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Jerusalem flag march to be held next Tuesday, two days after vote on new gov’t

Compromise backed by Netanyahu and Gantz, depends on police okaying parade’s route

Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

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

UK government site, major news outlets down amid global internet outage

The UK government’s main website is unavailable on Tuesday morning, as several international media platforms went down, including The Guardian and the Financial Times newspapers.

Amazon and Reddit were also reported to be down.

The source is not immediately known, though some reports blame Fastly, a cloud computing services provider.

The portal and the newspaper sites all showed error messages. The BBC was also temporarily inaccessible, but later returned.

Several other international media websites were down, including CNN and Le Monde.

Error messages appeared on the websites at around 1000 GMT.

The White House website had an error message but was available again later.

Many of the sites reported as down could be viewed from Israel.

Fastly acknowledges internet error, says it’s investigating

San Francisco-based Fastly acknowledges a problem just before 1000 GMT. It says in repeated updates on its website that it is “continuing to investigate the issue.”

Visitors trying to access get a message that said: “Fastly error: unknown domain:”

Down Detector, which tracks internet outages, says: “Reports indicate there may be a widespread outage at Fastly, which may be impacting your service.”

Deri says Jewish state is ‘in danger’; Gafni brands Bennett ‘wicked’

Ultra-Orthodox politicians are seething over the imminent establishment of the so-called “change government,” which would see Benjamin Netanyahu removed from power and the Haredi parties flung to the opposition, if it’s sworn in on Sunday as planned.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri says: “The Jewish state is in danger. This is the uprooting of religion in the state.”

“The new government is going to destroy the Jewish identity and character of the state, which allows us to live together,” says Deri.

United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni brands Naftali Bennett as “wicked.”

“The name of the wicked will rot,” he declares of the prime minister-designate, who is an Orthodox Jew.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (R) speaks with United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni at the Knesset on November 7, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman calls Bennett a Reform Jew.

“What’s the difference between him and a gentile? He wears a kippah. I urge him to remove his kippah. It’s a great chutzpah that he wears a kippah. Let everyone understand that he’s Reform,” says Litzman.

Political prisoner in Iran dies in jail, activists say

A man serving a five-year jail sentence on political charges in Iran has died in custody, activists say, accusing the authorities of contributing to his death by neglecting his medical conditions.

Sasan Niknafs had since July 2020 been serving a sentence on charges including disseminating “propaganda” against the state and Iran’s leadership, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) and Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) say in separate statements.

Both say that they held the head of the Iranian judiciary Ebrahim Raisi responsible for his death, the cause of which was not specified.

Raisi is widely expected to win this month’s presidential elections.

Niknafs was imprisoned “despite displaying multiple physical and mental health issues,” including a history of attempted suicide, the CHRI says.

He was “unfit to serve his sentence due to multiple illnesses but judicial authorities had refused his release despite numerous requests,” says the IHR.

It says Niknafs had been suffering from diabetes, epilepsy and depression.

In a statement carried by the judiciary’s news agency Mizan Online, the Tehran prisons service says Niknafs had been serving a five-year sentence without giving details on his charges.

It says that Niknafs had previously informed the prisons service of his suicidal tendencies and had been receiving medical treatment under the supervision of the prisons service.

According to the prison service, Niknafs said he had taken pills given by another prisoner and subsequently fell ill. He was transferred on Saturday to hospital in Tehran where he died.

2 right-wing MKs refused entry to Temple Mount — report

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir and Yamina MK Amichai Chikli were turned away from the Temple Mount after failing to coordinate their visits with the Knesset Guard, the Walla news site reports.

The guard requires the lawmakers’ visits to the Jerusalem holy site to be declared 24 hours in advance, the report says.

Tnuva CEO interrogated in corruption probe

Eyal Malis, the CEO of the Tnuva company, is being questioned by police in a suspected corruption probe involving aides to an ultra-Orthodox minister.

Police on Sunday arrested  Motti Babchik, UTJ lawmaker Yaakov Litzman’s senior assistant and close confidant, and Menachem Gesheid, a senior adviser to Litzman, on suspicion of corruption. Others nabbed included a department head at dairy conglomerate Tnuva and top officials at a medical company and a lobbying firm.

Palestinian-Jordanian bus bomber freed from Israeli prison, gets hero’s welcome

A Palestinian-Jordanian man jailed in Israel after planting a bomb on a bus that wounded 13 civilians in 2000 is released after serving his 20-year sentence.

Abdullah Abu Jaber, 46, is welcomed with flowers and shouts of joy by his family after he enters Jordan across the Sheikh Hussein Bridge.

Abu Jaber, originally from Jordan’s Baqaa refugee camp, hid a bomb on a bus in Tel Aviv on December 28, 2000, detonating it remotely and wounding 13 people. He was arrested the following day.

According to the Israeli charge sheet, Jaber was recruited by the armed wing of Fatah in Nablus, in the West Bank, and had entered Israel illegally.

Upon his release, he calls for rival Palestinian factions Fatah and the Hamas to end their long division and form a common front against Israel.

“I hope that the Palestinians will be united again,” he says, adding the differences extended to Palestinians inside Israeli prisons.

Yunis Abu Sil, a member of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO’s legislative arm, says he is “very happy” and calls Jaber a “hero.”

Palestinian-Jordanian Abdullah Abu Jaber, who was jailed in Israel after planting a bomb on a bus that wounded 13 civilians in 2000, is welcomed by his family upon his release at the Sheikh Hussein Crossing between Jordan and Israel on June 8, 2021. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

Most sites brought down by cloud glitch are back up

Most of the government websites and international news sites brought down by a glitch in cloud computing services provider Fastly are now back up.

The White House and websites had an error message but were available again later. The BBC and the New York Times were temporarily inaccessible, but also later returned.

The glitch also temporarily affected CNN, the Financial Times, The Guardian, France’s Le Monde newspaper, Italy’s Corriere delle Serra and Spanish daily El Mundo as well as social and entertainment site Reddit.

Dispute over enforcing West Bank construction causes dissent in new coalition

Although the so-called “change government” appears set to be sworn in Sunday, unseating longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, last-minute disagreements about oversight of Palestinian construction in the West Bank’s Area C could reportedly undermine it.

Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett met Defense Minister Benny Gantz yesterday to discuss the matter, the Walla news site reports.

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett (L) and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz meet in the Knesset on May 17, 2020. (Courtesy)

The report says the disagreement concerns a demand by Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party for the formation of a new body that will oversee the internationally sensitive matter of enforcement of alleged illegal construction by Palestinians in Area C — some 60 percent of the West Bank which is under full Israeli security and civil control according to the Oslo Accords.

Gantz objects to that, and reportedly told Bennett that the relevant passage in the coalition deal should be changed to say that the authority will remain with the Civil Administration, the military liaison to the Palestinians that belongs to the Defense Ministry, and that its personnel will be boosted as needed.

Israel has decided to strengthen PA against Hamas, says outgoing FM Ashkenazi

Israel has decided to strengthen the Palestinian Authority against Hamas, says outgoing Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The government is currently working to come up with specifics on how to achieve that goal, he says, including around the PA’s role in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports this approach, according to the foreign minister.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media during a press conference after a meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of Cyprus, Greece, Israel and United Arab of Emirates in city of Paphos, Cyprus, April 16, 2021. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou Pool via AP)

Islamic State jihadists abduct 5 Egyptians in northern Sinai

At least five Egyptians are abducted by Islamic State jihadists in the restive northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, security officials say.

The five were driving to their workplace in the small town of Bir al-Abed when the jihadists from the Islamic State group stopped their vehicle and took them to an unknown place.

The five include three engineers, a laborer and their driver, say the officials. They all work at the el-Salam canal project that moves the Nile Delta drainage water to be reused in agriculture in the peninsula.

There is no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. The two security officials speak on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Health Ministry warns numerous northern rivers polluted

The Health Ministry warns of high level of pollution in numerous rivers in northern Israel and cautions that swimming in these waters could be dangerous.

The rivers include the Jordan River (from the Joseph bridge until the entry point to the Sea of Galilee); Snir; the Devorah waterfall in the Jilaboun river; the Yehudiya waterfall; the Zaki river until the entry point to the Sea of Galilee; the black waterfall in the El Al reserve; Majersa; Tzalmon; and Meshushim pools.

People swim in one of two freshwater pools under a large waterfall on a trail called the Upper Zavitan on July 4, 2006, at Yehudia, a park in the Golan Heights. (Phil Sussman /Flash90/File)

Israel working on arrangement to allow vaccinated Emiratis to visit Israel

Israel is working on an arrangement that will allow vaccinated Emiratis to visit Israel, says Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The UAE, which signed the Abraham Accords with Israel last year, has used primarily the Chinese Sinopharm vaccination for its public, which Israel’s Health Ministry does not trust.

“We are trying to create a test,” he says, that will address the concerns of the Health Ministry while taking into account the professionalism with which the UAE authorities have handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bennett: Ultra-Orthodox MKs’ ‘hysterical outburst’ won’t prevent Meron probe

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett responds to harsh comments by his ultra-Orthodox political colleagues, who called him “wicked” and urged him to remove his yarmulke after he formed a government with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.

“I was very sorry to hear the harsh comments used by MKs Gafni, Deri and Litzman,” says Bennett, accusing them of “losing their grip.”

“Just a year ago, when the current unity government was formed, Yamina remained outside of it and the Haredim were in it. You didn’t see me call Gafni to take off his kippah. There was a government, we weren’t part of it, and the sun rose the next morning,” says Bennett.

“The Haredi Knesset members won’t teach me what Judaism is, and certainly not what Zionism is,” he continues. “As prime minister, I will care for the Haredi public and the world of Torah. To the Haredi citizens of the state, I repeat: You have nothing to fear.”

Yamina leader and Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

“To the contrary, the past year has shown that you are literally paying with your lives due to a political culture of neglect, cronyism and the perpetuation of problems,” he continues, referring to the Haredi parties’ poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If your intention, with your hysterical outburst, was to deter us from forming a commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster — it won’t work. Forty-five Israelis were killed. Someone must provide answers,” continues Bennett.

That’s a reference to the deadly crush at the Lag B’Omer festival in northern Israel, which killed 45 people, most of them ultra-Orthodox. Attempts to form a commission of inquiry were blocked by Haredi lawmakers.

Macron slapped by man during trip to southeast France

French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped across the face by a man during a trip to southeast France, an aide says.

Images broadcast on the BFM news channel show Macron approach a barrier to shake the hand of a man, who slapped the 43-year-old president across the face in the village of Tain-l’Hermitage in the Drome region.

Israel’s UN envoy to AP: Hamas sought to jam Iron Dome from your Gaza media tower

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan tells top Associated Press executives the Gaza media tower leveled by Israel last month, which housed AP offices, was being used by Hamas to obstruct the Iron Dome missile defense system.

He also suggests Israel could help the international news agency rebuild its offices in the coastal enclave.

Erdan says he went to AP’s New York office on Monday “to explain to top executives that the building housing their Gaza operation was being used by Hamas terrorists trying to jam the Iron Dome – that is why it was prioritized [as a target] by the IDF during last month’s operation.”

Palestinians inspect the destroyed building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media, after it was hit last week by Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City on May 21, 2021. Israel says the building housed Hamas offices. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

“AP is one of the most important news agencies in the world and Israel does not suspect its employees were aware a covert Hamas unit was using the building in this way,” tweets Erdan. “Israel did everything to ensure no employees or civilians were hurt during this operation. In contrast, Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organization that purposely places its terror machine in civilian areas, including in buildings being used by international media outlets.”

“I reaffirmed that Israel upholds the importance of press freedom and strives to ensure the safety of journalists wherever they are reporting. Israel is willing to assist AP in rebuilding its offices and operations in Gaza,” adds the ambassador.

The Israeli strike on the tower was widely condemned. The AP denied knowledge of any Hamas presence in the building.

Ultra-Orthodox parties: Bennett ‘the biggest liar in Israeli politics’

The ultra-Orthodox parties brand Naftali Bennett “the biggest liar in Israeli politics,” after the prime minister-designate rejects their criticism.

“As someone who holds the title of the greatest liar in Israeli politics, we don’t expect anything from you and don’t trust you at all,” United Torah Judaism and Shas say.


World Bank sees 5.6% global growth in 2021, best since 1973

The World Bank is upgrading the outlook for global growth this year, predicting that COVID-19 vaccinations and massive government stimulus in rich countries will power the fastest worldwide expansion in nearly five decades.

In its latest Global Economic Prospects report, the 189-country anti-poverty agency forecasts that the world economy will grow 5.6% this year, up from the 4.1% it forecast in January. The global economy last year shrank 3.5% as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted trade and forced businesses to close and people to stay home.

The projected expansion would make 2021 the fastest year of growth since 1973’s 6.6%.

But the 2021 rebound will be uneven, the bank predicts, led by rich countries such as the United States that could afford to spend vast amounts of taxpayer money to support their economies: 90% of advanced economies are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels next year — measured by income per person — versus just a third of developing countries.

Shoppers wearing face masks wait in to purchase clothes during the reopening of street shops in Mamilla Mall during a national coronavirus lockdown, on November 11, 2020, (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The World Bank is calling for wider distribution of COVID vaccines to low-income countries, where inoculations have gone slowly.

The bank expects the US economy to expand 6.8% in 2021, up from the 3.5% it forecast in January; the world’s biggest economy shrank 3.5% last year as COVID-19 brought economic activity to a near standstill in the spring. But an aggressive vaccine rollout, along with low interest rates and massive government spending, revived the economy.

China — the world’s No. 2 economy and the first to emerge from the coronavirus recession — is forecast to grow 8.5% in 2021 after expanding just 2.3% last year.

The 19 European countries that share the euro currency are collectively expected to 4.2%, reversing last year’s 6.6% drop. And Japan is forecast to post 2.9% growth this year after registering a 4.7% drop in economic output last year.

The bank notes downside risks to its forecast, including the possibility that the pandemic lingers, that inflation flares and forces central banks to raise interest rates and that countries struggle with high debt burdens.

Serb military chief Ratko Mladic’s genocide conviction upheld

UN appeals judges uphold the convictions of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic for genocide and other offenses during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war and confirm his life sentence.

The judgment means the 79-year-old former general who terrorized Bosnia throughout the war will spend the rest of his life in prison. He is the last major figure from the conflict that ended more than a quarter century ago to face justice.

Ex-Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic wipes his face as he sits in the defendant box during the earing of the final verdict on appeal against his genocide conviction over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst act of bloodshed since World War II, on June 8, 2021 at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague. (Peter Dejong / POOL / AFP)

IDF says Hamas was using Gaza media tower to disrupt Iron Dome

The Israel Defense Forces says Hamas was operating within a Gaza media tower housing the offices of international media outlets, including The Associated Press, to develop a system to disrupt the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The army’s statement comes shortly after Israel’s UN ambassador makes similar comments explaining the IDF’s widely condemned May 15 strike leveling the tower during last month’s 11-day conflict.

The building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media in Gaza City collapses after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike, May 15, 2021. (Hatem Moussa/AP)

“During Operation ‘Guardians of the Walls’ the IDF struck the al-Jalaa building on May 15th, 2021. The site was used by the Hamas terror organization for intelligence R&D and to carry out SIGINT (signals intelligence), ELINT (electronic signals intelligence), and EW (electronic warfare) operations, targeting both IDF operational activity and civilian systems in Israel,” the army says.

“One of the main goals of these efforts was to develop a system that would disrupt the Iron Dome aerial defense system,” it says.

“The purpose of the IDF strike was to curtail these enemy capabilities, including destroying special equipment, and preventing their use during the operation. According to IDF assessments, the equipment was in the building at the time of the strike. The strike was designed to collapse the building in order to ensure the destruction of the special means.

“The target was of high military value to Hamas and was vetted according to rigorous procedures within the IDF, and in accordance with international law,” adds the military.


Canada PM: Car-ramming killing of Muslim family is a terror attack

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau labels as a terrorist attack the killing of four members of a Muslim family, who were run down by a man driving a pickup truck in London, Ontario.

“This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities,” Trudeau says during a speech at the House of Commons.

Kay Habib comforts her daughter Leena Qamar at at the location where a family of five was hit by a driver, in London, Ontario, June 7, 2021 (Brett Gundlock/The Canadian Press via AP)

Security Council grants Guterres second term as UN chief

The United Nations Security Council votes to give Secretary General Antonio Guterres a second term, with conflict resolution set to top his agenda at the world body’s helm.

The 72-year-old former prime minister of Portugal has held the office since 2017 and faced no competition for the next term in the job.

Around 10 other people also sought the position, but they were not formal candidates because none of the 193 UN member states endorsed them.

During a brief closed door session the Security Council votes unanimously to recommend that the General Assembly give Guterres another term, says the council’s current president, Estonian ambassador Sven Jurgenson.

Approval from the General Assembly is seen as a formality and expected to take place soon.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a session during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, August 25, 2020. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Bennett, Lapid, Sa’ar set to meet to finalize coalition deals

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar will meet tonight, Hebrew media reports say.

The meeting comes as the parties race to finalize their coalition agreements ahead of Sunday’s swearing-in of the new government by Knesset vote.

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah delivers address, dismisses rumors of ill health

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah makes his first public appearance since rumors were sparked that he was seriously ill.

Delivering a speech, aired by Al-Manar, the head of the Lebanon-based terror group reassures his supporters that he’s fine.

The speech comes two weeks after the terrorist leader was seen coughing and occasionally struggling for breath during a public address, during which he threatened “regional war” if Israel attacked holy sites in Jerusalem.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gives a televised speech on August 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Al-Manar)

Security cabinet meeting over contentious flag march

The high-level security cabinet is now meeting to discuss a contentious flag march planned in Jerusalem for Thursday.

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai is to present several alternatives in a bid to allow the march to go forward after police initially refused to authorize the event, which was set to follow a path through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

Organizers had sought to hold a rescheduled flag march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Thursday, after the original march on May 10 was stopped short by rocket fire from Hamas at Jerusalem, which sparked an 11-day bout of intense fighting.

Wisconsin lawmaker compares museum’s mask policy to Nazis

A Wisconsin state lawmaker compares a nonprofit children’s museum’s mask policy to the Nazi Party in a social media post that generates outrage and calls for an apology.

Republican state Rep. Shae Sortwell shared a Facebook post on Friday by the Central Wisconsin Children’s Museum in Stevens Point detailing its mask policy. The museum said masks would be optional for those who show their vaccination cards and masks would be mandatory for everyone else over age 5.

“The Gestapo wants to see your papers, please,” Sortwell posts on Facebook, a reference to a Nazi police force.

The story was first reported by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Sortwell did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Sortwell was first elected to the Legislature in 2019 and has been an outspoken opponent of mask or coronavirus vaccine mandates. His legislative district does not include Stevens Point, where the children’s museum is located.

Museum director Cory Rusch tells Wisconsin Public Radio that the policy was an attempt to protect the health and safety of the many vulnerable grandparents who visit the museum with their grandkids, and he stresses that no one will be turned away from the museum based on their vaccination status.

Stevens Point resident Nerissa Nelson writes a letter to Sortwell signed by 30 people, mostly from central Wisconsin, calling on him to apologize.

“Our children’s museum in this town is an important part of community life here,” Nelson tells Wisconsin Public Radio. “And for a state representative to say something like that … is a horrible thing to do. He needs to rectify that, with a public apology.”

Israel frees 2 Jordanians who infiltrated country last month, armed with knives

Jordan’s foreign ministry says that two Jordanians arrested in Israel in May were repatriated on Tuesday, after charges against them were dropped by the Jewish state.

“The Israeli authorities have decided to withdraw the charges against Jordanian citizens Mussab Daajah and Khalifa Onouz and end their arrest,” the Jordanian ministry says in an initial statement.

The ministry says a few hours later that it had “received” the two Jordanian nationals “after they were released by Israel today.”

A statement from Israel’s internal security agency says the two were caught in northern Israel on May 16 with knives and ropes.

“From their investigation, it emerged that they planned on reaching Jerusalem and carrying out a stabbing attack against soldiers in the area of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” the Shin Bet says in a statement.

Israel’s decision not to prosecute the Jordanian suspects and to release them instead was “part of the security and diplomatic reciprocity between Israel and Jordan,” the Shin Bet says.

Seeking to lure would-be rebels, Likud reserves 3 open spots on electoral list

Likud unanimously approves a motion to reserve three open spots on the party’s electoral list, in another bid to entice members of the right-wing Yamina and New Hope factions to oppose the proposed “change government” in exchange for a spot on the slate.

2nd Iran presidential debate sees candidates pile on criticism of Rouhani

In this photo made available by the government-affiliated Young Journalists Club, presidential candidates, from left, Saeed Jalili, Ebrahim Raisi, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Alireza Zakani, Mohsen Rezaei, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and Abdolnasser Hemmati, participate in a televised debate in a state-run television studio, in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Elections are scheduled for June 18. (Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC via AP)
In this photo made available by the government-affiliated Young Journalists Club, presidential candidates, from left, Saeed Jalili, Ebrahim Raisi, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Alireza Zakani, Mohsen Rezaei, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and Abdolnasser Hemmati, participate in a televised debate in a state-run television studio, in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Elections are scheduled for June 18. (Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC via AP)

Iran’s seven presidential candidates put all the problems of the Islamic Republic squarely on the shoulders of the one man who wasn’t there to defend himself: Outgoing President Hassan Rouhani.

After a raucous first debate, the aspirants on a televised debate focus their attention on Rouhani and mock his administration’s “hope” campaign that surrounded its now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

That allowed candidates to link former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati to Rouhani while allowing hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, believed to be the race’s front-runner, to largely escape criticism.

The looming June 18 election will see voters pick a candidate to replace Rouhani, term limited from running again. The election comes amid tensions with the West as negotiations continue to try and resuscitate the nuclear deal that then-president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from in 2018.

Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, April 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Hemmati, clearly frustrated by constantly being linked to Rouhani, even brought up Trump himself in an attempt to defend himself.

“Some of you must send a letter to Trump and tell him, ‘Mr. Trump, be happy, everything you did against the people of Iran, we blamed on Hemmati,’” he says.

The debate comes as Iranian authorities hope to boost turnout, long held by officials as a sign of confidence in the theocracy since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has projected a 38% turnout by the country’s 59 million eligible voters, which would be a historic low amid a lack of enthusiasm by voters and the coronavirus pandemic.

Raisi, believed to be a favorite of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, brings up the deficit of trust by the public.

“People’s living conditions have been damaged badly. People’s businesses have been damaged gravely. People’s trust in the government maybe is at the lowest level in years and has been damaged severely,” he says. “We strongly need the social asset.”

But criticism remains almost always focused on Rouhani. Hard-liner Mohsen Rezaei, ignoring a question posed to him by the moderator, cuttingly says “you cannot eat hope” in a swipe at the president. He puts corruption concerns squarely on Rouhani’s government as well.

“Mafia kings are like vacuum cleaners and vacuuming up all the country’s resources,” Rezaei says.

Even Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the sole reformist approved for the election, criticizes Rouhani’s Health Ministry for being “negligent” in its response to the coronavirus.

For his part, Hemmati seeks to distance himself from Rouhani, describing himself as being fired from the Central Bank in May after he declared his candidacy.

“I am not Rouhani’s representative,” he insists.

Blinken says ‘hundreds’ of sanctions to remain on Iran if US rejoins deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that “hundreds” of US sanctions will remain on Iran even if the United States rejoins a nuclear accord.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been engaged in indirect talks with Iran about reversing former president Donald Trump’s exit from the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“I would anticipate that, even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration,” Blinken tells a Senate hearing.

“If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran’s behavior changes,” he says.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he arrives in Cairo on May 26, 2021. (Alex Brandon/POOL/AFP)

The discussions in Vienna, brokered by European diplomats, have been locked in dispute on which sanctions to lift.

Blinken reiterates support for returning to the nuclear accord, with which UN inspectors said Iran was complying before Trump pulled out the United States.

Asked about concerns that Iran did not declare all activities from before the nuclear deal, Blinken says: “Plain and simple, we would be in an even better place to insist on it answering those questions if we had managed to get Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA and if we were part of it, too.”

“But regardless, it needs to answer those questions. It needs to come clean about past activities,” Blinken says.

Missile must have downed flight MH17 in 2014, say judges

Dutch judges say that the investigation into the crash of flight MH17 over war-torn Ukraine in 2014 showed that a Russian-made BUK missile must have been responsible.

Judges in the trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian over the disaster which killed all 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines plane start formally setting out the evidence this week.

Fragments analyzed at the scene “correspond to a BUK missile” and the investigation showed that “there are no other possible conclusions,” presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis says.

In this file photo taken on August 02, 2014 a part of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is seen at the crash site in the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), some 80km east of Donetsk. (Bulent KILIC / AFP)

The judges also show a video showing a plume of white smoke rising to the sky from a field near Pervomaiskyi in eastern Ukraine at the time the Boeing 777 plane came down.

One witness said they had seen a missile “flying for 20 seconds before exploding next to the cockpit of an airliner,” the judges say.

The jet was traveling from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed in part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

An international investigation previously concluded that a BUK missile that had originally come from the Russian army’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based in the city of Kursk was responsible.

Defense lawyers and Russian officials have sought to argue that there were other possibilities including that the plane was shot down by a fighter jet operated by Ukraine.

All four suspects are accused of being key figures among the separatist rebels battling Kiev.

Judges said on Monday the court would this week look at evidence addressing three key questions: whether the plane was shot down by a BUK; the location the missile was fired from; and the role of the four suspects in the crash.

Looming razing of outpost could undermine ‘change government’ — TV

Channel 13 reports that the looming evacuation of an illegal West Bank outpost, Evyatar, could undermine the new “change government.”

The government is expected to dismantle the outpost, which was recently rebuilt, with dozens of families moving in.

The high-profile move could rattle the emerging coalition, particularly its pro-settlements factions, namely Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu, the network notes.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Bennett on Monday that Washington has not asked him to restrict construction in West Bank settlements, Channel 13 reports.  But officials in Jerusalem anticipate the US will push for a settlements freeze after the new government is sworn in, which would likely expose the wide ideological rifts between its right-wing, centrist and left-wing factions and put Bennett in a bind, it says.

New Hope’s Elkin appointed minister in charge of liaising with Knesset

New Hope’s Ze’ev Elkin will be appointed to the post of minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset, in addition to holding the housing portfolio, according to a joint statement by Yamina, Yesh Atid and New Hope.

“This is a young government and we need Elkin’s tremendous experience and wisdom to deal with the immense challenges we face, starting with passing the budget,” the statement says.

The parties also reject reports on Elkin’s other demands as “spin.”

Then-Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Who will be Israel’s next national security adviser?

The national security adviser to serve under Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett will be appointed in coordination with the designated foreign minister, Yair Lapid, and possibly even in coordination with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, The Times of Israel has learned.

In an effort to distance themselves from the conduct of Benjamin Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett are making a public effort to convey that they are coordinated on these issues and will not engage in political feuds over these appointments. According to political sources, the issue of the next head of the National Security Council should not create a rift between them.

According to sources who are aware of the process, Bennett is inclined to look for a high-profile candidate who served in the elite Sayeret Matkal, the same IDF commando unit in which he served. One of the candidates who fits the bill is Colonel (ret.) Lior Lotan, the former head of the Captives and Missing Persons Unit under Netanyahu.

Lior Lotan (YouTube screenshot)

Another option is to appoint a former national security adviser to capitalize on their experience, such as Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, who served in the role under the tenure of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. The national security adviser may serve as an envoy to Washington to conduct sensitive talks.

There are also discussions on the possibility of appointing a former head of the  IDF Research Department to the position, such as Brigadier General (ret.) Eli Ben-Meir or Brigadier General (ret.) Dror Shalom. Ben-Meir’s personal background may appeal to Bennett, as his father is the founder of Yeshivat Shvut Israel in Efrat.

Giora Eiland, the IDF’s former head of Strategic Planning, right, after holding a press briefing at Israel’s Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, July 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Former heads of IDF Planning Directorate (AGAT) are also among the candidates, including Maj. Gen. (ret.) Nimrod Sheffer and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amir Abuhalfia. Sheffer served as CEO of the Israel Aerospace Industries until about a year ago. Abuhalfia is currently on leave from the IDF.

Netanyahu, Gantz said meeting on flags march compromise

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have left the security cabinet meeting to hammer out a compromise on holding the contentious flag march through Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday, the Walla news site reports.

Top security officials have advised against the original route of the event, which would have gone through the Muslim Quarter, the report says.

Security cabinet: Contentious Jerusalem flag march can be held next week

The high-level security cabinet votes to allow the contentious right-wing flag march to be held in Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday, June 15, if police approve the route.

The compromise proposal is brought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and signed off by ministers. It says the event can go ahead “in a framework that will be agreed upon by police and organizers,” according to a statement.

Organizers had sought to hold a rescheduled flag march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Thursday, after the original march on May 10 was stopped short by rocket fire from Hamas at Jerusalem, which sparked an 11-day bout of intense fighting. But security officials were opposed to the nationalist organizers’ intention to have the parade pass through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, warning it could spark tensions.

The rescheduled date, Tuesday, will be two days after the Knesset holds a confidence vote to approve the new government, which would remove Netanyahu from power.

Participants in the Flag March in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 10, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90

New government’s swearing-in to be held Sunday at 4 p.m.

The Knesset vote approving the new government will be held on Sunday at 4 p.m., the parliament announces.

Following the confidence vote, the new prime minister, alternate prime minister and full cabinet will be sworn in. The parliament will also elect its new speaker.

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