The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s news as it unfolded.
Belgium denies Paris attacks bombmaker arrested over Brussels offensive
Belgian media withdraws a report that a prime suspect in the attacks in Brussels Tuesday, Najim Laachraoui, has been arrested.
Reports indicate that a man has been arrested in connection with the attacks, but that the man isn’t Laachraoui, who is also suspected as the bombmaker in the terror attacks in Paris last year. The identity of the man arrested isn’t immediately clear.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Brussels airport says it will remain closed Thursday.
“There will be no passenger flights into and out of Brussels airport tomorrow March 24,” Arnaud Feist says in a tweet as the probe into the attacks continued.
— with AFP
Israel charges Islamic Jihad’s ‘computer administrator’
The Israel Police and Shin Bet security service have arrested a Gaza resident suspected as the “computer administrator” of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, police spokeswoman Luba Samri says.
A statement from Samri describes the suspect as an “electronics engineer” in his 20s from the Gaza Strip, and says he has been indicted today on charges of “espionage, conspiracy to convey information to an enemy, hacking computer material and more.”
The man, who also held the position of chairman of the “Palestinian talents society,” was arrested on February 23 while en route to a meeting with young Palestinian candidates on a television singing contest, the statement says.
Police didn’t say when or how he was arrested.
He was recruited by Islamic Jihad in 2001 while working as a radio broadcaster. At the same time, police allege, “he carried out tasks that he received from his handlers, including coding a computer program that enabled the viewing of road cameras, hacking into the computers of the Hamas interior ministry in Gaza, and more.”
Islamic Jihad hacker said to access footage from Israeli drones over Gaza
According to the indictment filed against the alleged Islamic Jihad suspect, he succeeded in hacking into the IDF’s system of drones above the Gaza Strip, allowing his handlers to see the footage produced by their cameras.
He also succeeded in accessing footage from highway cameras inside Israel, obtaining for his organization information on the movement of Israeli security forces and civilians during wars in the Strip and rocket strikes, the indictment says.
Further, the man allegedly developed an application that compiled information on the movement of planes in Israel’s Ben Gurion international airport, as well as gaining access to passenger manifestos, plane weights and makes, and takeoff and landing times.
Police clarify that he was not arrested inside the Gaza Strip, implying he was en route to the West Bank when security forces scooped him up.
— Judah Ari Gross contributed
In rare conversation with Rivlin, Erdogan offers condolences to Israel
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducts a rare conversation with an Israeli official, conveying over the phone to his counterpart Reuven Rivlin his condolences over the loss of Israeli lives in a terror attack in Istanbul earlier this week.
“I wish to thank you for your letter in the wake of the murder of Israeli citizens in the terror offensive in Istanbul,” Rivlin said, according to a press release from the President’s Residence.
Erdogan sent a letter of written condolences on Sunday.
Erdogan replied, “I wish to share with you the profound sadness I felt upon receiving the news of the killing of the three Israeli citizens, who were on a tour in Istanbul, a visit to the city,” the release says.
The Turkish leader goes on to state that after the attack, he instructed “all the relevant authorities” to do everything necessary in order to aid the victims.
“I felt that our Jewish community, which is an integral part of our society, also extended all the required assistance,” he continues, noting that he spoke to the country’s chief rabbi and the leader of the community after the attack.
Rivlin, for his part, reiterates Israel’s condolences to Turkey and to Erdogan and thanks him for his country’s assistance and for “the help in bringing the victims home with dignity.
“Dear president,” he continues, “terror is terror, life is life, and blood is blood – in Istanbul, in Brussels” – where a terror offensive killed over 30 yesterday – “in Paris and in Jerusalem. We must stand together in the battle against this horrific terror.”
Erdogan concurs with Rivlin’s statement, calling for a joint struggle against terrorism.
Invoking, too, Tuesday’s events, he concludes: “The terror offensive in Belgium is the thing we feared. There is no such thing as good and bad terror, it is all evil. We must fight this evil. Let us all pray that such offensives never recur.”
Brussels bombings carried out by two brothers
Belgium’s federal prosecutor confirms that two brothers carried out suicide attacks at Brussels airport and on a metro train that killed 31 people and wounded 270.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui blew himself up in the check-in hall of Zaventem airport while Khalid El Bakraoui attacked a metro train at Maalbeek station near the EU headquarters, Frederic van Leeuw tells a news conference.
He also says that the third Brussels attack suspect, Najim Laachraoui, is still on the run, confirming that he wasn’t apprehended — contrary to earlier reports.
Child Ahmed Dawabsha in Duma for first time since attack
According to Palestinian reports, Ahmed Dawabsha, the five-year-old boy who was seriously wounded in a firebombing attack that killed his parents and baby brother last year, returns to his West Bank village of Duma for the first time since the attack.
Ahmad reuniting with his friends.
Ahmad's entire family were killed after Israeli settlers burned down their home. pic.twitter.com/h2aSjHZ9mu
— Rana H. (@RanaHarbi) March 23, 2016
Dawabsha has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation in an Israeli hospital since July’s attack, over which two Israelis have been indicted.
Multiple Brussels suspects still on the loose
Belgian authorities say several people possibly linked to deadly attacks on Brussels are still on the loose.
Paul Van Tigchelt, head of Belgium’s terrorism threat body, tells reporters that is why the country is keeping the terrorism threat level at its highest level, which means there is a danger of an imminent attack.
He speaks alongside prosecutors who say they are searching for at least one person directly involved in the attack on Brussels airport.
Police name Islamic Jihad hacker
Police release the name of the Gaza man who has been charged with various crimes related to his work with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, including accessing footage from Israeli drones over the Strip.
His name is Majd Ouida, 22, according to police.
— Judah Ari Gross
Hamas blasts US presidential hopefuls for AIPAC speeches
The Palestinian Hamas terror group condemns US presidential candidates for their unabashedly pro-Israel speeches before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee this week.
“Hamas condemns the racist statements made by American presidential candidates that sanctify the Zionist entity at the expense of Palestinian rights,” the group’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, says in a statement.
“The state of frantic competition between the American candidates supports the occupation and the enemies of the Palestinian people, and represents a true disgrace for the American political system and a provocation against the feelings of our Palestinian people and our Arab and Islamic nations,” he adds.
— Dov Lieber
Jeb Bush endorses Cruz for president
Jeb Bush says he’s endorsing Ted Cruz for president.
The former presidential hopeful tweets that “Ted is a consistent, principled conservative who has shown he can unite the party.”
He adds on his Facebook page that Republicans “must overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena” or risk losing to Hillary Clinton.
In response, Cruz praises the endorsement, saying it proves his candidacy has drawn broad support among Republicans.
Brussels police find 15 kg of explosives after attacks
Police investigating the Brussels attacks found 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of TATP high explosives and a mass of bomb-making material during searches in the Schaerbeek district of the Belgian capital, the federal prosecutor says.
Frederic van Leeuw says police also found 150 liters (40 US gallons) of acetone, detonators, bags filled with nails plus other equipment used to make bombs of the type used in the attacks that killed 31 people and wounded another 270.
TATP high explosives have been used extensively by Islamic State jihadists.
Brussels suicide bomber left a will in trashed laptop
A Belgian prosecutor says a suicide bomber who attacked the Brussels airport left a will on a computer found in a trashcan in a Brussels neighborhood.
Investigators raided the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek after the attacks and found a computer in a trashcan on the street including a note from the bomber saying he felt increasingly unsafe and feared landing in prison.
Body found at Brussels airport, raising toll to 32
According to Belgian reports, authorities have recovered another body at the Brussels airport, raising the death toll in the attacks yesterday to 32.
Reports say that during the investigation at the scene, a wall collapsed, perhaps revealing the hitherto unseen body.
Netanyahu to hold press conference this evening
After delivering a statement at a press conference this evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will take questions from Israeli reporters, his office says.
It is rare for Netanyahu to take questions from members of the local press, and he has done so on only several occasions in recent years.
As to the topic of the conference, his office says cryptically that he will discuss a “diplomatic” issue.
Jesus’ tomb set for restoration work
The tomb where Jesus is said to have been buried before his resurrection in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre is to undergo major restoration, church officials say.
The work could begin soon after Orthodox Easter on May 1. Western Christians mark Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, this coming Sunday.
The restoration, entrusted to a Greek team, is expected to be completed in early 2017 and the site will remain open to visitors in the meantime.
The shrine, several meters tall and wide standing under the church’s dome, has for decades been held together by a metal frame.
Its marble slabs have been weakened over the years in part by daily visits by thousands of pilgrims and tourists.
It will be painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt during eight months of restoration work, says the Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Roman Catholic properties in the area.
‘Kill the Jews’ painted on Ukrainian synagogue
Vandals write “kill the Jews” on a synagogue in the central Ukrainian city of Cherkasy. In a separate incident, unidentified persons torch a wreath that an Israeli cabinet minister had placed for Holocaust victims in Kiev.
The incident involving a synagogue was discovered on Wednesday in Cherkasy, Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, writes on Facebook. In addition to spray-painting the message of incitement to violence against Jews on an external wall, the perpetrators write: “Jews annexed Ukraine.”
They use the word “zhyd,” which many Ukrainian Jews consider derogatory.
Dolinsky sarcastically describes the inscription as “traditional congratulations for Purim.”
On Tuesday, Dolinsky wrote that the wreath placed earlier this month by Israel Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the Babi Yar Jewish Holocaust monument had been torched hours after she left it there. The attack was the seventh case of vandalism against the monument since 2015.
Man ‘wins Purim’ with Aladdin and flying carpet costume
One Israeli man’s Purim costume is drawing a lot of attention on social media shortly before the annual carnival is set to begin.
The Facebook page Pshpeshukshuk, which curates viral content, says this Aladdin was filmed flying his carpet through a red light on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv earlier today.
According to Times of Israel blogger Eylon Aslan-Levy, the man has “won Purim.”
— Eylon Aslan-Levy (@EylonALevy) March 23, 2016
PA security official says Europe to blame for attack
The spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s security services, General Adnan Damiri, says the attacks in Brussels are an example of Europe reaping what it had sowed.
“While we condemn acts of terror acts everywhere in the world, we the Arabs are the ones who have been burned worst in the fire of terror that was made and exported by Europe and America,” he writes in a Facebook post, invoking “the exportation of Jewish terrorism to Palestine, which they supported and justified,” and implying that Islamist terrorism was a product of European colonialism.
“Today,” he continues, “Europe’s airports and squares are burning in their own fire.”
Damiri adds, “The one who prepares the poison will eventually taste it. Europe is now tasting what its hands made.”
Israelis, too, among them ministers, have castigated Europe in the wake of the attack, claiming that it has been too complacent in its fight against radicalism on the continent, as well as hypocritical toward Israel and its own fight against Palestinian terrorism.
— Dov Lieber
After Brussels attack, Obama vows US to battle IS aggressively
In the wake of the Brussels bombing, US President Barack Obama declares that fighting the Islamic State is his “No. 1 priority” and pledges that the United States will pursue the jihadist group until it is destroyed.
“I’ve got a lot of things on my plate, but my top priority is to defeat ISIL and to eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that’s been taking place around the world,” he says in the European Union capital during a news conference in Buenos Aires, where he is meeting with the country’s new president, Mauricio Macri.
“There’s no more important item on my agenda than going after them and defeating them. The issue is, how do we do it in an intelligent way?”
Obama calls on the world to unite behind fighting what he calls “senseless and vicious” acts.
But he offers few signs that he plans to retool his strategy in light of the Brussels bombing. The president says his approach to fighting the group has constantly “evolved” to meet the threat and he vowed to remains steady and “resolute.’
Turkey: We deported Brussels attacker to Belgium
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says one of the Brussels attackers was caught in Turkey in June and deported to Belgium.
Erdogan says that the Belgian authorities released the suspect despite Turkish warnings that he was “a foreign fighter.”
He does not name the attacker. He says the man was detained at Turkey’s border with Syria at Gaziantep and that Turkey formally notified Belgian authorities of his deportation on July 14.
Erdogan says “despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, Belgium could not establish any links with terrorism.”
Belgium knew terrorists were planning metro, airport attacks — report
Belgian and other Western intelligence services had advance, highly specific warnings ahead of the terror attacks yesterday in Brussels, Haaretz reports.
Belgian authorities knew that terrorists were planning to attack the airport and the metro, the report says, and yet they didn’t do enough to counter the threat.
IDF soldiers arrest gun-, knife-toting Palestinian
IDF soldiers have arrested an armed Palestinian man during operational activity near the Ma’ale Shomron settlement in the West Bank, the army says.
In a statement, the IDF says a group of reservists stopped the man and found in his possession a makeshift gun and a knife.
Meanwhile, near Beit Fajjar, in the Bethlehem area, a group of soldiers arrested a female Palestinian who threw rocks at them.
Upon arresting her, they found a knife on her person.
The two were being interrogated, the statement says.
Netanyahu: Israelis understand what Belgian people enduring
Israelis know what Belgian people are going through because they have been enduring similar attacks for years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in a press conference.
He says there is an international battle against terrorism, between “the children of light and the children of darkness.”
“Terrorism doesn’t stem from neglect, it doesn’t stem from frustration,” Netanyahu says, but from ideology.
The prime minister goes on to say that terrorists, notably Palestinians, should be deprived of hope.
“We will vanquish terror, but if the nations of the world stand hand in hand, we will vanquish it much faster,” he says.
PM: Israel needs ‘patience’ in battling terror
“Terrorism comes in waves,” Netanyahu says, when a reporter asks him whether his government has failed to defeat Palestinian terrorism, which has been raging in Israel and the West Bank for months.
“Israel is in the eye of the storm,” he says, implying that the Jewish state’s position in the Middle East makes it harder for it to defeat terrorism. “We need patience.”
PM says not concerned US could withhold UN veto
The Times of Israel asks Netanyahu whether he’s afraid the US could withdraw its automatic vetoes of UN resolutions against Israel.
In his response, the prime minister says it has been Washington’s “longstanding” policy to exercise its veto right.
He goes on to quote a speech by Barack Obama in which the US president said peace won’t come through speeches.
“I agree with that,” Netanyahu says.
Asked whether Hezbollah poses a threat to Israel, he says the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, “knows very well why he’s in a bunker.”
— Raphael Ahren
Canadian tapped as new UN rights expert on Palestinian territories
The UN Human Rights Council chief nominates a Canadian law professor to a controversial post surveying the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories.
Council president Choi Kyonglim circulates a letter to member states proposing that Stanley Michael Lynk be appointed to the position of special rapporteur, and the council is expected to accept the appointment Thursday without a vote.
Lynk would replace Makarim Wibisono, who announced in January he would step down over Israel’s refusal to cooperate with his mandate and not allowing him access to the areas he was meant to monitor.
The mandate is controversial, since it is limited to investigating Israel’s violations.
Wibisono’s predecessor Richard Falk was also blocked from accessing the territories, and it remains unclear if Lynk will be able to do so.
Israel has a tense relationship with the Human Rights Council, which it accuses of having a built-in bias against it.
2nd Brussels airport bomber identified as Najim Laachraoui
The second suicide bomber who blew himself up at Brussels airport has been identified as Najim Laachraoui, police sources tell AFP.
Moroccan-born Laachraoui’s DNA was found on explosives used in the November 13 Paris attacks as well as at an apartment in Brussels where bomb-making equipment and a fingerprint from Salah Abdeslam — prime suspect in the Paris attacks — had been found in December.
The blasts in Brussels occurred four days after Abdeslam’s arrest.
Prosecutors have said Laachraoui “traveled to Syria in February 2013,” and was registered under a false name at the border between Austria and Hungary last September.
Israel warned Belgium of lax airport security — report
Amid reports that Belgium had advance information about the planned attacks, Channel 2 news reports that Israel conveyed to the authorities there specific warnings regarding faulty security at the Brussels airport.
Israel in recent weeks warned Belgium that arrangements in the airport were “insufficient,” the report says.
The warning came after Israeli security officials tasked with assessing security in airports from which flights depart to Israel identified the lax security.