.

Netanyahu on UN settlements list: ‘We’ll fight this will all our strength’

Prime Minister Netanyahu comments on the UN Rights Council’s publication of a list of firms operating in West Bank settlements.

“We’ll fight this with all our strength,” he tells Army Radio.

Iran warns Israel of ‘crushing response’ to Syria strikes

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry is warning Israel of a “crushing response” to any strikes against Iranian-linked targets in Syria or elsewhere in the region.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will give a crushing response that will cause regret to any kind of aggression or stupid action from this regime against our country’s interests in Syria and the region,” Abbas Mousavi is quoted saying by the Mehr news agency, according to Reuters.

Netanyahu phones Zuckerberg to complain Facebook acting against his supporters — report

Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today to complain that the social media giant was taking action against his supporters in Israel’s recent elections, the Haaretz daily reports.

Citing sources familiar with the phone call, the newspaper says Netanyahu called Zuckerberg to ask he ensure the fairness of the election and to act reasonably and fairly.

The report says Zuckerberg did not directly address Netanyahu’s claims but said the company would be alert to the matter.

“We constantly speak to leaders all around the world and Mark reiterated that we are an open platform for all ideas,” a Facebook spokesperson says in response.

Days before last September’s elections, Facebook temporarily suspended a chatbot operated by Netanyahu’s official account for saying Arab Israeli lawmakers “want to annihilate us all,” a violation of its hate speech policies.

On election day, Facebook again briefly suspended the chatbot for publishing polling information in violation of Israeli election law.

Nikki Haley slams publication of UN’s ‘anti-Semitic blacklist’

Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations known for her support of Israel, condemns the UN rights council for publishing a list of firms that operate in West Bank settlements.

“The @UN hit a new low today publishing its Antisemitic blacklist of companies it claims are involved in Israeli ‘settlement activity,'” tweets Haley. “The timing of this after the U.S. released a peace plan is conniving & manipulative at best. Shameful.”

US gives Iraq sanctions waiver for vital Iranian gas imports

BAGHDAD — The United States has granted Iraq a 45-day sanctions waiver enabling the country to continue importing vital Iranian gas and electricity supplies, two Iraqi officials said today.

The US has applied stringent sanctions on Iran that punish any country trading with it.

The issuance of the waiver comes amid fraught US-Iraq ties following an American drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad airport on January 3.

Washington had expressed willingness to extend the sanctions waiver, which was due to expire this week, Iraqi officials tell The Associated Press, on the condition that Iraq provide a timeline detailing a plan to wean itself off of Iranian gas dependence.

The two officials say the US issued the waiver anyway and offered the possibility of a longer time period if Iraq produces the requested timeline. They speak on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the matter.

The US State Department has no immediate comment.

The new waiver gives Iraq just 45 days to show Americans that it is making good on conditions to boost domestic gas supply or find alternative sources for power, and lessen its reliance on Iran. The previous waiver, issued in October, had given Iraq 120 days.

— AP

Shin Bet said to rage against Bennett for releasing Jewish terror suspect

The Shin Bet security agency is reportedly livid at Defense Minister Naftali Bennett for ordering the release of a Jewish terror suspect from administrative detention, only a day after signing off on the measure.

“The decision to cancel the detention order, that the minister himself signed and approved, gives backing to extremist activities on the ground,” Channel 12 news quoted Shin Bet sources saying.

“They [the extremists] are likely to interpret this as a move meant to weaken the security services’ operations against Jewish terror and to raise the motivation for violent and illegal action,” they add.

The sources warn of a repeat of the 2015 attack in Duma, where three Palestinian members of a family were killed in a firebombing by Jewish extremists.

The reversal by Bennett, a member of the pro-settlement Yamina party, came after an uproar by far-right lawmakers and activists over the administrative detention order for Eliya Ben David.

Ben David, 19, had been arrested on suspicion of throwing a rock at a moving vehicle that moderately wounded a Palestinian man.

El Al suspends flights to Hong Kong amid virus outbreak

Israeli airliner El Al announces it is suspending flights to Hong Kong amid the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus from China.

El Al says it will halt flights to the city until March 20.

It also says it will reduce flights to Bangkok from twice to once a day and extend the suspension of flights to Beijing until April 24.

The launch of the company’s new Tokyo flight is still planned for March 11.

Palestinian Authority says it’ll ‘pursue’ companies on UN settlements list

The Palestinian Authority says it will go after companies that are included on the UN Human Rights Council’s list of firms active in West Bank settlements.

Hailing the publication of the list, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh calls for companies to shutter their operations in the settlements.

“We will pursue the companies listed in the report legally through international legal institutions and through the courts in their countries for their role in violating human rights,” Shtayyeh is quoted saying by the PA’s official Wafa news agency.

He adds: “We will demand compensation for illegally using our occupied lands and for engaging in economic activity in our lands without submitting to Palestinian laws and paying taxes.”

Shtayyeh also suggests the companies could move to areas controlled by the PA to avoid any potential retribution.

Israel freezes ties with UN rights chief after release of settlement list

Israel is suspending its ties with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Foreign Ministry announces, several hours after it published a list of 112 companies that do business in West Bank settlements.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s office says he ordered the “exceptional and harsh measure” in retaliation to Michelle Bachelet’s office “serving the BDS campaign,” referring to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.

Katz intends to protect the companies operating in Israel, his office states.

It isn’t immediately clear what practical implications the decision will have.

— Raphael Ahren

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the opening day of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 25, 2019 (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

WHO says ‘way too early’ to predict end of novel coronavirus

GENEVA — The UN health agency cautions it was “way too early” to say whether COVID-19 might have peaked or when it might end, following a drop in the number of new cases.

“I think it’s way too early to try to predict the beginning, the middle or the end of this epidemic right now,” Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program, tells reporters.

— AFP

Japan confirms first death of person with new coronavirus

A woman in her 80s has become the first person with the new coronavirus to die in Japan, the country’s health minister says, cautioning it is not clear if the virus caused her death.

“The relationship between the new coronavirus and the death of the person is still unclear,” Katsunobu Kato says at a late-night briefing.

“This is the first death of a person who tested positive.”

— AFP

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