Satellite photos show apparent missile factory in Syria
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Satellite photos show apparent missile factory in Syria

Intelligence firm says it can’t verify site at Safita is Iranian-run as reported by Israeli TV, but notes its resemblance to facility in Iran

Satellite images released by ImageSat International on March 13, 2013, show an apparent missile production factory in the Syrian city of Safita. (ImageSat International)
Satellite images released by ImageSat International on March 13, 2013, show an apparent missile production factory in the Syrian city of Safita. (ImageSat International)

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

Turkey’s Erdogan calls Netanyahu a ‘tyrant’ who ‘slaughters’ children

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip calls Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “thief” and a “tyrant” in the latest spat between the two leaders.

The dispute comes after Erdogan’s spokesman denounced Netanyahu as a racist for saying that Israel was the nation-state of the Jewish people only. Netanyahu then struck back calling Erdogan a dictator and criticizing the country for imprisoning journalists.

Speaking at an election campaign rally, Erdogan addresses Netanyahu as “the thief who heads Israel” in reference to corruption allegations against him.

Erdogan continues: “You are a tyrant. You are a tyrant who slaughters 7-year-old Palestinian kids.”

Israel and Turkey were once close allies. But under Erdogan, Turkey has become the most vocal critic of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

— AP

Iranian president meets Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s official IRNA news agency says President Hassan Rouhani has met with Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric — the first such meeting for an Iranian leader.

The report says Rouhani met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on the third and last day of his official visit to Iraq. Wednesday’s meeting took place at al-Sistani’s base in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf.

Former hardline Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not meet with Iranian-born cleric al-Sistani during his 2008 visit to Iraq.

Al-Sistani rarely meets officials. He received the UN envoy to Iraq, Jan Kubis, last November.

Rouhani is likely to score points at home over the meeting. He is under increasing pressure by hardliners and struggling with an economic crisis that has emboldened critics to openly call for his ouster.

— AP

Remand of minor arrested over Temple Mount firebomb extended

The remand of a minor arrested over the throwing of a firebomb at police on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City is extended until Sunday, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The broadcaster reports that a second minor suspected of direct involvement in hurling the Molotov cocktail will be brought before the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court later today for a hearing on extending his remand as well.

Police closed the Temple Mount yesterday following the incident, drawing condemnations from Palestinians and threatening to escalate recent tensions surrounding the flashpoint holy site.

The Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, was reopened to worshipers this morning.

A fire rages in a police post on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at it on March 12, 2019. (Ir Amim)

Ethiopian plane’s black box will go to Europe

HEJERE, Ethiopia — An Ethiopian Airlines spokesman confirms that the black box from Sunday’s crashed plane will be sent to Europe.

Asrat Begashaw has declined to tell The Associated Press which country will be analyzing the voice and data recorders of the flight.

The plane crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board, among them two Israelis.

— AP

A family member of one of the victims of the plane crash tries to escape from the security area to see the blocked investigation site, at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff on Sunday killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, on March 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Protesters call on Litzman to resign during extradition hearings on accused molester

Demonstrators call on Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to resign as the Jerusalem District Court hears whether a former girls school principal accused of sexual abuse in Australia is fit for extradition.

Litzman, who heads the United Torah Judaism party, is under investigation over suspicions he sought to obtain a falsified psychiatric report that would have prevented Malka Leifer’s extradition on medical grounds.

“Litzman go home, Leifer to Australia,” the protesters chant outside the court. “Justice for the girls, we believe you.”

Among the several dozen protesters are sisters Nicole Meyer and Dassi Erlich, who have accused Leifer of molesting them when she was headmaster of Melbourne’s Adass Israel school.

Australian sisters Nicole Meyer (L) and Dassi Erlich (R) take part in a demonstration on March 13, 2019, outside the Jeursalem District Court during extradition hearings for Malka Leifer, a former girls school principal wanted for sexual abuse in Australia. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Turkish FM says Netanyahu going after Erdogan ‘to hide his legal troubles’

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu weighs in on the latest exchange of insults between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, accusing the Israeli premier of going after Erdogan “to hide his legal troubles.”

“Meanwhile, he fuels discrimination and hate against citizens of Israel, let alone Palestinians. Pathetic and shameful,” Cavusoglu tweets.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he intends to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a series of corruption cases. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.

Netanyahu lobs fresh insults at Erdogan in escalating war of words

Prime Minister Netanyahu fires back at Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan after Turkey’s leader branded him a “tyrant” who “slaughters” Palestinian children.

“Erdogan, the a dictator who throws tens of thousands of political opponents in jail, carries out mass murder of the Kurds and occupies Northern Cyprus, preaches to me — to the State of Israel and the IDF — about democracy and the ethics of war,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

“A joke.”

The premier also tells Erdogan not to interfere in Jerusalem, referring to the Turkish president’s criticism of Israel for temporarily closing Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after a firebomb was thrown at police.

“Erdogan can only learn from us how to respect all religions and uphold human rights,” Netanyahu says.

Gantz says he’ll weigh targeted killings of Hamas chiefs if elected PM

Prime ministerial hopeful Benny Gantz says he’ll consider reintroducing targeted killings of Hamas leaders in response to Gaza border violence if his Blue and White party forms the next government.

In a campaign tour of communities near the Gaza Strip, Gantz criticizes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinian territory in response to frequent clashes over the past year and vows to take a tougher stance.

“In the 3.5 years after [Operation] Protective Edge there was complete calm. No rockets, balloons or kites,” Gantz says, referring to the Gaza war he commanded as IDF chief.

“When we form the government we’ll change this tired policy and implement a very firm and tough one,” he adds.

While saying he would work to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza, Gantz warns he won’t respond lightly to any attacks from the coastal enclave.

“If they attack us or violate our sovereignty, we’ll implement a tough policy,” he says. “If there is a need we will return to a policy of targeted killings.”

Israel ramps up criticism of UN probe on Gaza clashes

GENEVA — Senior Israeli officials deliver a detailed critique of a UN probe that accused its soldiers of possible war crimes in Gaza, saying investigators ignored key evidence, notably over the role of Hamas.

Last month, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said Israeli troops intentionally shot children, journalists, health workers and other civilians while responding to unrest in the Gaza Strip between March 30 and December 31 last year.

Israel immediately denounced the report as biased and rejected its findings.

But a senior Israeli delegation that traveled to Geneva days before the probe is set to be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council offers more criticism on Wednesday.

Palestinians climb the border fence with Israel during clashes near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 8, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In a briefing with journalists, the delegation accuses UN investigators of downplaying both the violence in the protests and the fact that Israel says the unrest was orchestrated by Hamas, which controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, the European Union and others.

The UN commission said the protests were not instigated by Hamas and were generally peaceful in nature, arguing that Hamas was therefore under no obligation to intervene.

“For the commission, Hamas is completely absent from this report. They see no Hamas, they hear no Hamas,” says one Israeli official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The Israeli delegation provided evidence that it says proved Hamas’s involvement throughout the protests, including in coordinating serious acts of violence targeting Israeli troops.

“Hamas has complete control of these events,” the official says.

— AFP

Netanyahu boasts exposure of Hezbollah cell ‘just the tip of the iceberg’

Prime Minister Netanyahu lauds the military’s exposure of what it said was a new Hezbollah cell in the Syrian Golan Heights and chalks it up as a win for Israeli intelligence.

“This morning Israel exposed a Hezbollah terror network on the Golan Heights. Hezbollah is a terror organization. It’s a proxy of Iran. It does Iran’s bidding and this terror network is part of Iran’s aggression against Israel,” Netanyahu says.

“So I have a clear message for Iran and for Hezbollah: Israel knows what you’re doing; Israel knows where you’re doing it. What we’ve uncovered today is just the tip of the iceberg. We know a lot more,” he adds.

The premier also reiterates Israel’s stance that it will not allow Iran to establish a military presence on its borders.

“Israel will continue to do all that’s necessary to defend itself. We will continue to use all means, overt and covert, to block Iran’s effort to use Syria, Lebanon and Gaza as forward bases for attacking Israel,” he says.

Netanyahu speaks with Ethiopian PM as Israel pushes to access crash site

Israel continues to push for rescue workers to be given access to the site of a deadly plane in crash in Ethiopia in order to recover the remains of a pair of Israeli victims, the Foreign Ministry says.

As part of these efforts, Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks by phone with his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed.

The Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed Sunday shortly after taking off from the capital Addis Abada, killing 157 people including Israelis Shimon Re’em and Avraham Matsliah.

Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz speaks today with Re’em and Matsliah’s families to update them on efforts to identity their bodies, according to the Foreign Ministry.

To secure access for Israeli rescuers to the crash site, the Israeli ambassador in Addis Ababa speaks with the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, while the deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Africa branch speaks with the Ethiopian foreign minister.

US now calls Golan Heights ‘Israeli-controlled’

The US referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” for the first time in a new State Department report released today on human rights.

Last year, for the first time, the report dropped references to the Golan, West Bank and the Gaza Strip as being “occupied” by Israel.

This year’s report simply calls the West Bank “the West Bank” and the Gaza Strip as “the Gaza Strip.”

US says no change in stance on Golan’s status

The United States says its use of the term “Israel-controlled” in reference to the Golan Heights in a new State Department report on human rights does not indicate a change in policy toward the Israeli-held territory.

“Our policy on Golan has not changed,” a spokesperson for the US Embassy in Jerusalem tells The Times of Israel.

“We retitled the Human Rights Report to refer to the commonly used geographic names of the area the report covers,” the spokesperson adds.

Israel captured the area from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and later applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in 1981. The move, tantamount to annexation, was not recognized by the international community.

— Raphael Ahren

Basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire granted Israeli citizenship

American basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire was granted Israeli citizenship today in a ceremony at the Interior Ministry.

Stoudemire, who plays for Israeli squad Hapoel Jerusalem, has long touted his “Hebrew roots” and affinity for Israel, and in January was granted temporary residency.

“Two weeks ago I hosted the Hapoel Jerusalem team at my office and already then I told Amar’e that the next time we meet he’ll be an Israeli citizen and here we are today,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion is quoted saying in a statement.

Stoudemire, who last year said he is converting to Judaism, first played for Hapoel in 2016 after a 14-year NBA career that included six all-star nods.

Basketball player Amar’e Stoudemire (C) shows off his Israeli national identity card at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem alongside Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (R) and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion on March 13, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel opens criminal probe into 11 Palestinian deaths in Gaza clashes

GENEVA — A senior Israeli official says the army has opened criminal investigations into the deaths of 11 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire during clashes along the Gaza border over the past year.

Israeli officials briefed journalists in Geneva on Wednesday to rebut allegations made in a UN human rights report last week alleging soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and could have committed crimes against humanity in violence that has killed 189 people and left more than 6,000 hurt by live ammunition.

The Israeli official says full-fledged criminal investigations in such cases are opened if “reasonable grounds” of suspicion of criminal misconduct are found. Critics say such investigations rarely result in prosecution of soldiers.

The officials speak on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

— AP

Knesset speaker hails US for saying Golan ‘Israeli-controlled’

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein showers praise on US President Donald Trump after a report released by the State Department referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” for the first time.

“The people have long been with the Golan. Now Trump is too,” Edelstein tweets.

“Thank you President Trump for another important step on the right and just path,” he adds.

Arab MK rips US for dropping term ‘occupation’ in regards to West Bank

Arab lawmaker Ayman Odeh rips the United States after a new State Department report on human rights dropped the term “occupation” in reference to the West Bank.

“Trump and Netanyahu are trying to deny — and the centrist parties tend to stammer — but in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem there is an occupation and no wording will succeed in rewriting history,” Odeh writes on Twitter.

“Any effort to remove the Palestinian issue from the agenda will end in bitter failure,” he adds.

Satellite photos show apparent missile factory in Syria

An Israeli intelligence firm releases satellite photos appearing to show a factory for manufacturing missiles in northwest Syria.

“The construction patterns, the compound location and the activity signs at the compound and its region, increase the probability that this is a missile manufacturing site,” ImageSat International says.

The firm stresses, however, it cannot confirm the site at Safita is operated by Iran, as Israel’s Channel 12 news reported last month.

Despite this, ImageSat says the facility in Syria resembles a site in Khojir, Iran, used for producing surface-to-surface missiles.

Trump: US grounding Boeing 737 Max 8, 9 after Ethiopia crash

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump says the US is issuing an emergency order grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft in the wake of a crash of an Ethiopian Airliner that killed 157 people.

Many nations in the world had already barred the Boeing 737 Max 8 from its airspace, but until now, the Federal Aviation Administration had been saying that it didn’t have any data to show the jets are unsafe.

Trump says that the FAA would be making the announcement soon to ground the planes.

He says any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and then be grounded.

Trump says pilots and airlines have been notified.

He says the safety of the American people is of “paramount concern.”

— AP

Transportation minister says he’ll bar Boeing 737 Max from Israeli skies

Transportation Minister Israel Katz says he’ll instruct the Israeli Aviation Authority to bar Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft from entering Israel’s airspace, after a plane of that model crashed in Ethiopia.

“This is already part of a global campaign,” Katz tells Channel 13 news regarding his decision.

Katz’s announcement comes after US President Donald Trump said the US would ground all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft following a similar decision to do by many other countries.

157 people were killed when an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed Sunday near Ethiopia’s capital, including two Israelis.

Boeing supports grounding of 737 Max, says it has ‘full confidence’ in plane

WASHINGTON — Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg says that he supports the US decision to ground the company’s 737 Max aircraft after the latest deadly crash but continues to have “full confidence” in the safety of the plane.

He says he recommended to the Federal Aviation Administration that the global fleet should be suspended “out of an abundance of caution.”

The company continues its efforts “to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

— AFP

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