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Ukraine says Russian forces unable to capture ‘center of hell’ Mariupol

Top UN humanitarian official describes key port city as the worst hit country-wide; Roman Abramovich plane flies to Moscow after leaving Turkey

People walk past a crater from the explosion in Mira Avenue (Avenue of Peace) in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 13, 2022. (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)
People walk past a crater from the explosion in Mira Avenue (Avenue of Peace) in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 13, 2022. (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)

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

Warlord says Chechens spearheading Mariupol incursion

The Kremlin-backed leader of the Russian region of Chechnya says that Chechen fighters are spearheading a Russian offensive on the strategic port of Mariupol.

Chechnya’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov says on the messaging app Telegram that Chechen fighters went 1.5 kilometers (about 1 mile) inside the Azov Sea city before pausing their attack when night fell.

Kadyrov, who earlier said he was in Hostomel near Kyiv, says his close associate Adam Delimkhanov is leading Chechen fighters in Mariupol.

Ukraine says Russia forced to back off bid to take Mariupol

The Ukrainian military says it has repelled a Russian attempt to take control of the strategic port of Mariupol.

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff says in a statement that Russian forces retreated after suffering losses.

An explosion in an apartment building that came under fire from a Russian army tank in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Friday, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The Russian military has besieged the Azov Sea port city of 430,000 for a week and a half, leaving its residents desperate for power, water and food. More than 2,500 residents of Mariupol have been killed by the Russian shelling.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says in televised remarks that Russian shelling on Monday thwarted another attempt to deliver food and medicines to the city.

A humanitarian convoy of 160 civilian cars left Mariupol after repeated failures to evacuate civilians because of Russian shelling.

Earlier, Martin Griffiths, the UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, told CNN that the city is “the center of the hell we see in Ukraine at the moment.”

US thinks China likely willing to send Russia aid, but quietly — report

US officials believe China is willing to send Russia military aid to bolster its Ukraine offensive, but may try to keep such assistance a secret, CNN reports.

The station says that US officials sent a cable to allies in Europe and Asia saying that China had expressed openness to the possibility of sending help, but it was unclear if it had actually done so.

An official describing the cable says the US warned Beijing would deny providing Moscow with help.

CNN also reports that among the requests Russia made was for ready-to-eat meals, or MREs, which are given to combat troops, underlining reported logistical issues Russia has faced trying to provide for troops taking part in the invasion.

EU announces fourth set of sanctions on Russia

The European Union says the 27-nation bloc has approved a fourth set of sanctions to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

France, which holds the EU presidency, says in a statement that the bloc approved a package targeting “individuals and entities involved in the aggression against Ukraine,” along with sectors of the Russian economy.

The exact details of the latest package will be revealed in the EU’s official journal.

Since the war started last month, the EU has adopted tough measures targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s financial system and the country’s oligarchs. Last week, the bloc agreed to slap further sanctions on 160 individuals and added new restrictions on the export of maritime navigation and radio communication technology.

White House said to dispute claim site targeted in Iraq was Israeli training center

A New York Times reporter who earlier tweeted that a US official claimed a building in Iraqi Kurdistan was used as by Israel now says the White House is disputing that claim.

Correspondent Farnaz Fassihi says an official in President Joe Biden’s administration told her colleague Eric Schmidt, who covers national security for the paper, that the claim was incorrect.

“A senior Biden administration official refuted the earlier comment by a US official, saying the administration believes that the building that was hit was a civilian residence only and did not also serve as an Israeli training site,” she tweets.

Fassihi earlier claimed that a senior US official told Schmidt that the building had been an Israeli training site. The newspaper has yet to publish a story on the comments.

Russia says West trying to push it into ‘artificial default’

Russia is accusing the West of seeking to push it into an “artificial default” through unprecedented sanctions over Ukraine, but is vowing to meet its debt payments.

Russia is due to make an interest payment on its external debt later this week and Moscow warned it will be doing so in rubles if sanctions prevent it from using the currency of issue.

“The freezing of foreign currency accounts of the Bank of Russia and of the Russian government can be regarded as the desire of a number of foreign countries to organize an artificial default that has no real economic grounds,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov says in a statement.

Ratings agency Fitch last week downgraded Russia’s sovereign debt rating deeper into junk territory, warning that the decision reflects the view that a default is “imminent.”

But Siluanov denied that Russia “cannot fulfil the obligations” of its government debt.

Iranian missile attack in Erbil struck Israeli training facility, US official tells NYT

A house damaged by an Iranian ballistic missile attack is seen in Erbil, Iraq, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/ Ahmed Mzoori, Metrography)
A house damaged by an Iranian ballistic missile attack is seen in Erbil, Iraq, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/ Ahmed Mzoori, Metrography)

One of the buildings in Erbil struck over the weekend by a missile fired by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was an Israeli training facility, a senior US official tells The New York Times.

The US consulate was not the target of the attack, but the IRGC does not mind that it was nearby, the official adds.

Abramovich’s yacht leaves Montenegro, ‘awaiting orders’ for next destination

A view of Russian-Jewish tycoon Roman Abramovich's superyacht 'Solaris,' anchored in Tivat, Montenegro, March 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic)
A view of Russian-Jewish tycoon Roman Abramovich's superyacht 'Solaris,' anchored in Tivat, Montenegro, March 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic)

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s yacht Solaris has left Montenegro and is “awaiting orders” regarding its next destination, according to the Marine Traffic website.

Abramovich is not on the yacht and was last spotted at Ben Gurion Airport, prior to boarding his private jet to Turkey.

Montenegro had joined Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, which is what may have forced Abramovich’s yacht off the island.

IDF reports two incidents of settler violence at illegal Homesh outpost

Border Police officers prepare to raze illegal buildings at the wildcat Homesh outpost on December 24, 2021. (courtesy, Border Police)
Border Police officers prepare to raze illegal buildings at the wildcat Homesh outpost on December 24, 2021. (courtesy, Border Police)

The Israel Defense Forces reports two violent incidents committed by settlers at the illegal Homesh outpost against troops stationed in the area in recent days.

On Saturday night, settlers who were hurling stones at Palestinian vehicles in the area attacked a soldier who attempted to stop them, the IDF says.

And earlier today, a settler rammed a military checkpoint near the outpost, hitting an officer and another soldier, the military says. The two did not require further medical treatment according to the IDF.

No suspects have been arrested, and the incidents have been reported to the police.

The unauthorized settlement was officially dismantled in 2005, but a hardline yeshiva has continued to operate there on a daily basis, with no intervention by the army, in direct violation of Israeli law.

NASA insists space station unaffected by Russian war

NASA is insisting tensions linked to the war in Ukraine had no impact on International Space Station operations or the planned return of an American astronaut aboard a Russian capsule later this month.

Speaking to reporters, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS program manager, says: “I can tell you for sure Mark is coming home on that Soyuz. We are in communication with our Russian colleagues. There’s no fuzz on that. The three crew members are coming home.”

“There’s been some discussion about that, but I can tell you we’re ready. Our Roscosmos colleagues have confirmed that they’re ready to bring the whole crew home, all three of them,” he continues.

Over the weekend, Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin warned again that Western sanctions on Russia could cause the ISS to crash, by disrupting the operation of spacecraft vital to keeping the platform in orbit.

Fox News correspondent injured in Ukraine

A correspondent for Fox News was injured and hospitalized on Monday while covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US television network says.

Benjamin Hall, a Briton who covers the State Department for Fox News, was injured while “newsgathering outside of Kyiv,” Fox News says in a statement.

“We have a minimal level of details right now, but Ben is hospitalized and our teams on the ground are working to gather additional information,” it says.

Irina Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, says in a Facebook post that a British journalist had received shrapnel wounds to both legs.

She does not identify the journalist, but posts a picture of a US congressional press pass belonging to a Fox News reporter.

Abramovich spotted at Ben Gurion Airport before his plane flies to Turkey

Russian businessman Roman Abramovich looks on as he follows Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's press conference after Russia was announced being the host for the 2018 soccer World Cup in Zurich, Switzerland, December 2, 2010. (AP/Anja Niedringhaus)
Russian businessman Roman Abramovich looks on as he follows Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's press conference after Russia was announced being the host for the 2018 soccer World Cup in Zurich, Switzerland, December 2, 2010. (AP/Anja Niedringhaus)

A private plane owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich has landed in Istanbul, after the businessman reportedly spent roughly 24 hours in Israel.

Abramovich was spotted for the first time since he was hit by sanctions at the VIP lounge in Ben Gurion Airport on Monday afternoon.

It was not clear whether Abramovich planned to continue on to Moscow, as the list of countries where he is able to reside shrinks, given the compounding sanctions against him.

In rare show of unity, all 25 Jewish House Dems blast Amnesty director’s comments on Israel

Amnesty International USA director Paul O’Brien. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Amnesty International USA director Paul O’Brien. (Screen capture/YouTube)

All 25 Jewish Democrats in the House, a fractious caucus that rarely unanimously agrees on issues of Jewish interest, have signed onto a statement slamming recent comments by Amnesty International’s US director, who said he believes polls showing overwhelming US Jewish support for Israel are inaccurate.

“As Jewish Members of the House of Representatives, we represent diverse views on a number of issues relating to Israel. However, we are in full agreement that Mr. [Paul] O’Brien’s patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community is alarming and deeply offensive,” their statement says.

Last week, in an address first reported by Jewish Insider, Paul O’Brien defended Amnesty’s recent report designating Israel as an “apartheid” state. Someone at the event, at the Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington DC, asked him about a 2020 Ruderman Family Foundation poll that showed eight in 10 American Jews identify as “pro-Israel.” The poll is commensurate with findings of multiple polls over the years.

“I believe my gut tells me that what Jewish people in this country want is to know that there’s a sanctuary that is a safe and sustainable place that the Jews, the Jewish people can call home,” he said, a status short of a Jewish state.

“We are opposed to the idea — and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate — that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people,” O’Brien had said earlier in his comments.

O’Brien tweeted Friday that his remarks were removed from context, although he did not dispute the contents of the quote. “I did not and Amnesty takes no position on the legitimacy of any state,” he said.

Such unanimity is rare among Jewish Democrats, especially on issues of Jewish import. For example, Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia and Dean Phillips of Minnesota have condemned comments by fellow caucus member, Ilhan Omar, as antisemitic, while Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois has joined with Omar to combat antisemitism. Luria and Rep. Josh Gottheimer last week spearheaded a letter saying they would likely oppose any bid by the Biden administration to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, while Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Alan Lowenthal of California have decried former president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal as catastrophic.

Russia’s war against Ukraine threatening global food supply, UN official warns

Russia’s war against Ukraine is threatening the global food supply and putting some of the world’s poorest countries at risk, the United Nations chief and the executive director of the World Food Program warns.

More than 40 African and least-developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia, and 18 of them import at least 50 percent, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters. These countries include Egypt, Congo, Burkina Faso, Leban, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, he says.

“All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe,” the secretary-general warns.

David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, told The Associated Press during a visit to the Ukrainian city of Lviv that 50% of the grain the program buys to feed “the 125 million people we reach on any given day, week or month” comes from Ukraine, as does 20% of the world’s supply of corn.

“So (the war) is going to have a dynamic global catastrophic impact,” Beasley said.

Guterres announced an additional $40 million from the UN’s emergency fund to get critical supplies of food, water, and medicine into Ukraine, where at least 1.9 million people are displaced.

Russian state TV employee interrupts news broadcast, holding ‘No war’ sign

Marina Ovsyannikova, a Russian state TV employee interrupts the evening news broadcast, holding a sign condemning President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Marina Ovsyannikova, a Russian state TV employee interrupts the evening news broadcast, holding a sign condemning President Vladimir Putin's war against Ukraine on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Likely placing herself in grave danger, Marina Ovsyannikova, a Russian state TV employee, interrupts the evening news broadcast holding a sign condemning President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.

Before carrying out the act of protest, she recorded a video calling on Russians to protest the war, saying she is ashamed of the government propaganda supporting it and reveals that her father is Ukrainian.

US has ‘deep concerns’ on Russia-China ‘alignment’ — official

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The United States has “deep concerns” about “alignment” between Russia and China, a senior US official says, after high-ranking US and Chinese officials met for seven hours on the Ukraine war and other security issues.

“We do have deep concerns about China’s alignment with Russia,” the official tells reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Despite possible snow tomorrow in Jerusalem, schools to remain open

Snow covers Jerusalem's Old City, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Snow covers Jerusalem's Old City, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Schools will remain open in Jerusalem tomorrow, the municipality announces, despite some forecasts predicting snow — an extreme rarity for the capital, particularly so late in the season.

US, Chinese officials have ‘substantial discussion’ on Ukraine war — White House

High-level US and Chinese officials engaged today in “substantial discussion” on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the White House says after talks held in Rome between the two superpowers.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Communist Party’s chief diplomat, did not address reporters after their meeting in a hotel.

The White House says the two officials also “underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China.”

Israel looking into possible cyberattack that briefly took down gov’t websites

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel is meeting with officials in his office following an apparent cyberattack that took down a number of government offices’ websites for several minutes earlier this evening.

Iran says it foiled Israeli operation to sabotage centrifuges at Fordow nuclear facility

A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)
A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)

Iran state media reports that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps IRGC have foiled an Israeli operation aimed at sabotaging the advanced centrifuges at the nuclear facility in Fordow.

The IRGC intelligence says it arrested the entire group of operatives who were paid by Israel and provided with computers by Israel to use in order to carry out the attack.

This is the second group that Iran says it has arrested in the last 24 hours.

Russian military stalled in attempted advance in Ukraine — senior US defense official

In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on February 18, 2022, Russian army tanks are loaded onto railway platforms to move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on February 18, 2022, Russian army tanks are loaded onto railway platforms to move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

The Russian military was largely stalled in its attempted advance in Ukraine today and made little progress over the weekend, a senior US defense official says.

The official also says the Russians have not taken total control of the airspace. The official says all of the Russian military forces that had been arrayed around the country are now inside, and that the Russians still retain about 90 percent of their combat capabilities. The official said there are no indications that the Russians are trying to bring in reinforcements.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments.

The official also said the US has not done any training of the Ukrainian military in the country since the Florida National Guard forces left as the war was beginning. In that vein, the official said a military training base the Russians hit in western Ukraine on Sunday close to the Polish border has not been used to send security assistance to the Ukrainian military and therefore the attack had no impact on that assistance.

After speaking with Putin, Bennett discusses ceasefire efforts with Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Composite/AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Composite/AP)

After wrapping up his hour-and-a-half-long call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks over the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the latter’s office says.

“We exchanged information on our joint steps and steps of our partners against the background of Russian aggression. Agreed on further actions,” Zelensky tweets.

The PMO has not yet issued a statement on the call.

Report: Public security minister to meet with PA’s Abbas to discuss security coordination ahead of Ramadan

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a ceremony at the Israel Police National Headquarters in Jerusalem, September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends a ceremony at the Israel Police National Headquarters in Jerusalem, September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev will meet in the coming days with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss security coordination ahead of the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Channel 12 reports.

A senior IDF official tells the network that the army supports easing the access of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel in order to reach Jerusalem during Ramadan. The official backs allowing in those above the age of 45 who do not have entry permits. However, police oppose the policy and say only those with permits should be allowed in.

The police are the ones directly responsible with securing the Old City of Jerusalem during Ramadan and evidently do not want to be blamed if the situation deteriorates.

Gov’t officials to discuss how to prevent Israel from becoming safe haven for sanctioned oligarchs

FILE - Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich sits in his box before their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, December 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
FILE - Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich sits in his box before their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, December 19, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

Earlier today, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that “Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries.”

However, no practical steps have been taken yet to back those words up, amid criticism from the Biden administration.

Channel 12 reports that government ministers are not yet talking about imposing sanctions of their own against Russian oligarchs. However, a panel made up of officials from the Bank of Israel along with the relevant government ministries will convene to discuss how to prevent the country from being used as a safe haven for Putin’s cronies.

Shaked: 5,000 Olim have arrived from Ukraine and Russia since start of war

Ukrainian Jewish refugees, who fled the war in their country, wait at the check-in counters ahead of their flight to Tel Aviv in the Moldovan capital Chisinau on March 14, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Ukrainian Jewish refugees, who fled the war in their country, wait at the check-in counters ahead of their flight to Tel Aviv in the Moldovan capital Chisinau on March 14, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tells Channel 12 that 5,000 people from Ukraine and Russia have immigrated to Israel since the start of the war.

She says that 5,000 other Ukrainians have arrived in Israel and are staying with friends and family, hinting that this group is not eligible to receive citizenship under the Law of Return.

Report: Prospect of Jerusalem summit for Russia-Ukraine talks remains unlikely after Bennett-Putin call

The flags of Ukraine and Russia that were projected onto the walls of Jerusalem's Old City for a short time, March 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
The flags of Ukraine and Russia that were projected onto the walls of Jerusalem's Old City for a short time, March 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The prospect of Jerusalem hosting a summit for Ukrainian and Russian negotiators aimed at reaching a ceasefire remains particularly low, following President Vladimir Putin’s call with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Channel 12 reports.

An Israeli official says the call was a follow-up to Bennett’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday night.

Michaeli tears into Liberman for sexist remark about Ukrainian women

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli tears into Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman for the sexist remark he made about Ukrainian women during this evening’s cabinet meeting.

According to leaked transcripts of the meeting, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked noted that many mayors across the country are volunteering to take in Ukrainian refugees.

“Some of them only want Ukrainian women,” Liberman joked in response.

Nobody called out the minister for the sexist comment and several colleagues even laughed at the crack.

After it was leaked though, Liberman asked that it be wiped from the official minutes of the meeting.

“There are some things that are not a joke. The finance minister asked to delete from the minutes of the meeting his outrageous statement about Ukrainian women. I hope this is the last time such things are said about women, who have always paid the price of war that men decided on,” tweets Michaeli.

Second bomb threat in four days forces Moscow-bound flight from Belgrade to turn back

A flight from Belgrade to Moscow has turned back, following the second bomb threat in four days, Serbian police said.

The Belgrade airport received an email saying that an explosive device had been planted on the AirSerbia flight to Moscow, police said in a statement. The same happened last Friday.

The plane was turned back shortly after takeoff, and was being checked by police, the statement said. No other details were immediately available.

Besides some Turkish carriers, Serbia’s national airline AirSerbia the only airline in Europe still flying to and from Russia. Serbia, which formally seeks European Union membership, but has maintained close relations with ally Russia, has refused to join an EU-imposed flight ban in response to the war in Ukraine.

Biden weighing visit to Europe amid Russia war against Ukraine — officials

US President Joe Biden announces a ban on Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia's economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 8, 2022. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
US President Joe Biden announces a ban on Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia's economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 8, 2022. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

WASHINGTON — The White House is weighing the possibility of US President Joe Biden traveling to Europe in the coming weeks for face-to-face talks with European leaders about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to three US officials familiar with the deliberations.

The prospective trip is yet to be finalized. One possible destination for the meetings would be Brussels, which is the headquarters for NATO, one of the officials says. Another official said the White House was looking at Biden visiting NATO headquarters on March 24, with other potential stops in Europe.

All of the officials speak on the condition of anonymity, as none was allowed to comment publicly.

Biden’s potential trip would follow Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the eastern flank NATO countries of Poland and Romania last week to discuss with leaders there the growing refugee crisis in eastern Europe sparked by the Russian invasion. The trip would underscore the Biden administration’s support for NATO allies. NBC News first reported that the discussions for a potential Biden trip are underway.

Bennett, Putin hold hour-and-a-half-long phone call to discuss ceasefire efforts

Right: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/ Pool) Left: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the 17th Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forum via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, September 30, 2021. (Evgeniy Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Right: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 5, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky/ Pool) Left: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the 17th Russia-Kazakhstan Interregional Cooperation Forum via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, September 30, 2021. (Evgeniy Paulin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett left this evening’s cabinet meeting on the government’s refugee policy in order to take a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin, a diplomatic official tells reporters.

The call lasted roughly an hour and a half, with the sides discussing efforts to reach a ceasefire in Ukraine, as well as efforts to allow access to Israeli humanitarian aid, the official says.

The official says that Putin complained to Bennett about the “barbaric” acts of Ukrainian soldiers in the separatist-held Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine where Russia claims 20 civilians were killed. Those reports have not been confirmed.

Paul pans GOP colleagues for condemning Iran deal before its been formulated

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks with reporters as he walks on Capitol Hill, October 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks with reporters as he walks on Capitol Hill, October 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sen. Rand Paul is the only Republican senator not to sign a letter to US President Joe Biden warning that the GOP will not support the Iran nuclear deal currently being negotiated in Vienna.

Asked why he isn’t joining his colleagues, Paul tells POLITICO, “condemning a deal that is not yet formulated is akin to condemning diplomacy itself, not a very thoughtful position.

EU readying new slate of sanctions against Russia over ‘barbaric’ invasion

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, February 27, 2022. (Stephanie Lecocq,Pool Photo via AP, File)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, February 27, 2022. (Stephanie Lecocq,Pool Photo via AP, File)

The European Union’s foreign policy chief says the 27-country bloc is finalizing its new round of sanctions against Russia for its “barbaric” invasion of Ukraine.

Josep Borrell says that the fourth package of coercive measures would target Russia’s market access, membership in international financial institutions, and steel and energy sectors.

“We are listing more companies and individuals playing an active role in supporting the people who undermine Ukrainian sovereignty,” Borrell says, after talks in Skopje on Monday with North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski. “This would be another major blow (to the) economic and logistic base upon which the Kremlin is building the invasion.”

Polish FM accuses Russia of ‘state terrorism’ in Security Council address

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro. (YouTube screen capture)
Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro. (YouTube screen capture)

Poland’s foreign minister is accusing Russia of “state terrorism” for targeting civilians, schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, “in an attempt to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people.”

Zbigniew Rau tells the UN Security Council that Russia’s “unprovoked, unjustified and premeditated aggression” against Ukraine was “poorly prepared and executed (and) turned out to be a strategic and tactical failure.”

“But instead of preventing further unnecessary deaths in its own ranks, the Kremlin changed its tactics,” he said. “The invading force started to target the civilian population and infrastructure” in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law to try to break the Ukrainian resistance.

Rau addresses the Security Council’s annual meeting with the Organization for Security and Cooperation as the OSCE’s rotating chair.

Russian airstrike in Kyiv kills one, wounds six — Ukrainian officials

A local resident searches for his belongings in an apartment building after it was hit by artillery shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A local resident searches for his belongings in an apartment building after it was hit by artillery shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

KYIV, Ukraine — A Russian airstrike in the capital’s downtown area Monday killed one person and wounded six others, Ukrainian officials say.

The Ukrainian Emergency Services says the airstrike took place near a checkpoint and caused extensive damage to a residential neighborhood.

Kateryna Lot says she was in her apartment with a child who was doing homework online when they heard a loud explosion.

“Our windows and the balcony were shattered, part of the floor fell down,” Lot says. “It was very, very scary.”

She says they ran to a shelter after the explosion.

Ukrainian authorities also said two people died and seven were injured after Russian forces struck an airplane factory in Kyiv, and that two people were killed in the northern Obolonskyi district of the capital when Russian artillery fire hit a nine-story apartment building.

The United Nations has recorded at least 596 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, though it believes the true toll is much higher.

Spain asks China to use influence to end Russia’s war against Ukraine

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares says that he has asked his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, to use Beijing’s influence over Moscow to end the war in Ukraine.

“We are at a historical moment that requires responsibility and vision of all world leaders,” Albares tells Wang during a telephone conversation on Monday, according to a statement from the ministry.

It said that Albares condemns “the Russian aggression on Ukraine” by telling Wang that “Russia has undermined the foundations of peace and stability in Europe and threatens the international community.”

UN rights chief condemns Saudi ‘mass execution’

In this photo released by Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 14, 2021. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)
In this photo released by Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 14, 2021. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

The UN human rights chief has condemned Saudi Arabia’s execution of a record 81 people in a single day, and urged the kingdom to stop using the death penalty.

Michelle Bachelet says war crimes may have been committed if people were beheaded following court cases that do not offer proper fair trial guarantees.

Saudi Arabia said Saturday that it had executed a record 81 people in one day for terrorism-related offenses, exceeding the total number killed in the whole of 2021 and sparking criticism from rights activists.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says that among those beheaded, 41 belonged to the Shiite minority, and had taken part in anti-government protests in 2011-2012. A further seven were Yemenis and one was a Syrian national.

Strike on Ukraine TV tower kills nine — official

In this photo released by Ukrainian State Emergency Service press service, firefighters evacuate an elderly woman from an apartment building hit by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022. (Ukrainian State Emergency Service via AP)
In this photo released by Ukrainian State Emergency Service press service, firefighters evacuate an elderly woman from an apartment building hit by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022. (Ukrainian State Emergency Service via AP)

Nine people died and another nine were injured Monday when Russian forces hit a television tower outside the western Ukrainian city of Rivne, local authorities say.

“Nine dead, nine wounded,” the head of the regional administration, Vitaliy Koval, says via the messaging app Telegram, adding that rescuers were working to free survivors trapped under the rubble in the village of Antopil.

Liberman said to make crack about Ukrainian women during cabinet meeting

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman sips tea, during testimony at the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on February 15, 2022. (Screen capture/Knesset TV)
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman sips tea, during testimony at the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee on February 15, 2022. (Screen capture/Knesset TV)

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman reportedly made a sexist crack about Ukrainian women at today’s cabinet meeting on the government’s refugee policy.

According to leaked transcripts of the meeting, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked noted that many mayors across the country are volunteering to take in Ukrainian refugees.

“Some of them only want Ukrainian women,” Liberman joked in response.

Nobody called out the minister for the sexist comment and several colleagues even laughed at the crack.

After it was leaked though, Liberman asked that it be wiped from the official minutes of the meeting.

Cabinet approves plan aimed for housing assistance to Ukrainian immigrants

Refugees fleeing war in neighboring Ukraine queue at the Medyka border crossing, Poland, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
Refugees fleeing war in neighboring Ukraine queue at the Medyka border crossing, Poland, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

The cabinet has approved a plan that aims to provide housing assistance to Ukrainian refugees.

The plan directs the relevant government offices to come up with short-term housing solutions and rent assistance for Ukrainian refugees.

It also lays the groundwork for “medium-term” housing solutions by allowing the establishment of mobile homes without a permit.

It also suggests splitting up apartments to make room for more families.

The plan recommends shortening the licensing period to speed up the process for refugees.

Minister calls out ‘hypocrisy’ of white colleagues who don’t support taking in Ethiopian immigrants

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata tears into her colleagues for refusing to offer the same degree of sympathy and support for Ethiopian Jews seeking to flee their war-torn country that they are now showing for Ukrainian refugees.

“This is hypocrisy of the white people. We must also work to advance the immigration of Jews from Ethiopia who are also fleeing a war,” she says during the cabinet meeting, according to Hebrew media.

In response, Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai cracks, “we’re from Europe.”

Tamano-Shata doesn’t take the remark well and Finance Minister seeks to calm her down, saying that it was only a joke.

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai doesn’t appreciate Tamano-Shata’s remarks though, saying “How can you say such a thing? How would you react if someone said that Black people are hypocrites?”

Bennett said to leave cabinet meeting as ministers discuss refugee policy without him

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, and Aliyah and Integration Minister Tamano-Shata, right, at a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Aliyah and Integration, March 7, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, and Aliyah and Integration Minister Tamano-Shata, right, at a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Aliyah and Integration, March 7, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett left the cabinet meeting on the government’s refugee policy shortly after it began and has not returned in the two hours that have since passed, Channel 12 reports.

It is not immediately clear what required Bennett to leave the meeting.

Cabinet meeting exposes lack of clarity in Shaked’s immigration policy

People walk to take further transportation after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland in Medyka, on March 13, 2022. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP)
People walk to take further transportation after crossing the Ukrainian border into Poland in Medyka, on March 13, 2022. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP)

Another leaked back-and-forth from the cabinet meeting on the government’s refugee policy exposes the lack of clarity around how it is supposed to be implemented.

Last week, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said Israel would take in 5,000 Ukrainian refugees who are ineligible for citizenship under the Law of Return. After coming under fire for the policy seen as too stringent, Shaked announced yesterday that the relatives of those 5,000 would also be allowed in.

Shaked: “If a refugee is a third cousin [of someone already in the country], he will not be approved.”

Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin: “What does that mean? What is the policy?”

Shaked: “Grandfather — yes. Brother — yes. Third cousin — we’ll have to see what the request is.”

Elkin: What does that mean ‘we’ll have to see?’ That is not a policy. I’m totally lost. What does the policy say?”

Shaked: “We said relatives [will be allowed in].”

Elkin: “Relatives is a very broad term. It needs to be a clear policy.”

Shaked: “Nu, Elkin. Why are you doing this now?

Israel moving forward with establishment of field hospital in western Ukraine

In this handout image from the Health Ministry published March 5, 2022, an example field hospital is seen. Israel is sending a delegation to Ukraine to set up a  field hospital in the country. (Courtesy/Sheba Medical Center, Health Ministry)
In this handout image from the Health Ministry published March 5, 2022, an example field hospital is seen. Israel is sending a delegation to Ukraine to set up a field hospital in the country. (Courtesy/Sheba Medical Center, Health Ministry)

The cabinet has approved the establishment of a field hospital in western Ukraine to treat those impacted by the invasion.

The hospital will operate for roughly a month, the Foreign Ministry says in a statement.

The cost of establishing and operating the hospital will be NIS 21 million ($6.4 million), the Foreign Ministry says.

The hospital will include an emergency room, a delivery room, and treatment wards for men, women and children. It will also include X-ray machines brought from Sheba Hospital.

The operation, “Kochav Meir,” is named after the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, a native of Ukraine.

Israel said seeking to deport 17 refugees currently at Tel Aviv hotel

A Population Immigration and Border Authority official arrives at the hotel room of a Ukrainian refugee in Tel Aviv in order to deport her on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)
A Population Immigration and Border Authority official arrives at the hotel room of a Ukrainian refugee in Tel Aviv in order to deport her on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Israeli authorities are seeking to deport 17 Ukrainian refugees who are currently being held at the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, Channel 12 reports.

El Al gives passengers on Bucharest-bound flight care packages for Ukrainian refugees

El Al passengers boarding a plane to Bucharest with packages for Ukrainian refugees at Ben Gurion Airport on March 14, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
El Al passengers boarding a plane to Bucharest with packages for Ukrainian refugees at Ben Gurion Airport on March 14, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

Passengers flying to Bucharest with El Al are asked to take humanitarian packages with them containing medicine and equipment for babies and children.

El Al has agreed that the packages can be stored beneath the seats.

The initiative is a collaboration between the Sasa Setton organization, the Center for Jewish Impact, and El Al. Today’s flight is the first on which passengers are being asked to take the packages with them to Romania where thousands of Ukrainian refugees have fled.

Bennett reportedly opposed Shaked’s refugee policy for being too restrictive

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked during a plenum session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked during a plenum session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked came under immense fire last week over her refugee policy, which critics said was too restrictive, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s silence was noted by many analysts.

Channel 12 reports that Bennett did not support the policy and thought that Israel should be letting in more Ukrainian refugees, including those ineligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.

Only after Shaked announced yesterday that Israel would be relaxing its rules to allow in some more refugees who are not eligible for citizenship did Bennett issue a statement in support of Shaked.

Cabinet ministers take colleagues to task for criticizing Israel’s refugee policy

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Right-wing ministers, in an ongoing cabinet meeting, call out their left-wing and centrists colleagues for criticizing the government’s refugee policy in recent days.

“Enough with the self-flagellation. We are going above and beyond what any country that does not border Ukraine has done,” says Agriculture Minister Oded Forer, according to selectively leaked quotes now appearing in Hebrew media.

“That’s correct,” says Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. “The government and the ministers should boast and praise the absorption operation. There is no other country that is absorbing immigrants at such a scale.”

While she announced last week that Israel is prepared to take in 100,000 refugees who are eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return, in practice, Israel has taken in over 6,000 refugees, with only half of them eligible for citizenship. Shaked capped the number of refugees ineligible for citizenship at 5,000 but later announced that relatives of those 5,000 would also be granted entry, amid public outcry over the stringency of the policy.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman also calls out those who have criticized the policy, saying, “When Israel was under fire, we did not see Europe speak out in our favor.”

Just yesterday, Liberman said that Israel should take in anyone who seeks to come here while Ukrainians remain under Russian fire.

Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata calls out a number of colleagues who she says are now supportive of letting in Ukrainian refugees after being vehemently against the prospect when those seeking to enter the country were coming from Africa.

Cabinet discusses absorbing tens of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants

New immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on March 6, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
New immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine arrive at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on March 6, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The cabinet is currently meeting to discuss the government’s refugee policy.

The ministers are talking about absorbing tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who are eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.

As of Friday, Israel had taken in over 6,000 refugees, though only roughly half of them were eligible for citizenship.

WATCH: Ukrainian children receive hero’s welcome on first day at new school in Italy

Ukrainian refugees are met with applause upon their arrival to a school in Italy in March 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Ukrainian refugees are met with applause upon their arrival to a school in Italy in March 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Footage from last week of a pair of young Ukrainian refugees arriving for their first day of school in Italy since fleeing the Russian invasion to cheers and applause from some 200 students is going viral on social media.

Many in the crowd are seen waving Ukrainian flags as they welcome the newest students at Don Milani institute in Naples.

Some 35,000 Ukrainians have taken refuge in Italy since the invasion began.

In Israel over 6,000 refugees have entered the country.

Avoid emojis while on the job, Israeli study recommends

Emojis (Public domain / Wikipedia)
Emojis (Public domain / Wikipedia)

A new study from Tel Aviv University finds that using emojis at work signals less power and authority.

“The researchers find that employees who use pictures and emojis in their emails or Zoom profiles, or even company pictorial logos on t-shirts, are perceived as less powerful than those who use words,” according to a TAU press release.

The study examines the responses of American participants to verbal and pictorial messages in different contexts.

“The results were clear-cut: In all experiments the respondents attributed more power to the person who chose a verbal vs. a visual representation of the message,” the press release says.

“Today we are all accustomed to communicating with pictures, and the social networks make it both easy and fun. Our findings, however, raise a red flag: in some situations, especially in a work or business environment, this practice may be costly, because it signals low power. Our advice: think twice before sending a picture or emoji to people in your organization, or in any other context in which you wish to be perceived as powerful.”

PM said to reject idea of work permits for Ukrainian refugees

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet (C) and Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (R)  at Ministerial Committee on Aliyah and Integration, Jerusalem, March 7, 2022 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennet (C) and Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (R) at Ministerial Committee on Aliyah and Integration, Jerusalem, March 7, 2022 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

While Israel has taken in a limited number of Ukrainian refugees, it is granting them entry approval alone.

During a cabinet meeting to discuss the government’s refugee policy, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg raised the idea of also granting Ukrainians work permits as is the case with many European countries taking in tens of thousands of refugees and providing them with childcare and employment opportunities.

The idea is quickly rejected by Prime Minister Naftali, who says that Israel will provide refugees with humanitarian needs, but nothing beyond that, according to the Walla news site.

US comedian Pete ‘Skete’ Davidson blasting off on 11-minute trip to space next week

Pete Davidson is the star of Judd Apatow's latest directorial film, 'The King of Staten Island.' (Courtesy Universal Pictures)
Pete Davidson is the star of Judd Apatow's latest directorial film, 'The King of Staten Island.' (Courtesy Universal Pictures)

American comedian and actor Pete Davidson, who has made headlines recently for his new relationship with Kim Kardashian, is going to space as part of a six-member team on Blue Origin’s next flight next week, the company says.

The “Saturday Night Live” star will be the only non-paying guest on the voyage aboard the New Shepard rocket, which is set to blast off from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas on March 23 at 8:30 am local time (1330 GMT).

Davidson, 28, has been in the news lately for dating reality-star-turned-entrepreneur Kardashian, whose contentious divorce from rapper Kanye West was finalized earlier this month.

West, legally known as Ye, has made no secret of his anger toward Davidson — burying alive a claymation version of the younger man in a new animated music video.

The other crewmates are CEO and investor Marty Allen; husband and wife Sharon and Marc Hagle, who run a nonprofit and business, respectively; teacher and explorer Jim Kitchen, and George Nield, who founded a company that promotes commercial space activity.

The ticket prices remain a secret, as they have since the first flight.

During the 11-minute round trip, passengers experience several minutes of weightlessness and can observe the curvature of the Earth. The capsule floats back to the surface on giant parachutes for a gentle desert landing.

WATCH: Israeli contestant releases music video of Eurovision entry

Michael Ben David in the music video of his Eurovision song entry iM released on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Michael Ben David in the music video of his Eurovision song entry iM released on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Michael Ben David has released the official music video of his Eurovision entry “IM.”

This year’s competition will take place in Turin, Italy, May 10-14.

Ben David tells Channel 12 that he has relatives currently stuck in Ukraine amid the Russian bombardment of the country.

Footage shows border authorities at Tel Aviv hotel seeking to deport Ukrainian refugee

A Population Immigration and Border Authority official arrives at the hotel room of a Ukrainian refugee in Tel Aviv in order to deport her on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)
A Population Immigration and Border Authority official arrives at the hotel room of a Ukrainian refugee in Tel Aviv in order to deport her on March 14, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Footage being spread on social media shows a Population Immigration and Border Authority official arriving at the door of a Ukrainian refugee at the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel in order to deport her.

The woman is heard refusing to leave her room as the PIBA official insists that she do so. The woman is said to be one of five whom authorities are trying to deport.

While Israel has taken in roughly 6,000 Ukrainian refugees thus far, it has denied entry to over 200 of them.

PIBA did not immediately issue a statement regarding the incident.

Such altercations had been taking place at Ben Gurion Airport until late last week when leaked footage of them led to public outcry, at which point Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that refugees awaiting approval for entry to Israel would be transported to the Dan Hotel rather than having to stay at the airport.

NATO begins drill with 30,000 troops from 25 countries, says it’s unrelated to Russia invasion

Soldiers of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment line up vehicles at the military airfield in Vilseck, Germany, Feb. 9, 2022 as they prepare for their deployment to Romania in support NATO allies and demonstrate U.S. commitment to NATO Article V. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz planning to travel to Ukraine and Russia on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022,  in an effort to help defuse escalating tensions as Western intelligence officials warn that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasingly imminent. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)
Soldiers of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment line up vehicles at the military airfield in Vilseck, Germany, Feb. 9, 2022 as they prepare for their deployment to Romania in support NATO allies and demonstrate U.S. commitment to NATO Article V. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz planning to travel to Ukraine and Russia on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, in an effort to help defuse escalating tensions as Western intelligence officials warn that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasingly imminent. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A planned NATO exercise with about 30,000 troops from more than 25 countries from Europe and North America has begun in northern Norway.

NATO says that the drill, named Cold Response and including 200 aircraft and 50 vessels, is “not linked to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.”

The drill in NATO-member Norway, which shares a nearly 200-kilometer (124-mile) land border with Russia, will be held just a few hundred kilometers from the Russian border and was planned long before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has declined to be an observer at the exercise, which aims at having Alliance members and partners practicing working together on land, in the air and at sea, said the armed forces.

The Norwegian armed forces says it provided “thorough information” to the Russians, including the Russian Ministry of Defense, saying that was “vital for preventing misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict.”

The drill, which is held every other year, is due to end on April 1.

Russia military claims 20 civilians killed in separatist stronghold in eastern Ukraine

A view of a private house damaged by recent shelling in the settlement of Trudovskiye outside Donetsk on February 26, 2022 (Viktor ANTONYUK / AFP)
A view of a private house damaged by recent shelling in the settlement of Trudovskiye outside Donetsk on February 26, 2022 (Viktor ANTONYUK / AFP)

MOSCOW — The Russian military says that 20 civilians have been killed by a ballistic missile launched by the Ukrainian forces.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov says that the Soviet-made Tochka-U missile hit the central part of the eastern city of Donetsk, the center of the separatist Donetsk region.

He says that another 28 civilians, including children, were seriously wounded by the missile that carried shrapnel warhead.

Konashenkov says the missile was fired from an area northwest of Donetsk controlled by Ukrainian forces. He charged that the shelling of the area of Donetsk that has no military facilities represented a war crime.

Konashenkov’s claims couldn’t be independently verified.

Rebuild Ukraine with frozen Russian assets — Polish PM

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP, File)
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP, File)

Poland says frozen assets belonging to the Russian state and oligarchs should be confiscated and used to create a fund to rebuild Ukraine.

Russian military action has destroyed Ukrainian infrastructure and homes since President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on February 24, forcing more than 2.8 million people to flee the country.

The West has since imposed harsh sanctions on Moscow and Kremlin-linked oligarchs, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the owner of the Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki calls on the international community to give Ukrainians “a hope of reconstruction, the hope of a future” through a “large fund based on Russian assets.”

“Freeze the Russian state’s assets completely, confiscate them. Freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs, big and small, businessmen and politicians,” he said following a meeting with his Lithuanian and Ukrainian counterparts.

“Let them (the assets) aid the reconstruction of the (Ukrainian) state that is heroically defending its independence and sovereignty.”

“Having attacked a country, the brutal aggressor must pay the highest price we can impose in a democracy and in the framework of the peaceful coexistence of nations.”

Ukraine’s Zelensky to address full US Congress on Wednesday

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky will address a full session of Congress on Wednesday, Democratic leadership announces.

Zelensky already spoke privately to lawmakers earlier this month, but this address will be more formal and publicized.

He has yet to nail down a similar speech in the Knesset due to Israeli reservations regarding pushback from Moscow.

Kremlin denies that it asked China for military aid to use in Ukraine offensive

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, China on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denies media reports alleging that Russia asked China for military assistance to help advance its offensive in Ukraine.

“No, Russia has its own potential to continue the operation, which, as we have said, is unfolding in accordance with the plan and will be completed on time and in full,” Peskov tells his daily conference call with reporters.

Peskov also stresses that the operation in Ukraine was going as planned and that the Russian military was ensuring “the maximum security of the civilian population.”

He says that at the “beginning of the operation” Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the military to refrain from “the immediate storming” of large cities including Kyiv because “armed nationalist formations set up firing points, place heavy military equipment directly in residential areas, and fighting in densely populated areas will inevitably lead to multiple casualties among civilians.”

He adds that “at the same time, the Defense Ministry, while ensuring the maximum security of the civilian population, does not rule out the possibility of taking full control of large settlements that are now practically surrounded, expect for areas used for humanitarian evacuation.”

Car leaves Abramovich’s Herzliya home as oligarch’s plane set to leave for Moscow – report

Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match in Gothenburg, Sweden, on May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women's Champions League final soccer match in Gothenburg, Sweden, on May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

A large vehicle is seen leaving the Herzliya home of Russian-Israeli oligarch Roman Abramovich, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

There is no confirmation that the businessman or any of his family members are in the vehicle, but a plane belonging to him was spotted landing in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

The outlet says that plane is set to leave for Moscow later in the day.

Abramovich, an Israeli passport-holder, was sanctioned by the United Kingdom last week following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, essentially blocking him from his home in London.

Flight data flagged by a Twitter account that tracks the movement of Abramovich’s six aircraft showed that a Gulfstream G650 belonging to the oligarch landed in Tel Aviv at around 9 p.m. local time Sunday.

The plane had taken off from Moscow. It was not known if Abramovich or any members of his family were aboard.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said earlier that Israel is working to ensure that the country’s financial institutions do not make possible the circumvention of crippling sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries,” Lapid said.

Israel has avoided joining Western sanctions against Russian oligarchs.

Senior Palestinian official meets with US diplomat for talks on Israel, region

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh meets with US diplomat Hady Amr, Washington’s top official on Israeli and Palestinian issues.

The two sides discussed “bilateral relations and issues related to the situation with Israel as well as regional and international issues,” Sheikh says in a tweet.

2 injured in drive-by shooting near central town; 4 arrested

Two men are injured in a drive-by shooting on Route 40 close to the central city of Rehovot.

The two are in moderate to serious condition, the Ynet news site reports.

Shortly after the shooting, police arrest four suspects who were traveling in a vehicle close to the town of Kiryat Gat.

A number of weapons were reportedly recovered when the vehicle was searched.

Iran warns against ‘threats’ from Iraqi soil after missile strike on alleged Israeli site

A damaged building after an overnight attack in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, March 13, 2022. (Photo by SAFIN HAMED / AFP)
A damaged building after an overnight attack in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, March 13, 2022. (Photo by SAFIN HAMED / AFP)

TEHRAN — Iran warns it won’t tolerate “threats” coming from Iraq, a day after firing ballistic missiles at what it said was an Israeli site in the neighboring country.

“It is not at all acceptable that one of our neighbors that has deep relations with us… becomes a center for creating threats against the Islamic Republic,” says foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh.

“Iran will not tolerate that a center near its borders becomes the center for sabotage, conspiracy and sending terrorist groups to Iran,” he says at his weekly press conference in Tehran.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Sunday they had targeted a “strategic center” belonging to Israel in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, using “powerful precision missiles.”

Kurdish authorities, however, insisted that Israel has no sites in or near Erbil, the capital of their autonomous region in Iraq’s north.

Iraqi PM inspects site of Iran missile attack which Tehran said targeted Israeli base

A general view shows a damaged mansion following an overnight attack in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, on March 13, 2022 (SAFIN HAMED / AFP)
A general view shows a damaged mansion following an overnight attack in Erbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, on March 13, 2022 (SAFIN HAMED / AFP)

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister meets with Kurdish officials and inspects the site of an Iranian missile attack near the American consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.

Mustafa al Kadhimi is received by Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish-controlled region.

The Iraqi premier inspected damage caused by some 12 ballistic missiles that landed near the US consulate, which is new and unoccupied, and caused damage to a nearby local television channel.

Iran claimed responsibility for Sunday’s missile barrage, calling it retaliation for an alleged Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard last week.

A “strategic center for conspiracy and mischiefs of the Zionists was targeted by powerful precision missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” the Guards said in a statement.

Kurdish authorities have dismissed as “baseless” Iran’s claims of Israeli sites in the area.

Jerusalem mayor: No decision yet on whether schools will close tomorrow for snow

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion with maintenance vehicles ahead of expected snow storm, January 26, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion with maintenance vehicles ahead of expected snow storm, January 26, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion says the municipality has not yet decided if schools and kindergartens in the city will close tomorrow in light of the forecast snow.

“We will make a decision this evening or in the morning as to whether there will be classes or not,” Lion tells the Kan public broadcaster.

Temperatures have dropped across the country with rain set to begin overnight and continue into Tuesday along with strong winds.

Light snow is forecast for mountainous area and in the north and central regions.

Celebrations for the upcoming Purim festival were moved forward in some towns and cities across Israel, including Jerusalem, to avoid expected stormy weather.

Russia says it may decide to conquer major Ukrainian cities

The Kremlin says that it may still opt to take control of large cities in Ukraine, as Moscow’s military advances steadily toward several major urban hubs in its pro-Western neighbor.

“Putin gave orders to hold back on any immediate assault on large cities because the civilians losses would be large,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters.

“The defense ministry does not rule out the possibility of putting large cities under its full control,” he says.

Ukraine says power line to Chernobyl nuclear plant damaged by Russian forces

A file picture taken on April 13, 2021, shows the giant protective dome built over the sarcophagus covering the destroyed fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)
A file picture taken on April 13, 2021, shows the giant protective dome built over the sarcophagus covering the destroyed fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

LVIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian state power company says the power line supplying the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster has been damaged by Russian forces again after it was repaired.

The Ukrenergo company says in a statement that its technicians had started to supply power Sunday evening but “before the power supply was fully restored, the occupying forces damaged it again.” Ukrenergo said it will attempt another repair.

The power is used to feed pumps and other equipment that keep spent nuclear fuel at the former power plant cool to prevent radiation leaks.

The Chernobyl site is also equipped with diesel generators, and Belarusian authorities said last week that they had set up an emergency power supply from the nearby border.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has played down concerns over the safety of nuclear waste at Chernobyl, saying that cooling ponds there are large enough to keep the spent fuel in a safe condition even if the power supply is interrupted.

Ukraine says 1 person killed as missile debris lands in Kyiv street

One person has been killed after debris from an intercepted missile landed in a Kyiv street, Ukrainian officials say.

“Missile fragments fell on the street in the Kurenivka district killing one person and wounding six,” the officials say, noting the projectile was intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses.

According to the BBC, the missile fragments destroyed an empty bus and also set alight a residential building.

Earlier in the day, one person was killed in the shelling of a residential building in Kyiv.

Deputy IDF chief, Iran affairs official arrive in US for security talks

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the IDF's new deputy chief of staff, speaks during a handover ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the IDF's new deputy chief of staff, speaks during a handover ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Deputy chief of the Israel Defense Forces Herzi Halevi has landed in the United States for an official visit during which he will hold meetings with security officials at the Pentagon, the IDF says.

Halevi is also slated to participate in a “strategic defense forum” with members of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Command and European Command.

Joining Halevi is Tal Kelman, the military official in charge of Iran affairs, Hidai Zilberman, Israel’s defense attaché to the US, and Effie Defrin, the military’s international cooperation commander.

Halevi’s trip comes amid tensions in the Middle East after Iran launched several missiles at what it claimed was an Israeli “strategic center” near the US consulate in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil early Sunday. That attack is thought to be in response to the deaths of two IRGC officers in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week.

The meeting also comes after Shin Bet head Ronen Bar held talks with his FBI counterpart in Washington this week.

Russian-backed separatists claim 16 killed in Donetsk by intercepted Ukrainian missile

Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine say that a strike by Kyiv’s forces on the rebel de facto capital Donetsk left at least 16 people dead.

The claim could not be immediately verified.

Rebel officials say fragments from a Ukrainian Tochka missile that was shot down landed in the center of the city causing deaths and injuries.

“Sixteen deaths have been recorded” the self-proclaimed region’s health ministry says, adding that another 23 people had been injured.

Squatters ‘liberate’ London mansion belonging to Russian oligarch Deripaska

A group of squatters displayed banners and a Ukrainian national flag on the façade of a mansion supposedly belonging to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in Belgrave Square, central London, on March 14, 2022 (Tolga Akmen / AFP)
A group of squatters displayed banners and a Ukrainian national flag on the façade of a mansion supposedly belonging to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in Belgrave Square, central London, on March 14, 2022 (Tolga Akmen / AFP)

Squatters occupy the London mansion of sanctioned billionaire Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

“Putin go f**k yourself,” reads one of the banners unfurled on the façade of the property, said to be worth some £50 million (approximately $65 million).

Deripaska founded the Rusal aluminum company and is considered an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is a former business partner of Roman Abramovich, who is also under British sanctions.

When announcing the sanctions, the British government said Deripaska is worth some £2 billion (approximately $2.6 billion).

Britain’s The Sun newspaper says the Knightsbridge home boasts 11 bedrooms.

“By occupying this mansion, we want to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, but also the people of Russia who never agreed to this madness,” the squatters say in a statement.

Ukrainian presidential adviser says in ‘constant contact’ with Israel amid mediation efforts

Ukraine's presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak speaks at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 12, 2020. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
Ukraine's presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak speaks at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 12, 2020. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Senior Ukrainian presidential adviser Andriy Yermak tweets that he is in “constant contact” with National Security Council head Eyal Hulata, amid efforts by Israel to mediate between Ukraine and Russia.

“Israel undertook the difficult but noble mission of mediating the search for peace and ending Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” Yermak tweets.

The Ukrainian official also thanks Israel for allowing relatives of those Ukrainians who are already in the country to also be admitted.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has proposed that Jerusalem host ceasefire talks between Kyiv and Moscow, and has asserted that Israel could play an “important role” in the efforts to end the war.

Ukraine has repeatedly pushed Israel for more support since Russia launched its invasion. But Israel has been seeking to avoid antagonizing Russia, which has a strong presence in Syria, where Israel carries out military action against Iran-linked groups.

There have been numerous apparent ups and downs in Kyiv’s relations with Jerusalem in recent days, with Ukraine at times lauding Israel’s diplomatic and humanitarian efforts and at other times strongly criticizing its reluctance to help more than it had done.

4th round of Russia-Ukraine talks gets underway

KYIV — A fourth round of talks between Moscow and Kyiv is underway, a senior Ukrainian negotiator says, amid mutual claims of shelling and civilian deaths earlier in the day.

Kyiv’s lead negotiator and presidential aide Mikhailo Podolyak posts a picture on Twitter of videoconference talks with Russian officials describing the negotiations as “hard,” saying that the two sides were outlining their “specific positions.”

PM: Ukraine refugees ineligible for citizenship with relatives in Israel can stay until situation calms

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, and Aliyah and Integration Minister Tamano-Shata, right, at a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Aliyah and Integration, March 7, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, and Aliyah and Integration Minister Tamano-Shata, right, at a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Aliyah and Integration, March 7, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that Israel will “embrace” Jews fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and will allow refugees who aren’t eligible for citizenship but have relatives in the country, to stay while the conflict continues.

“Many Jews want to come to us from the war zones and the people of Israel will embrace them,” Bennett says. “At the same time, Israel accepts Ukrainians fleeing the danger zone who have relatives in the country. We will allow them to stay here for as long as possible, until the storm has passed.”

Bennett also refers to efforts to broker a ceasefire between Kyiv and Moscow.

“We are involved in a major humanitarian effort and also in a diplomatic effort to bring [Ukraine and Russia] closer together, alongside other countries,” he says.

There has been rising criticism of the government’s refugee policy, from both within and outside the government, particularly regarding caps on the numbers of refugees not eligible for citizenship to be allowed into Israel, as well as their treatment.

Lapid says Israel won’t be used as a route for Russia to circumvent sanctions

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Slovakian Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok in Bratislava, March 14, 2022 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) and Slovakian Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok in Bratislava, March 14, 2022 (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says that Israel will not be used by Russia to circumvent sanctions imposed by the West after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and that his ministry was coordinating with officials on the matter.

“Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries,” he says.

“The Foreign Ministry is coordinating the issue together with partners including the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry, the Economy Ministry, the Airports Authority, the Energy Ministry and others,” Lapid says.

Lapid makes the comments in Bratislava, speaking alongside his Slovak counterpart Ivan Korčok.

Lapid also highlights Israel’s humanitarian work and diplomatic efforts, repeating his assertation that there is “no justification” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its attacks on civilians.

“Israel, like Slovakia, condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and calls for an end to the fighting. There is no justification for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and there is no justification for attacks on a civilian population,” Lapid says.

“Israel will do everything it can to assist mediation efforts, to stop the shooting and restore peace. We are working together with our greatest ally, the United States, and our European friends to prevent the continuation of this tragedy,” he says.

Lapid is on a trip that took him to Romania before Slovakia, both of which border Ukraine, for talks with their leaders on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as bilateral relations with Israel.

Israel is coming under increasing pressure over its failure to impose sanctions amid reports of rising numbers of private jets arriving at Ben Gurion Airport from Russia.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said Friday that Israel should get onboard with Western sanctions, and bar Russian oligarchs. “You don’t want to become the last haven for dirty money that’s fueling Putin’s wars,” Nuland said.

2 killed in Russian strike on Antonov aircraft factory, Ukrainian officials say

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities say two people have died and seven were injured after Russian forces struck an aircraft factory.

The Antonov aircraft factory is Ukraine’s largest and is best known for producing many of the world’s largest cargo planes.

The Kyiv city government says a large fire broke out after the strike on the factory.

In addition, one person was killed when a residential building in Kyiv was shelled.

New immigrants from Ukraine may be housed on disused army bases – report

Ukrainian Jewish refugees, who fled the war in their country, wait at the check-in counters ahead of their flight to Tel Aviv in the Moldovan capital Chisinau on March 14, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Ukrainian Jewish refugees, who fled the war in their country, wait at the check-in counters ahead of their flight to Tel Aviv in the Moldovan capital Chisinau on March 14, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

New immigrants from Ukraine may be housed in disused army bases, Army Radio reports.

No further details are given on the potential plan.

Officials are set to hold discussions later in the day on the absorption of tens of thousands of refugees and immigrants fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s ongoing offensive against Ukraine has prompted what is expected to be the largest wave of immigration to Israel, or aliyah, since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

In addition to the new immigrants, Israel is allowing in limited numbers of refugees from Ukraine who are not eligible for citizenship. However, it remains unclear how many will be permitted entry.

There has been rising criticism of the government’s refugee policy, from both within and outside the government.

Ukraine says it will demand ‘immediate’ ceasefire during ‘hard discussion’

A local resident searches for his belongings in an apartment building after it was hit by artillery shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
A local resident searches for his belongings in an apartment building after it was hit by artillery shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

KYIV — Ukraine says it will demand an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops during a fourth round of negotiations to end more than two weeks of fighting after Moscow launched an invasion of Ukraine.

“Peace, an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all Russians troops — and only after this can we talk about regional relations and about political differences,” Kyiv’s lead negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak says in a video statement posted to Twitter.

Unlike earlier negotiations held on the Belarus border, these talks will be via video link.

It will be a “hard discussion,” Podolyak writes on Twitter. “Although Russia realizes the nonsense of its aggressive actions, it still has a delusion that 19 days of violence against (Ukrainian) peaceful cities is the right strategy.”

Germany to buy F-35s, Eurofighters to modernize army after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

F-35 fighter jets from Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom take part in an aerial exercise over the Mediterranean Sea, on June 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
F-35 fighter jets from Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom take part in an aerial exercise over the Mediterranean Sea, on June 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

BERLIN — Germany plans to buy up to 35 F-35 fighter jets made by US firm Lockheed Martin and 15 Eurofighter jets, a parliamentary source says, as part of a major push to modernize the armed forces in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The F-35 purchase would replace Germany’s decades-old Tornado fleet, the only jets capable of carrying US nuclear bombs, according to media reports confirmed by the source.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last month pledged to invest 100 billion euros ($112 billion) in the nation’s chronically underfunded Bundeswehr.

3-year-old dies after Petah Tikva apartment fire

A small child badly injured in an apartment fire in Petah Tikva has died.

The 3-year-old was taken to Beilinson Medical Center in the city in critical condition but medics were unable to save her.

Three others — a woman and two children — were also taken to the hospital for treatment for non-life-threatening injuries.

It was unknown how the fire started.

The child’s death comes after an 80-year-old woman died in a fire in Beersheba earlier this morning. An octogenarian couple died Sunday in a fire at their home in the northern town of Yarka on Sunday.

Lapid, Kuleba said set to speak after reported snub by Ukrainian foreign minister

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a situational assessment on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. (Niv Musman/GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a situational assessment on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, 2022. (Niv Musman/GPO)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will speak with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid after reportedly refusing to take his Israeli counterpart’s call for nearly a week due to Israel’s position after Ukraine was invaded by Russia, the Walla news site reports.

The report says the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has told Israeli officials that the call can now go ahead.

Foreign Ministry officials indicate to Walla that the conversation will take place this evening or tomorrow.

Lapid sought to speak with Kuleba last week but was told that the Ukrainian foreign minister was busy, the Haaretz and Walla news sites reported Sunday evening. Both reports said that the two men have not spoken for over three months.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gives a press conference, after meeting with his Russian counterpart for talks in Antalya, Turkey, on March 10, 2022. (AFP)

Walla quoted an unnamed Ukrainian official as saying that one of the reasons Kuleba had not gotten back to Lapid was that Israel’s top diplomat had phoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov but had not reached out to Kuleba in the weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lapid also reportedly did not respond to an invitation to visit Kyiv, which was relayed by Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova when she visited Israel last month.

Last week, Kuleba apologized after mistakenly accusing Israel’s flag carrier El Al of allowing its customers to make payments via a Russian banking system, which would have been in violation of Western sanctions.

Israel’s relationship with Kyiv has been strained by the fact that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided directly blaming Russia for the war, although Lapid has done so on several occasions, with the latest during a visit to Romania on Sunday.

Israel has been seeking to use its unique position of having relatively good ties with both Russia and Ukraine to broker an agreement, as it also tries to walk a tightrope maintaining its ties to both countries.

Iran, Russia to hold talks on nuclear deal in Moscow

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a press conference in Moscow, Russia, on August 3, 2012. (AP/Misha Japaridze)
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a press conference in Moscow, Russia, on August 3, 2012. (AP/Misha Japaridze)

Tehran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian will head to Moscow on Tuesday for talks, his ministry says, days after negotiations on an Iran nuclear deal broke down in the wake of new Russian demands.

Ten months of talks in Vienna have brought major powers close to renewing a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

But the negotiations were halted again after Russia demanded guarantees that Western sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine would not damage its trade with Iran.

Until that demand, the revived deal, which would bring back the US and Iran to the 2015 nuclear accord, was said to be nearly complete and accepted by most parties.

The US unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, and Iran has been publicly scaling up nuclear activity, including enrichment, ever since. Israel has publicly said it is opposed to the deal, and additionally will not allow Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons.

Beijing says US spreading ‘disinformation’ with claim Russia asked China for military aid

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk to each other during their meeting in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

BEIJING — Beijing accuses Washington of spreading “disinformation” over China’s role in the Ukraine war, ahead of talks between the two countries’ envoys in Rome.

Without directly addressing US media reports of a Russian request for help from Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian says: “The US has been spreading disinformation targeting China on the Ukraine issue, with malicious intentions.”

China’s statement comes after a US official said Russia asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China on Sunday to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy. “We will not allow that to go forward,” he said.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said that in recent days, Russia had requested support from China, including military equipment, to press forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine.

China battles multiple virus outbreaks, driven by ‘stealth Omicron’ variant

Workers line up for COVID test outside an office building on March 14, 2022, in Beijing (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Workers line up for COVID test outside an office building on March 14, 2022, in Beijing (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Chinese authorities report 1,337 locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 across dozens of mainland cities as the fast-spreading variant commonly known as “stealth Omicron” fuels China’s biggest outbreak in two years.

The vast majority of the new cases are in far northeastern Jilin province with 895. Shenzhen reports 75 new cases as residents began the first of three rounds of mass testing. Officials on Sunday locked down the city, which has 17.5 million people and is a major tech and finance hub that neighbors Hong Kong.

The surge on the Chinese mainland is infecting people in cities ranging from Shenzhen to Qingdao on the coast to Xingtai in the north and the numbers have crept steadily higher since early March. While the numbers are small relative to numbers reported in Europe or in the US, or even the city of Hong Kong, which reported 32,000 cases Sunday, they are the highest since the first big outbreak of COVID-19 in the central city of Wuhan in early 2020.

China has seen very few infections since its strict Wuhan lockdown as the government held fast to its zero-tolerance strategy, which is focused on stopping transmission of the coronavirus as fast as possible, by relying on strict lockdowns and mandatory quarantines for anyone who has come into contact with a positive case.

The government has indicated it will continue to stick to its strict strategy of stopping transmission for the time being.

Antonov aircraft factory in Kyiv said on fire after Russian bombing

Pictures being shared on social media appear to show a large fire on Kyiv’s outskirts after an Antonov aircraft factory in the north of the city was apparently hit by Russian artillery.

A second video from a person on the street shows the fire rising up from buildings that match the large Antonov plant in Kyiv’s Sviatoshyn neighborhood.

The Antonov 225, which was the largest plane in the world, was destroyed by Russia on the first day of fighting last month, as it attacked the Hostomel airport in Kyiv’s northwest. The Antonov plant in Sviatoshyn also has an airfield, according to Google Maps, meaning Russian forces may try to secure it as a bridgehead for attacking Kyiv.

Toddler fighting for life after Petah Tikva fire

In Israel, medics and doctors are trying to save the life of a small child badly burned in an apartment fire in Petah Tikva, according to Hebrew media reports.

The toddler, about 2, is taken to Beilinson hospital in the city in critical condition.

Three others, including a woman and two children, are also taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Moscow accuses West of trumping up ‘artificial default’

Russia’s Finance Ministry is accusing foreign countries of wanting to force Russia into an “artificial default” through unprecedented sanctions over what Moscow calls its “military operation” in Ukraine.

“The freezing of foreign currency accounts of the Bank of Russia and of the Russian government can be regarded as the desire of a number of foreign countries to organize an artificial default that has no real economic grounds,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov says in a statement.

Russia officially blocks access to Instagram

Russia has blocked the social media network Instagram as of midnight Monday, The Kremlin’s TASS media service says.

Russia’s media regulator said Friday it would restrict access by Monday to hugely popular Instagram because it contains “calls to commit violent acts.” That came a day after Meta confirmed a temporary easing of its rules to allow calls to violence like “death to the Russian invaders.”

It has already blocked Meta flagship Facebook, along with Twitter.

The government censor urges Russians to sign up for homebrewed social media networks such as VKontakt and Odnoklassniki, TASS says.

Two killed in strike on Kyiv apartment

The Ukrainian military says at least two people were killed when a Russian shell apparently hit an apartment building in northern Kyiv.

It says 3 more people required hospitalization, though their conditions are not known.

Nine others were treated at the scene, 15 people were rescued and 63 people were evacuated, it says.

Russian strikes pummel suburbs northeast of Kyiv, town official killed

Russian forces fired artillery strikes on suburbs northwest of Kyiv overnight and targeted points east of the capital, the head of the Kyiv region says.

A town councilor for Brovary east of Kyiv was killed in fighting there, regional administration chief Oleksiy Kuleba says on Ukrainian television. He also reports strikes overnight on the northwest towns of Irpin, Bucha and Hostomel, which have seen some of the worst fighting in Russia’s stalled attempt to take the capital.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces says that Russian troops have not made major advances over the past 24 hours despite expanding strikes to the west.

Ukrainian forces are targeting Russian bases, targeting their logistical abilities, the general staff says in a statement on Facebook marking the 19th day of the war.

The general staff accuses Russian forces of setting up firing positions and military equipment in churches and other civilian infrastructure so that Ukrainian forces can’t fire back. The accusation cannot be immediately verified, though Associated Press reporters have seen Russian armored vehicles in residential areas.

Woman injured in maternity hospital shelling dies, baby stillborn

A pregnant woman and her baby have died after Russia bombed the maternity hospital where she was meant to give birth, The Associated Press has learned. Images of the woman being rushed to an ambulance on a stretcher had circled the world, epitomizing the horror of an attack on humanity’s most innocent.

In video and photos shot Wednesday by AP journalists after the attack on the hospital, the woman was seen stroking her bloodied lower abdomen as rescuers rushed her through the rubble in the besieged city of Mariupol, her blanched face mirroring her shock at what had just happened. It was among the most brutal moments so far in Russia’s now 19-day-old war on Ukraine.

Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

The woman was rushed to another hospital, yet closer to the frontline, where doctors labored to keep her alive. Realizing she was losing her baby, medics said, she cried out to them, “Kill me now!”

Surgeon Timur Marin found the woman’s pelvis crushed and hip detached. Medics delivered the baby via cesarean section, but it showed “no signs of life,” the surgeon said.

Then, they focused on the mother.

“More than 30 minutes of resuscitation of the mother didn’t produce results,” Marin said Saturday. “Both died.”

In the chaos after Wednesday’s airstrike, medics didn’t have time to get the woman’s name before her husband and father came to take away her body. At least someone came to retrieve her, they said — so she didn’t end up in the mass graves being dug for many of Mariupol’s growing number of dead.

Kyiv apartment building hit by Russian artillery — Ukraine

Ukraine’s armed forces says several stories of a Kyiv apartment building were destroyed by a Russian shell, which apparently impacted overnight.

There is no information on casualties from the strike, which occured in the Obolon district in northern Kyiv.

High Court to hear petition on Israeli refugee cap next week

The High Court says it will hear a petition against Israel’s policy regarding Ukrainian refugees in a week, rejecting the state’s request to throw the case out.

On Sunday night, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that people who are fleeing Ukraine who have relatives in Israel will be exempt from a 25,000-person entry cap placed on those refugees who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship.

Shaked’s announcement came after news that attorney Tomer Warsha had filed — on behalf of Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk — a petition to the High Court against the interior minister’s earlier policy, which counted those ineligible for citizenship against the cap, which also includes 20,000 Ukrainians already in Israel.

Israeli and Ukrainian refugees arriving from Ukraine on a rescue flight are welcomed at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Warsha, an attorney specializing in immigration, said Sunday evening that Shaked’s new policy was a positive change, but not enough.

According to reports, the state told the court that the cap would not be met for a week, meaning the issue won’t become relevant until then.

Speaking to Kan, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar backs Shaked’s decision to allow in more Ukrainians. But he appears to chafe at the description of those fleeing to Israel’s borders as “refugees,” which he says carries “certain legal ramifications.”

“Israel is sheltering those who need it, it’s the humane, correct thing to do,” he says, “and that’s what Israel has done the last two weeks.”

According to statistics published by the Population and Border Authority on Sunday morning, 7,179 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Israel since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and 221 were refused entry. The statistics included those who are immigrating and who are eligible to do so under the Law of Return, which grants citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent.

Russia shells town; heavy damage to Kyiv apartments from mystery strike

Ukraine’s state Emergency Services says searches are underway for people trapped in rubble after strikes on government buildings in a town south of Kyiv.

It says four people were in injured in the Russian shelling of Stavyshche, a town about 60 kilometers (38 miles) north of Uman.

The service also reports on extensive damage to an apartment building in Kyiv after it was hit with an “unknown object,” and a fire in a building in the capital’s Obolon district. Pictures show firefighters rescuing people from a building on fire, with heavy damage to its facade.

 

 

Octogenarian killed in Beersheba house fire

An elderly woman in Beersheba has died after her apartment caught fire, authorities say.

A paramedic with the Magen David Adom rescue service he and other medics only managed to get access to the burning apartment after firefighters extinguished the flames, at which point the woman, in her 80s, was found dead.

On Sunday, a couple in their 80s died in a housefire in Yarka, in Israel’s north.

The country is experiencing unseasonably cold weather, with forecasts predicting frigid temperatures and possible snow in coming days.

Newspaper says deputy AG who probed its alleged police spying scoop had skin in game

Israel’s Calcalist newspaper is calling for an independent investigation into allegations that police used phone hacking technology to illicitly spy on people not suspected of any crime, saying that a justice official’s probe was tainted.

Investigations by police and by Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari found the reporting to have been largely incorrect, with none of the 26 people supposedly hacked having actually been targeted by police.

The paper says that its sources passed info to Marari about the alleged police hacking but they were ignored.

It also notes the clear conflict in interest in having those accused of wrongdoing investigate themselves, saying that the conclusions of Merari’s probe was based on claims by those in the police spying unit. And it contends that Merari’s investigation “skipped” key aspects of the alleged spying program.

But it also offers a mea culpa of sorts. “There is also the possibility that there were mistakes in our list. So long as conditions are not ripe for testifying with immunity, we can’t publicly display our proof that the list is correct,” it says cryptically.

“Given the conflict of interest by the prosecution, an independent investigator should be appointed,” the paper says.

In February, Calcalist reported, without providing evidence, that dozens of high-profile figures — including former ministry directors, prominent business figures and family members and associates of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — were spied on by police using the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware without any judicial oversight.

UK says Russians blockading Black Sea as Ukraine girds for Odesa assault

The UK says Russia has effectively blocked off any access to the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, choking off Ukraine’s only sea route.

“Russian naval forces have established a distant blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, effectively isolating Ukraine from international maritime trade,” the UK Ministry of Defence says in an update.

It says Russian forces already made one amphibious landing off the Sea of Azov, and could attempt more.

Earlier, Ukrainian national security adviser Oleksiy Danilov said in a televised address that Russian paratroopers were preparing to move on Odesa, the largest Black Sea city, but would be met with fierce resistance.

“They are awaited there, and they will have no smooth sailing,” he said, according to Ukrinform. He claimed an assault on the city planned for last week was postponed by inclement weather.

Volunteers fill sandbags to build barricades in Odesa, Ukraine, March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Max Pshybyshevsky)

Zelensky says negotiators will press Russian side for Putin meeting

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he will continue negotiating with Russia and is waiting for a meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Zelensky has repeatedly called for a meeting with Putin. But so far, his requests have gone unanswered by the Kremlin.

Zelensky says during his nightly address to the nation that his delegation has a “clear task” to do everything to ensure a meeting between the two presidents.

Zelenskyy says talks are held daily between the two countries via video conference and defends the “hard path” of the negotiations as necessary to establish a cease-fire and more humanitarian corridors.

Those corridors have saved more than 130,000 people in six days, he says.

The humanitarian convoy to the besieged city of Mariupol was blocked Sunday by Russian forces. Zelensky says they will try again Monday.

Putin’s Chechen strongman Kadyrov says he is in Ukraine

Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, says he is in Ukraine alongside Russian forces who are leading an offensive in the country.

Kadyrov, who is accused by international NGOs of serious human rights violations in the tightly controlled Caucasus republic, posts a video on Telegram of himself in military uniform studying plans around a table with soldiers in a room.

He says in a message that the video had been shot at Hostomel, an airfield near Kyiv captured by Russian forces in the first days of their offensive.

This information cannot be independently verified.

Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, center, wearing a Russian military uniform, attends celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, in Chechnya’s provincial capital Grozny, Russia, Saturday, May 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Musa Sadulayev)

“The other day we were about 20 km from you Kyiv Nazis and now we are even closer,” Kadyrov writes.

He calls on Ukrainian forces to surrender “or you will be finished.”

Kadyrov, who rules Russia’s Chechnya Republic with an iron fist, is a former rebel turned Kremlin ally with a paramilitary force at his command.

Major Jewish groups urge Biden to let in Ukrainian refugees

The Conference of President of Major Jewish American organizations and an alphabet soup of Jewish groups are calling on the US government to allow in Ukrainian refugees with close relatives there.

“The United States can and must share responsibility [with Europe] for those refugees, particularly those with family in the United States. Our community knows painfully too well what happens when America shuts its doors to refugees,” reads the letter addressed to President Joe Biden.

A letter sent by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on March 11, 2022. (Conference of Presidents)

“Those with close family in America should be able to wait with their loved ones in the United States until it is safe to return to Ukraine,” the letter reads.

The appeal, sent on March 11 but only publicized now, notes the Bill Clinton Administration’s precedent of having let in 20,000 Kosovars fleeing war in 1999, which it says proved “that when the White House has the will to urgently resettle refugees, it can find a way.”

Among the other signatories is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Anti-Defamation League, and umbrella groups representing all major streams of Judaism in the US.

White House says it will help ‘hold Iran accountable’ after Kurdistan attack

The White House says the US will back efforts to “hold Iran accountable” for a missile attack at Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and other threats, seemingly ratcheting up the US’s response to the bombing.

“We will support the Government of Iraq in holding Iran accountable, and we will support our partners throughout the Middle East in confronting similar threats from Iran,” US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan says in a statement.

An earlier statement from the State Department said only that the US would “help our partners in the region defend themselves.”

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