ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Herzog reportedly asked AG to let Netanyahu take part in judicial reform dialogue

Newspaper says Gali Baharav-Miara turned down president’s request, with PM barred from involvement in matters that could impact his graft trial

President Isaac Herzog at the funeral of former Knesset speaker Shevach Weiss on February 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog at the funeral of former Knesset speaker Shevach Weiss on February 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

2 Palestinian minors held for throwing firebombs in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov

Police say officers detain two Palestinian minors from East Jerusalem who attempted to hurl Molotov cocktails at passing vehicles near the Neve Yaakov neighborhood earlier this evening.

No injuries or damage are caused, but one of the suspects is hurt after one of the firebombs explodes in his hand.

Police say the suspects, aged 14 and 15, were detained shortly after the incident.

Israel reports GDP growth of 6.5% in 2022

Illustrative: View of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, November 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: View of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, November 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s gross domestic product grew by 6.5 percent in 2022, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Figures released by the CBS show rising economic growth over last year, with GDP up 4.4% on a per capita basis, besting the OECD average of 2.6%.

However, there were some signs of cooling in the fourth quarter, with exports of goods and services down 10.4% and imports down 7.1% compared to the previous quarter.

White House says ‘deeply dismayed’ by Israeli settlement plans

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House, February 16, 2023, in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House, February 16, 2023, in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

The White House condemns Israel for moving forward with plans to build some 10,000 new settlement homes and legalize a number of wildcat outposts.

“We are deeply dismayed by Israel’s announcement that they will advance thousands of new settlements and retroactively legalize nine outposts in the West Bank that were until now illegal under Israeli law,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says during the daily briefing. “The United States strongly opposes these unilateral measures, which exacerbate tensions, harms trust between the parties and undermines the geographic viability of the two-state solution.”

She notes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s call to refrain from such measures during his visit to Israel and the West Bank.

“Settlement expansion and construction in the heart of the West Bank, including the legalization of outposts, creates facts on the ground that undermine a two-state solution. It’s been longstanding US policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations that settlements are counterproductive to the cause of peace,” Jean-Pierre says.

“The Biden administration maintains this firm opposition to the settlement expansion.”

Zelensky calls Israel ‘our important partner in the Middle East’ after meeting FM Cohen

Foreign Minister meets with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister meets with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

After his meeting with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky writes on Telegram that Israel “has always been our important partner in the Middle East.”

“I am grateful for the humanitarian aid provided,” he writes. “We discussed the country’s participation in post-war reconstruction. Ukraine could use Israel’s experience in demining.”

Zelensky adds that he hopes the visit will contribute to the deepening of bilateral cooperation.

IDF says troops attacked by settlers in northern West Bank

The Israel Defense Forces says troops were physically and verbally assaulted by a group of settlers near the northern West Bank village of Urif yesterday.

The military says the incident began after troops spotted a Palestinian-owned car being set on fire in the area, and began a pursuit after the suspects.

An Israeli-owned vehicle in the area “drove wildly toward the forces” and Israeli citizens blocked IDF vehicles who were chasing the arson suspects, pushed the soldiers, and tried to break into a military vehicle, the IDF says.

Footage from the incident shows a group of settlers confronting the soldiers in the area.

The IDF in a statement says “condemns any act of violence toward soldiers and security forces.”

FM Cohen says he and Zelensky discussed Iranian ‘terrorist activities’ in Ukraine

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen says that during his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he stressed Israeli backing for Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“We agreed that the terrorist activities of Iran in Ukraine should be condemned,” Cohen writes on Twitter.

He adds that he vowed Israel will expand aid to Ukraine and will be a partner in rebuilding “after the war.”

Herzog reportedly asked AG to let Netanyahu take part in judicial reform dialogue

President Isaac Herzog at the funeral of former Knesset speaker Shevach Weiss on February 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog at the funeral of former Knesset speaker Shevach Weiss on February 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog asked Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to permit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take part in proposed compromised talks on the government’s plans to radically shake up the judiciary, according to the Haaretz daily.

The newspaper says Baharav-Miara told Herzog that Netanyahu cannot be involved, due to a conflict of interest arrangement barring him from involvement in matters that could impact his ongoing trial on graft charges, such as the planned overhaul of the judiciary.

Herzog proposed the talks as part of his effort to promote a dialogue on judicial reform, with the opposing sides of the debate deeply at odds regarding the contentious changes to the judicial system that the coalition is pushing.

Earlier this week, Hebrew media widely reported that Netanyahu’s lawyers sought permission from Baharav-Miara for Netanyahu to make public statements about the judicial overhaul plan, but were rebuffed.

US says Iran-based jihadist Saif al-Adel is new chief of Al-Qaeda

Saif al-Adel, Al-Qaeda's likely new leader. (Combatting Terrorism Center, USMA via Wikipedia)
Saif al-Adel, Al-Qaeda's likely new leader. (Combatting Terrorism Center, USMA via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON — Saif al-Adel, an Iran-based Egyptian, has become the head of Al-Qaeda following the July 2022 death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the US State Department says.

“Our assessment aligns with that of the UN — that Al-Qaeda’s new de facto leader Saif al-Adel is based in Iran,” a state department spokesperson says.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian responds by denouncing Washington for publishing “misinformation about the leader of Al-Qaeda,” and dismissing the link to his country as “laughable.”

“The creators of Al-Qaeda and ISIS [the Islamic State group] are responsible for the growth of terrorism around the world” he tweets, alluding to the United States.

A United Nations report released Tuesday said that the predominant view of member states is that Adel is now the group’s leader, “representing continuity for now.”

But the group has not formally declared him “emir” because of sensitivity to the concerns of the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan, who haven’t wanted to acknowledge that Zawahiri was killed by a US rocket in a home in Kabul last year, according to the UN report.

In addition, the UN report said, the Sunni Islamist Al-Qaeda is sensitive to the issue of Adel residing in largely Shiite Iran.

Adel, 62, is a former Egyptian special forces lieutenant colonel and figure in the old guard of Al-Qaeda.

He helped build the group’s operational capacity and trained some of the hijackers who took part in the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States, according to the US Counter Extremism Project.

He has been in Iran since 2002 or 2003, at first under house arrest but later free enough to make trips to Pakistan, according to Ali Soufan, a former FBI counter-terrorism investigator.

World Mizrachi movement urges Israeli parties to hold judicial reform negotiations

The religious Zionist World Mizrachi movement calls on Israeli political parties to meet and negotiate judicial reform, saying it is “deeply alarmed and concerned by the divisiveness and vitriolic tone” surrounding the current proposals to dramatically overhaul the judicial system.

World Mizrachi, an Orthodox movement, says it supports the initiative of President Isaac Herzog to bring the different Knesset factions together to discuss the issue, calling his efforts “bold and critical.”

“As the president has mentioned, there is definitely a need for judicial reform in terms of creating a fair and reasonable balance of power between the Government and the Judiciary. At the same time, we echo his great concern for the antagonism and animosity being voiced. Indeed, issues of such significant changes ought to be achieved by broad consensus,” the group says in a statement.

While other religious Zionist groups and individuals have advocated for compromise and negotiations on the proposed judicial overhaul, World Mizrachi is one of the most conservative to join the call.

“Over the last 30 years, far-reaching controversial changes were made by the Government such as the Oslo Accords and disengagement from Gaza. These changes were done with the thinnest of majorities and in a way where around half the citizens of Israel were forced into something they saw as catastrophic. For many, calls for a broader consensus were ignored and terrible consequences are still being felt. Past actions need to be learned from to ensure that positive and sustainable change can take place in a way that the internal fabric of Israel is strengthened and not, G-d forbid, threatened,” it says.

Nasrallah warns Hezbollah could interfere with Israeli offshore gas production

Hezbollah supporters attend a televised speech by the Lebanese terror group's leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut's southern suburbs, on February 16, 2023. (Anwar Amro/AFP)
Hezbollah supporters attend a televised speech by the Lebanese terror group's leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut's southern suburbs, on February 16, 2023. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warns the United States against sowing “chaos” in Lebanon, suggesting it could lead to a war between his Iran-backed terror group and Israel.

“The Americans must know that if they push Lebanon to chaos and the Lebanese people suffer, we won’t stand idly by and watch the chaos. We will rather extend our hand to make you feel pain, even if that leads to the choice of war with your beloved Israel,” Nasrallah says during a speech for former Hezbollah leaders, according to Lebanon’s Naharnet.

“If you push Lebanon to chaos, you will lose in Lebanon, and you should expect chaos in the entire region,” he adds.

He suggests Hezbollah could take action against Israeli offshore gas production if there’s continued “procrastination” in the development of fields slated for Lebanon, following a US-backed maritime demarcation agreement between Jerusalem and Beirut.

Nasrallah also addresses the political tensions in Israel over the coalition’s efforts to far-reaching changes to the judicial system, saying the government was pushing toward conflict internally and with the Palestinians.

FM Cohen meets with Zelensky at Ukrainian president’s office

Foreign Minister meets with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister meets with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at his office in Kyiv, the highest-ranking Israeli official to do so since Russia invaded Ukraine last February.

UN launches appeal for $1 billion to aid Turkey quake victims

Relatives of victims gather in front of the rubble of a collapsed building, after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake which struck parts of Turkey and Syria, in Kahramanmaras, on February 16, 2023. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
Relatives of victims gather in front of the rubble of a collapsed building, after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake which struck parts of Turkey and Syria, in Kahramanmaras, on February 16, 2023. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations launches an appeal for $1 billion in aid to help victims in Turkey of last week’s catastrophic earthquake that killed thousands of people.

The world body says in a statement that the funds will provide humanitarian relief for three months to 5.2 million people, allowing aid organizations to “rapidly scale up vital support.”

Government tells High Court it will keep developing egalitarian section at Western Wall

The egalitarian plaza at the Western Wall, known as 'Robinson's Arch' or 'Ezrat Yisrael,' seen on December 30, 2021, in Jerusalem's Old City. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)
The egalitarian plaza at the Western Wall, known as 'Robinson's Arch' or 'Ezrat Yisrael,' seen on December 30, 2021, in Jerusalem's Old City. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)

The government tells the High Court of Justice that it is working to fix and improve the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, in response to a number of petitions to the court by feminist and religious activist groups.

In an extended update to the court, the government says it still plans to implement a 2017 decision to “build and formalize” the southern section of the Western Wall, also known as Ezrat Yisrael or Robinson’s Arch, which is used by non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism for mixed-gender prayers.

The update is issued in response to seven petitions to the High Court regarding the Western Wall — some from liberal organizations and some from conservative groups — that have been filed over the past decade, in which the government has been successfully arguing that it needs more time to resolve due to the complexities of the issues.

The section currently exists in something of a legal gray zone, technically under the authority of the ultra-Orthodox chief rabbi of the Western Wall but permitted to operate as an egalitarian prayer space by prime ministerial order.

The government says it intends to maintain the 2017 decision to halt the implementation of the so-called Western Wall compromise, which would have formalized the status of the egalitarian section, but to also improve the infrastructure at the site. To that end, the government’s attorneys say the cabinet is working to obtain planning permission for further construction at the site and is working to remove stones that fell in 2018 and continue to block direct access to the Western Wall at the section.

Organizers of protests against overhaul declare Monday as ‘national day of struggle’

Israelis wave flags during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 13, 2023 (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Israelis wave flags during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 13, 2023 (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Organizers of the protests against the government’s judicial overhaul push declare Monday as a “national day of struggle,” which will include another large rally outside the Knesset, marches in various cities and the closure of some businesses.

The demonstrations are meant to coincide with the expected first reading in the Knesset on Monday of legislation that would give the coalition control over the selection of judges (as well as of a bill to render Basic Laws immune to judicial oversight; discussion will also be continuing on other parts of the overhaul package in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee).

“This is likely the most dangerous of the laws being advanced. If this is brought for [plenum] votes and passes, dialogue will be clearly illegitimate,” the protest organizers are quoted as saying by the Walla news site.

Meanwhile, Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David says the labor federation will not strike in solidarity with the protests and calls on the opposing sides to hold compromise talks, as per President Isaac Herzog’s proposal.

US condemns assault of Palestinian activist in Hebron by IDF soldier

An Israeli soldier is seen assaulting Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, February 13, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)
An Israeli soldier is seen assaulting Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, February 13, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)

The US condemns the assault of a Palestinian activist in Hebron earlier this week by an IDF soldier.

The soldier was filmed telling Issa Amro that he could not pass through a street as the activist led a tour of the divided West Bank city for an American journalist. The soldier then demanded Amro delete the video he was filming of the altercation. When Amro refused, the soldier grabbed, choked and kicked him in front of the New Yorker reporter, whose clip of the altercation has since gone viral.

The IDF has since reprimanded the soldier and given him a 10-day prison sentence, after which his commanders will decide whether to permanently dismiss him from a combat role.

“We condemn aggression towards civil society and the attack on Issa Amro. We note the IDF has said it disciplined the soldier involved. Authorities must exercise restraint towards civilians in the West Bank, not resort to disproportionate violence anywhere, including at checkpoints,” the US Office of Palestinian Affairs tweets.

Defending officers, police chief pushes back after Ben Gvir’s criticism

Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai attend a Hanukkah ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, December 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai attend a Hanukkah ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, December 19, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi  Shabtai defends his officers amid criticism by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has lashed out at Jerusalem cops for not using force during an anti-government protest last week and yesterday slammed the force over the demolition of a West Bank outpost.

In a missive to officers, Shabtai says Israel is “in a difficult period” and stresses the duty of police to enforce the law, prevent crime, “strengthen the civil norm of obeying the law,” protecting people and property, and maintaining public order — all “while respecting human rights.”

“We are the police for all of Israeli society,” he writes. “Protesting is a democratic right.”

He also emphasizes his backing for commanders in the field, “as long as the act in accordance with the Israel Police’s rules and according to the law.”

“I expect you commanders and officers to pay extra heed to the spirit and values of the police, despite the stormy atmosphere,” he adds.

Cop held on suspicion of sexually abusing 15-year-old girl with special needs

The Police Internal Investigations Department in Jerusalem, phhotographed on July 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Police Internal Investigations Department in Jerusalem, phhotographed on July 8, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A patrol police officer was arrested earlier this week on suspicion of committing grave sexual offenses against an underage girl with special needs whom he had detained, the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) says.

The cop has been questioned on suspicion of indecent assault and attempted rape, and is being brought today for a remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, says the PIID, a Justice Ministry body tasked with probing police misconduct.

The statement says the PIID’s Tel Aviv team had conducted a covert investigation that has now been made public.

Hebrew media reports that the victim is 15 and had escaped the special needs institution where she is staying.

The cop detained her in order to escort her back to the institution, and committed the alleged crimes on the way, the reports say.

The complaint was filed to the PIID by the institution, after the girl told a social worker what had happened.

The Israel Police comments that “the incident is being investigated at the PIID and we will act in accordance with the developments and investigation findings.”

Ukrainian official says disappointed in FM Cohen for not condemning Russia

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen lays a wreath at a mass grave of 116 civilians slain by Russians in Bucha, in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen lays a wreath at a mass grave of 116 civilians slain by Russians in Bucha, in Kyiv, Ukraine, February 16, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

In comments to Hebrew media, a senior Ukrainian official expresses disappointment over Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s remarks during his trip to Ukraine, noting the top Israeli diplomat avoided mentioning Russia while visiting Bucha.

NATO chief says alliance must be ready for long standoff with Russia

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a news conference with the Turkish foreign minister (not pictured) following talks in Ankara, on February 16, 2023. (Adem Altan/AFP)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a news conference with the Turkish foreign minister (not pictured) following talks in Ankara, on February 16, 2023. (Adem Altan/AFP)

BRUSSELS — NATO must be prepared for a long standoff with Russia beyond the immediate crisis triggered by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s year-old invasion of Ukraine, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg tells AFP.

“We need to be prepared for the long haul. This may last for many, many, many, many years,” Stoltenberg says in an interview.

In Kyiv, FM says Israel to give Ukraine loan guarantees, help develop missile warning system

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba speak during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 16, 2023. (Gleb Garanich/Pool/AFP)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba speak during a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 16, 2023. (Gleb Garanich/Pool/AFP)

KYIV, Ukraine — After an hour-long meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announces that Israel will provide up to $200 million in loan guarantees for healthcare and civilian infrastructure projects in Ukraine.

He also announces that Israel will “assist Ukraine with developing a smart early warning system.”

“Israel, as stated in the past, stands firmly in solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” says Cohen, “and remains committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Kuleba sounds a guardedly positive tone, saying he was “satisfied” with their conversation.

“Israel knows perfectly about our list of security and defense needs,” Kuleba says. “We will be waiting for decisions to be taken.”

Iran sentences influential professor to 8 years behind bars

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian court has sentenced influential sociology professor Saeed Madani Ghahfarokhi to eight years in prison, his lawyer tells AFP today.

Madani, 62, who has published books on topics including prostitution, violence against women, child abuse and drug addiction in Iran, has been in detention since May last year.

“My client was sentenced to eight years in prison for forming a hostile group and one year for propaganda against the system,” says his lawyer, Mahmoud Behzadirad, adding the verdict is final.

Madani, a professor at Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabai University, had previously been arrested several times and served a six-year prison sentence from 2011.

Iran has been rocked by a wave of protests since mid-September, sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been accused of breaching the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women.

“Since my client has been in prison, he has been consulted by some officials to find ways to deal with the violence” that broke out at the protests, says Behzadirad.

Early this month, Madani published from prison an analysis of the protest movement in which he wrote that it spelled a “vision of the future Iran.”

The Islamic Republic has recently released dozens of personalities, including many detained over the protests, under a partial amnesty granted by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

6 killed in crash between truck and minibus in Egypt, 5 of them Palestinians

CAIRO — At least six people were killed when a pickup truck and a minibus collided today near Egypt’s eastern city of Ismailia, health officials says. Three others were injured in the crash.

Among the dead are five Palestinians, between 20 and 50 years of age, and one Egyptian, the local ambulance service says in a statement.

According to Egyptian media, the five Palestinian passengers were heading to Rafah, Egypt’s official border crossing with the Gaza Strip.

Eight ambulances were dispatched to the scene of the accident to transfer injured people to nearby hospitals for treatment, the ambulance service says. No further details are given.

Fatal car accidents are common across the North Africa country, killing thousands every year. Last November, 21 people died after a bus fell into a canal in Egypt’s Nile River Delta region. In July 2022, a passenger bus slammed into a parked trailer in the south of the country, killing 23 people.

Car crashes and road collisions in Egypt are largely caused by speeding, poor roads or lax enforcement of traffic laws.

Yom Kippur War vets take tank from Golan memorial site to protest planned judicial changes

This handout photo from February 16, 2023, shows a Sho't tank that was taken from the Tel Saki memorial site in the Golan Heights, by veterans of the 1973 Yom Kippur War to protest the government's planned judicial overhaul. (Israel Police)
This handout photo from February 16, 2023, shows a Sho't tank that was taken from the Tel Saki memorial site in the Golan Heights, by veterans of the 1973 Yom Kippur War to protest the government's planned judicial overhaul. (Israel Police)

A police investigation is launched after a group of former soldiers who fought in the Yom Kippur War remove a tank from a site in the Golan Heights that commemorates a famous battle during the 1973 conflict, in protest of the government’s push to upend the judiciary.

Video shows the protesters tying a banner to a trailer carrying the Sho’t tank, the Israeli term for the British-made Centurion, which was taken from Tel Saki.

“The soldiers of 1973 [Yom] Kippur are fighting for the character of the country,” the banner reads.

Pictures released by police showed the word “democracy” spray-painted in Hebrew on it.

A police statement says officers tracked down the tank at Kibbutz Gadot, near the Golan, after receiving a report it was stolen.

The driver of the truck that hauled the tank and the protest organizer were detained and taken for questioning.

Ex-Shayetet 13 commandos urge defense chief, who once headed naval unit, to oppose overhaul

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 550 former naval commandos from Shayetet 13, including several ex-commanders of the elite IDF unit, urge Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to oppose the government’s proposed measures to transform Israel’s judicial system.

The group sends a public letter to Gallant, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a retired general who came up in the military through Shayetet 13 and headed the unit in the 1990s. They note many of them served alongside him and say they put their lives on the line “to defend the State of Israel of the Declaration of Independence.”

“We, who belong to all parts of the nation and have many and varied political views… call on in this time of emergency for the State of Israel to do everything in your power to stop the legislation to weaken the judiciary, to safeguard Israeli democracy, and to act for dialogue between all parts of the State of Israel,” they write. “Just as we all learned in Shayetet 13.”

Lebanese demonstrators smash bank facades after currency hits record low

A potester sprays Arabic graffiti which reads "Depositors Outcry Association" as angry Lebanese vandalised banks in Beirut on February 16, 2023, one day after the Lebanese pound hit a record low against the dollar on the black market. (Joseph Eid/AFP)
A potester sprays Arabic graffiti which reads "Depositors Outcry Association" as angry Lebanese vandalised banks in Beirut on February 16, 2023, one day after the Lebanese pound hit a record low against the dollar on the black market. (Joseph Eid/AFP)

BEIRUT — Dozens of angry demonstrators attack several banks in Beirut after the Lebanese pound hits a record low, AFP journalists say, amid a deepening economic crisis.

Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed strict restrictions on withdrawals, barring depositors from accessing their savings, especially those in US dollars.

The pound is trading at about 80,000 to the greenback on the black market versus 60,000 at the start of the month, according to exchange rate monitors.

Today, around 50 protesters smash the facades of four banks and burn car tires in the central Beirut neighborhood of Badaro, AFP journalists at the scene report.

The attacks come after calls by the “Depositors’ Outcry Association,” a group that supports depositors’ attempts to withdraw their money.

“They stole, seized and looted our money three years ago,” says protester Pascal al-Raisi.

“There are owners of millions of dollars among us without even a penny in their pockets.

“There is no other solution. We will escalate until we regain our rights.”

Depositors have carried out similar attacks in recent months to demand access to their savings from banks, which have repeatedly closed for days.

This month, the Association of Banks in Lebanon declared an open-ended strike, saying the crisis was affecting the entire financial system.

Lebanon’s economic crisis has left many struggling to make ends meet in a country where poverty rates have reached 80 percent of the population, according to the United Nations.

The pound’s plunge has triggered a wave of price hikes including on fuel, food items and other basic goods.

Lebanon is being run by a caretaker government and is also without a president, as lawmakers have repeatedly failed to elect a successor to Michel Aoun, whose mandate expired at the end of October.

Former security chiefs warn judicial overhaul ‘will cause damage for generations’

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then-Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

More than 400 ex-senior security officials, including former heads of the police, Shin Bet and Mossad, sign a public letter urging President Isaac Herzog not to agree to any laws that contradict Israel’s core democratic values as part of his efforts to mediate a compromise version of the government’s judicial overhaul plan.

“As you noted in your speech, the hasty legislative steps constitute a judicial revolution that will cause damage for generations to come,” says the letter by members of the Commanders for Israel’s Security group.

Signatories include former Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, former Mossad directors Tamir Pardo and Danny Yatom, ex-police commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki and former national security adviser Uzi Arad.

“We, who led fighters to Israel’s wars and educated them on its values, defended the country in the battlefield and in the diplomatic arena, are calling, with great respect, for preventing a critical blow to these values,” they write. “In cases where the rule of law and judicial independence are harmed, the first to get harmed are IDF soldiers and security forces, and the physical and legal defense of them.”

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