The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

AG said gearing up to recommend indictment for PM on Thursday

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will recommend tomorrow that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted pending a heading in the ongoing corruption investigations against him, Army Radio reports.

Mandelblit will recommend that Netanyahu be charged with bribery in Case 4000, in which the premier is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

Mandeblit will also recommend Netanyahu be charged with breach of trust in Case 1000, in which the prime minister is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors.

Army Radio says it remains unclear what Mandeblit will recommend Netanyahu be charged with in Case 2000, which focuses on suspicions that the premier and Yedioth Ahronoth owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes made an illicit agreement that would have seen the premier economically hobble rival daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has cut his trip to Russia short amid the growing reports of a looming indictment. He will arrive back in Israel tonight.

Trump, Kim open second nuclear summit with handshake, smiles

US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un open their second summit Wednesday with hopeful words and a private chat before sitting down for dinner and further talks about North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The two exchange smiles and a warm handshake in front of a phalanx of alternating American and North Korean flags.

They pose for cameras before disappearing for their private tete-a-tete, similar to one they had at their first historic meeting last year in Singapore.

“We made a lot of progress,” Trump says of their first summit. “I think the biggest progress was our relationship, is really a good one.”

Asked if this summit would yield a political declaration to end the Korean War, Trump says “We’ll see.”

Kim says he was “confident of achieving the great results that everyone will welcome.”

— AP

Netanyahu-Putin meeting begins in Kremlin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.

It is their first face-to-face sit-down since the downing of a Russian plane by Syrian air defenses in September during an Israeli airstrike, for which Moscow blamed Jerusalem.

The leaders are expected to discuss Iran’s military presence in Syria as well as the broader security situation in the Middle East.

PM to Putin: Our bilateral relations have prevented friction between our armies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the relations between their two countries have “prevented friction between our armies.”

“The greatest threat to stability and security in the region comes from Iran and its satellites, and we are determined to continue our aggressive activity against Iran and its attempts to establish itself in Syria,” Netanyahu tells Putin, who views Damascus as an ally.

Poland open to meeting with Israel after Holocaust spat

Poland’s foreign minister says his country is open to a meeting with Israel also involving other countries from central Europe, after it pulled out of a similar meeting last week.

Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz says after talks with his Hungarian counterpart in Budapest that there are “no obstacles” to the meeting, although “some things still have to be cleared up with the Israeli side.”

Poland pulled out of the February 19 meeting after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Poles had cooperated with the Nazis during the Holocaust and Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz referenced a quote from former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who said that Poles “suckled anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

Regarding Brexit, Czaputowicz says Poland would support delaying the EU-Britain breakup “if it helps work out a better position.”

— AP

Syria force evacuates families before final assault on IS

US-backed forces in eastern Syria are scrambled to extract more families from the last dreg of the “caliphate” before delivering a final blow to holdout jihadists.

Several thousand people — fighters and their relatives — are believed to be holed up in Baghouz, the last pocket of territory controlled by the Islamic State group, barely half a square kilometer near the Iraqi border.

Nearly five years after IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ascended a pulpit in a mosque in Mosul calling on Muslims to join the newly proclaimed “caliphate,” the so-called Islamic State is only days away from dying in a tiny village few Syrians had ever heard of until recently.


Union of Right Wing Parties signs vote surplus agreement with Likud

The Union of Right Wing Parties, made up of the Jewish Home, National Union and extremist Otzma Yehudit factions, has signed a vote surplus agreement with the Likud party.

The treaty means that any “extra” votes — votes that are over the threshold for the party’s final number of Knesset seats but below the threshold to receive another seat — are pooled between the two signatory parties in the hopes that together there will be enough to gain another seat for one of them.

Soldier critically wounded in West Bank terror shooting released to rehab

Netanel Farber, who was critically wounded when a Palestinian gunman opened fire at the Givat Assaf junction in the central West Bank in December, has been released from the Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem to a rehab facility.

His condition has stabilized, but he remains unconscious.

Police complaint filed against extremist Haredim who busted women’s event

Jerusalem city council member Laura Wharton has filed a police complaint against a group of ten Haredi extremists who disrupted an event on female empowerment in the ultra-Orthodox sector last night in the capital.

The protesters poured bags of trash and other foul materials on the participants.

Macron says ‘time has come’ for British to make Brexit choices

French President Emmanuel Macron says that the “time has come” for British leaders to decide on how the country will leave the EU, amid indications that London will seek to delay Brexit until after March 29.

“As Michel Barnier has said, we don’t need more time, what we need most of all is a decision,” Macron says after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris, referring to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.


French justice minister calls sports hijab row ‘hysterical’

French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet wades into a row over the marketing of a sports version of the hijab Muslim headscarf in France, saying she regretted the “hysterical” debate and stressing that selling such items would in no way break the law.

Her comments follow a raging dispute, especially on social media, on Tuesday after French sports retailer Decathlon announced it would sell a runner’s hijab in France to “make sport accessible to all women in the world.”

But Decathlon backed down hours later following a public outcry, saying it would not sell the hijab in France.

“I think there has been far too much hysteria over the matter, and I regret that,” Belloubet tells BFM television.

Providing the face is not completely covered “there are no legal objections” to selling the running hijab, she adds, deploring the fact that some political leaders had sought to exploit the issue.

Asked about her own personal opinion, Belloubet says: “I don’t see why women should force themselves to wear such clothes.”

The controversy is the latest in France over face- and body-covering garments worn by Muslim women which many perceive as instruments of women’s subjugation in a country with strict laws on secularism.


Tottenham defends fans chanting an offensive term for Jews

Tottenham says only a total clampdown on anti-Semitism would make it reassess club standards on its fans affectionately chanting an offensive term for Jews.

The statement follows Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck telling The Associated Press “the use of the Y-word by Spurs supporters, or by anybody, is wrong.”

Fans of Tottenham, a north London soccer club which has traditionally drawn a large fan base from the Jewish communities, call themselves the “Yid Army.” But Chelsea fans have used the word against Tottenham in chants and the team is now facing UEFA sanctions as a result.

Chelsea will host Tottenham in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Tottenham says its fans “have never used the term with any offense,” adding that “a reassessment of its use can only occur effectively within the context of a total clampdown on unacceptable anti-Semitism.”

— AP

Slabs of West Bank security wall collapse due to rainstorm

Several slabs of the West Bank security wall bordering the Palestinian village of Anata have collapsed due to heavy rains.

EU’s Mogherini urges ‘utmost restraint’ in India-Pakistan crisis

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini calls on India and Pakistan to show the “utmost restraint” in their escalating confrontation as fears grow of all-out conflict between the nuclear-armed rivals.

“We expect both countries to now exercise utmost restraint and avoid any further escalation of the situation,” Mogherini says in a statement after both countries said they had shot down each other’s warplanes.


Settler leaders call on MDA to walk back plan to limit services in West Bank

Settler leaders have sent an urgent letter to Magen David Adom director Eli Bin, calling on him to cancel a plan to limit the emergency service’s presence in the West Bank set to go into effect tomorrow.

The plan — instituted due to budget cuts — will affect 15 MDA stations beyond the Green Line with some of them slated to be scaled down and others to close entirely.

“If this happens we will find ourselves in a situation in which large areas of the region will remain without a proper response to emergency situations. The response time for the evacuation of those injured in accidents or terror attacks may be prolonged and there will not be a proper response to the casualties… This is a high-risk decision that may, God forbid, lead to the loss of human life,” members of the Yesha settlement umbrella council write to Bin.

Trump peace plan seeks to invest $25 billion in PA — report

The Trump peace plan seeks to invest $25 billion into the Palestinian Authority, analysts who have followed its development tell the New York Times.

The plan will also see $40 billion invested in Egypt, Jordan and possibly Lebanon, the NYT says.

The US is hoping that wealthy Gulf states will be able to cover the bulk of the funds.

The plan, according to the analysts who spoke to the New York Times, stops short of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state.

US Congress begins hearing to grill Trump ex-lawyer Cohen

A US congressional panel has began a contentious hearing in which Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen is to provide explosive testimony describing his former boss as a “con man” who committed wrongdoing as a candidate and as president.

According to prepared testimony, Cohen is to tell lawmakers that Trump directed negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow through the 2016 election campaign, paid “hush money” to a porn star, and knew in advance in 2016 that WikiLeaks would publish dirt on Hillary Clinton.

“Ladies and gentleman, we are in search of the truth,” the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Democrat Elijah Cummings, says after gavelling the hearing to order.


3rd Israeli succumbs to wounds from Chile boating accident

A third Israeli has succumbed to wounds sustained in a boating accident in Chile earlier this week, the Foreign Ministry confirms.

The identity of the latest victim has not yet been released.

Cohen to Congress: My father survived the Holocaust thanks to compassion of others

Michael Cohen explains to Congress why he had been willing to lie to them in his last testimony on US President Donald Trump’s behalf: “I have always tried to live a life of loyalty, friendship, generosity, and compassion – qualities my parents ingrained in my siblings and me since childhood. My father survived the Holocaust thanks to the compassion and selfless acts of others. He was helped by many who put themselves in harm’s way to do what they knew was right.”

“That is why my first instinct has always been to help those in need. Mom and Dad. I am sorry that I let you down.”

Trump is a ‘racist,’ ‘conman’ and ‘cheat,’ ex-lawyer tells Congress

Trump is a “racist, a conman and a cheat,” ex-lawyer Michael Cohen tells Congress in his testimony against the US president.

Shas urges election committee to allow extremist Otzma Yehudit to run

A representative of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to the Central Elections Committee has drafted a letter urging the body not to accept a request by the Meretz party to disqualify the Otzma Yehudit faction from running in April.

Any decision by the Central Elections Committee to block Otzma Yehudit from running would then come before the Supreme Court, which in the last election cycle overruled bans on an Arab lawmaker and a far-right right activist now in Otzma Yehudit from participating in the elections.

MDA freezes plan to limit services in West Bank

Following pressure from settler leaders, Magen David Adom has decided to freeze a plan that would have seen its services substantially limited in the West Bank, the Ynet news site reports.

Slated to go into effect tomorrow, the plan has been delayed until March 24.

Trump ex-lawyer has no ‘evidence’ of Russia collusion, but ‘suspicions’

Michael Cohen tells Congress that he had no specific evidence that Trump coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, but spoke of his “suspicions” his former boss was involved in collusion.

Delivering uncomfortably blunt testimony about his decade-long professional relationship with Trump, the disgraced lawyer provides examples of how Trump or his family had dealings with Moscow or with Russian figures in 2016 in the heat of the campaign.

“Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia,” Cohen tells the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “I do not, I want to be clear. But I have my suspicions.”


Labor presents plan to kick-start process of ‘separation from the Palestinians’

Amid fierce speculation over the details of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, Labor releases the party’s platform for “separating from the Palestinians,” detailing key steps it says it will take to restart the moribund peace process.

“As a party defined by diplomatic initiative and the pursuit of peace, we are committed to working to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” reads the opening of the policy proposal titled, “Three paths to separation.”

The plan describes Labor’s long-term “diplomatic vision” as “a regional arrangement with the Palestinians and the moderate Arab states, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state will be established by our side.” But in an admission of the significant barriers that prevent breaking the current deadlock, the party admits that “this future vision is not attainable” in the near future.

“Israel must therefore take a political turn, to pave new paths to separation from the Palestinians, build trust between the sides, and reverse current trends that endanger Israel,” the plan says.

— Raoul Wootliff

Erdogan meets with Kushner to discuss Mideast peace

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with US President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner during the American official’s regional tour to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Erdogan regards himself as a champion of the Palestinians and Turkey has often been vocal in its criticism of the Israeli government and Washington, especially after Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy there last year.

The men are joined by Erdogan’s son-in-law and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, according to Turkish presidency images.

Kushner’s visit follows from Trump’s shock announcement in December — welcomed by Ankara — that he would withdraw 2,000 American ground troops from northern Syria.

Ankara has called for a “safe zone” controlled by Turkish forces to be a buffer area against the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.


Kushner reportedly making little headway on Middle East tour to push peace plan

US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser has been making little headway in his tour across the Middle East to push his administration’s peace plan, Reuters reports.

One source tells the news agency that Kushner is seeking to make a deal first and iron out the details later.

Another Gulf source says the plan does not appear to take into account Arab demands regarding Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlements.

3rd Israeli casualty in Chile boating accident identified as mother of ambassador

The third Israeli casualty in the Chile boating accident earlier this week has been identified as Dalia Ronen, the mother of Israel’s Ambassador to Uruguay Galit Ronen.

Ukraine pulls out of Eurovision due to row related to country’s tensions with Russia

Ukraine has announced that it will not be participating in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest being hosted in Tel Aviv.

The state broadcaster announced that the country’s representative Maruv would not participate due to disagreements over a planned tour in Russia.

The second and third place finishers in the country’s show to pick Ukraine’s representative declined to take Maruv’s spot leading Kiev to pull out entirely.

Blue and White calls allegations Gantz exposed himself to woman 40 years ago ‘complete lie’

The Blue and White party blasts as “a complete lie” an accusation made in a Facebook post earlier today by an Israeli woman living in the US that chairman Benny Gantz had exposed himself to her 40 years ago.

“Last night, it was a blood libel on the graves of the fallen soldiers of the IDF, and this evening is a baseless plot against Benny Gantz and his days in Kfar Hayarok in the 1970s,” the party says, suggesting that the Likud party was behind the post as it had been behind campaign video last night which was filmed in front of graves of fallen soldiers.

In the (Hebrew) post from earlier today, Navarone Jacobs says Gantz approached her at the Kfar Hayarok youth village when she was 14 and he was about 17, unzipped his pants and exposed his penis to her “in a manner in which I felt I was in danger.”

Jacobs writes that a friend of Gantz’s then appeared and pulled him away.

“He ruined my life,” she writes.

AG to recommend PM be indicted for breach of trust in Case 2000

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided that Prime Minister Brnjamin Netanyahu should be indicted for breach of trust in Case 2000 pending a hearing, Channel 12 and Channel 13 report. The attorney-general will likely announce the decision tomorrow, the TV channels say.

Case 2000 focuses on suspicions that the premier and Yedioth Ahronoth owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes made an illicit agreement that would have seen the premier economically hobble rival daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. Mozes will likely be charged with bribery in that case, Channels 12 and 13 report.

Channel 12 reports that Mandelblit intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, pending a hearing, in Case 4000, in which the premier is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

And the channel reports that Mandeblit will recommend Netanyahu be charged with breach of trust in Case 1000, in which the prime minister is suspected of receiving benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors.

Netanyahu lambastes AG’s reported plan to charge him with bribery

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to reports that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit plans to indict him for bribery in Case 4000.

In the case, the premier is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

“The charges of bribery are ridiculous. Prime Minister Netanyahu received nothing from Elovitch and gave him nothing. Walla’s coverage was negative and intensified before the elections,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

“All decisions regarding Bezeq were approved by all responsible regulators and the prime minister acted flawlessly, as the Ministry of Justice stated in an official document.”

“A bribery charge over two and a half articles on the internet is an absurd step that has no legal precedent. This house of cards will soon collapse.”

Explosive device from Gaza damages Israeli home near border

An explosive device, apparently carried by a balloon from the Gaza Strip, caused damage to a home in the Eshkol region of southern Israel, but no injuries, the local government says.

The military is on the scene and investigating the incident.

The exact location of the damaged home is not being released as it could assist terrorist groups in the Strip to better direct their airborne attacks.

— Judah Ari Gross

Cohen: Other illegal acts involving Trump being probed

Donald Trump’s former personal attorney tells Congress US authorities are investigating illegal activities involving the president beyond those that have already been made public.

Cohen has spent hours addressing accusations that Trump paid hush money to two women in 2016, and directed his lawyer to lie about negotiations over a Moscow business deal, and has been asked if he was aware of “any other wrongdoing or illegal act” regarding Trump that had yet to be addressed in the hearing.

He replies that he had, but could not discuss the allegations because “those are part of the investigation that are currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”


Elections committee prohibits parties from anonymously posting campaign ads

Central Elections Committee chairman Hanan Meltzer issues an order barring parties from anonymously posting election ads on the internet or on social media.

Each party will now be required to place its name in every ad they produce.

Israel rejects ‘biased’ UN probe into response to Gaza unrest

Israel rejects the findings of the UN probe into its soldiers’ response to Gaza unrest that began in March last year, calling it “hostile, deceitful and biased.”

“Israel rejects the report outright,” acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz says in a statement after the probe alleged soldiers may have committed crimes against humanity.

Composite image of Transportation Minister Israel Katz (L) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. (Hadas Parush/Flash90, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“No institution can negate Israel’s right to self-defense and its duty to defend its residents and borders from violent attacks.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett comments that “it’s hard to imagine the UN could sink any lower. Alternating between excusing terror and ignoring terror it is letting down democracies and backing dictators and tyrants.”

— with AFP

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