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Jerusalem police deploy in force to Sheikh Jarrah as low-level clashes reported

Far-right MK Ben-Gvir, accused of provoking riots, returns to makeshift ‘bureau’ in flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood; four reported hurt in renewed fighting

Police officers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 14, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
Police officers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 14, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

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

Compromise deal would allow civil marriages at foreign missions — report

A reported compromise being hammered out in the Knesset would open Israel up to civil marriages on its own soil, kind of.

According to the proposal by Sharren Haskel (New Hope), and agreed to by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina), Israelis who want a civil marriage would be able to do so from foreign embassies and other diplomatic missions in Israel, Channel 12 news reports. The missions are in Israel, but technically belong to the country that dispatched the mission.

Gay couples take part in a mass same-sex wedding in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 4, 2019, to demand the right to same-sex marriage ahead of the country’s Gay Pride week. (AP /Oded Balilty)

Currently, Israel does not have civil marriage, though it recognizes such marriages performed abroad. Because only religiously-administered marriages are allowed, Jews wishing to marry non-Jews, or those wishing to marry same-sex partners, must travel to another country — usually Cyprus — to do so.

The system, which also forces Jews whose conversions are not recognized by the rabbinate to go abroad, has long been criticized as a form of discrimination that creates endless headaches and bureaucracy for those seeking to unite in marriage.

France warns Russia ready for ‘major offensive’ as US relocates embassy from Kyiv

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says that “all the elements” are in place for Russia to wage a “major offensive” against Ukraine, and the US has announced that it is moving its embassy out of Kyiv, as Moscow masses thousands of troops on its borders.

“Are there all the elements for a major offensive by Russian forces in Ukraine? Yes, there are. It’s possible, it’s possible quickly,” Le Drian tells France 5 television, adding that there was nothing to suggest Moscow had yet made a decision.

The US cites a “dramatic acceleration” in the buildup of Russian forces at the country’s border in announcing its decision to relocate its embassy in Kyiv to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“The embassy will remain engaged with the Ukrainian government,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken says in a statement, but “we strongly urge any remaining US citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately.”

Police minister: Far-right want Hamas to set the region on fire

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev says in a statement that cops, soldiers, and gendarmeries will secure Israel, and “not those looking for attention and putting a plastic table up in Sheikh Jarrah in hopes that Hamas will tune in to his presentation.”

The comments are aimed at far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, who hours earlier said that he would refuse to leave the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood until security there was upped, accusing the police and others of abandoning families of Jews who have moved into the predominantly Palestinian area.

He charges that his political opponents are “putting on shows and waiting for Hamas to clap. Together they are hoping to set the Middle East aflame.”

Low-level clashes are seemingly continuing to take place there. The Red Crescent reports four injuries among Palestinian protesters.

A video shows one person being detained. There is no official police statement on arrests, but a police officer in the video can be heard speaking of having “detainees under control.”

Bennett boo-hooing that Gantz beat him to Bahrain — report

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s trip to Bahrain comes less than two weeks after Defense Minister Benny Gantz went there, and according to a report in Kan, Bennett and his people are stomping mad that they did not get to be first.

According to a report by the station, Bennett’s aides have complained that Gantz knew about Bennett’s trip, which was planned first, and scheduled his beforehand anyway.

“He didn’t have to schedule his trip so close,” a source close to Bennett is quoted grousing.

Gantz’s office responds: “It’s hard to believe someone from the Prime Minister’s Office would say something so childish.”

Perhaps cause for more butthurt: A reporter on the trip with Bennett notes that on state TV as they land is an interview with none other than Gantz.

Jewish candidate for Louisville mayor narrowly escapes shooting

A Jewish Democrat running to be mayor of Louisville, Kentucky says he is safe after a gunman shot at him, narrowly missing him.

“My team and I are fortunately all safe,” Craig Greenberg says in a message posted Monday on Twitter after the attack. “We are all with [Louisville Metro Police] now. I will provide an update as soon as possible. Thank you for the outpouring of support.”

Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields tells local media that one person has been arrested, and the suspect is thought to have acted alone. No motive is announced.

Shields says one bullet grazed Greenberg’s clothes, but did not hit him, according to local Fox affiliate WDRB.

Greenberg was reportedly fired on while at his office in the city’s Butchertown Market, a food and retail complex in the city’s forming meatpacking district.

JTA contributed to this report.

Bennett greeted by Bahraini ministers in Manama

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted in Manama by Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdallatif Alzayani and Economy Minister Salman bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa.

Bennett, unmasked, unlike his hosts, exchanges a few words with them on the tarmac and then inside the airport.

There is no public statement.

Clashes reported in Sheikh Jarrah as firebrand MK says he won’t budge

Low-level clashes between Palestinians, right-wing Israeli Jews and police have reportedly restarted in Sheikh Jarrah as far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir declares that he will not budge from the flashpoint area.

One person is injured in fighting, which includes stones being thrown at a home owned by Arabs in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods, according to reports.

Unverified video shows phalanxes of police chasing suspected stone throwers and clearing streets.

Ben-Gvir, who was forcibly removed on Sunday and has been blamed for stoking tensions, tells the media he is not leaving.

“It’s nice here and I’m staying,” he goads, his head covered in a bandage. “We own Israel. We own Jerusalem.”

He accuses the government of abandoning Jewish families who have moved into the predominantly Palestinians neighborhood, which has been at the center of tensions since last year, and says a plan put forward to help secure the neighborhood with more cameras, “is not serious.”

Clashes were touched off over the weekend following the firebombing of a Jewish home there.

“Unless there is security, I am not moving,” he declares. “If there is security, I’ll move on to my next thing.”

Russian buildup on Ukraine border continuing, Pentagon says

Russia strengthened its forces amassed on the border of Ukraine over the weekend, the Pentagon’s spokesman says, despite Moscow’s announcement that it was ending some military drills.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin “continues to add forces along that border with Ukraine and in Belarus, even just over the course of the weekend, he’s well north of 100,000,” spokesman John Kirby tells CNN.

“It’s not just the numbers,” Kirby continues. “It’s combined arms capabilities that he has available to him from everything from armor to infantry to special operations to cyber and air and missile defense.”

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on February 14, 2022, soldiers practice at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills in Belarus. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

The United States has warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, and their Western allies have threatened a crippling package of economic sanctions in response.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced earlier on Monday the end of some of Moscow’s massive military drills in Russia and Belarus, though he told Putin others were ongoing.

Congressman nominates Kushner, Berkowitz for Nobel over Abraham Accords

Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, nominated Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz for the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab countries.

“The Abraham Accords, signed in 2020, represent the most significant diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and Arab nations in decades,” Zeldin wrote in his nomination, according to the New York Post. Zeldin, a Long Island congressman, is running for governor of the state.

Kushner, the son-in-law and top Middle East adviser to former President Donald Trump, told the Post he was humbled by the nomination. Berkowitz was Kushner’s main negotiator in the field and worked in 2020 to iron out the final kinks in the accords.

The agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco are already paying dividends in increased tourism and investment, as well as symbolic gestures like dignitary visits and participation in sports competitions.

Trump has said he deserves a peace prize for leading the administration that brokered the accords, and it is not clear why Zeldin, once one of Trump’s fiercest defenders, would not have included him.

Bennett lands in Bahrain on first visit by an Israeli prime minister

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives in Manama, Bahrain, February 14, 2022 (Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives in Manama, Bahrain, February 14, 2022 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has landed in Bahrain for a 24-hour visit.

He is expected to meet Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and the country’s crown prince and prime minister, Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Before taking off, Bennett said the visit would be exciting and send a message to the world of “cooperation, goodwill and a joint stance against threats.”

The trip is the first to Bahrain by an Israeli prime minister. The two countries normalized relations in September 2020, as part of the Trump Administration-brokered Abraham Accords.

Israeli jets escort American bomber in message to Iran

Israeli F-15 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber as it made its way through Israeli airspace en route to the Persian Gulf in an apparent show of force to Iran amid lingering tensions in the region.

“The flight was held as part of close cooperation with the US military, which represents a significant element in ensuring the security of the State of Israel’s airspace and the Middle East,” the Israel Defense Forces says in a statement.

Israeli jets escorting American bombers have become a regular fixture in the skies of the Middle East in recent months as tensions between Tehran and the West have risen amid an attempt to negotiate a new nuclear deal to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining an atomic weapon in exchange for sanctions relief.

The announcement of the flight comes as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is en route to Bahrain for a landmark visit. The country is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and has signaled openness to a bolstered defense relationship with Israel as they face off against common enemy Iran.

Mayor orders police bolstered in Sheikh Jarrah

Police are being dispatched in force to Sheikh Jarrah, where officials fear unrest will flare again after riots the previous two nights set off by the firebombing of a Jewish home in the majority Palestinian neighborhood.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion says he and police division commander agreed to “significantly bolster police forces in the neighborhood, to boost resident’s feelings of safety.

He also says he ordered his security division to immediately deploy a “modern security system” that will protect the residents of the neighborhood and find perpetrators.

Tensions in the neighborhood are already rising Monday night, with far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, accused of fanning the flames, promising to give the press a statement from the area at 7:30 p.m., from a makeshift booth in the neighborhood that he calls his “bureau.”

Right-wing supporters have already shown up, many of them waving flags as they stand near the police, according to videos and testimony.

Police used stun grenades to disperse a group of Palestinians there, according to Haaretz. No arrests have been reported.

Israeli consulate co-hosts ‘inter-community conversation’ of Black, Jewish leaders in Chicago

Rep. Danny Davis, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Rena Marie Van Tine, Israel's Consul General to the Midwest Yinam Cohen and Dr. Yeriel Ben Yehuda at an event celebrating the Black-Jewish alliance at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park, Chicago on February 12, 2022. (Israeli Consulate to the Midwest)
Rep. Danny Davis, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Rena Marie Van Tine, Israel's Consul General to the Midwest Yinam Cohen and Dr. Yeriel Ben Yehuda at an event celebrating the Black-Jewish alliance at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park, Chicago on February 12, 2022. (Israeli Consulate to the Midwest)

CHICAGO — The Israeli Consulate in Chicago co-hosts an event with local lawmakers and community leaders aimed at strengthening the Black-Jewish alliance.

Over 100 people attend the gathering dubbed an “inter-community conversation” co-chaired by US Congressman Danny Davis, State Sen. Donne Trotter, and Israeli Consul General Yinam Cohen at the DuSable Museum of African American History in the city’s of Hyde Park neighborhood. The museum’s president Dr. Carol Adams also served as event co-chair.

“My vision as Consul General of Israel to the Midwest is to refortify our inter-community conversation and action. The consulate is already working to connect communities by offering Israeli experiences in mental health, urban agriculture, technology, and entrepreneurship. These are tools for the work that community organizations and leaders are already doing on the South and West sides,” Cohen tells attendees.

Cohen has made strengthening the Black-Jewish alliance one of his top priorities since arriving in Chicago last year, meeting with Bright Star Church Pastor Chris Harris in order to advance a partnership that has seen the Natal organization, which treats Israeli victims of terror, train Chicago community activists on how to cope with gun violence-induced trauma.

Saturday’s event honors Prince Asiel Ben Israel, a longtime leader of Black Hebrew Israelite sect who has worked to bridge communities in Chicago and Israel. The gathering also served as a launch for the Shiloh Institute, a new initiative led by led by former Philos Project director Kristina King that provides education and travel opportunities to Black youth leaders to Israel and West Africa.

“I remember as a child growing up with the idea that there was a serious connection between Black people, Jewish people and the nation of Israel,” says Davis.

“We must fight as Abraham Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did” adds former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., another speaker at the event.

“The Black community and the Jewish community know the significance of history. When others try to delegitimize our historical struggles, to distort our motives, we must bring the legacy of our ancestors to the present,” says Cohen.

Defense Ministry to reinforce Sderot bomb shelter windows after death of child

A ministerial committee has signed off on a proposal to reinforce bomb shelter windows in the town of Sderot, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office says.

Ido Avigal, who was killed in his home in Sderot by a rocket fired from Gaza, May 12, 2021. (Twitter)

The moves some eight months after a child, Ido Avigal, was struck and killed by a piece of shrapnel that penetrated the reinforced window in his family’s bomb shelter, during fighting in May.

The program is due to cost NIS 57 million ($17.5 million) from the Defense Ministry budget.

Those funds will be made available directly to residents of Sderot who will be allowed to use them to install thicker, 32-millimeter steel panels on their bomb shelter windows, Gantz’s office says.

This program will only be made available to residents of Sderot, not to any other communities in the area of the Gaza Strip, and it will only apply to larger, multi-story buildings in the town.

The military’s investigation into Avigal’s death found that more powerful explosives and different types of rockets being used by terror groups in the Strip required the thicker steel plates.

The scene of a direct rocket hit on a building in Sderot, southern Israel, in which Ido Avigal, 5, was killled, on May 12, 2021 (Sderot Municipality)

The defense minister, whose office proposed the funding scheme, hailed the adoption of the program, saying it was part of a wider effort to improve the country’s physical defenses.

“This latest decision, along with the upgrading of fortifications for daycare centers, along with other processes we are conducting comes from an understanding that a strong and prepared home front will allow the IDF to carry out its operational mission,” Gantz says.

Israeli minister says welcome gesture from Sissi shows ties moving into open

A spokesperson for Energy Minister Karine Elharrar says Israelis are right to gush over Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s warm welcome for her at the Egyptian Petroleum Show in Cairo.

“The president approaching the minister, the fact that he said he is happy she came and invited her to return is super exciting and testifies to the fact that ties that were once under wraps have become public,” the spokesperson says, adding that the display was not totally expected.

This is the first time Israel has been invited to the major regional gas conference, which has met four times before, according to Elharrar’s spokesperson. Most Egyptians reject normalization with Israel despite a peace treaty between the countries.

Elharrar says that Israels’ energy industry is “a bridge for regional ties,” in comments carried  by Ynet.

According to to the news site, Elharrar indicated to the conference that Israeli gas would eventually reach Lebanon, via Egypt.

On Twitter, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett joins the crush of Israelis praising the authoritarian leader for his gesture to the Israeli minister, saying he “touched us all.”

Iran says nuke deal can be had soon, if other side gets serious

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian says an agreement to restore the 2015 nuclear deal is at hand soon, provided that the US and European parties are serious about returning to full compliance with the deal.

Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Irish foreign and defense minister Simon Coveney, the Iranian top diplomat accuses the Western parties to the talks of “tampering the text and playing for time.”

“We believe that if the American side and the three European countries are serious about returning to the full implementation of their commitments as per the JCPOA, achieving a good agreement will be possible in the short term.”

“Our goal is the full removal of all JCPOA sanctions,” Amir-Abdollahian says, adding that “it is better for the Islamic Republic to reach an agreement today rather than tomorrow.”

Irish Foreign and Defense Minister Simon Coveney, left, speaks during a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran on February 14, 2022. (AFP)

But Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says during a meeting with Coveney that “the rights of the Iranian people must be respected” in the ongoing negotiations.

Coveney says he believes the Western parties to the deal to be “serious and committed.”

Ireland has been acting as the facilitator for UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which was agreed in 2015 to endorse the JCPOA.

“As facilitator, Ireland aims to assist in that process in whatever way we can, helping all parties to move this discussion forward,” Coveney says.

“The restoration of the JCPOA in full would secure rapid and substantial sanction relief for Iran,” he adds.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Ukraine president says embassy evacuations ‘a big mistake’

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky says it is a mistake for countries to move their diplomats from Kyiv in fear of a Russian assault.

“It is a big mistake that some embassies — well, this is their decision — are moving to western Ukraine,” he said, after some international missions opened offices in the city of Lviv.

“Because there is no western Ukraine, there is Ukraine, it is whole. So if, God forbid, something happens it will be everywhere.”

The US and Israel are among a number of countries that have taken steps to evacuate staff. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has said Israel may expand its Lviv mission. Leaders have also called on Israeli citizens to leave Ukraine and extended help to local Jews.

A man walks with his dog in front of the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)

US intelligence has warned that Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders, could invade within days, and some officials fear a lightning strike against the capital.

Kyiv has said the evacuations are an overreaction and accused those withdrawing diplomats and urging citizens to leave of giving in to Russian pressure.

Israel swoons as Egypt’s Sissi gives minister Elharrar special summit welcome

Israeli journalists and others are gushing over a video showing Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi making a special trip across a Cairo convention hall to personally greet Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar at a conference.

The video shows Sissi enter the large hall to fanfare, welcome the convention’s guests and then put down his mic to walk to the other end of the hall where he speaks a few words to Elharar.

The video is first flagged by Walla reporter Barak Ravid, who calls it “amazing” and a “must watch.”

“Joyful, exciting and not a coincidence,” former Channel 10 news analyst Nadav Perry tweets.

Roi Kais, a correspondent for Kan, praises Sissi as “an officer and a gentleman.”

Elharrar, who uses a wheelchair, was also given special attention after infamously being unable to enter the COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow last year.

More Israelis leaving Ukraine, Foreign Ministry confirms

The Foreign Ministry confirms that Israelis are starting to leave Ukraine in larger numbers.

“Our campaign is beginning to work,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat tells The Times of Israel.

About 900 people flew to Israel from Ukraine on Sunday, and more are expected to fly to Israel on Monday.

Over 10,000 Israeli citizens are thought to be in Ukraine, some 6,000 of whom have registered with the embassy.

A blurry video of one such flight Monday shows a what appears to be a partially filled flight leaving Kyiv for Israel.

 

Bennett says stirring up Sheikh Jarrah for political gain unhelpful

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accuses a far-right MK of stirring up tensions for political gain after he tried to set up shop in the flashpoint Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

On Sunday, Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir set up a makeshift office there — a table under an awning — following the firebombing of a Jewish home in the tense neighborhood over the weekend.

“We don’t need provocations from people on either side inflaming tensions for political interests,” Bennett says from the airport before he takes off for Bahrain.

He says the firebombing of a house is “unacceptable,” and that police reinforcements are being dispatched to the neighborhood.

The comments come after Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted that police and other security agencies were taking “severe measures against any terror incident, including the burning of a home in Sheikh Jarrah.”

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, defends Ben-Gvir, who fainted while being was removed by police, and says he condemns “violence” against the lawmaker.

This is not Sheikh Jarrah, it’s Jerusalem our capital,” he tells his Likud faction.

Anti-vax ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest jams up Jerusalem

Convoys of protesters demonstrating against Israeli pandemic rules are snarling traffic in many parts of the capital after they reached Jerusalem’s government quarter.

Dozens of protesters are seen banging drums and blocking roads as part of the protest, inspired by Canada’s Freedom Convoy.

Pelosi to bring seven House Democrats with her to Israel

Seven House Democrats will join Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she arrives in Israel on Wednesday, a Knesset spokesman confirms to The Times of Israel.

The delegation’s members are Reps. Adam Schiff, Ted Deutch, Barbara Lee, Bill Keating, Eric Swalwell, Ro Khanna and Andy Kim.

Lee, who heads the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, was part of a J Street-sponsored delegation that visited Israel four months ago.

Israelis begin leaving Ukraine in droves — reports

Israeli airlines say they are seeing an uptick in the number of Israelis asking to fly out of Ukraine, according to reports.

On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said flights were returning from the country with few passengers, despite leaders urging citizens to leave immediately as war drums beat louder.

According to Army Radio, over 1,000 people flying out of Ukraine are expected to land in Israel Monday, and there is high demand for plane seats.

Kan too reports that more are flying out, reporting that 500 people are expected to fly from Kyiv to Israel Monday.

There are thought to be 10,000 to 15,000 Israelis in the country.

 

Palestinian cars vandalized in suspected attack linked to Jerusalem tensions

Police are investigating after cars in the Palestinian village Jinsafut were vandalized, apparently in connection to tensions in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Police say cars in the village were damaged and Hebrew spray paint found on walls reads “There will be a war over Shimon Hatzaddik,” using the Hebrew name for Sheikh Jarrah.

Jewish extremists have been known to vandalize property and leave threatening messages in Palestinian towns as part of a so-called “price tag” campaign meant to terrorize locals and pressure Israeli authorities.

The village is largely in Area C under the Oslo Accords, placing it under full Israeli civilian control.

Bahrain public still in dark on Bennett visit

While Israeli and international press are reporting on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s trip to Bahrain, the first for an Israeli premier, the small kingdom’s tightly controlled press is silent on the visit.

Bennett’s flight was initially embargoed from the press until close to his scheduled landing later in the evening, but the press in Israel was later given the go-ahead to write about it just before his plane was scheduled to depart.

There is no mention of Bennett’s visit by Bahrain’s official BNA news agency, nor any official statements on the visit yet.

A recent visit by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Bahrain was also shadowed by secrecy in the lead-up to it. For security reasons, Gantz’s landmark trip was kept secret until he landed in Manama, and details of his schedule in the island kingdom were similarly not immediately permitted for publication.

Gantz’s flight to Bahrain traversed Saudi airspace, in what was seen a signal of regional cooperation. It is not clear if Bennett’s will do the same.

Bahraini military officers present Defense Minister Benny Gantz with a ceremonial sword after the signing of a memorandum of understanding at the Bahraini defense headquarters, on February 3, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

During the trip, Gantz hailed the country’s rulers for “the courageous decision to hold the visit publicly.”

“This decision to go openly is a significant decision. It is a step that has been ripening for a long time. There have been relationships between the [two countries’] defense establishments for many years, and it is a historic moment to make them official, formal and public,” Gantz said.

5-month-old dies in Jerusalem after contracting COVID-19

A 5-month-old boy has died in the coronavirus ward at Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem, the hospital says.

The baby had suffered from unspecified “serious and complicated” medical issues since being born and his situation deteriorated after catching COVID-19, leaving him struggling to breathe, according to a spokesperson.

The death makes the infant among the youngest of Israel’s 9,581 victims who have died after catching the coronavirus.

Gantz denies meddling after Army Radio moves Netanyahu-backing anchor

Responding to a firestorm over Army Radio removing pundit Jacob Bardugo from a primetime slot, Defense Minister Benny Gantz denies meddling and indicates he’s more interested in removing Army Radio from the army.

“I’m working on advancing getting Army Radio out of the army,” he says of a push he has spearheaded to transfer the popular station out of the Defense Ministry, which currently owns and operates it with partially civilian staff. “I don’t touch the scheduling or assigning reporters or anchors.”

Gantz also points to the fact that he has not been interviewed on Army Radio for a year to prove that he is not using the station to advance political ends.

He describes the push to transfer the station as “complicated.”

On Thursday, Army Radio announced that Bardugo, a vocal supporter of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, would stop hosting the daily 5 p.m. news show. Co-host Yaron Vilensky will continue to helm the broadcast, with more detailed reports during the time slot.

Bardugo, who was offered a different slot, instead resigned live on-air after reading a statement accusing the station of trying to silence him.

His removal has infuriated Netanyahu’s supporters, who see it as political meddling. The Knesset opposition announced that it will boycott the station.

Russia’s Lavrov touts ‘chance’ for deal to avoid war, in possible climbdown

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says there is a “chance” of reaching an agreement on security with the West, in what appears to be a possible climbdown amid raging tensions over Ukraine.

“As head of the foreign ministry, I must say that there is always a chance” to find agreement, Lavrov tells Russian President Vladimir Putin during a carefully choreographed meeting when asked to comment on ongoing talks with the West.

The United States has warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, and their western allies have threatened a crippling package of economic sanctions in response.

But speaking with Putin, who sits far from him down a massive table, Lavrov indicates that Moscow was prepared to continue talks with the West.

“Is there a chance to reach an agreement with our partners on key issues or is it an attempt to drag us into an endless negotiation process?” Putin asks Lavrov in the televised remarks.

Lavrov replies: “Our possibilities are far from being exhausted, they certainly should not continue indefinitely, but I would suggest continuing and ramping them up.”

You can still get out of Ukraine for the next day or two, Lapid begs Israelis

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is continuing to urge Israelis to leave Ukraine immediately, amid a buildup toward war as Russia appears threatened to invade the NATO ally.

“Better safe than sorry,” Lapid says in English during a meeting in the Knesset with his Yesh Atid faction.

He says that after a “long” conversation with British counterpart Liz Truss, he’s not sure diplomatic efforts will succeed: “There’s a real possibility for war,” he says.

“If war breaks out it will a lot harder to get on planes,” he says. “It will be still be relatively easy for the next day or two.”

Russian tanks roll on the field during military drills in Leningrad region, Russia, February 14, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

He says Israel is prepared to airlift any citizen and any Ukrainian Jews who want, and is considering opening a second diplomatic mission to Lviv, far west of where the fighting is expected, to aid the evacuation effort.

Israelis in Ukraine, many of whom are dual citizens, have thus far largely opted to stay put.

He says a sense of calm in Kyiv is being fueled by “false impressions.”

“There’s a buildup of forces in the east of the country, there’s a buildup on the Belarus border. If the situation deteriorates, it will be fast,” he warns.

Bennett set for landmark trip to Bahrain

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is set to take off for a 24-hour visit to Bahrain on Monday evening, his office announces.

The trip will be the first ever for an Israeli prime minister to the island nation, which normalized ties with Israel in 2020.

Bennett is slated to meet Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and the country’s crown prince and prime minister, Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Bennett and Prince Salman met in November on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where the crown prince invited the prime minister to visit the country.

According to Bennett’s office, the meeting will revolve around deepening the bilateral relationship between the countries, after they signed a normalization agreement as part of the Abraham Accords in September 2020. They will also discuss regional economic and diplomatic issues, including technological innovation.

Bennett is also scheduled to meet with Bahrain’s finance, foreign, industry and transportation ministers, as well as members of the small local Jewish community.

Bennett visited the other Gulf state in the Abraham Accords, the UAE, in December. Notably, however, he did not combine the trips, as Bahrain and the UAE seem to be pursuing separate relationships with Israel after attending the Abraham Accords ceremony at the White House together.

His trip comes less than two weeks after Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited the country and signed a security agreement, among Israel’s first with an Arab country. Reports have indicated a deepening military relationship around the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is stationed there.

The visit will come amid heightened tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.

Both Israel and Bahrain consider Iran an enemy. For the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Islamic Republic represents a constant threat to its stability, as Iran has regularly backed revolutionary groups within the country over the years.

Japan redoubles hunt for aging Red Army terrorists

Tokyo police are stepping up the hunt for members of the Japanese Red Army wanted for their alleged role in attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, including a 1972 airport shooting attack near Tel Aviv that killed 26.

Police in Tokyo release a video with images of the aging militants that warned the “case” was not over yet.

“Japanese Red Army members are still on the run and they may live somewhere near you,” the video warns, adding the “case is not over yet.”

The Japanese Red Army, a violent ultra-leftist group that had links with Palestinian militants, was formed in 1971 and took responsibility for several international attacks, including the takeover of the US Consulate in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1975.

The group is also blamed for a 1972 machine-gun and grenade assault on what was then known as Lod international airport in Israel.

Kozo Okamoto, 74, is thought to be the sole surviving terrorist from the 1972 attack, in which he and two other Red Army terrorists opened fire in the airport passenger terminal, according to Israel.

The attack killed 26 people, most of them Puerto Rican tourists on a diving trip.

The video, produced by the police’s public security department, was released on social media and is playing on big-screen billboards in downtown Tokyo.

Authorities have also put up posters in train stations and other public locations. In addition to the wanted photos depicting the militants when they were younger, police added mock-ups of how they likely appear aged in their 70s.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Baruch Leifer, father-in-law of Malka, named as rabbi accused of sexual assault

Israeli networks are reporting that a Jerusalem rabbi arrested last month on suspicion of committing sexual offenses is Baruch Leifer, the father-in-law of accused sexual assailant Malka Leifer.

The arrest of Leifer, which has been reported for weeks abroad, has been gagged in Israel.

Leifer is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a family member when she was 12, and of sexual offenses against another man when he was 18, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Leifer is a former leader of the Khust Hasidic sect.

His daughter-in-law Malka Leifer is in Australia where she is charged with at least 74 counts of sexual offenses against girls at the Melbourne school where she was a principal.

She had fought extradition from Israel for several years, straining ties between Jerusalem and Canberra.

Bennett meets Lindsey Graham, talks Iran

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has met with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham in Jerusalem, where the two discussed Iran, regional “security challenges,” and bilateral ties.

“The two discussed the Iranian threat, which is faced by both Israel and the US, and ways to deal with it,” a readout from Bennett’s office reads.

Bennett told the Republican lawmaker “that he has always been a true friend of Israel in both good times and in more challenging moments,” the PMO says.

The meeting comes two days before US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to visit the Knesset.

Copycat ‘freedom convoy’ anti-vaccine protest blocks main highway into Jerusalem

Jerusalem is seeing large traffic jams after a convoy of cars briefly blocked the main highway linking the capital and Tel Aviv, Haaretz reports.

The convoy created the jams by snaking its way to Jerusalem along Route 1 to protest coronavirus vaccine rules, apparently inspired by similar protests against coronavirus policy in Canada and elsewhere.

Some cars are seen with Canadian flags alongside Israeli ones, and signs reading “freedom.”

Foreign Ministry sends reinforcements to Kyiv to help Israelis leave

The Foreign Ministry has dispatched extra staff to Kyiv to reinforce diplomats there and assist the Israeli embassy in Kiev in getting Israeli citizens out of Ukraine.

The embassy staff are also preparing for the possible evacuation of large numbers of Ukrainian Jews. The country is home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, many of them in towns near the eastern frontier with Russia.

The 6:30 a.m. El Al plane to Kyiv from Israel is empty, which is not surprising given tensions there. But the ministry has indicated that flights coming from Ukraine are also not filling up, despite pleas from top Israeli officials for Israelis to leave now before a feared Russian invasion takes place.

Some 10,000 to 15,000 Israelis are thought to be in Ukraine.

Approximately 56,000 people who self-identify as Jews live there, according to a 2020 demographic survey by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

Plans for airlifting them to Israel have been around since 2013, when Ukraine’s government fell as a result of a bloody revolution against the regime of president Viktor Yanukovych, whose critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge.

JTA contributed to this report.

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