The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
The left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz political alliance says it will relaunch the Oslo peace process and “renew the partnership” between Jews and Arabs if it’s part of a future government led by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
The party would condition its membership in the coalition on restarting the Oslo peace process within 90 days of the next government’s formation, faction leader Amir Peretz says.
“We will be the force pushing a [renewed] peace process, and senior partners in negotiating it,” Peretz vows.
MK Nitzan Horowitz, head of Meretz and no. 3 in the joint Knesset slate, vows the faction would “renew the partnership with the Arab community in a Gantz government. The Oslo agreement that the right-wing loves to vilify is still in operation, and no one dares to cancel it, because its principles guarantee the future existence of both peoples.”
ALEPPO, Syria — A Syrian commercial flight lands at Aleppo airport from Damascus, marking the resumption of internal flights between Syria’s two largest cities for the first time since 2012.
The flight carrying Syrian officials and journalists us a symbolic message from President Bashar Assad’s government, days after its forces consolidated control over the northwestern province of Aleppo and seized the last segments of the strategic M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus. The motorway between Syria’s two biggest cities is being repaired and is scheduled to reopen in coming days, for the first time in eight years.
Backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, government forces have been on the offensive for weeks to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighboring Idlib province in northwestern Syria, the last rebel-held areas in the country.
The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing towards the border with Turkey in one of the biggest single displacements of the war, now in its eighth year. Escaping the bombs, many of them left with their belongings piled up on vehicles and are now staying in tents, in open fields and under trees in freezing temperatures near the Turkish border. The UN has put the number of those displaced since December 1 at more than 900,000 civilians — more than half of them women and children.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — International Criminal Court judges reject an appeal by an alleged Islamic extremist from Mali who argued that the charges against him were not serious enough to merit standing trial at the global court.
The decision clears the way for the trial of Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud to start later this year for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Timbuktu, including torture, rape and persecution.
Prosecutors allege Al Hassan was responsible for the torture and mistreatment of the people in the ancient Sahara Desert city from April 2012 until January 2013 while it was occupied and ruled by Islamic extremists.
Al Hassan allegedly was a key member of Ansar Dine, an Islamic extremist group with links to al-Qaeda that held power in northern Mali at the time. Prosecutors say Ansar Dine imposed a brutal regime on Timbuktu residents including public floggings, amputations and forced marriages.
At a hearing last year, the court’s Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges Al Hassan was the de facto chief of the Islamic police and “played an essential and undeniable role in the system of persecution established by the armed groups throughout the period of occupation of Timbuktu.”
His trial is scheduled to start July 14.
Set up in 2002, the ICC is a court of last resort established to prosecute grave crimes when local authorities cannot or will not take legal action.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s foreign minister says he believes his recent meeting with a US senator had spooked the Trump administration because it was an opportunity to talk directly to “the American nation.”
Mohammad Javad Zarif met last week with Sen. Chris Murphy on the sidelines of an international security conference in Germany. The Connecticut Democrat defended the meeting on Tuesday after his actions were questioned in conservative media, and as President Donald Trump suggested they may have violated US law. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he hoped anyone who meets with Zarif would be reflecting the US position with Iran.
“Trump and Pompeo are afraid of a senator hearing facts from the Iranian foreign minister,” Zarif said, speaking to reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting. He said this wasn’t his first face-to-face chat with an American lawmaker in the last 20 years. It was not immediately clear which senators he’d met with.
Murphy said meeting Zarif was important because it is “dangerous not to talk to one’s enemies,” adding: “I have no delusions about Iran — they are our adversary.”
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he plans to raise US concerns about human rights during a visit to Saudi Arabia, in particular the case of a Saudi-American doctor facing trial there who was barred from leaving the kingdom and allegedly tortured.
Pompeo is scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia today and will remain there until Friday, before departing to Oman, a close US ally that has ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Pompeo says that during his time in Saudi Arabia, he will speak with the kingdom’s leadership about security issues, threats posed by Iran, the economic relationship between the two countries, and issues of human rights.
When asked by a reporter whether he would specifically raise the case of Saudi-American doctor Walid Fitaihi, Pompeo says: “I’m sure I’ll bring up that issue and a wide range of human rights issues, as well.”
“In each of the visits I’ve had to the kingdom during my time both as CIA director and as secretary of state, we raised these important issues, these issues that matter a lot to the American people,” Pompeo says.
A day before Pompeo was scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia, the two lead Congressmen in the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Pompeo to urge him to raise the case of Fitaihi with Saudi government officials.
An Israeli man is among four people killed in a mid-air collision between two small planes in Australia.
The accident takes place near Mangalore airport some 120 kilometers north of Melbourne, according to Australian media, in conditions of dense fog.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirms that one of the deceased is an Israeli man, and says consular authorities are in touch with the man’s family.
Officials are working to expedite the transfer of his body to Israel for burial, the ministry says.
Local police officials say the accident is under investigation.
Any parties or lawmakers wishing to join a coalition or government led by Blue and White chief Benny Gantz will have to sign a policy document committing not to support a so-called “French law” granting immunity from prosecution to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A man suspected of bribery, deceit and breach of trust can’t serve as a prime minister,” Gantz says at a press conference.
He accused Netanyahu of seeking “to demolish the institutions of the State of Israel, first among them those of law enforcement,” in a bid to avoid “being transferred from the prime minister’s chair to the defendant’s chair.”
He says the prime minister “doesn’t want to deal with the security of residents of the south, to lower the cost of living, to handle the crisis in the public health system. After we denied him immunity, only one thing interests him: to put together a coalition that will allow him to pass a law that will outlaw putting a prime minister on trial — what he calls ‘the French law.'”
Therefore, Gantz adds, “I’m announcing here that anyone who wants to be part of my government will sign a guidelines document that will include a commitment to oppose any such initiative. I call on all party leaders to commit today not to lend a hand to such a bill. In Israel no politician or public servant will be above the law. The cabinet and the Knesset will not become a sanctuary for criminals.”
SACRAMENTO, California — Mike Bloomberg would sell the financial data and media company he created in the 1980s — which bears his name and made him a multibillionaire — if he is elected US president, a top adviser says.
Bloomberg would put Bloomberg LP into a blind trust, and the trustee would then sell the company, adviser Tim O’Brien says. Proceeds from the sale would go to Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable giving arm that funds causes from climate change to public health and grants for American cities.
The only restriction Bloomberg would put on the sale is that it not be sold to a foreign buyer or a private equity company, O’Brien says. Bloomberg, a Democrat, is currently chief executive of the company.
“We want to be 180 degrees apart from Donald Trump around financial conflicts of interest,” O’Brien tells The Associated Press. “We think it’s one of the biggest stains on the presidency, and Trump’s record is his refusal to disengage himself in his own financial interests. And we want to be very transparent and clean and clear with voters about where Mike is on these things.”
Indeed, as one of the world’s wealthiest people, Bloomberg would have an extraordinarily complicated financial picture to untangle if he wins the presidency. His commitment to selling the company stands in stark contrast to the Republican Trump, who refused to fully divest from his business, instead putting his assets in a trust controlled by his two adult sons and a senior company executive. He has continued to make money from his properties.
Bloomberg said in 2018, when he was considering a presidential run, that he would consider selling his business if elected. The company is not currently for sale. He retained ownership in the company when he served as New York City mayor from 2002 to 2013, but gave up his title of chief executive.
The name of the Israeli man killed in a mid-air plane collision in Australia earlier today is released to the press.
Ido Segev, 31, had been living in Australia in recent years.
NEW YORK — New York City is hoping that a new ad campaign will make Jewish New Yorkers feel comfortable despite a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks.
The campaign, launched today by the city’s Commission on Human Rights, consists of four ads each featuring a photograph of a different Jewish New Yorker and a bold proclamation: “Jewish New Yorkers belong here. Anti-Semitism does not.”
The ads will appear online and in three Orthodox publications — Hamodia, Jewish Press and Mishpacha Magazine — but feature Jews from diverse backgrounds.
“I think it’s undisputed right now that Jewish communities, both those who are visibly Jewish and those who are not, are feeling particularly vulnerable and are looking for allies, for solidarity, for support and we hope that this campaign addresses some of those concerns and that fear,” says Dana Sussman, a deputy commissioner who helped develop the campaign.
Sussman appears in one of the ads. The other New Yorkers featured are Yosef Rappaport, a Hasidic Brooklyn resident and community activist; Laura Shaw Frank, a Bronx resident and Orthodox feminist; and Marques Hollie, a Manhattan resident and queer Jew of color.
Rappaport says he had agreed to participate in the campaign after criticizing the city for excluding visibly Jewish New Yorkers from previous ads on other topics.
“I’m active on social media and I also sometimes rightfully or wrongfully complain when New York City has promotional material ads for all kinds of stuff, tourism and all, showing the diversity of people, [but] they hardly ever show Hasidic children, men or women,” he tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a voice message on the WhatsApp messaging platform. “Now that they asked me it was kind of difficult for me to say no.”
Rapaport says he hoped the campaign “will have the desired effect of making us visible, that we belong.”
In addition to running the ads in the three Orthodox publications, the commission will also promote the images on social media and in digital ads on the New York Jewish Week website. The campaign cost $50,000, city officials say.
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz again turns down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s challenge to a televised debate ahead of the March 2 elections, dismissing it as “spin” and linking it to the premier’s upcoming corruption trial.
“Netanyahu has been avoiding debates for over a decade. He avoided my call for debates in the last rounds of elections. He suddenly wants one because of his court date set for March 17,” Gantz says at a press conference in Ramat Gan.
He adds: “This whole event is one big media spin.”
Firing back, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls rival Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff, “scared” and questions his ability to lead Israel.
“Gantz is scared of a debate and he knows why. Israel needs a strong leader and not a coward,” Netanyahu says in a statement. “If Gantz is scared to come to a debate against the prime minister, how will he stand up to the great challenges of the State of Israel?”
Despite Gantz turning down the debate challenge, Netanyahu again calls on his rival to debate him.
Gantz dismissed the idea earlier today, noting that Netanyahu himself has refused to debate election opponents for the past decade, and saying his latest call for a debate is an attempt to distract from his looming corruption trial, which begins March 17.
In a disturbing report, CBS News in the US reveals that dozens of American pedophiles and sexual predators escaped justice in the US by fleeing to Israel.
The network reports:
A CBS News investigation has found that many accused American pedophiles flee to Israel, and bringing them to justice can be difficult.
Jewish Community Watch (JCW), an American organization that tracks accused pedophiles, has been trying for years to find [convicted child abuser Jimmy Julius] Karow and help bring him to justice.
JCW says Karow and other wanted men and women have been able to exploit a right known as the Law of Return, whereby any Jewish person can move to Israel and automatically gain citizenship.
Since the small organization started tracking accused pedophiles in 2014, it says more than 60 have fled from the U.S. to Israel. Given its limited resources to identify these individuals, JCW says the actual number is likely much larger.
The report quotes JCW founder Meyer Seewald comparing the situation to the abuse scandal that has roiled the Catholic Church: “The same thing that is going on in the Catholic Church right now around the world, the exact same thing is happening in our community. The cover-ups are the same, the stigma, the shame.”
Israeli soldiers capture a Lebanese man who snuck across the border into northern Israel earlier today, the military says.
“The suspect was caught near the border fence and, after an interrogation in the field, was returned to Lebanon,” the IDF says in a statement.
— Judah Ari Gross
GAZA CITY — Egypt has begun building a concrete wall along its border with Gaza, say AFP journalists and a Palestinian security official from Hamas, which controls the enclave.
Dozens of workers aided by cranes could be seen erecting the structure, which will stretch from Gaza’s southeastern tip to the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the only gateway out of Gaza that does not lead into Israel.
The wall is being built along the lines of an old, lower barrier that includes an underground structure designed to curb smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.
Contacted by AFP, Egypt’s military declines to comment on the new structure.
The Israeli embassy in Beijing says it has successfully pulled an Israeli man out of the coronavirus-struck Hubei province in central China.
Tomer Zevulun was visiting a rural village in Hubei where he was interested in studying Kung Fu, according to officials.
Israeli officials helped him obtain permits to leave the province, which has been under closure since the deadly virus began spreading through the area.
He boarded a plane to Ukraine a short time ago, where he will board another plane home to Israel.
The State Attorney’s Office International Affairs Department has submitted a request to the Jerusalem District Court to reconsider its decision from yesterday to allow attorneys of alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer to submit new medical opinions contradicting the conclusions of a psychiatric panel that found her mentally fit for extradition to Australia.
“In light of the panel’s opinion, it is now clear that the Honorable Court… and mental health services have fallen victim to over five years of fraud and impersonation by the defendant and her associates,” the prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office write in the request, adding that the repeated delays have been preventing Israel from adhering to its extradition agreement with Australia.
The judge presiding over Leifer’s trial on Tuesday granted the request of her attorneys that they be allowed to submit the new medical opinions.
The decision to allow psychiatrists Moshe Kotler and Sam Tiano, who testified last year that Leifer suffers from severe mental illness and is therefore not fit for extradition, to submit their opinions will almost certainly force the prosecution to cross-examine the two doctors, further extending the already nearly six-year-long proceedings, a legal official told The Times of Israel — and thus further delaying her extradition.
Judge Chana Lomp gave the defense until next Monday to submit the new psychiatric opinions and reserved March 12 for the cross-examination of Kotler and Tiano.
— Jacob Magid
TEHRAN, Iran — The new coronavirus kills two elderly Iranian citizens, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reports.
IRNA quotes Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to the country’s health minister, as saying that both of the victims had been carrying the coronavirus and were located in Qom, about 140 kilometers (86 miles) south of the capital Tehran. No additional details are released.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian authorities confirmed two cases of the new virus, the first in the country, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Officials later said the two patients had died.
ISNA quoted an official in the country’s health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour, as saying that “since last two days, some suspected cases of the new coronavirus were found.”
The virus causes the illness that the World Health Organization recently named COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.
The new virus emerged in China in December. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been infected globally, with more than 2,000 deaths being reported, mostly in China.
BERLIN — German officials confirm that a court has ordered the release of an Iranian man wanted by the United States, but declined to comment on reports that the move was part of a prisoner swap with Iran.
The United States is seeking the extradition of Ahmad Khalili, arrested in Germany in 2018, in connection with alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. Khalili, who worked for Iran’s government-controlled Meraj Air, is alleged to have procured Cessna planes and parts for delivery to Iran.
“We are very glad that a German citizen was released from Evin prison in Tehran following intense diplomatic and humanitarian efforts and has returned safely to Germany,” a spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry, Maria Adebahr, tells reporters in Berlin.
Adebahr declines to provide details of the case, citing “privacy protection.”
A spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, Gholamhossein Esmaili, says the German had been jailed for taking photos and videos of restricted areas in Iran.
Asked about the release of Khalili, Adebahr confirms that the German government had made an official statement as part of the legal proceedings against Khalili, but declines to say whether it had supported the Iranian’s release.
A spokesman for Frankfurt’s regional court says judges had ruled Khalili’s extradition to the US was permissible last year, but that the German government hadn’t provided the approval necessary for this to occur. The court then decided that it wouldn’t be proportional to detain Khalili any longer, “despite the flight risk,” and ordered him released February 12, spokeswoman Gundula Fehns-Boeer tells The Associated Press.
Khalili returned to Iran on Sunday, according to Esmaili.
A poll Wednesday by Channel 12 shows little change in the current political deadlock that has seen Israel go to three consecutive elections in 11 months.
The poll gives Blue and White 35 seats, Likud 33, the predominately Arab Joint List 13, Labor-Gesher-Meretz 9, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism 8, Yisrael Beytenu 7, Yamina 7 and the extremist Otzma Yehudit no seats, as it garnered just 1.6% of votes, far below the 3.25% threshold for entering the 120-seat Knesset.
Those figures put a coalition of right-wing and Haredi parties backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 56 seats, five short of a 61-seat parliamentary majority. Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, the left and Yisrael Beytenu also fall short, at 51.
The election is March 2.
Israel is expanding the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel, in a bid to ease the economic situation in the coastal enclave and ensure quiet on the Israel-Gaza border.
Channel 12 reports that the government has raised the number of daily work permits from around 5,500, where it has hovered for years, to some 7,000 over the past week. If the current ceasefire continues, Israeli officials say, the number will rise to 10,000.
Some 15,000 Gazans once worked in Israel, but the permits were reduced after the Hamas terror group, which now runs Gaza, joined the Palestinian government under Mahmoud Abbas in March 2006. A decade and a half, at least three wars and numerous rounds of violence later, Gaza is in a desperate economic situation.
Israel and Hamas have reportedly reached an informal understanding that Israel will ease its restrictions on Gaza in exchange for a Hamas guarantee of an end to violence along the border.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s electoral watchdog defends its decision to disqualify thousands of candidates for a crucial parliamentary election in two days, as a lackluster campaign nears its end.
Conservatives are expected to make an overwhelming resurgence in Friday’s vote, which comes after months of steeply escalating tensions between Iran and the United States.
Their gains would be made at the expense of those who back President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate conservative who was re-elected in 2017 promising people more freedoms and the benefits of engagement with the West.
But many people in Iran feel their lives have been crippled by an economic slump exacerbated by harsh US sanctions since President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.
A week of campaigning, which has seen posters go up but only a few low-key gatherings, comes to an end on Wednesday, before a day of silence on the eve of polling day.
The interior ministry says only around half of the 16,033 hopefuls who asked to run would be allowed to contest the election after the regime’s Guardian Council barred thousands, most of them moderates and reformists.
But the Council said it was “neutral” in its dealings with all political camps and acted in accordance with the law when it blocked their candidacy.
“The Guardian Council follows the laws and regulations parliament has passed at different times,” said its spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee. “This time, just like at previous (elections), we have tried to properly follow the law,” he told a news conference.
“The Council has never had a political view… It approaches political factions with closed eyes. What it does judge is the evidence in the cases of the candidates and then it only acts in accordance with the law passed by parliament.”
US scientists announce they had created the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the novel coronavirus that attaches to and infects human cells, a critical step toward developing vaccines and treatments.
The announcement comes as the death toll from the COVID-19 virus jumps past 2,000, almost all of them in mainland China where 74,185 cases of infection have been confirmed since it first emerged in late December.
The team from the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) first studied the genetic code of the virus made publicly available by Chinese researchers, and used it to develop a stabilized sample of a key part called the spike protein. They then imaged the spike protein using cutting-edge technology known as cryogenic electron microscopy, publishing their findings in the journal Science.
“The spike is really the antigen that we want to introduce into humans to prime their immune response to make antibodies against this, so that when they then see the actual virus, their immune systems are ready and loaded to attack,” UT Austin scientist Jason McLellan, who led the research, tells AFP.
He adds that he and his colleagues had already spent many years studying other members of the coronavirus family including SARS and MERS, which helped them develop the engineering methods required to keep the spike protein stable. Their engineered spike protein is itself being tested as a potential vaccine by the NIH.
The team is sending the map of its molecular structure out to collaborators around the world so they can improve it by making it provoke a greater immune response. The model can also help scientists develop new proteins to bind to different parts of the spike and prevent it from functioning, to treat those already infected. These are known as antivirals.
“This is a beautifully clear structure of one of the most important coronavirus proteins — a real breakthrough in terms of understanding how this coronavirus finds and enters cells,” says virologist Benjamin Neuman at the Texas A&M University-Texarkana, who was not involved in the work. “The structure shows that although the spike is made of the three identical proteins, one flexes out above the rest, effectively giving the virus a longer reach,” he adds.
WARSAW, Poland — A former priest involved in Poland’s nationalist movement is indicted on hate speech and Holocaust denial charges.
The District Prosecutor’s Office in the city of Wrocław, in western Poland, brings three indictments against Jacek Miedlar. Another claims that he insulted the late prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki.
Miedlar, who pleaded not guilty, could face up to three years in prison if convicted on the charges.
“Dear ladies and gentlemen, that synagogues can stand here on our Polish soil in Wroclaw, and that Dutkiewicz [mayor of Wroclaw] and Jews can get drunk in them with Talmudic hatred, this is only the result of our tolerance,” Miedlar said at a nationalist march in Wroclaw on November 11, 2017. The prosecutor’s office says the speech incited hatred.
About 3,000 people clapped and chanted slogans such as “Great Independent Poland” in response.
The prosecution also highlights other statements inciting hatred against Jews and Holocaust denial from 2018. That year, on December 13 in Wroclaw, Miedlar publicly set fire to the portrait of Mazowiecki, calling him a “communist scab” who “never concealed his Jewish-communist Bolshevik inclinations.” Mazowiecki’s son filed a complaint to the prosecutor’s office.
Mazowiecki, who died in 2013, was an anti-communist activist and the first Polish prime minister after the fall of communism. Although he was a Catholic, with no Jewish roots, his political opponents often accused him of Jewish descent to discourage people from voting for him.
A large blue swastika and the words “white power” have been spray-painted on a Jewish-owned business in Jackson, New Jersey.
The business, which police declined to name, is owned by a Jewish family who lives in nearby Lakewood, the Lakewood Scoop reported. Lakewood, in the southern part of the state, has a large Haredi Orthodox population.
The apparent vandal was captured on surveillance video, which shows a woman getting out of her vehicle and walking behind a trailer located on the business property, which was later vandalized, according to the Scoop.
Police do not say if the incident is being investigated as a hate crime, according to the report.
Jackson was sued twice earlier this month over its rejection of two development plans for the Orthodox Jewish community.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemns the “poison” of hatred and racism running through German society, after a suspected right-wing extremist shot dead nine people at a hookah bar and a cafe in the city of Hanau.
“Racism is a poison, hatred is a poison and this poison exists in our society and it is already to blame for far too many crimes,” Merkel tells reporters.