The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.
Syria’s official news agency SANA says there are a number of people dead and wounded as a result of an alleged Israeli airstrike on the Kafar Sousah neighborhood in Damascus.
Citing a police source, SANA says the casualties are “a result of the Israeli aggression on residential neighborhoods in Damascus.”
Footage from the scene shows heavy damage to the area.
— خالد اسكيف (@khalediskef) February 18, 2023
Footage published by Syrian media shows damage to a residential area in Kafar Sousah, a neighborhood of the capital Damascus, amid an alleged Israeli airstrike.
Images and video show heavy damage to a building.
Some media reports say there are casualties in the attack. Ambulances and medics are seen at the scene.
— Athr Press (@Athr0Press) February 18, 2023
— Orient أورينت (@OrientNews) February 18, 2023
Earlier, Syria’s official broadcaster reported that air defenses were engaging targets over the capital.
Syria’s official news agency SANA reports that air defenses are engaging “hostile targets” over the capital Damascus.
Reports in the country suggest the Israeli Air Force is carrying out strikes in the area.
There are no immediate reports of injuries in the strikes.
Police say all roads in Tel Aviv that were closed for the major anti-government protests in the coastal city have been reopened.
The protests this evening were peaceful, with no reports of violence or clashes with law enforcement.
Several dozen protesters briefly blocked traffic on southbound Ayalon Highway.
Speaking on a podcast last week, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides says the Biden administration is telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “pump the brakes” on the government’s planned judicial overhaul.
“That’s what we’re doing now. We’re telling the prime minister, as I tell my kids. Pump the brakes. Slow down, try to get a consensus, bring the parties together. It’s very complicated, they’re trying to do things way too fast, and to pump the brakes, slow down,” Nides says on The Axe Files podcast, published Thursday.
“That’s the message I’ve been saying to the prime minister. I think President [Joe] Biden has been saying the articulation around democratic values, as well as Secretary [Antony] Blinken,” Nides adds.
Dozens of protesters against the government’s legal overhaul plans block a major highway in Tel Aviv.
Footage shows that traffic has been blocked on southbound Ayalon Highway.
שמח מאוד בכביש איילון ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????☺️☺️☺️☺️☺️☺️???????????????????????????????? pic.twitter.com/HRVxqEvmTo
— israel lives matter ???????????????? (@Skay53867153) February 18, 2023
איילון חסום pic.twitter.com/yFKrw353FS
— ????mor or (@moror04444908) February 18, 2023
Professor Uzi Beller, former head of the gynecology department at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and a former close friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from childhood, tells Channel 12 news in a clip from a Jerusalem demonstration that he is worried for the future of Israel and pleads with him to halt the coalition’s moves to bring the judiciary under near-complete political control.
“Bibi, I am saying this on my own behalf, on behalf of our families — yours and mine, and for the sake of our long years of friendship: I am fearful and scared about what is going to happen to me and my family, to my children and grandchildren, to the future of this country, to its nature,” says Beller, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
He adds: “I remember that when I came to visit you at 19 Metudela Street after the Sabena operation, when you freed the kidnap victims [from a hijacked plane in 1972]. I feel that the state has been kidnapped. You are the only one who can turn back the wheel and get things sorted out in this country.”
While tens of thousands are protesting at dozens of locations across the country against the judicial overhaul, hundreds of right-wing Israelis are gathering at the Liberty Bell Park in Jerusalem, calling for dialogue on the government’s plans.
Protesters hold signs reading, “Right-wing in favor of negotiations.”
Among the speakers at the protest is former Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, who says “the reform will change the face of the country.”
“It is not to improve the legal system, but to neutralize it,” Cohen says.
“The court and legal advisors are our safety belt. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, sometimes it presses, but it saves lives,” he says.
“The division created among the nation amid the discourse on the reform keeps me awake at night. Passing the reform in its current form, by force and without dialogue with all sections of society, will lead to disaster,” Cohen warns.
Protesters in Tel Aviv carry a massive copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence as they march against the government’s planned judicial overhaul.
In Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, dozens of women are seen dressed up as handmaids from Margaret Atwood’s book “The Handmaid’s Tale” about a fictional future society that oppresses women.
״צעדת השפחות״ בתל אביב כרגע pic.twitter.com/nBHDitfPtE
— Asslan Khalil (@KhalilAsslan) February 18, 2023
Justice Minister Yariv Levin vows to advance the government’s judicial overhaul plans, denying a report he has been at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Ridiculous fake news,” Levin tells Channel 13 news regarding the report by rival Channel 12 earlier this week. The Likud party also swiftly denied the report.
“I have the full backing of Likud, the coalition, and the public to move forward with the reform,” Levin tells Channel 13.
According to estimates cited by the Ynet news site, tens of thousands of people are currently protesting in Tel Aviv against the government’s judicial overhaul.
Demonstrations are being held at dozens of locations across the country.
The report says some 17,000 are gathered in Haifa.
In Netanya, 8,000 people are protesting, including opposition leader Yair Lapid.
In Kfar Saba, 7,000 people are gathering, including National Unity leader Benny Gantz.
Some 1,500 are also gathered in Beersheba, and several hundred more at the Shaar Hanegev junction near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Police chief warns of potential for political violence amid inflammatory climate, pleads: ‘Lower the flames’
In an interview with Channel 12 news, police chief Kobi Shabtai warns against possible political violence.
“I came here [to the studio] for a reason. I’ve tried to refrain from these kinds of interviews. But the situation we’re in [in Israel] keeps me awake at night. We’re on a steep slope, of inflammatory argument, of people writing things without considering the impact they can have on the other side,” Shabtai says.
“This is the opportunity to urge everyone to take a breath, to calm down, to discuss, and not to become violent in words or deeds… The State of Israel has already seen harm done to public figures,” he says.
“We saw a hand grenade thrown [with fatal consequences at a demonstration 40 years ago, killing Emil Grunzweig]. We saw the assassination of a prime minister,” Shabtai says, referring to the 1995 assassination of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“We see these threats on social media,” he says.
“The incitement today…. is worrying, worrying. We have to lower the flames… All the security agencies… are doing our best to prevent a repetition,” Shabtai adds.
Thousands of people are gathering on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv for a weekly protest against the government’s judicial overhaul plans.
Channel 12 news is live-streaming footage from the rally below.
The United States Marines says it will be holding a joint drill with the Israel Defense Forces, in Israel starting Sunday.
The drill, dubbed Intrepid Maven, will last through March 1.
According to the US Marine Corps Forces Central Command (MARCENT), some 200 marines and sailors will join IDF infantry and artillery units.
The drill is the sixth in a series of US Marine drills — all using the Intrepid Maven name — held with allied nations in the Middle East.
“This is a great opportunity for our Marines and Sailors to work alongside our Israeli Defense Force counterparts,” says Maj. Gen. Paul J. Rock Jr., commander of MARCENT.
“The very purpose of our Intrepid Maven exercise series is to enhance collaboration and cooperation with partners. Our actions support the National Defense Strategy priority of developing key partnerships, and reflect both our enduring commitment to Israel as a new MARCENT partner and our mutual desire for regional stability,” he says.
“At the troop level, it’s just a great opportunity for enhanced training, cultural exposure and, ultimately, improved unit readiness,” Rock adds.
There is no immediate statement from the IDF on the drill.
Police begin to close main roads in central Tel Aviv ahead of major anti-government rallies that will be held in the coastal city this evening.
Tens of thousands of people are expected at the main protest on Kaplan Street.
Several more demonstrations are anticipated in other cities around the country, including Jerusalem, Haifa, Herzliya, and Beersheba.
Opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have been taking to the streets weekly to protest Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals to shake up the judiciary by severely curbing the High Court of Justice’s judicial review powers and cementing political control over the appointment of judges.
An 18-year-old Palestinian has drowned at the Ein Prat (Wadi Qelt) stream in the Judean Desert in the West Bank, just outside Jerusalem, medics say.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says its medics, military medics, and rescue volunteers treated the young man at the scene, but were forced to pronounce him dead.
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