The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Ben Gvir says he met with Pompeo, discussed Israel-US ties
Far-right National Security Itamar Ben Gvir says he met with former US secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel this week.
On Twitter, Ben Gvir writes that the two discussed Israel-US ties and “Israel’s policies under our right-wing government,” without elaborating.
There is no confirmation from Pompeo, who appears to be the highest-ranking former or current US official to meet with Ben Gvir as the Biden administration keeps away from the ultra-nationalist leader.
The tweet comes after Channel 13 news reported the two met yesterday in Tel Aviv at Ben Gvir’s request and said their meeting largely dealt with growing concerns in the US over the new agenda of the new government, viewed as the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
Citing a source familiar with the meeting, the network says Pompeo wanted to hear that there are no plans to harm any specific groups.
“You don’t need to advance all the plans at once, slowly,” the former top American diplomat is quoted as saying.
Bus driver lightly hurt in stone-throwing attack near West Bank outpost
An Israeli bus driver is lightly hurt after Palestinians hurl stones at his vehicle on the Route 60 highway in the West Bank, medics say.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says its medics are treating the 50-year-old bus driver at the scene, close to the illegal Givat Assaf outpost, and taking him to a hospital.
There were no other passengers on the bus.
The driver suffered a facial wound caused by the broken glass.
NYPD to up security at religious sites after white supremacists declare antisemitic ‘Day of hate’
The New York Police Department says it’s deploying extra resources to houses of worship after white supremacist hate groups declare a “national day of hate” targeting Jews.
The NYPD says there have been no specific threats identified, but are stepping up security out of an abundance of caution.
Chicago police have also issued a warning about the day of hate, scheduled for Saturday.
The white supremacists have called for followers to distribute antisemitic messaging with banners, stickers, fliers and graffiti “to expose the international clique of parasitic vermin that infest our nation today.”
“Make your voices heard loud and clear, that the one true enemy of the American people is the Jew,” a statement says.
Iran acknowledges enriching uranium to near-weapons grade
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran directly acknowledges an accusation attributed to international inspectors that it enriched uranium to 84% purity for the first time, which would put the Islamic Republic closer than ever to weapons-grade material.
The acknowledgment by a news website linked to the highest reaches of Iran’s theocracy renews pressure on the West to address Tehran’s program, which had been contained by the 2015 nuclear deal that America unilaterally withdrew from in 2018. Years of attacks across the Middle East have followed.
Already Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently regained his country’s premiership, is threatening to take military action similar to when Israel previously bombed nuclear programs in Iraq and Syria. But while those attacks saw no war erupt, Iran has an arsenal of ballistic missiles, drones and other weaponry it and its allies already have used in the region.
The acknowledgment today comes from Iran’s Nour News, a website linked to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Nour News separately is sanctioned by Canada for having “participated in gross and systematic human rights violations and perpetuated disinformation activities to justify the Iranian regime’s repression and persecution of its citizens” amid nationwide protests there.
The comments by Nour News follow days of muddled comments by Iran not directly acknowledging the accusation by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran had enriched up to 84 percent.
In its comments, Nour News urges the IAEA to “not fall prey to the seduction of Western countries” and declare that Iran’s nuclear program was “completely peaceful.”
“It will be clear soon that the IAEA surprising report of discovering 84% enriched uranium particles in Iran’s enrichment facilities was an inspector’s error or was a deliberate action to create political atmospheres against Iran on the eve of the meeting of” its board, Nour News said on Twitter. The board, a group of nations that oversees the IAEA, will meet beginning March 6 in Vienna.
Economy minister reportedly suggests overhaul compromise, citing warnings from tech figures
Economy Minister Nir Barkat reportedly relayed warnings he’s heard directly from figures in the tech industry of serious economic fallout and said the government should be willing to soften its plans for radically overhauling Israel’s judicial system, during a meeting today on the next state budget.
According to the Hebrew media reports, Barkat — a former tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist who is a member of the ruling Likud party — asked Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron and Shira Greenberg, the Treasury’s chief economist, if there’s anything to the economic warnings.
“A snowball [effect] may begin and severely damage the economy,” Greenberg is quoted as saying.
Oman, Vatican announce establishment of diplomatic ties
The Vatican and Oman have established diplomatic relations, a joint statement says, three months after a visit by Pope Francis to the Gulf.
There are currently 12 Catholic priests working in four parishes in Oman and the local population of nearly 4.5 million people includes a “significant number of foreign workers,” it says.
The pontiff visited Bahrain in November, his second visit to the Gulf since becoming pope in 2013. His first visit was to the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
Oman’s parishes are part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which is based in Abu Dhabi.
Most of the country’s Catholics are foreign workers from elsewhere in the Middle East and the Philippines, India and Pakistan, the statement said.
Kuwait was the first Gulf country to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1968. Thirty years later, the Vatican established ties with Yemen, followed by Bahrain in 2000, Qatar in 2002 and the United Arab Emirates in 2007.
There are about 3.5 million Christians — some 75 percent of them Catholic — in the Gulf, the birthplace of Islam.
Eurovision organizer warns Israel against curbing public broadcaster’s independence
The European Broadcasting Union, which puts on the Eurovision Song Contest, releases a statement citing its concern over “fresh threats to the independence and sustainability” of the Kan public broadcaster.
In a statement, the organization notes Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi’s comment last month that there’s “no place” for public broadcasting in Israel and a number of moves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is advancing, including plans that would lead to a drop in Kan’s revenues and the closure of several radio stations.
It also mentions that Karhi, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, sent a letter this week calling into question the broadcaster’s coverage of the coalition’s plans to weaken the judiciary.
“Impartial news and information are critical to the functioning of a healthy democracy,” EBU director Noel Curran says. “We call on the Israeli government to safeguard the independence of our member Kan and ensure it is allowed to operate in a sustainable way, with funding that is both stable, adequate, fair, and transparent.”
The warning is the second from the EBU since the government took office in late December.
FTX founder Bankman-Fried faces new fraud charges in rewritten indictment
NEW YORK — FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried faces new fraud charges, as prosecutors accuse him of cheating thousands of investors out of billions of dollars while casting himself as a trustworthy “savior of the cryptocurrency industry” — an image boosted by celebrity-studded Super Bowl advertising and big donations to political figures.
Four new charges, including securities fraud and conspiracy fraud counts, are unveiled today with the unsealing of the refreshed indictment in Manhattan federal court that was returned yesterday.
In a statement, US Attorney Damian Williams hints, as he has several times previously, that prosecutors aren’t finished building their case.
“We are hard at work and will remain so until justice is done,” he says.
A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried declines to comment.
The new charges raised the prison sentence Bankman-Fried could face if convicted from 115 years to 155 years, authorities say.
The new charges raise the number of counts in the indictment to 12, as prosecutors more thoroughly and eloquently tell their story of what happened to FTX, Bankman-Fried’s global cryptocurrency exchange, and its affiliated cryptocurrency trading hedge fund, Alameda Research.
The description casts FTX customers, investors, financial institutions, lenders and the Federal Election Commission as victims of fraudulent schemes Bankman-Fried allegedly carried out from 2019 until last November.
Prosecutors say Bankman-Fried stole billions of dollars in FTX customer deposits to support the operations and investments of FTX and Alameda and to fund speculative venture investments, make charitable donations and spend tens of millions of dollars on illegal campaign donations to Democrats and Republicans in an attempt to buy influence over cryptocurrency regulation in Washington.
They say Bankman-Fried cast himself as a “figurehead of a trustworthy and law-abiding segment of the cryptocurrency industry” that sought to protect investors and clients.
“As recently as late 2022, Bankman-Fried boasted about FTX’s profits and portrayed himself as a savior of the cryptocurrency industry, making venture investments and acquisitions purportedly to assist struggling industry participants,” the new indictment says.
German court finds Palestinian guilty of war crime over deadly 2014 attack in Syria
BERLIN — A German court convicts a Palestinian man from Syria of a war crime and murder for launching a grenade into a crowd of civilians waiting for food in Damascus in 2014. He is sentenced to life in prison.
The 55-year-old, identified only as Moafak D. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested in 2021 in Berlin, where he had been living as a refugee. His trial opened in August.
The German capital’s district court finds that the defendant on March 23, 2014, launched a grenade from an anti-tank weapon into the crowd in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, killing four people and seriously wounding two others.
It says that he was the commander of a checkpoint for a Palestinian group, probably the Free Palestine Movement, and on the day in question also was supposed to be overseeing a distribution of food packages by the UN Relief and Works Agency, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The Yarmouk district, which grew out of a Palestinian refugee camp, was cordoned off by the Syrian government from July 2013 to April 2015, causing shortages of food, water and medical supplies.
The court says the defendant acted out of revenge against civilians in the district after his 25-year-old nephew was killed two days earlier by shots fired by opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
He is convicted of a particularly serious war crime, four counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and bodily harm. The court also determines that he bears particularly severe guilt, meaning that he won’t be eligible for release after 15 years as is usually the case in Germany.
The verdict can be appealed.
Bank of Israel chief reportedly warns economic crisis ‘could break out within a moment’
During a hearing today on the next state budget, Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron warned that an economic crisis “could break out within a moment,” according to Hebrew media reports.
The reported remark came amid growing warnings over potential economic fallout from the government’s efforts to overhaul the judicial system, and days after the central bank hiked its key lending rate to the highest level since 2008, as it seeks to battle inflation and a weakening shekel.
The meeting came after the Finance Ministry’s chief economist sent the government a report earlier in the day, warning the judicial plans are poised to crimp economic growth and foreign investment in Israel.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose far-right Religious Zionism party is one of the driving forces behind the shakeup of the judiciary, reportedly also warned of “a scenario that develops in negative directions,” with a drop in government revenues.
“Therefore we need to be responsible with the budget,” he was quoted as saying.
Committee sets hearing for next month on controversial E1 settlement plans
A committee involved in the approval of West Bank settlement construction has scheduled a meeting for next month to hear objections to controversial plans to build new housing units in the so-called E1 corridor.
A notice posed by the Civil Administration High Planning Subcommittee for Objections says the hearing will be held on March 27 after being pushed off several times, including before US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region last year.
E1 lies within the municipal boundaries of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem. Critics of the plans warn that the construction of homes there will pose a major obstacle to the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.
“The government is spitting in the faces of our Americans friends,” the Peace Now settlement watchdog group says in a statement on the upcoming hearing.
EU denounces Iran over death sentence for Iranian-German man
BRUSSELS — The European Union condemns a death penalty imposed by an Iranian court on a Iranian-German dual national and expresses concern about the increasing number of EU citizens in Iran’s jails.
Tehran’s Revolutionary Court convicted Jamshid Sharmahd, 67, on Tuesday on charges of playing a role in a deadly 2008 mosque bombing.
His family says he was kidnapped by the Iranian security services while in transit in Dubai and then taken to Iran for a show trial.
“The European Union condemns in the strongest terms the unacceptable sentencing to death of Jamshid Sharmahd,” the European Union says in a statement supporting a stance taken by EU member Germany.
“We are in close touch with the German authorities. We will make every effort to advocate for a judicial review in full respect of due process rights and the right of appeal. Consular access has to be granted.”
The statement says the bloc has a united position on EU citizens detained in Iran and opposes the use of the death penalty anywhere, in any circumstance.
“The increasing number of EU citizens currently detained by Iran on spurious grounds is of great concern,” it says, amid concerns that Iran, under pressure from an internal revolt and international sanctions, is resorting to hostage-taking.
Germany yesterday said it was expelling two Iranian diplomats in response to the death sentence against Sharmahd, who is also a US resident.
Iran is holding at least 17 Western citizens, most of them dual nationals, including Sharmahd.
Rights groups and supporters say they are part of a policy of hostage-taking by Iran to extract concessions from foreign governments
Gantz: Netanyahu ‘put politics over security’ by giving West Bank powers to Smotrich
Opposition National Unity party leader Benny Gantz blasts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for agreeing to shift some authorities in the West Bank from Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry.
“The responsibility for dismantling the IDF and Defense Ministry is on Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Gantz, a former defense minister and military chief, writes on Twitter. “This is a decision that will rip apart the chain of command, harm the security of Israeli citizens and our international standing.”
He also charges that since Israel’s founding, “Netanyahu is the first prime minister… who put politics over security.”
“May every Hebrew mother know that the fate of her son and our security has been forfeited to irresponsible politicians,” Gantz adds.
IDF chief says military committed to keeping out politics, amid judicial overhaul tensions
Speaking at an IDF officers’ graduation ceremony, military chief Herzi Halevi comments on the ongoing political discourse in Israel over the government’s radical plans to overhaul the judicial system.
“These days, controversy is shaking Israeli society. The IDF is a unique meeting point of the army and society, and therefore the controversy also affects its servicepeople,” Halevi says.
“IDF soldiers and officers do not serve in distant countries. They protect the home, near the home. They go back and forth from home, and the discussion at home is lively,” he continues.
“Just as we knew how to preserve this uniqueness throughout the years of the IDF’s existence as the people’s army, we know how to do it today as well,” Halevi vows.
Halevi says despite the political climate, the IDF’s mission remains clear, “protecting the state and maintaining the security of its citizens.”
“The servicepeople in the IDF are subject to the law and the army protocols and act according to the IDF spirit and values,” he says.
Halevi says the IDF will be attentive to soldiers discussing the political dispute, “not in order to take sides, but to leave it out and keep the IDF one and united around its complex tasks.”
In report, ADL finds spike in US mass killings linked to extremism over past decade
WASHINGTON — The number of US mass killings linked to extremism over the past decade was at least three times higher than the total from any other 10-year period since the 1970s, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League.
The report, provided to The Associated Press ahead of its public release today, also finds that all extremist killings identified in 2022 were linked to right-wing extremism, with an especially high number linked to white supremacy. They include a racist mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that left 10 Black shoppers dead and a mass shooting that killed five people at an LGBT nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that we live in an age of extremist mass killings,” the report from the group’s Center on Extremism says.
Between two and seven extremism-related mass killings occurred every decade from the 1970s to the 2000s, but in the 2010s that number skyrocketed to 21, the report finds.
The trend has since continued with five extremist mass killings in 2021 and 2022, as many as there were during the first decade of the new millennium.
The number of victims has risen as well. Between 2010 and 2020, 164 people died in ideological extremist-related mass killings, according to the report. That’s much more than in any other decade except the 1990s, when the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people.
Extremist killings are those carried out by people with ties to extreme movements and ideologies.
PM meets with McConnell, other GOP senators amid series of congressional visits
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with a group of US Republican senators at his Jerusalem office, headed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
They are joined by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer.
“You are a true friend of Israel,” Netanyahu says to the Kentucky lawmaker.
The delegation includes Senators Markwayne Mullin (Oklahoma), Jodi Ernst (Iowa), Ted Budd (North Carolina), Thom Tillis (North Carolina) and Katie Britt (Alabama).
GOP Senators Tom Cotton (Arkansas) and Jim Risch (Idaho), and Democratic Senator Alex Padilla (California) also met with Netanyahu while in Israel this week. Additionally, former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo was in the country.
Netanyahu also met with a Democratic House delegation yesterday led by the lobbying group J Street, including Rep. Katie Porter of California, and a bipartisan House delegation led by the US Israel Education Association.
Man found dead in abandoned building in Lod, murder probe launched
Police have launched a murder investigation after a man was found dead in an abandoned building in the central city of Lod.
The victim, who named as 30-year-old Nadal Sarsour, had apparently been shot. According to Hebrew media reports, he had served prison time for drug offenses, suggesting he was killed in a hit.
Meta says tens of millions still using Instagram in Iran despite protest crackdown
SAN FRANCISCO — Meta says that tens of millions of people in Iran are using Instagram despite government efforts to block the service due to months-long protests.
Iran has been rocked by citizen outrage since the September 16 death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest for an alleged breach of dress rules for women.
“Instagram has been widely used by Iranians to shed light on the protests and the brutal response to them,” Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg says during a briefing.
“People have also shared Instagram footage of the protests with international media outlets, many of whom can’t report directly from Iran.”
Protests triggered by Amini’s death resulted in authorities clamping down on speech and freedom of assembly, and limiting the use of the internet and apps such as Instagram, Clegg notes.
“Despite attempts to block Instagram, we’re seeing tens of millions of people still finding ways to access it,” Clegg says.
Tactics to access the image-centric social network service include using virtual private network software that encrypts and conceals online activity, says Meta head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.
People in Iran are also using a “light” version of the Instagram app released in Iran last year that is designed for places where internet bandwidth is meager, Gleicher adds.
Meta has also put policies in place to remove posts that “out” activists, journalists.
3 kids, woman hurt in stone-throwing attack in northern West Bank
Three young children are lightly hurt in an alleged stone-throwing attack by Palestinians in the West Bank, medics say.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says it received a call from an Israeli woman who came under a stone-throwing attack near the West Bank town of Huwara.
She continued driving until Tapuah junction, where she met up with medics.
MDA says three children in the car, aged 2, 5, and 6 are lightly hurt and are being taken to a hospital for further treatment. It adds that the driver, 26, was also lightly hurt.
Zelensky vows Ukraine ‘will prevail,’ day before Russian invasion anniversary
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine “will prevail” over invading Russian forces, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Thursday, a day before the first anniversary of Moscow’s assault on his country.
“We have not broken down, we have overcome many ordeals and we will prevail. We will hold to account all those who brought this evil, this war to our land,” Zelensky sasy on social media.
IDF wraps up joint drill in Greece with Greek, US infantry troops
The Israeli military wraps up a joint drill with Greek and American infantry troops in Greece, the Israel Defense Forces says in a statement.
During the several-day exercise, troops of the IDF Oz Brigade — known as the commando brigade — and the Nahal Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion, held live-fire drills with their American and Greek counterparts.
The IDF says the drill focused on urban warfare, logistics amid combat, nighttime warfare, engineering operations, artillery and border defense.
“This is a significant milestone in the relationship between the armies in order to improve the ability to deal with regional threats,” the IDF says.
Jewish and Arab high schools in Acre team up to donate aid to Turkey quake survivors
Two Acre high schools of at-risk youth — one Jewish and one Arab — have joined together to help bring donations of coats, blankets and clothes to survivors of the recent devastating earthquake in Turkey.
The schools gathered 10 tons of aid, which have been flown to the quake-hit regions in southeast Turkey.
The Arab Technological School – Ort Acre school led the charge on collecting the aid, and Manof Youth Village joined in to help sort and package the donations.
The cooperation between the schools is part of a project to connect Jews and Arabs.
Ashra Issa of Ort, who spearheaded the project, tells AcoNet: “The response was staggering. We received… huge amounts of blankets and coats of varying sizes, which is what is needed and was requested, as well as clothes for young children that will be handed over to orphanages.”
The effort took place under “Am-Adam” (People of Humanity) Project, an educational project established a few years ago to encourage personal contact between Arab and Jewish pupils.
Death toll from Turkey, Syria earthquake passes 47,000
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has raised the number of fatalities in Turkey from the magnitude 7.8 earthquake to 43,556.
The combined death toll in Turkey and Syria now stands at 47,244.
In an interview with state broadcaster TRT, Soylu says teams were sifting through two buildings in hard-hit Hatay province in search of further bodies. Search operations elsewhere have come to an end, he says.
Meanwhile, at least 164,000 buildings have either collapsed or are so damaged that they need to be demolished, says Murat Kurum, Turkey’s minister for the environment and urbanization.
Netanyahu announces agreement to hand some West Bank authority to Smotrich
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announces that he has inked an agreement with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry, regarding the division of powers between the latter two.
The statement from Netanyahu’s office doesn’t provide details on the arrangement. As part of their coalition deal, Netanyahu’s Likud party agreed to transfer control over the Civil Administration and Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories to Smotrich’s far-right Religious Zionism party.
According to a statement from Smotrich’s office, the deal will give him authority over most of the Civil Administration, such as the approval of settlement construction and enforcement against illegal construction in the West Bank, though the military will retain the power to demolish wildcat outposts “in case of security and irregular events.” The agreement will also allow Smotrich to appoint a deputy head of the Civil Administration, who will be a civilian official and wield the powers in his stead, but he will not be able to choose its leader or the commander of COGAT.
“We have a long way to go, but this is a day of celebration for residents of Judea and Samaria and the State of Israel,” Smotrich says, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
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