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

Israel unveils song Noa Kirel will be performing at the 2023 Eurovision: “Unicorn”

Israel’s public broadcaster reveals the song that pop star Noa Kirel will be performing when she represents the country at the Eurovision this year in Liverpool.

Titled “Unicorn,” the three-minute track is largely in English with a handful of lines interwoven in Hebrew.

“I’m gonna stand here like a unicorn/ Out here on my own/ I got the power of a unicorn/ Don’t you ever learn,” she sings in the chorus. “That I won’t look back/ I won’t look down/ I’m going up/ You better turn around/ The power of a unicorn.”

Kirel, 21, says that “Unicorn” is a “song that represents all of us, the whole country, so I hope and want that everyone will support this song” at the 2023 Eurovision in Liverpool in May.

The song was co-written by Kirel, Doron Medalie — who co-wrote Netta Barzilai’s 2018 Eurovision-winning song “Toy” — Yinon Yahel and May Sfadia.

Reserve commandos say won’t be able ‘to stand aloof’ if judicial overhaul passes

Reservists from the Maglan commando unit send a letter to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant expressing opposition to the government’s planned overhaul of the judicial system, in the latest such protest by reserve troops.

The soldiers say they view the proposals as “as a gross deviation from the values on which we were raised.”

“We aspire for the State of Israel to preserve its character as a country that upholds complete equality of social and political for all citizens without regard to religion, race or gender, and will continue to ensure freedom of religion, conscience, expressing, education and culture, as written in the Declaration of Independence,” they write.

“Passing the judicial reform… negates some of these values and harms the democratic principles of the country,” they continue, adding that if it does pass, “we the undersigned will not be able to stand aloof.”

“We call on you to immediately act to stop the steps to weaken the judicial branch and protect the State of Israel.”

The letter was signed by over 400 reserve soldiers, according to Channel 12 news.

Iran urged to free reporter who covered poisonings of schoolgirls

PARIS — Leading media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges Iran to release a journalist arrested after closely covering a spate of mystery poisonings of schoolgirls, saying the detention appeared to be an attempt to silence him.

The spate of poisonings has affected over 5,000 pupils, mainly girls, since November, according to the authorities.

Rights groups based outside Iran have accused the authorities of failing to do enough to protect women’s education and there were protests across Iran outside education authorities on Monday and Tuesday, according to monitors.

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Monday for the perpetrators of the “unforgivable crime” to be tracked down “without mercy.”

Paris-based RSF says Ali Pourtabatabaei began covering the story for the Qom News website and on Twitter as soon as the first cases of poisoning were reported in the holy city of Qom at the end of November, and he was still covering the story when he was arrested on March 5.

It says he managed to phone his sister to tell her he had been arrested but it was not clear where he was being held.

Pourtabatabaei has criticized the lack of any reaction from the authorities in Qom to the first reported cases of poisoning, it adds.

The mystery poisonings have intensified tensions in Iran almost six months into the protest movement sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested for allegedly violating the mandatory dress code for women.

Since the early days of the protest movement, Iran has held the two Iranian female journalists, Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, who helped expose the Amini story.

“As they already did with the journalists who revealed what happened to Mahsa Amini, the Iranian authorities are trying to silence those who dare to investigate and report other stories that are embarrassing for the government,” says Jonathan Dagher, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.

He says some 30 journalists and media workers are currently held by Iran. Most were arrested in the crackdown on the protest movement.

Central district police commander warns protesters not to block roads around airport

The commander of the Israel Police’s central district, Avi Biton, warns protesters against attempting to block roads to or within Ben Gurion Airport as part of planned demonstrations tomorrow against the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

Biton says such actions could interfere with emergency and security forces in case of an emergency.

“The Israel Police sees protest as a cornerstone of a democratic country and therefore allows all citizens to ensure their basic rights and demonstrate together,” he says in a statement from police, warning against a potential “disaster during an emergency.”

US officials won’t be speaking at Israel Bonds confab alongside Smotrich

Biden administration officials will not be speaking at the Israel Bonds annual conference where Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is slated to speak on Sunday after calling to wipe out a the Palestinian village of Huwara.

Several US officials were invited to speak before Smotrich’s March 1 remarks but never agreed to attend, a source familiar said, confirming a report in The Forward.

White House officials have held discussions on whether or not to grant Smotrich a visa for an upcoming US trip — but have indicated they are unlikely to block his visit.

Translator says she rejected request to translate for Netanyahu during Italy visit

An Israeli translator says she has turned town a request to translate for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Italy this weekend.

“It’s not only that I don’t share Netanyahu’s political view, but because his leadership is extremely dangerous to democracy in the State of Israel,” Olga Dalia Padoa writes on Facebook. “More so, if I agree to cooperate in translating his remarks, my children won’t forgive me.”

US hits Iranian officials with sanctions for abusing women’s rights

WASHINGTON — The US is imposing more sanctions on Iran, hitting people and firms accused of violating women’s rights during nationwide anti-government protests over the treatment of young women and girls.

Included in the sanctions are two prison officials, several firms that manufacture equipment for Iranian law enforcement, the commander in chief of the Iranian army and others.

Nationwide protests first erupted over the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. She was accused of violating Iran’s strict dress code for women by wearing her headscarf improperly. Those protests have continued for months.

Subsequently, a series of suspected poisonings at girls’ schools across the country, which sickened hundreds of students, fueled claims about the violation of women and girls’ rights and prompted protests.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says in a statement that the US government “remains deeply concerned that Iranian authorities continue to suppress dissent and peaceful protest, including through mass arrests, sham trials, hasty executions, the detention of journalists, and the use of sexual violence as a means of protest suppression.”

Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, says in a statement that Iran’s government “treats women as second-class citizens and attempts to suppress their voices by any means.”

“We will continue to take action against the regime, which perpetuates abuse and violence against its own citizens — especially women and girls,” Nelson says.

The latest sanctions are imposed in coordination with the European Union, United Kingdom and Australia, with the announcement purposely made on International Women’s Day.

Settlers hurl stones at home of Hebron activist as soldiers appear to stand by

A group of Israeli settlers hurled stones at the home of Palestinian activist Issa Amro in the West Bank city of Hebron earlier today.

The footage shared by Amro shows Israeli soldiers apparently standing by as the settlers pelt the home with stones.

The Israel Defense Forces is expected to probe the soldiers’ conduct.

Interior Ministry proposes bill to restrict passports for new immigrants

The Interior Ministry is moving forward legislation that will only allow new immigrants to Israel to receive a passport after they have spent a year in the country.

The legislation is meant to prevent people who receive Israeli citizenship, but don’t settle down in the country, from getting a passport.

Shas’s Michael Malkieli introduced the bill on behalf of the Interior Ministry. Malkieli is the religious services minister, and serving as the acting interior minister in place of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, who is waiting for a law to pass that will allow him to helm two ministries despite his suspended sentence for financial crimes.

The proposed passport law effectively nullifies a legislative agreement the government made with the Yisrael Beytenu party in 2017, according to the Haaretz daily.

The proposed law says that the 2017 passport legislation led to a steep rise in the number of new immigrants from Russia and other countries who received Israeli passports without settling down in Israel.

Between June 2021 and June 2022, 4,094 new immigrants requested a passport within a month of getting citizenship, but 60% did not remain in Israel, the law proposal said, the newspaper says.

17-year-old shot dead in northern Arab town

A 17-year-old is shot dead in the northern Arab town of Tamra, in what police suspect is a murder.

Officers arrest three suspects in connection to the shooting, which a police statement says was likely linked to a familial dispute.

According to the Abraham Initiatives watchdog, he is the 27th Arab in Israel to be killed in a homicide since the start of the year.

France asks Lebanon to question suspects over deadly 1983 Beirut barracks bombings

BEIRUT — French authorities have asked Lebanese prosecutors to detain two people suspected of involvement in a 1983 bombing in Beirut that killed dozens of French troops, Lebanese judicial officials say.

It is highly unlikely that Lebanese authorities will detain the suspects nearly 40 years after the attacks. Neither has ever been taken into custody.

The request identifies the two suspects as Yousef al-Khalil and Sanaa al-Khalil and calls on Lebanon’s prosecutor’s office to detain and question them, then inform French authorities of the outcome. It’a immediately clear if the two are related.

On October 23, 1983, suicide car bombers simultaneously blew up a US Marine base and French paratroopers headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 American servicemembers and 58 French troops.

The American and French troops were deployed in Lebanon a year earlier as part of a multinational force following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

A pro-Iranian Shiite group, Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for the 1983 attacks, which marked the beginning of the end of Western attempts to stop Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. Several months later, the peacekeeping force of US, French, British and Italian troops left Lebanon.

Islamic Jihad was believed to be linked to Hezbollah, although Hezbollah officials have denied that.

The judicial officials, who speak on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, don’t say whether the two are members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah. The request doesn’t say whether the two are still alive, the officials say without giving further details.

In 1997, Lebanese authorities ordered two men investigated for possible links to the suicide bombings of US and French military bases in the first legal action in the case. The two men that police were ordered to investigate at the time were Hassan Ezzedine and Ali Atwi, believed to have been senior security officials of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah in the 1980s. The men were never detained.

Member of team behind new compromise plan: Public feels overhaul part of ‘effort to change Israel’

Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman meet with the formulators of a proposal for changing the judiciary that softens many of the government’s far-reaching overhaul plans.

“I told them that I have dozens of friends leading the protests,” retired general Giora Eiland, a key figure in drafting the framework, tells the Walla news site. “What bothers the public is that most of those protesting link the reforms to other things like the problematic coalition agreements, through legislation allowing rabbinical courts to rule on civil matters, and [United Torah Judaism MK Moshe] Gafni’s agenda.”

“The public feels that the reform is part of an effort to change the State of Israel,” he adds.

Eiland says the meeting lasted two hours and that Levin and Rothman — who heads the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee — heard them out.

Actor Nazanin Boniadi urges world to back Iranian women protests

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Actor Nazanin Boniadi urges the world to back the protests in her native Iran calling for women’s rights and political change, saying despots fear nothing “more than a free and politically active woman.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi, Boniadi tells The Associated Press that she hopes people will sign a petition she’s supporting accusing Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Iran of committing “gender apartheid” with their policies targeting women.

“These systems of oppressing women, of dehumanizing women, are based on strengthening and keeping these entrenched systems of power in place,” she says. “So we have to legally recognize this as gender apartheid in order to be able to overcome it.”

Boniadi, who as a young child left Tehran with her family for England following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, has used her fame as an actor in the series “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” on Amazon Prime and in roles in feature films to highlight what’s happening back in Iran.

Since September, Iran has faced mass protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being detained by the country’s morality police. In the time since, activists say over 500 people have been killed and more than 19,000 others detained in a security force crackdown.

“The thing that is unprecedented is we’re seeing 12-year-old girls, schoolgirls, come out into the streets saying, ‘We don’t want an Islamic Republic,'” Boniadi says. “The courage that takes is astounding. And that courage has been contagious.”

Travelers urged to arrive early at Ben Gurion Airport tomorrow due to planned protests

The Israel Airports Authority calls on travelers to arrive early at Ben Gurion Airport for their flights tomorrow, when anti-government protesters plan to block roads and ground flights.

The IAA says those who can should arrive by train, adding passengers should be in touch with the airlines they’re flying on.

“The Israel Airports Authority will do everything possible to ensure passengers tomorrow fly at their scheduled flight times and to maintain operational continuity at Ben Gurion Airport,” it says in a statement.

Meanwhile, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir warns the airport and key transportation routes “are out of bounds.”

Italian soccer federation probing antisemitic chants by Lazio fans

MILAN — Italy’s Football Federation (FIGC) has launched an investigation into antisemitic chants sung by Lazio fans before their soccer team’s win at Napoli, a governing body source tells AFP on Wednesday.

The FIGC says it launched the probe into the chants sung by a group of around 100 supporters behind the away section at the Stadio Maradona on Friday “and not heard in the stands during the match” by on-site officials.

A video showing Lazio fans singing the song in the presence of stewards and police went viral on social media in the aftermath of a 1-0 win in Naples.

In it, they proudly call themselves racist and insult supporters of local rivals Roma by saying their fathers were deported to Nazi concentration camps.

Yesterday, the FIGC announced it was investigating unspecified chants directed at Napoli striker Victor Osimhen.

The incident is the latest in a litany involving Lazio’s hardcore fans, some of the most right wing in a country where fascist fan groups are a widespread phenomenon.

In January, authorities ordered the closure of the Curva Nord section of the Stadio Olimpico, where Lazio’s hardcore fans stand, for one match following racist chants at Lecce which left France international Samuel Umtiti in tears.

Last season, the handler of Lazio’s eagle mascot praised dictators Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco after being suspended by the club for performing a fascist salute at the end of a match.

Israeli, American academics urge boycott of Smotrich during his visit to US

Over 100 American and Israeli academics sign an open letter calling on American private and public organizations not to meet with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during his upcoming visit to the US.

The 122 signatories cite Smotrich’s inflammatory call to “erase” the Palestinian village of Huwara, shortly after two Israeli brothers were killed in a terror attack there and settlers rampaged the town in reprisal.

Smotrich later walked back the remarks, which came several days after the primary violence, saying they were made in the heat of the moment.

The academics say in the letter that Smotrich called “to carry out an egregious war crime” and that because he is part of the security cabinet, the minister’s statement “may be interpreted as official government policy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Smotrich’s eventual about-face for the “inappropriate” comments about Huwara, but never explicitly condemned his political partner.

Smotrich is slated to visit the US next week, as part of a conference hosted by Israel Bonds.

Pentagon chief’s arrival in Israel delayed until tomorrow amid planned mass protests

The schedule of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Israel has changed slightly, apparently due to mass protests planned for tomorrow over the government’s judicial overhaul.

Austin was initially slated to arrive in Israel later today. Instead, an updated schedule from the Defense Ministry says he will arrive early tomorrow morning.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Austin will meet and issue a statement to the press at the Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters, adjacent to Ben Gurion Airport, instead of a more typical location, such as the defense minister’s office at the military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The move is thought to be related to tomorrow’s “national day of resistance.” Protesters are expected to block the entrance to the airport, as well as other main roads across the country. The IAI headquarters are accessible from the airport itself.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also slated to depart from Ben Gurion Airport tomorrow for a trip to Italy. He will reportedly travel by helicopter from Jerusalem to the airport to avoid the road closures by protesters.

Iran jails Irish-French national for 6.5 years as family warns his health is deteriorating

PARIS — Iran has jailed for six and a half years on national security charges an Irish-French citizen held since October, his family says, adding that health problems mean his life is in danger.

Bernard Phelan, a Paris-based travel consultant, was arrested in October in the northeastern city of Mashhad and has been held ever since.

He is one of some two dozen foreigners jailed in Iran who campaigners see as hostages held to extract concessions from the West.

Phelan, 64, is accused of transmitting information to an enemy state, a charge he denies, his family says in a statement.

At an initial hearing on February 20, where he was allowed to be accompanied only by a regime-appointed lawyer, he was sentenced to three and a half years, earning a deduction for health reasons and his age.

But a second hearing on February 26 saw the sentence raised to six and a half years, the family says.

“The health of Bernard is very worrying and his life is in danger,” the family’s statement says.

The family says that his health has “deteriorated considerably” in detention and he needs daily medication for a number of health issues, and that it fears his supplies are running out.

His health issues include cardiovascular problems, hypertension, high risk of stroke and kidney failure and a bone problem that generates significant chronic pain, while his eyesight is also deteriorating.

Phelan went on a dry hunger strike in January to protest his detention but stopped the action at the request of his family, who feared he would die.

With Iran rocked by anti-regime protests since September, Phelan has been accused of taking photos of a burned mosque and police officers, and sending images to a British newspaper, the family says, adding that he denies the accusations.

He has also been accused of taking 900-year-old pieces of pottery from a village, which he also denies, it adds.

Six French citizens, described as “hostages” by the French foreign ministry, are currently held in prison by Iran.

Satellite photos show repair work at Aleppo airport after alleged Israeli strike

Satellite images published today by an Israeli intelligence and imagery firm show repair work at Aleppo airport after damage was caused to a runway in a strike attributed to Israel.

According to ImageSat International (ISI), the damage caused to two locations near the middle of the runway will prevent large planes from landing, such as Iranian cargo flights ferrying weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria accused Israel of striking the airport in the predawn hours yesterday, leading it to cease operations until further notice.

PA security forces fire tear gas at Hamas terrorist’s funeral in Nablus

NABLUS, West Bank — Palestinian security forces in the West Bank fire tear gas as mourners attending the funeral of a Hamas terrorist killed by Israeli forces chant slogans against the Palestinian Authority.

Hundreds march through the streets of the northern West Bank city of Nablus for the funeral of Hamas member Abdel Fattah Hussein Kharousha, 49, killed a day earlier along with five other Palestinians during intense fighting in an Israeli raid in Jenin.

The Israeli army says Kharousha was a terrorist operative who killed two Israeli brothers as they drove through the Palestinian town of Huwara on February 26.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, called him a “heroic martyr.”

As Palestinians carry the body of Kharousha through Nablus, some shout insulting slogans against the Palestinian security forces and other officials, calling them “prostitutes” and “spies” for Israel.

Palestinian officers fire tear gas and stun grenades, an AFP correspondent says, and the body is taken in an ambulance.

Palestinian security service spokesman Talal Dweikat says that officers had intervened when an arguments broke out after “a group unrelated to the martyr’s family kidnapped the body and lowered it to the ground,” Palestinian news agency Wafa reports.

“An altercation occurred while they were chanting against the [Palestinian] national authority and the security services, instead of cursing the [Israeli] occupation that committed crimes against our people,” Dweikat adds.

Meanwhile, in Jenin, crowds march through the streets during the funerals of the five other Palestinians killed yesterday, all men in their 20s. Masked gunmen are among the thousands of mourners.

Justice minister meets with figures behind new proposal for changing judicial system

Justice Minister Yariv Levin is currently meeting with one of the teams developing potential frameworks for a negotiated judicial reform, confirms a spokesman for the minister.

Developed by former justice minister Daniel Friedmann and legal scholar Yuval Albashan, the potential framework touches on key areas, including the system for appointing judges and creating a mechanism for the Knesset to block or overcome judicial review on certain legislation.

Former general Giora Eiland, a key figure in drafting the so-called Friedman-Albashan framework, told Army Radio this morning that while it’s not what he would have preferred for reforming the judiciary, it was a workable starting place.

Despite nine straight weeks of protest, international and domestic warnings about damage to Israel’s economy, and legal opinions from the attorney general that the planned changes by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would threaten judicial independence and erode democracy, Levin has been steadfast in pushing ahead with the legislation.

Senior opposition MKs slam new judicial compromise proposal

Several senior opposition lawmakers slam a new proposal for changing the judicial system that is aimed as a compromise to the government’s planned overhaul.

National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, a former justice minister, tweets that the proposal will lead to the “politicization of the selection of judges,” set a “high and extreme bar” for the High Court to exercise judicial review and would make legal advice non-binding for the government.

“It’s the same woman [but] in a Purim robe,” he says.

Labor party chief Merav Michaeli suggests the proposal is in fact the work of the coalition so it can be presented as a compromise.

“The mask has again dropped. You can’t fool an entire country,” she writes on Twitter.

NATO chief warns Ukraine’s Bakhmut may fall to Russia ‘in coming days’

STOCKHOLM — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warns that the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut may fall into Russian hands in the coming days following months of intense fighting.

“We can not rule out that Bakhmut may eventually fall in the coming days,” Stoltenberg tells reporters in Stockholm on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defense ministers.

Arriving in Cairo, Pentagon chief hails US-Egypt defense ties as ‘essential pillar’

CAIRO — US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says that America’s defense partnership with Egypt is an “essential pillar” of Washington’s commitment to the Middle East.

Austin makes the remark on Twitter after touching down in Cairo on the latest leg of his Middle East tour. He is greeted by senior Egyptian military officials at the Cairo airport.

Austin is expected to hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and other high-ranking officials before departing later today for Israel. His previous stops on the tour included Jordan and Iraq. He was in Baghdad yesterday on an unannounced visit, days before the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Egypt is one of the largest recipients in the Middle East of American economic and military aid and an abiding US ally in the region. But in recent years, US lawmakers have sought to condition that aid on human rights improvements and reforms.

Since coming to power in 2013, el-Sissi’s government has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands. Officials have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics.

”The U.S.-Egypt defense partnership is an essential pillar of our commitment to this region,” Austin posts on Twitter. ‘’I’m here to strengthen our coordination on key issues and to pursue opportunities to deepen our long-standing bilateral partnership with Egypt.”

Egypt has also played a key role in brokering numerous cease-fire agreements between Israeli and Palestinian leaders over recent years. Austin’s trip comes as violence has surged across the West Bank to its highest levels in years.

Both the United States and Egypt are also currently engaged in cross-party talks seeking to end enduring political crises in neighboring Libya and Sudan.

Judicial overhaul architects to meet with initiators of compromise proposal

Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, the leading figures in the right-religious coalition’s push to overhaul the judicial system, are set to meet today with some of the initiators of a compromise proposal, according to Hebrew media reports.

The meeting is expected to include former justice minister Daniel Friedmann, jurist Prof. Yuval Elbashan, and Giora Eiland, a retired general and former national security adviser.

Speaking earlier today with Kan public radio, Eiland says their proposal includes a so-called override clause that would require 70 of the Knesset’s 120 members to overrule High Court rulings. The plans being advanced by the coalition would allow 61 MKs to block the court from striking down legislation.

Cabinet secretary: Latest judicial compromise proposal unacceptable ‘as is’

Cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs says a new proposed compromise to the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to radically change Israel’s judiciary can be a starting point for talks.

On Twitter, Fuchs writes the proposal will not be accepted “as is.”

“The gaps are big,” he adds.

Fuchs doesn’t elaborate on the government’s openness to compromise, but says the aim of the efforts is “to reach a public consensus that will enable the passage of the judicial reform, while making specific revisions that will lower the flames.”

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