The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s news as it unfolded.
Amid ongoing clashes in Sheikh Jarrah this evening, officials reportedly approached a far-right Israeli parliamentarian to reach a deal that would include him dismantling a makeshift office that he opened at the scene earlier in the day.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a member of the Religious Zionism party, announced on Saturday that he would set up an office — a table under an awning — in the East Jerusalem neighborhood, following the firebombing of a Jewish home.
Ben-Gvir said he aimed to protest what he called the failure of police to protect Jewish residents in the mostly Palestinian neighborhood.
According to Hebrew-language media reports, Ben-Gvir has demanded that permanent security forces be stationed by the home of Tal Yushuvayev, whose home was firebombed, as well as additional security cameras in the area, in return for him leaving.
One of the officials who approached Ben Gvir was Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Channel 12 news reports.
Hamas warns of a “severe” response should Israel continue its “assaults” in East Jerusalem, according to a spokesperson for the terror group.
“If the occupation continues its assaults against our compatriots in Jerusalem, the resistance’s response will be severe,” Mohammad Hamadeh tells official Hamas television.
“We call on our people to support the people of Jerusalem by clashing with the occupation at friction points,” Hamadeh says, possibly referring to West Bank locations where Palestinians frequently face off with Israeli troops.
Hollywood’s Super Bowl weekend largely fizzled, with the muted debut of Kenneth Branagh’s long-delayed Agatha Christie whodunit, “Death on the Nile,” a tepid reception for the Jennifer Lopez romantic-comedy, “Marry Me,” and modest box-office bumps for Oscar nominees.
“Death on the Nile,” Branagh’s follow-up to the 2017 hit “Murder on the Orient Express,” leads all films with $12.8 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates. Produced under 20th Century Fox before its acquisition by the Walt Disney Co., “Death on the Nile” was delayed by the pandemic and by scandal that engulfed one of its stars, Armie Hammer.
Last March, Hammer was put under investigation by Los Angeles police in a sexual assault. Hammer has denied the allegation.
After considering other avenues, reportedly including reshooting parts of the film without Hammer, Disney opted to release “Death on the Nile” as it was — albeit with less fanfare on a weekend the film industry often yields to football. The $90 million film, which also stars Gal Gadot, Emma McKay, and Branagh, reprising his role as detective Hercule Poirot, had once seemed a reliable money-maker.
US President Joe Biden speaks at length with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky about Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s borders, with the pair agreeing on the need to pursue “diplomacy and deterrence,” the White House says.
“The two leaders agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” according to a readout of the roughly 50-minute call.
With Western fears growing that Russia is about to invade the ex-Soviet state, the White House adds that Biden “made clear that the United States would respond swiftly and decisively, together with its allies and partners, to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
Former Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich denies that the police has access to the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware and says there is no way officers hacked people’s phones without court orders.
“All of the names that were published were investigated in depth by the Israel Police and were [found to be] baseless,” he says, referring to a recent report listing people whose phones police officers ostensibly infected with spyware without authorization.
“If there was any doubt about it, the Israel Police does not possess Pegasus,” Alsheich adds, and claims that court orders were obtained whenever police sought to activate a wiretap.
“This story is spin,” he adds during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya. “Someone is going to pay for it.”
Alsheich was head of the Israel Police at the time when most of the alleged illicit hacking was taking place.
Police say eight suspects have been arrested in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood for public disorder, as officers brace for more violence.
Two of the suspects allegedly maced passersby, and the others hurled stones, police say.
“In the past day we have witnessed disinformation and misinformation circulating on social media in relation to various events in the area, along with violent and inflammatory online discourse, and unlawful attempts to ignite the area,” police say in a statement.
“The Israel Police will continue to act with determination and with zero tolerance against violence of any kind, violation of public order, and illegal attempts to harm police officers or civilians,” the statement adds.
The nationality of the suspects was was not immediately clear.
Right-wing activists plan a protest in the flashpoint neighborhood later this evening.
US officials in the United Arab Emirates meet with Afghans after a protest in Abu Dhabi this week and discuss their “potential” transfer to the United States, according to an embassy statement.
The UAE was one of several Arab Gulf countries that assisted with the evacuation of Afghans fleeing the Taliban after the group seized power in August last year following a US military withdrawal.
Videos circulating on social media this week showed Afghan men protesting in the Emirates Humanitarian City in the capital Abu Dhabi, where many who were evacuated to the UAE now live.
The US embassy says that it is aware of the “peaceful demonstration” to express “concerns about future resettlement and processing for onward travel.”
US officials met some of the Afghans and discussed their “processing for potential entry in the United States,” according to a statement sent to AFP.
“We continue to conduct the screening and vetting of vulnerable Afghans prior to their arrival in the United States, consistent with the dual goals of protecting national security and providing protection for vulnerable Afghans,” it adds.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan sparked a chaotic exit for the Americans and their allies after 20 years in the country, and an exodus of Afghans fearing a return to the brutal regime of 1996 to 2001 when the group was first in power.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi says the fear of criminal prosecution should not be the only reason why soldiers refrain from actions like those that led to the death last month of a 78-year-old Palestinian man, Omar Asad, who suffered heart failure after being bound, gagged and blindfolded at a construction site in the middle of the night by soldiers.
“You don’t need a law to tell you not to leave an 80-year-old man in the cold during operational activity, and it doesn’t matter if the man is 80 or 18. You need discretion, values, and humanity, and that doesn’t require a law,” Kohavi says.
“The responsibility for the Israel Defense Forces’ norms and values belong to our commanders and all the way down to the last soldier, and of course from the chain of command. We demand that our commanders lead with these values without needing the signposts of a court system. Of course, we need [a court system], but the responsibility for the norms and values of the Israel Defense Forces is ours, the commanders,” he adds.
Israeli soldiers fire shots at a drone on the Lebanese border, only to realize afterward it belongs to the Israel Defense Forces.
The soldiers initially suspected the drone had crossed from Lebanon into Israeli airspace, the IDF says.
They fired at it due to a “mistaken identification.”
It is not immediately clear what type of drone was fired upon.
The drone was not damaged in the incident, the military says.
Foreign Minister Lapid says Israel is preparing for the possibility of evacuating Israelis and Jews from Ukraine by land to the West.
He says neighboring countries responded positively, included Moldova and Poland.
At a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, he says 6,050 Israelis in Ukraine have registered to receive updates from the ministry via text messages.
Lapid says some 2,000 of them are students.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz defends IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi amid recent outcries over light punishments meted out over the deaths of two officers in a friendly fire incident last month and the death of an elderly Palestinian man who suffered heart failure after he was left bound and blindfolded by soldiers.
“We must investigate every irregularity and correct it and educate fearlessly. Indeed, punishment is needed for those who do not live up to our norms and rules, but punishment isn’t everything. No less important is to learn lessons and, sometimes, introspection by the high command ranks as to missions and the way that forces are trained,” Gantz says.
The defense minister makes his remarks at a swearing-in ceremony for the incoming head of the military’s court of appeals, its equivalent to a supreme court.
His comments come amid ongoing criticism of Kohavi for the military’s relatively limited punishments in response to a deadly friendly fire incident in the elite Egoz unit, which was found to have been the result of a troubling organizational culture in the outfit, as well as in response to the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian man who was tackled to the ground, bound with zip-ties, gagged, blindfolded, and then left at a construction site in the middle of the night in mid-January.
In his speech, Gantz refers to both of these incidents, as well as sexual assault cases within the military, as something that the IDF must reckon with.
The European Union delegation to the Palestinians says it is “concerned” about the violent clashes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood earlier today and last night.
The clashes erupted after the home of a Jewish family was targeted in an apparent firebomb attack on Friday night, and far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir set up his “parliamentary office” in the neighborhood this morning.
“Concerned about ongoing developments in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, with violent clashes leading to several injured and arrests. Incidents of settler violence, irresponsible provocations and other escalatory acts in this sensitive area only fuel further tensions & must cease,” the EU delegation tweets.
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky will speak to US President Joe Biden “in the coming hours,” his office says, as Western concerns mount that Russia is preparing to invade the ex-Soviet state.
“In the coming hours, President Volodymyr Zelensky will discuss the security situation and current diplomatic efforts to de-escalate with US President Joe Biden,” the Ukrainian leader’s press secretary Sergiy Nikiforov says on Facebook.
Russia will face sanctions from Western allies “immediately” if it were to invade Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says on the eve of his departure for Kyiv and Moscow.
“In the event of a military aggression against Ukraine that threatens its territorial integrity and sovereignty, that will lead to tough sanctions that we have carefully prepared and which we can immediately put into force, together with our allies in NATO and Europe,” Scholz says.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have reached a “critical” point, a German government source says, as Chancellor Scholz is set to depart for Kyiv tomorrow and then Moscow.
“Our concerns have grown… we assess the situation as very critical, very dangerous,” the source tells members of the press, as fears grow that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent.
Ukraine vows to keep its airspace open to international travel despite Western warnings that Russian troops conducting drills near its borders could invade at any point.
The Dutch carrier KLM on Saturday became the first major airline to indefinitely suspend flights to the former Soviet republic because of the rising risks.
Ukraine’s budget airline SkyUp says that its flight from Portugal to Kyiv was forced to land in Moldova because the plane’s Irish leasing company had revoked permission for it to cross into Ukraine.
SkyUP adds that European leasing companies are demanding that Ukrainian airlines return their planes to EU airspace within 48 hours.
Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry responds by holding an emergency meeting aimed at maintaining foreign travel and keeping the country from becoming more isolated in the heat of the crisis.
“The airspace over Ukraine remains open and the state is working on preempting risks for airlines,” the ministry says after the meeting.
Industry analysts believe other international airlines may soon also ban flights into Ukraine because of the growing cost to travel insurers.
The pro-Hezbollah television network al-Mayadeen reports that Hamas has held “discussions” with Egyptian mediators over tensions in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Sheikh Jarrah has become a flashpoint between Israel and the Palestinians. A small group of right-wing Jewish nationalists have moved into the mostly Palestinian neighborhood, mostly through legally complex eviction cases. The prospect of further court-ordered evictions of Palestinians helped touch off the war between Israel and Hamas last May.
Tensions have risen again over the past few days. A Jewish house was firebombed, prompting far-right parliamentarian Itamar Ben-Gvir to open a makeshift “office” in protest in the neighborhood. Clashes erupted between Israelis and Palestinians in the area on Saturday night. And another Palestinian family is set to be evicted in March by a right-wing Jewish city councilmember.
“What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah is a serious escalation that cannot pass unanswered,” Hamas tells Egypt, according to al-Mayadeen.
State prosecutors announce that they have not found any evidence of illicit phone hacking during the police investigations into alleged misdeeds by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“No actions were taken when there was no court order,” the prosecution tells the Jerusalem District Court, which had ordered a hiatus in the trial proceedings in order to investigate claims of widespread illicit hacking by police using NSO Group’s powerful Pegasus software.
The prosecution presented to the court the interim findings of an investigation into the issue led by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari, along with former officials from the Shin Bet and Mossad.
However, the investigators ask the court for three more days to complete their probe.
Judges are set to deliberate when to resume proceedings in the case.
According to an explosive report last week, police used Pegasus software to hack into dozens of phones without a court order, including that of Ilan Yeshua, the former CEO of Walla and currently a top witness in Case 4000 against Netanyahu; Avner Netanyahu, the son of the former prime minister; Shlomo Filber, a former Communications Ministry director general; Iris Elovitch, the wife of Shaul Elovitch, the former controlling shareholder of Bezeq (both are defendants in Case 4000); former Bezeq CEOs Dudu Mizrachi and Stella Hendler; former Walla editor-in-chief Aviram Elad, and other journalists at the news site.
In that case, one of the three graft cases for which the former prime minister is on trial, Netanyahu is alleged to have advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that immensely benefited Elovitch. In exchange, Netanyahu allegedly was given what amounted to editorial control over Elovitch’s Walla news site. The former premier denies the charges against him.
An enraged mob stoned to death a mentally ill middle-aged man yesterday for allegedly desecrating the Quran in a remote village in eastern Pakistan, police say.
The custodian of a local mosque says he saw the man burning the Muslim holy book inside the mosque Saturday evening and told others before informing police, according to police spokesman Chaudhry Imran. The violence took place in a village in the district of Khanewal in Punjab province.
Imran says police rushed to the scene, where a man was found surrounded by an angry crowd. Officer Mohammad Iqbal and two subordinates tried to take custody of the man but the group began throwing stones at them, seriously injuring Iqbal and slightly injuring the other two officers.
Munawar Gujjar, chief of Tulamba police station, says he rushed reinforcements to the mosque but they did not arrive before the mob had stoned the man to death and hung his body from a tree.
Gujjar says the victim was identified as Mushtaq Ahmed, 41, of a nearby village.
“The ill-fated man has been mentally unstable for the last 15 years and according to his family often went missing from home for days begging and eating whatever he could find,” he says. He says the body was handed over to the family.
A construction worker dies after a heavy object falls on him at a construction site in the northern city of Pardes Hanna-Karkur.
MDA medics declare the 44-year-old’s death at the scene.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets Ukraine’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova in Jerusalem.
Lapid expresses his concern over Ukraine’s tensions with Russia, and updates Dzhaparova on Israel’s travel warning to its citizens.
Lapid also expresses his hopes that the situation will deescalate as the result of ongoing diplomatic effort.
The civilian flights leaving Ukraine to Israel are not full, Foreign Ministry officials tell The Times of Israel.
Israeli airlines are ready to add additional flights, but the demand is not there right now, the officials say.
Thirty-two flights are scheduled to leave Ukraine for Israel in the coming week, including 10 in the next 48 hours.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged Israeli citizens in the Eastern European country to “come home” while they still can.
“Like the rest of the world, we are hoping that the tension will end without an escalation,” he said at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “But our first responsibility is to take care of our citizens, Israeli citizens.”
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