Palestinians: IDF soldiers raid village near Ramallah, surround building
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Palestinians: IDF soldiers raid village near Ramallah, surround building

Palestinians say several injured as clashes break out in Abwein; searches come amid manhunt for Ariel terrorist

IDF soldiers seen during a raid in the village of Bruqin near the West Bank town of Salfit on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)
IDF soldiers seen during a raid in the village of Bruqin near the West Bank town of Salfit on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)

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

Netanyahu: ‘I didn’t get a shekel from the submarine deal’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls accusations of impropriety on his part in Israel’s submarine deals with Germany “contrived slander.”

According to a Channel 13 report last week the State Comptroller’s Office has discovered that Netanyahu was once a shareholder in a company that supplies German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, which has built submarines for Israel.

“I didn’t get a shekel from the submarine deal,” the premier tells local authority leaders in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh.

“This was checked extensively by the prosecution and the attorney general. They stated unequivocally that I am not suspected of anything.”

He says the Blue and White party’s accusations that he has been implicated in “the greatest security-related corruption case in the history of the State of Israel” is a result of “panic” by party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.

Minister: Response to Ariel terror attack is to build more

Visting the site of Sunday’s terror attack in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the security cabinet, calls for increased construction.

“Palestinians and others are unwilling to accept our right to have a Jewish, Zionist, sovereign and democratic state here,” he says.

Brussels area close to EU headquarters cleared after bomb alert

Some 40 people are evacuated from a building near European Union headquarters in Brussels after a bomb threat was sent to a company linked to the EU.

Police spokeswoman Ilse Van de Keere says a “telephone bomb threat” was made this morning to a consulting office linked to the EU’s executive Commission and that it has been taken seriously.

Part of the street has been sealed off and sniffer dogs have been sent to the scene. The operation is still ongoing.

— AP

Letter points to ‘terror’ in Dutch tram attack

Dutch authorities says they are “seriously” investigating a terrorist motive for the Utrecht tram attack because of evidence including a letter found in the suspected gunman’s getaway car.

Police are questioning Turkish-born main suspect Gokmen Tanis, 37, and two other men over Monday’s rampage in which three people were killed and seven injured, three seriously.

A women lay flowers at the site of a shooting in a tram, at 24 October square in Utrecht, on March 19, 2019 (JOHN THYS / AFP)

“So far, a terrorist motive is seriously being taken into account. This is based on a letter found in the getaway car among other things and the nature of the facts,” police and prosecutors say in a joint statement.

— AFP

Careless loading of cargo containers sinks ship in Iran port

Iranian state TV says careless loading of cargo has capsized a ship in the southern port of Bandar Abbas, sending port workers scrambling to retrieve any of the 153 containers that were suddenly submerged.

The report says only one Indian seaman aboard the Comoros-owned LS Star was injured in the foot in the incident on Monday.

Mehdi Haghshenas, deputy chief of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, tells the TV the ship was not being loaded properly and that there was “poor coordination between the ship’s first officer and the crane operator” lifting the containers on board.

This photo provided by Iranian Students’ News Agency ISNA, shows a capsized cargo ship next to a dock in southern port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, Tuesday, March 19, 2019 (Mohammad Mehdi Ghadimi, ISNA, via AP)

— AP

Liberman: Next coalition may be most religiously conservative in our history

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman warns the next coalition, if formed by the right, is set to be the most religiously conservative in Israel’s history.

“The right-wing coalition taking shape will have around 25 ultra-Orthodox or national Orthodox MKs — unprecedented in the annals of Israeli governments,” he says. Such a coalition, he says “which seeks to turn Israel into a halachic state, should very much worry Israel’s secular public.”

He says his party will not enter such a coalition “without seeing what has been agreed to with the ultra-Orthodox.”

Netanyahu to slain rabbi’s family: We’ll seek to enact death penalty for terror

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the family of Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, killed in Sunday’s West Bank shooting attack.

Netanyahu, in the settlement of Eli, says he hopes to enact the death penalty for convicted terrorists but that this won’t happen “in a day,” Ynet reports.

Ettinger’s mother tells the PM she hopes the government will reinforce troop presence in the West Bank, which she claims has dwindled recently. “This is our country,” she says. “While traveling after recent events we haven’t felt safe.”

Israeli spacecraft completes another successful maneuver on way to moon

Israeli spacecraft Beresheet has completed another successful maneuver on its way to the moon, SpaceIL officials say.

The vehicle will carry out several minor course adjustments over the coming days, on its way to entering lunar orbit on April 4.

The landing on the lunar surface is set for April 11.

A computer simulation shows the route that the Beresheet spacecraft will take the moon, with a series of larger ellipses around the Earth until it reaches an orbit around the moon. (courtesy SpaceIL)

Lebanon arrests Lebanese-Canadian for spying for Israel

Lebanese intelligence says a Lebanese-Canadian dual national has been arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel.

“In the framework of pursuing operations to combat Israeli espionage… the directorate of General Security arrested a Lebanese-Canadian (F.G),” the General Security service says in a statement.

There are no details on exactly when or where he was detained.

The statement says the 40-year-old man confessed to being recruited in 2013 by a Lebanese fugitive it says belongs to an Israeli spying network described as “unit 504.”

— AFP

In new campaign video, MK Oren Hazan seen ‘shooting dead’ Arab MK

Likud MK Oren Hazan, currently running for reelection under his Tzomet party, has caused outrage after issuing a campaign video in which he is seen shooting outgoing Arab MK Jamal Zahalka to death.

In the video, Hazan and Zahalka’s faces are superimposed on the famous bathtub scene from the film “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” After “Zahalka” says he prefers to die rather than sing the Israeli anthem, Hazan shoots him several times.

“If you want to die, die, don’t threaten,” he quips.

Zahalka says he is filing a police complaint and the Central Elections Committee for incitement to murder. He has also appealed to social media companies to remove the clip.

In first for EU state, Hungary opens trade office in Jerusalem

Hungary opens a trade office in Jerusalem, as announced last month during a visit by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. This is the first diplomatic mission in the capital that is an official branch of an embassy of a European country.

“Three diplomats from Hungary will be here. This is a step that Hungary is advancing to change the approach toward Jerusalem,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says at the opening ceremony.

Some 200 Israeli companies are active in Hungary, according to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry. In 2018, bilateral trade passed $525 million dollars.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó speaking at the Israel Council of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, November 16, 2015 (Andres Lacko)

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó says that Budapest is opening the new trade office to increase trade.

— Raphal Ahren

Brussels area close to EU headquarters reopened after bomb alert

Police in Brussels have reopened a street close to the European Union headquarters after a bomb threat was sent to a company linked to the EU.

Police spokeswoman Ilse Van de Keere says a “telephone bomb threat” temporarily forced the evacuation of some 40 people from a building close to the EU Commission on Tuesday. Police sealed off the street and had it checked for explosives, but reopened it after a thorough check with sniffer dogs.

Security personnel cordon off an area around European Union institutions in Brussels due to a bomb threat on March 19, 2019. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Officials say the company is a consulting office linked to the EU’s executive Commission but have not named it.

— AP

Updated David’s Sling anti-missile system successfully concludes series of tests

The Defense Ministry says it has completed a successful test of an updated version of the David’s Sling missile defense system.

The drill in the country’s south was conducted in cooperation with the US Missile Defense Agency and simulated various threat scenarios, the ministry says.

Moshe Patel, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, says: “In this series of tests we were successful in bringing the system to the edges of its coverage [capability]…the system managed to perfectly eliminate every single target that was launched at it.

“We are now in the process of making the capabilities demonstrated here operational and handing them over to the air force.”

The David’s Sling makes up the middle tier of Israel’s multi-layered anti-missile defense network, targeting mid-range missile threats.

New poll: Likud surpasses Blue and White, right-wing bloc wins out

A new poll by the Walla news site shows Likud surpassing Blue and White in the April 9 election, winning 32 seats. Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s party takes 29.

It also shows a drop in Gantz’s popularity as a candidate for prime minister, with only 28 percent preferring him as leader compared to 46% for Netanyahu.

With both Yisrael Beytenu and Zehut passing the electoral threshold, the right-wing bloc grows to 68 seats compared to 52 for the center-left bloc.

The poll shows Likud at 32 seats; Blue and White at 29; Hadash-Ta’al at 9; Labor at 8; Union of Right Wing Parties at 7; New Right, United Torah Judaism and Meretz at 6; Yisrael Beytenu at 5; Shas, Kulanu and Zehut at 4.

Facebook says no one flagged NZ mosque shooting livestream

Facebook says none of the 200 or so people who watched live video of the New Zealand mosque shooting flagged it to moderators, underlining the challenge tech companies face in policing violent or disturbing content in real time.

The social media giant releases new details about its response to the video in a blog post. It says the gunman’s live 17-minute broadcast was viewed fewer than 200 times and the first user report didn’t come in until 12 minutes after it ended. Fifty people were killed at two mosques in Christchurch.

Facebook removed the video “within minutes'” of being notified by police, says Chris Sonderby, Facebook’s deputy general counsel.

This frame from video that was livestreamed on March 15, 2019, shows gunman Brenton Tarrant in a car before the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Shooter’s Video via AP)

“No users reported the video during the live broadcast,” and it was watched about 4,000 times in total before being taken down, Sonderby said. “We continue to work around the clock to prevent this content from appearing on our site, using a combination of technology and people.”

— AP

Lithuanian leader mulls moving embassy to Jerusalem

Lithuania’s center-right Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis says he will consider moving Lithuania’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, should he win May’s presidential elections.

Skvernelis says that moving the mission could lead to closer ties with Israel and the United States, which Lithuania sees as a key security buffer against Russia.

The embassy transfer “could bring new impetus for relations with Israel, both in the areas of security and trade,” Skvernelis tells reporters as he hits the presidential campaign trail to outline his foreign policy priorities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks with his Lithuanian counterpart Saulius Skvernelis in Vilnius, Lithuania, on August 23, 2018. (AFP/Petras Malukas)

“We would also send a signal that the United States is our partner not only in words but that we also side with it in bitter questions under discussions,” he adds.

— AFP

Kulanu minister: Miri Regev is ’embarrassing, I’d hide her too’

Housing Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu) lambastes Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), saying she “can’t blame” the party for leaving her out of a group photo of candidates several days ago, Ynet reports.

“I’d hide her too, over her embarrassing statements, her cynicism in using terror incidents etc.,” Shasha-Biton says at an event at Gordon College of Education in Haifa.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton leads a children’s rights committee meeting at the Knesset, January 10, 2017 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Channel 12 news reported last week that Likud’s internal polling has shown Regev’s brash, confrontational style could be deterring some Israelis from backing the party.

Egypt tightens restrictions on media, social networks

Egypt’s top media regulator has put into effect tighter restrictions that allow the state to block websites and even social media accounts with over 5,000 followers if they are deemed a threat to national security.

The move is the latest step by the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to suppress dissent. In recent years, Egypt has launched an unprecedented crackdown on reporters and the media, imprisoning dozens and occasionally expelling some foreign journalists.

The new regulations, published in the official gazette late Monday, allow the Supreme Media Regulatory Council to block websites and accounts for “fake news,” and impose stiff penalties of up to 250,000 Egyptian pounds ($14,400), all without having to obtain a court order.

Prominent Egyptian journalists have called the measures unconstitutional, saying they grant far-reaching powers to authorities to censor the media, in violation of basic press freedoms.

— AP

Meretz calls on election committee to ban Hazan campaign ad

The left-wing Meretz party appeals to the Central Election Committee to ban Likud MK Oren Hazan’s campaign ad in which he is seen “shooting” Arab MK Jamal Zahalka.

Meretz says the video contains messages that incite racism and violence.

Hazan responds: “It’s a shame that whiners and grumblers are concerning themselves with a humorous video, while terrorists sit beside them in the Knesset.”

Israeli aircraft fires at Gazans launching incendiary balloons into Israel

An Israeli aircraft has fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the army says.

According to the Ynet news site, some clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops were reported near the border in northern Gaza.

No immediate word on casualties.

At least 11 Palestinians said injured in protests at Gaza border

At least 11 Gazans were injured in today’s protests at the northern Gaza border, Palestinians report.

A protest flotilla is also makings its way toward the maritime border with Israel in the north of the Strip.

IDF aircraft strikes second balloon launching cell in Gaza

An Israeli aircraft has carried out another strike in response to a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into Israel, the army says.

No injuries reported.

Israeli FM urges 26 countries to oppose anti-Israel motion at UN on Gaza protests

Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz sends an urgent letter to 26 foreign ministers of important and friendly member countries of the UN Human Rights Council, ahead of a vote on a resolution against Israel on Thursday.

The resolution calls for the legal implementation of a report issued by the council’s examination commission on the events at the Gaza border protests, which accused Israel of possible crimes against humanity.

In his letter, Katz says the commission’s mandate was “biased and distorted” and that the report ignored Hamas’s involvement in the violence at the border and disregarded Israel’s right to defend itself.

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

“An automatic majority of hostile countries converts the victim of Hamas’s aggression into the guilty party and tries to deprive Israel of its right of self-defense,” Katz says. “We demand that the friendly member countries of the council will oppose the decision on the report, which harms the only democracy in the Middle East and encourages the continuation of Hamas’s infamous terrorism.”

— Raphael Ahren

Gantz downplays importance of Iran phone hack, says ‘We’ll reach 40 seats’

In a slew of interviews with Hebrew media, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz downplays the significance of Iran’s hacking of his cellphone.

“There’s no confidential information in there,” he tells Channel 12 news. “I’m not susceptible to influence by what’s in there.”

Asked if he is worried about his party’s drop in the polls, Gantz tells Ynet: “The pendulum will continue until the election, and we’ll reach 40 seats [ in the Knesset].”

 

New IDF chief discusses ‘joint operational issues’ with US counterpart

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi spoke on the phone today with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., in his first such conversation as commander of the Israeli military.

The army says the two discussed “joint operational issues” and that Dunford reinforced the commitment of the US Army to its relations with the Israel Defense Forces.

— Jacob Magid

US diplomat: We’ll aggressively counter Iran’s missiles, unlawful arms transfers

A top US diplomat says Washington is “committed to aggressively countering Iran’s regional proliferation of ballistic missiles and its unlawful arms transfers,” Reuters reports.

Yleem Poblete, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, says at the UN-led Conference on Disarmament: “Iran’s missile program is a key contributor to increased tensions and destabilization in the region, increasing the risk of a regional arms race.

Iranians visit a weaponry and military equipment exhibition in the capital Tehran on Febraury 2, 2019, organized on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

“Iran must immediately cease activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and halt the proliferation of missiles and missile technology to terror groups and other non-state actors,” she says.

UK minister: London will give $106 million to UNRWA over next 2 years

UK Minister of State for the Middle East Alistair Burt says the country will contribute £80 million ($106 million) to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) over the next two years.

The aid “will continue to help UNRWA deliver essential services for millions of Palestinian refugees living across the Middle East,” Burt tweets.

UNRWA has seen massive cuts to its funding over the past year after its main donor, the US, halted all aid following decades of support, under the instructions of President Donald Trump.

Gantz: Arabs are equal citizens, but their leaders act against Israel

Blue and White party head Benny Gantz tells Channel 13 news he will not invite Arab parties to any potential coalition talks following the election.

“I don’t intend to call anyone who is against the State of Israel,” he says. “Israeli Arabs are equal citizens…[but] their leaders act against Israel.

Gantz says he will be interested in joining with Arab parties on “the day their leaders bring a positive Israeli agenda into their conversation.”

Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz (Channel 13 news)

‘Benjamin Netanyahu I see now is not the Benjamin Netanyahu I knew,’ Gantz says

The Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz tells Channel 13 news that the “Benjamin Netanyahu I see now is not the Benjamin Netanyahu I knew.”

Gantz says the premier has lost his way since the two worked together when he was army chief of staff in 2011-2015.

After a recording showed Gantz contradicting his previous statements that he would not sit with Netanyahu in the government, he stresses he has no plans to join forces with the prime minister.

“The only thing that can change the situation is that he comes out differently from the hearing,” Gantz says, referring to a hearing process Netanyahu will undergo on his likely indictment on corruption charges. “Sadly, I don’t see that happening,” he adds.

Blue and White chief: We should aspire to peace, but there’s no one to speak to

In an interview Channel 13 news, Benny Gantz declines to endorse a two-state solution and says there’s “no one to speak to” on the Palestinian side.

“I am not ashamed to use the word ‘peace,’ it’s something we should aspire to,” Gantz says. “It’s far away. Unfortunately, there is no one to speak to.” He adds that Israel needs to strengthen the settlements and boost security in the Jordan Valley.

Asked by news anchor Yonit Levi if a Palestinian state will be established, the former IDF chief of staff says he envisions Israel’s future as a strong Jewish, democratic state, with a Jewish majority.

“What happens on the other side is a matter of negotiations and we’ll deal with it when we get there.” He says his considerations on the matter will “purely” be guided by security considerations.

 

Gantz willing to debate Netanyahu ‘at any place’

Benny Gantz tells Channel 12 news he’s willing to hold “any debate” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “at any place.”

Iran’s woes briefly go up in smoke during fire festival

Iranians are celebrating the Festival of Fire, a nearly 4,000-year-old Persian tradition that this year offers a brief escape from the country’s economic woes.

The celebration is held on the last Tuesday night before Nowruz, or the Iranian New Year, which will be celebrated this Thursday. The annual ritual dates back to at least 1700 B.C. and is linked to the Zoroastrian religion.

To celebrate, people light bonfires, set off fireworks and send lanterns floating into the night sky. Others jump over and around fires, chanting “My yellow is yours, your red is mine,” invoking the replacement of ills with warmth and energy.

The fire festival is one of two holidays with ancient roots that are still observed each year, the other being a picnic day in early April.

— AP

Report: Key witness in Case 3000 retracts his testimony

The State Prosecution’s key witness in Case 3000, the so-called submarine case, is apparently withdrawing his testimony, Channel 12 news reports.

Prosecutors are now said to be considering whether to cancel their state’s witness agreement with Miki Ganor, a former agent for the German shipbuilder ThyssenKryupp.

Contradicting months of testimony, Ganor is said to tell police investigators: “I didn’t bribe anyone.”

Ganor has admitted to bribing multiple high-ranking officials to secure deals for the purchase of submarines for the Israeli Navy from Germany.

Likud: Gantz, media propagating lies about Netanyahu in submarine affair

In his interviews with Channel 12, Channel 13 and Ynet this evening, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz repeatedly raised concerns over the so-called submarine affair, and allegations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have earned millions of shekels through his business connections with German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp.

Likud responds: “Gantz and his supporters in the media continue to propagate a false claim against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The submarines were bought for the benefit of Israel’s security and prime minister Netanyahu did not earn a single shekel for the purchase.

“All actions related to the prime minister were reported as necessary to the relevant authorities, as were his holdings,” it says. “All of the materials… were examined by the attorney general who determined that Netanyahu is not suspected of anything.”

Croatia’s Serbs, Jews to snub WWII death camp memorial

Croatia’s Serbs and Jews say Tuesday they will snub for the fourth straight year a commemoration for the victims of the country’s notorious World War II death camp, saying the authorities tolerate pro-Nazi ideology.

The Jasenovac camp, known as Croatia’s Auschwitz, was run by the country’s Nazi-allied Ustasha regime which persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians.

The commemoration ceremony for the victims is held every April at the site of the camp, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Zagreb.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic lays a wreath of flowers during a ceremony in honor to the victims of Croatia’s most brutal World War II death camp in Jasenovac, on 23 April, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

Ethnic Serbs and Jewish minorities as well as anti-fascists have snubbed the official commemoration for the past three years and held their own events. They accuse the authorities of tolerating nostalgia for Croatia’s pro-Nazi past.

— AFP

Palestinians report clashes as IDF said to circle building near Ramallah

Israeli forces are apparently circling a building near Ramallah in the West Bank, where Palestinian media reports say clashes broke out between locals and IDF soldiers.

Palestine TV, the official PA channel, reports Israeli forces are raiding Abwein, a village north of Ramallah.

Palestine TV also reports injuries were sustained when Israel blew up a home in the village.

The raid comes amid an Israeli manhunt for the killer of an IDF soldier and rabbi in a Sunday terror attack in the northern West Bank.

With Adam Rasgon

IDF troops ‘circle building near Ramallah, urge suspect inside to surrender’

Israeli soldiers are surrounding a building near Ramallah in the West Bank in pursuit of a terror suspect, sparking clashes with Palestinian locals that left several people injured, according to Palestinian reports.

The official PA news site Wafa says a Palestinian was wounded by Israeli fire during clashes that broke out in the old city of Abwein, a village north of Ramallah. The news site says he was transported to a hospital in Ramallah for treatment.

Israeli security forces are circling the home in Abwein after cutting its power lines and calling on a person inside through megaphones to surrender, according to Wafa.

Meanwhile, Ma’an, a Bethlehem-based Palestinian news outlet, says two Palestinians were wounded in Abwein during “violent clashes” with Israeli security forces. Ma’an also says troops opened fire at the building, after calling on the suspect to turn himself in and threatening to demolish the structure.

With Adam Rasgon

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