The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
A day before national elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in a West Bank settlement and says his Likud party supports the legalization of unrecognized outposts.
“We support the regulation of the young settlement movement communities,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony in Revava, employing common terminology used by pro-settler groups for the legalization of outposts. “Why didn’t we pass the entire regulation? Because we were in a rotation [government]. We didn’t have 61 [Knesset seats]. Now we can change that.”
Netanyahu has in the past made similar pre-election promises that weren’t kept. Last year he planned to annex settlements and some 30% of the West Bank, but he shelved that plan in favor of signing four normalization agreements with Arab countries.
A few weeks ago, he tried to legalize several outposts but was thwarted by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
A Russian military court rejects a complaint from jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny over the lack of a criminal investigation into his poisoning.
The 235th military court in Moscow has dismissed the complaint from Navalny, who is accusing Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) of carrying out the poisoning, a spokesperson tells AFP.
The opposition figure, who is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a penal colony east of Moscow, is not present in court and refuses to take part via video link.
Navalny has accused Russian investigators of not launching criminal proceedings to find those responsible for his attack in the Siberian city of Tomsk in August last year.
Navalny fell violently ill on a flight over Siberia in August and within days was airlifted to Germany for treatment, where he spent months in recovery. Western experts later concluded that the 44-year-old had come in to contact with Novichok, a Soviet-designed nerve toxin. Siberian police conducted preliminary checks after Navalny was hospitalized in August but refused to launch a criminal case, citing the “lack of the event of a crime.”
After returning to Moscow in mid-January, Navalny was immediately detained by authorities on charges of violating parole while abroad and in February was sentenced to jail time.
Navalny says the poisoning was carried out on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement and instead accused German authorities of refusing to cooperate on the investigation, despite Berlin transferring documents of Navalny’s questioning by German investigators.
Russia has brushed aside calls from Western governments to probe the attack, with some officials suggesting that Navalny may have been poisoned in Germany or even poisoned himself.
The European Union imposes sanctions on four Chinese officials accused of responsibility for abuses against Uighur Muslims in a raft of measures targeting alleged human rights offenders around the world, despite warnings that Beijing could retaliate.
The four are senior officials in the northwest region of Xinjiang.
The sanctions involve a freeze on their assets in the EU and a ban on them traveling in the bloc. European citizens and companies are not permitted to provide them with financial assistance.
China at first denied the existence of camps for detaining Uighurs in Xinjiang but has since described them as centers to provide job training and reeducate those exposed to radical jihadi thinking. Officials deny all charges of human rights abuses there.
Video shows #China’s police force moving some 600 #Uyghurs prisoners in #EastTurkistan (so-called “#Xinjiang”) with blindfolds & shackles. @SkyNews reported that a European Security source has examined the footage, stating it was genuine. pic.twitter.com/QMKcnspZaN
— Salih Hudayar (@SalihHudayar) September 21, 2019
Xinjiang had been a hotbed of anti-government violence, but Beijing claims its massive security crackdown brought peace in recent years.
Last week, China’s ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, suggested that Beijing would retaliate.
“We want dialogue, not confrontation. We ask the EU side to think twice. If some insist on confrontation, we will not back down, as we have no options other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people in our country,” he said.
The new EU sanction system is similar to the Magnitsky Act — Obama-era legislation that authorizes the US government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the United States.
EU foreign ministers, as part of today’s move, also impose sanctions over repression in North Korea, “extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Libya, torture and repression against LGBTI persons and political opponents in Chechnya in Russia, and torture, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings in South Sudan and Eritrea,” a statement says.
All ballot boxes from Israel’s diplomatic missions around the world have made it back to Israel, the Foreign Ministry announces, a day before the general public votes in the Knesset election.
“Today we successfully completed a complex logistical task, mainly due to the coronavirus crisis, and transferred all the votes of Israeli envoys to the Central Elections Committee (CEC),” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi says in a statement, thanking the staff.
The statement says Ashkenazi has spoken with the CEC chairman, Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman, and updated him on the development.
The EU has placed Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist over a coup and crackdown on demonstrators, the bloc’s official journal says.
“Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has been directly involved in and responsible for decision making concerning state functions and is therefore responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar,” the listing says.
Australia makes the neo-Nazi group Sonnenkrieg Division, also known as SKD, the only right-wing outfit designated by the government as a terrorist organization.
SKD joins 26 Islamic militant groups designated under Australian criminal law as outlawed terrorist organizations.
SKD members have been convicted in Britain for plotting to attack the British royal family, as well as disseminating terrorist material.
Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says SKD’s listing as a terrorist organization reflected the government’s commitment to stamping out violence and extremism of all kinds, regardless of ideology or motivation.
“SKD adheres to an abhorrent, violent ideology that encourages lone-wolf terrorist actors who would seek to cause significant harm to our way of life and our country,” Dutton says in a statement.
The listing enables all available terrorist offenses and penalties to apply to SKD, including up to 25 years in prison for some offenses.
Until today, Australia was the only country inside the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network — which includes the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand — not to have labeled any right-wing extremist organization as terrorists.
A top federal appeals court has upheld the terrorism conviction of the wife of a German-born rapper who joined the Islamic State terror group in Syria and likely died in an airstrike, authorities say.
In a decision from March 9, the Federal Court of Justice upheld the conviction of the woman, Omaima A., for membership in a terrorist organization as well as charges of failing to properly care for her children, weapons offenses and aiding in the enslavement of a Yazidi girl.
In its decision, the Karlsruhe-based court said it had found no legal errors were made by the Hamburg state court in its October conviction of the woman, who was 36 at the time. She was given a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence.
The Hamburg-born woman of Tunisian heritage, whose last name hasn’t been provided in line with German privacy laws, followed her first husband to Syria in 2015 and lived in the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa with their three children, according to the court.
After her husband was killed during fighting in 2015, she married his friend, German rapper Denis Cuspert, who went by the stage name Deso Dogg before giving up performing and joining IS himself.
The court found she used social media and email to promote life in the “caliphate” and encouraged other women from Germany to move to the territory that had been captured by the Islamic State. In addition to weapons training, she raised her children according to Islamic State ideology and subjected them to danger by keeping them in an area targeted by airstrikes, the court said.
She also took a 13-year-old Yazidi girl as her “slave” and used her to do housework.
Her second husband, Cuspert, who toured in the US in 2006, lent his voice to record anthems for the jihadists to use in recruiting videos they circulated online.
The US government designated him a “global terrorist” and the Pentagon initially said in 2015 that Cuspert was killed in an airstrike, but withdrew the claim the following year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will get a coronavirus vaccine shot tomorrow, months after widespread vaccination started in the country.
Speaking at a meeting with government officials, Putin says he will get his shot “tomorrow,” without specifying which vaccine out of three approved for use in Russia he will take.
According to the Russian president, over 6 million people in Russia have already received at least one shot, and over 4 million have gotten both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Widespread vaccination with the domestically developed Sputnik V shot started in Russia in December, but has so far been going slowly compared to many other countries.
Lebanon has eased its nearly two-month coronavirus lockdown, with restaurants reopening to the public amid strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
Restaurants will be allowed to have a 50% capacity indoors with a 2-meter distance between each table, while outdoors they will be allowed to have a 75% capacity. Many hope that opening restaurants will help Lebanon as it passes through the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history. The food and beverage sector employs tens of thousands of people.
Restaurant employees will have to conduct regular PCR tests to make sure they are not infected while working. Restaurants will have to close by 7 p.m. as a nationwide curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. remains in place.
The lockdown went into effect in early January following a sharp increase of coronavirus cases after the country opened up for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Yesterday, Lebanon registered 2,253 new cases raising the total in the country to 436,575. The small nation also reported 51 new deaths raising the total of fatalities to 5,715.
China announces sanctions on 10 Europeans including parliamentarians and scholars, as well as four entities, in retaliation against the EU’s approval of sanctions over Beijing’s crackdown on the Uighur minority.
“This move, based on nothing but lies and disinformation, disregards and distorts facts,” says China’s foreign ministry in a statement, adding that it is a gross interference in its internal affairs.
The Defense Ministry says its officials have thwarted an attempted smuggling of 13 gold bars into the Gaza Strip.
Footage published by the ministry’s Border Crossing Authority shows how the bars were hidden at the bottom of cardboard boxes containing 20 tons of tomatoes.
The shipment was discovered at the Kerem Shalom crossing.
זהב אדום: משלוח של 20 טונות עגבניות, מרצועת עזה לרשות הפלסטינית, נעצר לבדיקה במעבר כרם שלום ונחשפו 13 מטילי זהב שהוסלקו בתחתית הארגזים@Itsik_zuarets (צילום: רשות המעברים, משרד הביטחון) pic.twitter.com/4v0F1gxfcU
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 22, 2021
Personal details of all Israeli voters have leaked online once again ahead of Knesset elections, apparently linked to the Elector app, which was blamed for previous leaks allegedly utilized at the time by the ruling Likud party to boost turnout.
The Haaretz daily reports that today, a day before the 4th national vote in 2 years, some journalists received a link to the database on Ghostbin, a website that allows people to post anonymous messages.
The anonymous uploaders — identified as “The Israeli Autumn” — reportedly said they have been “forced” to release the info due to the failure of authorities to deal with Elector. They haven’t provided evidence that the information originated from Elector.
One database contains the full voter registry, including names and ballot numbers of all 6,528,565 eligible voters. A second contains up-to-date names, addresses, ID numbers and more details.
Jonathan Pollard, an American who served a 30-year sentence for spying for Israel, defends his actions in his first interview since arriving in Israel late last year. He says the US had “stabbed Israel in the back” by withholding intelligence from its ally.
In excerpts from the interview with the Israel Hayom daily, Pollard describes his happiness at being a free man in Israel while expressing regret that he was not able to father children because of his incarceration.
Pollard, now 66, sold military secrets to Israel while working as a civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy in the 1980s. He was arrested in 1985 after trying unsuccessfully to gain asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and pleaded guilty. The espionage affair embarrassed Israel and tarnished its relations with the United States for years.
Pollard was given a life sentence. US defense and intelligence officials said his spying caused great damage and strenuously argued against his release. But after serving 30 years in federal prison, he was released in 2015 and placed on a five-year parole period. Pollard arrived in Israel to a hero’s welcome in December.
He tells Israel Hayom that at the time of his spying, the US government was keeping intelligence from Israel and lying to it, claiming he witnessed it himself at meetings.
“I know I crossed a line, but I had no choice,” he tells the newspaper, adding that the threats to Israel were “serious.”
Pollard says he helped his Israeli handler escape by alerting his wife, Anne, to his arrest in a phone call he was granted by the FBI. He used the phrase “water the cactus,” which the couple had agreed on as the code words for saying he had been caught and she should leave town. She was later arrested, but his handler, Aviam Sella, left the country. The Pollards later divorced.
He describes his new life in Israel as “wonderful,” saying people often strike up conversations with him and his second wife, Esther, when they walk around their neighborhood. He says he feels that they know that “someone was willing to sacrifice his life for them.”
All the same, he dismisses the repeated requests for selfies as “nonsense.”
“When I went to prison, there were no smartphones and no selfies,” he tells the newspaper. “Esther and I are both very private people, and privacy is important to us.”
Israel Hayom was founded by the late casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who also provided a private plane to bring Pollard and his wife to Israel in December. The newspaper says it will publish its full interview with Pollard on Friday.
Israelis will be able to visit the Sinai Peninsula during next week’s Passover festival and possibly even this week, the government has agreed, according to an unsourced report by Channel 12 news.
The report says the tourism, interior and health ministries have agreed on two possible dates for the reopening of the Taba Crossing, which has been closed since the pandemic began apart from brief occasions in which Israelis were allowed to return. Egyptian authorities are also part of the talks.
One possible date is Thursday, March 25 — as demanded by the Blue and White party — and the other is the Health Ministry’s preferred date of next Monday, March 29. The ministry hopes to pass rules permitting such travel only for those who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.
The new reported rules will let up to 320 people return to Israel every day.
Travelers will have to register online and take a PCR test up to 72 hours before the trip, and another upon return. Capacity at the crossing will be limited to 50% of the usual traffic. No private vehicles will be allowed to cross.
Iran is hiding from international officials equipment that could enable it to build a nuclear bomb, The Telegraph reports, citing unnamed Western intelligence officials.
The report says the officials fear the Islamic Republic is concealing essential parts and pumps for centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium to weapons-grade 90%.
The machinery is allegedly hidden at secret sites run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the report says.
Iran denies its nuclear program is military, but has repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel and has said it can enrich uranium to 90% quickly if it wants.
Saudi Arabia offers Yemen’s Houthi rebels a “comprehensive” ceasefire, among a series of proposals aimed at ending a catastrophic six-year conflict.
The proposals include “a comprehensive ceasefire across the country under the supervision of the United Nations,” a government statement says.
EU chief Charles Michel tells Russian President Vladimir Putin that ties with Moscow have reached a “low point” and insists it is up to the Kremlin to fix them.
“President Michel expressed the view that EU-Russia ties are at a low point,” an EU statement says after a call between the leaders.
“The relationship with Russia can only take a different direction if there is sustained progress on issues like the implementation of the Minsk agreements (on Ukraine), stopping hybrid and cyber-attacks on Member States and respect for human rights.”
A Ben-Gurion University study says the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is less effective against the so-called South African variant of the virus.
The study says that the vaccine produces high levels of antibodies which efficiently combat both the generic strain of the virus and the British variant.
The vaccine only moderately neutralized the South African variant, however. It is also less effective against strains that combine both the British and South African variants.
“Our study validates the clinical efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, but raises concerns regarding its efficacy against specific SARS-CoV-2 circulating variants,” the authors write.
The study says the antibodies of people who have received the vaccine appear more resistant to the virus, including its variants, than antibodies of people who recovered from the virus.
People who received the full effects of the second dose saw a twofold increase in protection over the first dose.
People who recovered from the virus are also less protected against the South African strain than the British variant.
The Central Bureau of Statistics says the unemployment rate has dropped slightly since the lockdown started gradually being eased last month.
While last month the rate stood at 18.4%, it is now 16.7% — 698,500 Israelis without work or on unpaid leave, the vast majority of them due to the pandemic and the havoc the lockdowns have wreaked on the economy.
The data also shows some 131,000 Israelis haven’t worked at all since March 2020, when the country’s first lockdown was imposed.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels dismiss Saudi Arabia’s ceasefire offer as “nothing new” and insist an air and sea blockade be lifted first, after the kingdom made a series of proposals to end the war.
“Saudi Arabia must declare an end to the aggression and lift the blockade completely, but putting forward ideas that have been discussed for over a year is nothing new,” says Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam, according to the rebel’s Al-Masirah television.
The US Treasury places sanctions on two senior Chinese officials for what it calls “serious human rights abuses” against Uighurs and other minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region.
“Chinese authorities will continue to face consequences as long as atrocities occur in Xinjiang,” says Andrea Gacki, the Treasury official overseeing the sanctions program.
Israeli universities will resume in-person classes after the Passover holiday, after a year of mostly online studies due to the pandemic, Hebrew media reports.
Entry to campuses will be allowed for those who have been vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or present a recent negative PCR test.
Some courses will stay online.
Colleges and other higher education institutions, however, will take more time before allowing in-person instruction.
After Yamina leader Naftali Bennett pledged yesterday not to join a government headed — solely or via a power-sharing agreement — by Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid, the head of another right-wing party challenging Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud, New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar, refuses to follow suit and keeps the door open for an anti-Netanyahu coalition including rightist, centrist and leftist parties.
“I’m not limiting my options,” Sa’ar tells Channel 12 news when asked if he was willing to sign a power-sharing deal with Lapid or Bennett. “I’m not saying I’ll agree, but I don’t sign unnecessary pledges.”
Sa’ar says Bennett made a mistake by clarifying that he’s “in Netanyahu’s pocket.”
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell slams retaliatory sanctions by Beijing as “unacceptable,” after the bloc targeted four Chinese officials over the crackdown on the Uighurs.
“Rather than change its policies and address our legitimate concerns, China has again turned a blind eye and these measures are regrettable and unacceptable,” Borrell says after a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
“There will be no change in the European Union determination to defend human rights and to respond to serious violations and abuses.”
The United States condemns fresh attacks by the Assad regime and Russians in Syria that have left a number of civilians dead, including in a hospital in Aleppo.
The State Department blames regime artillery shelling yesterday for the death of five patients, including a child, at the Al-Atareb Surgical Hospital in western Aleppo.
The attack left more than a dozen medical staff wounded, it says.
The same day, Russian jets struck in Idlib near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, reportedly killing a civilian, the State Department says.
It says that neither should be targets of attacks, noting that the regime has access to the precise coordinates of the hospital to avoid hitting it, under the United Nation’s deconfliction program.
The Russian attack, the department says, threatens humanitarian aid.
“Bab al-Hawa remains the only UN-authorized humanitarian border crossing in Syria and remains the most efficient and effective way to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to approximately 2.4 million Syrians every month,” it says.
“Civilians, including civilian medical personnel and facilities, must never be the target of military action,” it adds. “This violence must stop — we reiterate our call for a nationwide ceasefire.”
The World Health Organization blasts the growing gap between the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in rich and poor countries, calling it a “moral outrage.”
That gap is “becoming more grotesque every day” and the inequitable distribution is economically and epidemiologically self-defeating for wealthy nations, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells a press conference.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša wishes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party a “victorious result” in a tweet, appearing to take sides in Israel’s elections.
Netanyahu plays along, retweeting the post and thanking Janša.
On the eve of #IsraElex4 , we wish Prime Minister @netanyahu and our sister party @Likud_Party @idualliance a victorious result. Your vaccination process is a role model for a whole world. ????✌️ ???????? ???????? pic.twitter.com/CdriNE7kWN
— Janez Janša (@JJansaSDS) March 22, 2021
A resident of Beit Shemesh has been arrested and taken for questioning on suspicion of planning to murder Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, police say.
Police say the suspect has posted threats against Lapid online, saying he will murder the opposition leader even if he is jailed for it.
An investigation concluded that he was abroad at the time of the online threats. Today, as he lands in Israel, he is being apprehended at the airport.
Out of some 15,000 confirmed COVID-19 patients nationwide, only around 1,000 have registered for special shuttles to designated voting stations, the Central Elections Committee says.
The patients can only vote in the special stations, designed to prevent infections. They can only arrive to vote using the state-organized shuttles.
Despite the steep drop in COVID-19 infections and the increasing reopening of the economy, the government is not planning to allow Independence Day entertainment shows with crowds, Hebrew media reports.
Israelis typically celebrate the occasion — marked this year on April 15 — with music concerts and large cultural events, although last year, it was held under the first COVID-19 lockdown. The Health Ministry is said to be concerned that many kids — who cannot be vaccinated — attend those shows.
However, unlike last year, the official state ceremonies for Independence Day and the preceding Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims will be held as usual, with crowds in the audience, the reports say.
Only vaccinated or recovered people will be allowed to attend the official events, except for bereaved families.
Some culture events can be held according to the “Green Pass” rules, for vaccinated and recovered patients only.
The Knesset Guard and security agencies are preparing for a scenario in which masses try to storm the parliament building during or after tomorrow’s national election, in what would mirror the scenes seen in January at the US Capitol after Donald Trump lost the election, Channel 13 news reports.
The scenario is one of several that featured in the Knesset Guard’s preparations for election day, according to the report.
The network says a special operations room will be set up at the Knesset by the police, the Shin Bet security service and the state prosecution to monitor potentially violent or inflammatory events akin to those that preceded the Capitol riots.
The alert will be high throughout the voting and will reach its peak at 10 p.m., as voting ends and exit polls are published.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry says 19,133 Palestinians have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
The figure includes 6,866 in the West Bank and 12,267 in the Gaza Strip.
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