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Blue and White and Yesh Atid close in on coalition deal

Government talks continue into the night; TV says Yesh Atid chief hoping to announce a prospective ruling coalition by 11 a.m. Wednesday

Then-education minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid during a ceremony at Netiv Ha'avot, at the West Bank's Elazar settlement, on July 23, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Then-education minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid during a ceremony at Netiv Ha'avot, at the West Bank's Elazar settlement, on July 23, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

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

Party chiefs huddle in bid to finalize government

The leaders of the Yamina, Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope parties are meeting now at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan in a bid to hammer out a final agreement to form a government that will replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as premier.

Joining the party chiefs is Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, whose reported insistence on receiving a spot on the Judicial Selections Committee reserved for Labor leader Merav Michaeli is seen a key hurdle to overcome before a coalition can be finalized.

Expectations are that Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, who is currently tasked with forming a government, will declare he is able to assemble a coalition at some point today.

Liberman: ‘With a little good will’ we can announce formation of new government Tuesday

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman signals that Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid may inform President Reuven Rivlin later today that he is able to form a government with Yamina and the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties.

“I finished my coalition deal long ago. To me the deal is already closed. I can tell you that always at the last second before closing [a coalition agreement] there are efforts to grab a little more. This is natural,” Liberman says at a conference in Eilat.

He adds: “I believe that with a little good will, today it will be possible to finish this.”

Foreign Ministry summons Argentina envoy for backing UN rights council probe of Israel

The Foreign Ministry summons Argentina’s ambassador for a clarification after the South American country voted in favor of an open-ended UN Human Rights Council probe of Israel after the recent fighting in Gaza against the Hamas terror group.

Modi Ephraim, the ministry’s deputy-director general for Latin America, clarifies to Ambassador Sergio Urribarri that Israel views Argentina’s support for the commission of inquiry as unacceptable and that Jerusalem expects Buenos Aires “to stand by our side in this difficult hour,” according to a statement.

The meeting comes after the ambassadors of the Philippines and Mexico were also summoned over their countries’ support for the inquiry.

Netanyahu: Israel will choose thwarting Iran nuke program even at expense of tensions with US

Prime Minister Netanyahu says the greatest existential threat facing Israel is the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear arms, an alleged effort that he warns endangers the Jewish state.

He also calls for covert operations against Iran to continue, speaking at a ceremony for new Mossad chief David Barnea, who is replacing outgoing spymaster Yossi Cohen.

“I’ve told this to my friend for 40 years, [US President] Joe Biden, and I said to him, ‘With or without a deal, we will continue to do everything in our power to thwart the armament of Iran with nuclear weapons,'” Netanyahu says.

He adds: “If we need to choose — I hope this won’t happen — between friction with our great friend the US and removing the existential threat — removing the existential threat wins out.”

From right to left: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, new Mossad chief David Barnea and the intelligence’s agency’s outgoing leader Yossi Cohen on June 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Labor chief pushes back on Shaked’s demand for spot on judges panel

Labor leader Merav Michaeli says she sees no reason to give up the spot reserved for her on the Judicial Appointments Committee to Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked, who is reportedly conditioning her support for joining the “change government” on being given Michaeli’s spot.

“My negotiations weren’t with Ayelet Shaked,” Michaeli says at the Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat.

She notes her center-left party backed Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid on forming a government and sealed a coalition deal with him, not Shaked.

“I have no issue with Shaked, there’s a government here we’re trying to form. We reached agreements and we still stand by them,” Michaeli adds.

However, according to Channel 12 news, Shaked is expected to have her demand granted.

Gantz: US our top ally, differences should be solved discreetly and not with ‘defiant rhetoric’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz releases a statement touting Israel’s ties with America after Prime Minister Netanyahu said if forced to choose, he’ll prioritize efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear program even at the cost of a potential diplomatic dustup with the United States.

“Iran is a threat to regional stability and world peace. It is a country that instigates terrorisms and is advancing a nuclear program that is dangerous to the State of Israel,” Gantz says. “Still, Israel is the strongest country in the region.”

He adds: “The United States was and will continue to be Israel’s most important ally in maintaining its security and security superiority in the region… Israel has and will have no better partner than the US. Even if there are disagreements, they will be solved behind closed doors and not with defiant rhetoric that could harm Israel’s security.”

Tel Aviv hospital holds concert to celebrate end of most COVID restrictions

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital holds a concert to celebrate the lifting of nearly all COVID-19 restrictions this morning, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to recede in Israel following the country’s successful vaccination drive.

While restrictions on businesses and gatherings were scrapped, the indoor mask mandate, quarantine requirements and some limitations on overseas travel remain in place.

Musician Aviv Geffen performs at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital to mark the end of the majority of virus restrictions, June 1, 2021 (Courtesy)

Israel, Hungary ink deal to train Holocaust educators at Yad Vashem

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi hosts his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjartoon, who is visiting Israel after the recent fighting between the Israeli military and the Gaza-ruling terror group.

He says the two inked an agreement “to promote collaborations” and train Holocaust teachers at the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem.

Hungary and its nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban have taken heat for their portrayal of the Holocaust, which minimizes the role of the country’s Axis-alligned regime in the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. Israel and Hungary have moved closer in recent years under Orban, a warming of ties Prime Minister Netanyahu has faced flack over.

Ashkenazi also says they talked about “the challenges” after the 11-day conflict in Gaza and further advancing bilateral ties between the countries.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjartoon visit a home in the central city of Petah Tikva that was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza during the Israeli military’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” June 1, 2021. (Courtesy)

Iran reports 2 fighter pilots killed by ‘technical problem’ on jet

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian fighter jet developed a “technical problem” that killed both of the aircraft’s pilots, state TV reports today.

The report says the incident happened in the country’s southwest, in the city of Dezful, 444 kilometers (270 miles) from the capital, Tehran and near the border with Iraq.

The report says an investigation is underway as to what had caused the malfunction of the Iranian air force’s F-5 fighter jet. The TV says it happened before takeoff. It doesn’t elaborate.

The report, citing an informed source, identifies the pilots as Kianoush Basati and Hossein Nami, without providing their rank. Authorities are investigating, it says.

Iran’s air force has an assortment of US-made military aircraft purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It also has Russian-made MiG and Sukhoi planes. Decades of Western sanctions have made it hard to maintain the aging fleet.

Egypt invites Fatah, Hamas to Cairo for Palestinian reconciliation talks

Egyptian official media reports that Cairo has invited Palestinian factions for reconciliation talks next week.

Numerous past rounds of Palestinian reconciliation talks have taken place in the Egyptian capital, some of which even led the rival Fatah and Hamas movements to sign unity agreements. But none have resolved the fundamental differences dividing the two parties.

In an unusual move, Egypt has invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to lead the meeting, according to the statement. It is still unclear whether Abbas will accept the invitation and travel to Cairo himself.

The meeting in Cairo aims to reach “an agreement on the necessary steps to end the division and lay down a road map for the next stage,” Egyptian media says.

In statements to reporters yesterday, Hamas Gaza governor Yahya Sinwar also said Palestinian factions would meet in the coming days for talks in Egypt.

China reports human case of H10N3 bird flu, asserts chance of major spread is low

BEIJING — A man in eastern China has contracted what might be the world’s first human case of the H10N3 strain of bird flu, but the risk of large-scale spread is low, the government says.

The 41-year-old man in Jiangsu province, northwest of Shanghai, was hospitalized April 28 and is in stable condition, the National Health Commission says on its website.

No human case of H10N3 has been reported elsewhere, the commission says.

“This infection is an accidental cross-species transmission,” its statement says. “The risk of large-scale transmission is low.”

Slaughtered chickens are displayed for sale at a wholesale poultry market in Shanghai, January 21, 2014. (AP Photo, File)

Joint Israeli-UAE water research institute to be set up in Abu Dhabi

Tel Aviv University announces the establishment of a joint water research institute with the United Arab Emirates that will be set up in Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, the Economy Ministry says it will establish an office in the UAE capital that will promote economic ties between the countries.

Kafka’s unpublished letters, drawings now available online

An unpublished collection of letters, manuscripts and drawings by Franz Kafka are now available online via the Israel National Library, which recovered the documents after years of legal wrangling.

Some 120 drawings and more than 200 letters to his friend Max Brod are among the archives now available for public viewing, the project’s curator Stefan Litte tells AFP.

The documents exist thanks to Brod’s decision to break a pact with his friend Kafka, the acclaimed Czech Jewish author of “The Trial” and “The Metamorphosis,” who as he suffered from tuberculosis asked that his writings be destroyed.

But after the author died in 1924, Brod decided to keep the papers and in 1939 fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for Tel Aviv with them in tow.

Most of the recovered material had already been published by Brod — but two surprises were in store for archivists in Jerusalem.

“We discovered unpublished drawings, neither signed nor dated, but that Brod had kept,” says Litt, who showed drawings of characters on small pieces of paper, including drawings of Kafka’s mother and a self-portrait.

“The big surprise we received when we opened these documents was his blue notebook, in which Kafka wrote in Hebrew, signing ‘K,’ his usual signature,” Litt says.

An original manuscript written in Hebrew by Franz Kafka is displayed at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, May 31, 2021. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

In one of the entries in his notebook, dated to 1920, he asks a teacher in Hebrew not to get angry for mistakes in his homework — “because I am already angry for both of us.”

But for Litt, there’s only one regret: the “treasure” from Switzerland included German leaflets written by Kafka, but none of them unpublished.

Yisrael Beytenu reports receiving threats to murder Liberman, party workers

The Yisrael Beytenu party, which is part of the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties, says it has received a number of threatening calls in the past few hours as negotiations to form a government that will replace Israel’s premier appear to near the finish line.

Yisrael Beytenu says some of these calls included “harsh threats of murder” toward staff at the right-wing secularist party’s headquarters and against its leader, Avigdor Liberman.

It adds that a complaint has been filed with the Knesset Guard.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Knesset faction meeting on May 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meeting Netanyahu, Ted Cruz says Israel has ‘responsibility to defend itself’

Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee meet with numerous Israeli leaders as they continue their visit of Israel following the recent fighting in Gaza against the Hamas terror group.

Meeting Netanyahu, Cruz stresses US support for Israel.

“These are dangerous times but Israel not only has the right, but also the responsibility to defend itself,” Cruz is quoted as saying in a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets in Jerusalem with Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (L) and Senator Bill Hagerty on June 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The GOP senators also met today with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi also met with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another senior Republic politician currently visiting Israel.

Ra’am chief says he’ll be part of coalition, stresses still not finalized

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist party’s support will almost surely be needed to swear in the “change government,” says he is optimistic a coalition can be formed and that he will be part of it, but stresses it’s still not finalized.

“You can’t say it’s over until it’s over,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster as he arrives at a hotel in Ramat Gan where party chiefs are trying to hammer out the last kinks in the prospective government that will replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Morocco says US military exercises to be held in Western Sahara

RABAT, Morocco — The Moroccan prime minister has said that US-led multi-nation African military exercises this month would take place in the disputed desert region of Western Sahara.

Last year, under former US president Donald Trump, Washington recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara — after Rabat normalized relations with Israel — sparking anger from the separatist Polisario Front.

The military training, which the US Africa Command (Africom) says is its largest annual exercise, “marks the consecration of American recognition of the Moroccan Sahara,” Moroccan Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said on Twitter last week.

Africom says the “African Lion” exercise will involve more than 7,000 troops from nine nations, without giving further details of contributing countries.

Morocco laid claim to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries, after Spain withdrew in 1975.

But the Polisario Front took up arms to demand independence there, proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976 and fighting a 16-year war with Morocco.

Morocco has offered Western Sahara autonomy, but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.

Son of Hezbollah chief says his father’s doing fine amid ill health rumors

Jawad Nasrallah, the son of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, says his father is doing well amid rumors the Lebanese terror chief is seriously ill following a televised speech last week in which he was visibly pale and coughing.

Gantz to make snap trip to US for talks with Biden’s top security officials

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will make a snap trip to Washington tomorrow night for talks with US his counterpart Lloyd Austin and Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

A statement from Gantz’s office says the meetings will include a “strategic dialogue” on the talks for the US to rejoin the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s program, and how to maintain Israel’s military superiority and regional stability.

The defense chief is also expected to present Israel’s plan for ensuring long-term quiet in Gaza after the recent fighting there between Israel and Hamas terror group.

New Mossad chief: Iran working to achieve ‘nuclear dream’ under int’l protection

New Mossad chief David Barnea warns Iran is working to fulfill its “dream” of acquiring an atomic bomb, even as it holds talks with world powers on restoring the 2015 deal limiting its nuclear program.

“This needs to be said loudly and clearly: Iran is working, even at this very moment, to fulfill its nuclear dream under an international guise of protection,” Barnea says at a ceremony as he succeeds outgoing spymaster Yossi Cohen as head of the spy agency.

He adds: “Under the protection of the agreement and without it, with lies and concealments, Iran is making constant progress toward a weapons of mass destruction program.”

Netanyahu meets with visiting Conference of Presidents leaders

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with a delegation of leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which is visiting the country in a show of support following the recent fighting between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

US Conference of Presidents leaders (from left) Malcolm Hoenlein, William Daroff and Dianne Lob visit a home in Petah Tikva hit by a rocket fired from Gaza, June 1, 2021, with IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus (Avi Hayun)

Yamina MK: Rabbis urging followers to oppose ‘change government’ must clarify no violence

Yamina MK Matan Kahane urges rabbis who have called on followers to do “everything” they can to prevent the emerging “change government” to make a second plea — clarifying that this must not descend into violence.

Kahana tells Kan public radio that the demonstrations outside Yamina members’ homes “are worse” than any of them “could have imagined.”

He also insists Yamina is united behind Bennett: “There is no right-wing government… there are no defectors”

MK Matan Kahana speaks during a visit to the Oz Vegaon nature reserve in Gush Etzion, on October 22, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Israeli airline to launch direct route to Marrakesh in July

Israir will launch direct flights between Israel and Morocco’s Marrakesh in July, the Israeli carrier announces, six months after the two countries reached a US-backed normalization deal.

“The first flight will take place on July 19 from Tel Aviv to Marrakesh,” says a spokeswoman for Israel’s second-biggest airline, adding there would be five flights a week.

“We believe that demand will be high, and that hundreds of thousands of Israelis will want to take advantage of these direct flights to Morocco,” Gil Stav, Israir’s deputy sales director, says in a statement.

Israir says the price of a round-trip ticket to Marrakesh will cost $580 (about 473 euros).

Morocco is home to North Africa’s largest Jewish community, which numbers around 3,000. Some 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin live in Israel.

UK reports zero daily COVID deaths for 1st time since July

LONDON — Britain reports zero daily deaths from COVID-19 for the first time since 30 July 2020, according to government data, despite fears over a possible third wave of cases.

According to the latest official figures, 127,782 people have died within 28 days of a positive test since the start of the pandemic, which is the worst death toll of any European country. The UK has had 4.49 million cases in total.

Netanyahu loyalist says ‘no place’ for threats against public representatives

Likud MK Miki Zohar says there is “no place” for threatening or acting violently toward politicians of all stripes, following a wave of reported threats against lawmakers seeking to form a government that will replace Prime Minister Netanyahu as premier.

“Criticism and political protests — yes. Violence and threats against lawmakers and their families — no way,” tweets Zohar, a Netanyahu loyalist.

Senior Ra’am official called to Kfar Maccabiah amid disagreements in coalition talks — report

The Kan public broadcaster reports disagreements in the talks between the parties that would make up the prospective “change government” and Ra’am, whose support will very likely be needed for the coalition to be sworn in.

Ra’am is the political wing of the Southern Islamic Movement, whose secretary-general, Ibrahim Hijazi, has been called to the Kfar Maccabiah hotel in Ramat Gan where party chiefs are meeting.

Entering the hotel earlier today, Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas said the Islamist party would be part of the coalition and expressed optimism a deal would be finalized, but stressed nothing is over until it’s over.

Ibrahim Hijazi (Knesset website)

Austrian far-right party leader resigns, raising speculation of possible presidential run

BERLIN — The head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party says Tuesday he is stepping down, raising the possibility that he could run for president of the Alpine nation next year.

Austrian public broadcaster ORF reports that Norbert Hofer will resign as party chief, a post he assumed after a 2019 scandal involving a leading member of the Freedom Party that resulted in it being ejected from the last government.

Hofer lost the 2016 election for the largely ceremonial post of Austrian president against Alexander Van der Bellen.

Austrian media have speculated that Hofer might be put forward again as candidate by the Freedom Party in next year’s presidential election, though he hasn’t publicly confirmed such plans.

The Freedom Party’s parliamentary leader, Herbert Kickl, has been tipped as a possible successor as the head of the party.

Norbert Hofer of Austria’s Freedom Party, FPOE, at a news conference after the presidential election in Vienna, Austria, December 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

UAE ambassador meets with Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi

The Emirati ambassador to Israel has met with the Rabbi David Lau, the country’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi.

The two met over the weekend, with Ambassador Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khajah expressing his country’s respect for Judaism and inviting Lau to visit the United Arab Emirates, according to a press release.

Al Khajah also met in recent days with Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

UAE Ambassador Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khajah (L) greets Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau in an undated handout photo. (Courtesy)

Lindsey Graham: Israel to request $1 billion from US to replenish Iron Dome

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says Israel will ask the United States for a $1 billion in emergency funding to replenish its stockpile of interceptors for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which were used extensively during the recent fighting against the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.

“There will be a billion-dollar request coming to the Pentagon this week from the defense minister to replenish the Iron Dome and a few other things to upgrade the system,” Graham says at a press conference in Jerusalem.

Graham adds: “The Iron Dome performed incredibly well, saving thousands of Israeli lives and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives, so I would imagine that the administration will say yes o this request and it will sail through Congress.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is set to fly tomorrow night to Washington, where he will meet with Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.

Yamina said not budging on demand that Shaked be appointed to judges panel

Parties seeking to form the “change government” have yet to resolve Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked’s demand she be given Labor chief Merav Michaeli’s spot on the Judicial Appointments Committee, according to Channel 12 news.

“Let them decide if they want a government or not,” the network quotes Yamina sources as saying.

Michaeli pushed back earlier today on Shaked’s demand.

Likud said exploring if Knesset speaker can push off swearing in of potential gov’t

Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid is looking to announce by 11 a.m. tomorrow morning that he can form a government, according to Channel 12 news, with the aim of having Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin schedule a vote to swear in the coalition on June 9.

However, the network says Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is looking into whether Levin can push off a vote of confidence in the prospective government, though it cites a ruling by former Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor that the vote must be held within a week.

Lapid has until tomorrow at midnight to form a government before his mandate to do so expires and goes to the Knesset for 21 days. If no lawmaker is able to secure a ruling majority by the end of that period, the Knesset will disperse and a fifth round of elections since April 2019 will be called.

IDF recommends thickening bomb shelter window covers in Gaza border communities

The head of the IDF’s Home Front Command tells municipal chiefs in the so-called Gaza periphery that he’ll recommend that thicker steel plates be placed over the windows of bomb shelters in communities near the coastal enclave, the military says.

An Israel Defense Forces statement says under Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin’s recommendation, the steel plates in communities within 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) will be replaced with ones that are 32 millimeters thick, citing “developing capabilities” among Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

The military says the move was based on a further investigation into a piece of rocket shrapnel that pierced the metal window covering of a bomb shelter in the border town of Sderot, killing 5-year-old Ido Avigal during the recent fighting against Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other terror groups.

“We are committed more than anything to defending Israeli citizens and are acting to ensure the most relevant protective measures in accordance with the developing threats,” Gordin is quoted saying in the statement.

Plans for West Bank waste incineration plant scrapped

Controversial plans for a waste incineration plant on a site called the Good Samaritan in Mishor Adumim, a West Bank industrial park near Jerusalem, are cancelled for good following a decision of an interministerial committee not to seek bidders for the tender.

The plan was opposed by Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel as contradicting the ministry’s new waste policy, which emphasizes recycling.

Gantz’s Blue and White set to ink coalition deal with Yesh Atid in next hour

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party is set to sign a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid to join the prospective “change government” in the next hour, reports Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.

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