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Hamas: IDF behind spate of tunnel collapses

Members of terror group report seeing Israeli soldiers using liquid explosives near Gaza border

French President Francois Hollande (R) holds a press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris on September 19, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/FRANCOIS GUILLOT)
French President Francois Hollande (R) holds a press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris on September 19, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/FRANCOIS GUILLOT)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

Egypt welcomes French peace push

A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry says that Cairo welcomes in principle the French plan to kick-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, in particular the initiative for an international conference in the summer, Ynet reports.

“We still have to inspect the central challenges that we face on the issue of the Palestinians,” says Ahmed Abu Ziyad.

Paris, Abu Ziyad says, is currently holding talks on the subject.

UK allocates millions for Jewish community security

The British government is providing £13.4 million (approx. $19 million) for security in the Jewish community in the coming year, the Jewish Chronicle says.

British Home Secretary Theresa May says the money will be used to fund security guards and other protection measures at Jewish schools, nurseries, synagogues and other locations in the Jewish community.

The money will be managed by the Community Security Trust, a charity that works for the safety of the British Jews.

CST chief executive David Delew says the financial commitment is “deeply appreciated,” according to the Chronicle.

“We wish that it were not necessary, but the current situation dictates otherwise,” Delew says.

Romney to take aim at ‘phony’ Trump

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will launch an all-out assault on current party front-runner Donald Trump in a speech later today, the Politico website says.

According to the report, Romney will slam Trump as “a phony” and “a fraud” who is “playing the American public for suckers.”

In a major speech at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Romney will reportedly warn that the bullish billionaire’s “promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.” He will also sound the alarm that “a Trump nomination enables” the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to win in November.

Cameron, Merkel, Hollande to discuss Syria with Putin tomorrow

British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss the ceasefire in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a conference call tomorrow, Downing Street says.

“Tomorrow is an opportunity for the leaders of the UK, France and Germany to come together… and make very clear to President Putin that we need this ceasefire to hold, to be a lasting one and to open the way for a real political transition,” Cameron’s spokeswoman tells reporters.


Settlers stone Palestinian cars in West Bank

Residents of the settlement of Yitzhar, in the northern West Bank, throw stones at vehicles at the entrance to the nearby Palestinian village of Asira al-Qibliya, the Walla news website says.

Security forces arrive at the scene and move the settlers back to Yitzhar. As they make their way back, the settlers hurl stones at another vehicle, shattering its windows.

Israelis have ‘confused’ feelings about Trump – expert

Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Bar-Ilan University, says the best word to describe Israeli feelings about Trump is “confusion.”

There are certain parts of him that Israelis can relate to, such as his aversion to political correctness, his tough stance on Islamic terrorism and his call for a wall with Mexico to provide security, says Gilboa.

But others have been particularly jarring to Israelis, such as comments about Jews that many consider insensitive and his derision of US Sen. John McCain’s captivity in Vietnam.

“This is something that every Israeli would reject. It’s a highly sensitive issue in a country where prisoners of war are heroes and people go out of their way to release them,” Gilboa says.

— AP

UNRWA official shuts Twitter account after backing ‘Apartheid Week’

A spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA shuts down her Twitter account after a backlash over her post in support of “Israeli Apartheid Week,” the UN Watch group says.

The watchdog NGO calls on US envoy to the UN Samantha Power to speak out “over continued anti-Israeli incitement from UNRWA” following the tweet from Laila Mokhiber, who represents the agency’s US branch.

A March 1, 2016 tweet by Laila Mokhiber supporting Israeli Apartheid Week. The US spokesperson for UNRWA shut down her account soon after (photo: courtesy of UN Watch)

A March 1, 2016 tweet by Laila Mokhiber supporting Israeli Apartheid Week. The US spokesperson for UNRWA shut down her account soon after (courtesy UN Watch)

Online video suggests Syria motive in Moscow child murder

A nanny accused of decapitating a 4-year old girl and brandishing her head outside a Moscow subway station says during an apparent interrogation captured on video that the killing was an act of revenge against President Vladimir Putin for Russian airstrikes in Syria.

Asked about the video, released today, Putin’s spokesman says it is difficult to judge the testimony of a woman he calls “clearly deranged.”

Gulchekhra Bobokulova, 38, was detained in Moscow on Monday after the child in her care was killed. The video footage appears to show police interrogating her. It is not clear where the video originated, and its authenticity or the circumstances in which it was taken are unverified. She appears to be wearing the same clothes she wore during a court appearance yesterday.

In the video, she says the killing of the child was revenge. Asked who it was revenge against, she says “the one who has spilled the blood.” Asked who that was, she replies: “Who spilled it? Putin has been dropping bombs.”

— AP

Power goes out across whole of Syria as grid collapses

The electricity grid collapses across the whole of Syria, causing power cuts throughout the country. Syria’s state-run media attributes the collapse to “unclear circumstances.”

The energy ministry says that work on locating the cause of the outage is already underway, and hopes that power will be restored in the coming hours, Channel 10 reports.

Defense Ministry taps new missile defense chief

The Defense Ministry names Colonel (ret.) Moshe Patel as the new head of Israel’s missile defense program.

Patel replaces Yair Ramati, who was fired from his post in December amid allegations that he didn’t properly maintain state secrets.

A graduate of the Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology, Patel worked in missile defense for more than a decade, including a stint as deputy director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) in the IDF’s Directorate of Research and Development.

The Defense Ministry said in December that Ramati, who was responsible for developing the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems, had committed “severe information security violations.”

Media reports at the time suggested he was found to have classified documents on his personal computer.

— Judah Ari Gross

Hunt on for Arab woman who gave suspicious note to Beersheba guard

Police in Beersheba are hunting for an Arab woman who passed a suspicious note to a security guard at a mall in the southern city.

Police say the note praises suicide and includes quotes from the Quran.

The incident is caught on security camera at the mall, which shows a woman in traditional Muslim dress handing over the note as she left the building.

— Judah Ari Gross

4 Rahat residents indicted for sexual assault of minor

Four residents of the southern town of Rahat are indicted for allegedly abducting and sexually assaulting a minor last year.

The charge sheet alleges that the four, all aged between 19 and 29, forced the minor into their car at gunpoint in September 2015 and assaulted him, while recording the attack on a cellphone, the Haaretz daily reports.

The four are charged, among other offenses, with conspiracy to commit a crime, kidnapping, aggravated assault, extortion with threats, violation of privacy and child abuse.

IS, al-Nusra declare mutual ceasefire in Syria

The Islamic State group and al-Qaeda ally al-Nusra Front declare a mutual ceasefire in southern Syria, Channel 2 reports.

The groups also reportedly carry out a prisoner exchange and remove local military roadblocks.

The ceasefire comes after two days of heavy fighting between the two organizations, and almost a week after a US-Russian truce that excludes them took hold in the war-torn country.


Jewish Republicans join conservatives opposing Trump

Prominent Jewish Republicans are among dozens of conservatives in the US national security community who are speaking out against Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

A letter posted yesterday by some 60 influential conservatives in think tanks and alumni of Republican administrations lists the ways they say the billionaire real estate magnate would “make America less safe,” including “hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric” that “undercuts the seriousness of combating Islamic radicalism.”

It also accuses him of contempt for neighbors such as Mexico and allies like Japan while admiring dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The letter calls Trump feckless, saying he “swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.”

“As committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head,” says the letter posted on “War on The Rocks” a conservative foreign policy and national security news and opinion website.

“We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”

The letter is the brainchild of Eliot Cohen, a counselor in the State Department under George W. Bush.

A good portion of the signatories are Jewish members of the conservative national community, including Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary under president George W. Bush; Max Boot, a senior foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., when he was the 2008 GOP presidential candidate; Eric Edelman, an undersecretary of defense under George W. Bush; and Dov Zakheim, a deputy undersecretary of defense under president Ronald Reagan.


Gazan indicted for planning attacks against Israelis in Ukraine

A Palestinian from Gaza is indicted in Beersheba District Court for allegedly planning terror attacks in against Israelis in Ukraine.

According to Israel Radio, the charge sheet states that Sami Habib, who previously lived in Ukraine, planned to hire a call girl in order to lure a senior IDF officer to the Egyptian border crossing at Taba and from there to abduct him to Gaza.

Habib also allegedly planned to either carry out a shooting attack against a bus of Israeli tourists in Ukraine or place an explosive device on board one of their buses.

The suspect is further accused of helping Hamas to dig tunnels in the Gaza Strip.

US delivers 8 Black Hawks to Jordan for its anti-IS battle

The United States delivers eight refurbished Black Hawk helicopters to Jordan for the kingdom’s battle against Islamic State extremists.

Jordan is part of the US-led military coalition against IS, also known by its Arabic acronym, Daesh. The extremist group controls large areas of neighboring Syria and Iraq.

US Ambassador Alice Wells says the delivery of the Black Hawks is part of ongoing military support for Jordan that also includes guns and surveillance equipment.

Wells tells her hosts at today’s ceremony that “as you employ these aircraft in the fight against Daesh, please know that we are honored to partner with you.”

The ceremony takes place two days after Jordanian forces raided a suspected hideout of suspected IS-linked militants in the kingdom, killing seven. A Jordanian officer was also killed.

— AP

Stephen Colbert sings ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with Broadway cast

Stephen Colbert performs songs from “Fiddler on the Roof” with members of the cast of the recent Broadway revival.

The “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” host sings “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “Tradition” in an opening segment of Tuesday night’s show.

Before the singing begins, Colbert explains in a comic aside that “Fiddler” is being shown at the Broadway Theater across from CBS’ Ed Sullivan Theater where the “Late Show” is filmed.

“People line up for both of our shows at the same time on 53rd Street,” he says. “Sometimes people get mixed up and they get in the wrong line.”

Colbert sings “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” with a few cast members before joining Danny Burstein, who is starring as Tevye, and other cast members for a performance of “Tradition.”

Burstein even hands Colbert a fake beard and black hat to wear.

Colbert ends the segment by yelling “L’chaim!”

British Christian removed from flight over ‘prayer’ text

A Nigerian-born British Christian is reportedly removed from an easyJet flight from London to Amsterdam for being a “security threat” after a fellow passenger reads a message on his phone that includes the word “prayer,” and reports him to the cabin crew.

Shortly afterward, the Guardian says, two armed police officers board the plane, ask 40-year-old Laolu Opebiyi for his phone and tell him to take his belongings and accompany them off the plane.

The paper quotes Opebiyi, from London, as saying that he was forced to surrender his cellphone and his password to prove that he had been arranging a prayer session with friends via WhatsApp.

Despite being cleared by police, the pilot refused to allow Opebiyi back on the flight, forcing him to catch the next plane more than three hours later.

Hezbollah slams ‘reckless’ terror designation by Gulf states

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah hits back at a move by Gulf states to class it as a terrorist organization.

Israel Radio reports that the organization dismisses the decision as “reckless and hostile.”

In a statement yesterday, the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council Abdullatif al-Zayani says the bloc is implementing the terrorist designation due to hostile acts by Iran-backed Hezbollah within its member states.

Electricity supply begins to return in Syria

Electricity is restored to parts of Syria, hours after an unspecified problem left the entire country without power.

Syria’s energy ministry says full power should be restored by midnight, Ynet reports, while the communications ministry says that internet services have been resumed.

Ya’alon, US Army chief meet in Tel Aviv on ‘regional instability’

Defense Minster Moshe Ya’alon and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford meet in Tel Aviv to discuss the need for partnership to confront the “instability in the region.”

“The thing that gives me confidence that we’ll actually be able to deal with these challenges is that we have partners and allies to help us,” Dunford tells Ya’alon.

This is the US general’s second official visit to Israel in less than six months. His trip to Tel Aviv in mid-October 2015 was his first official overseas visit in his current position.

“This is your second trip in a very short time.Your visit now, including your visit to the Juniper Cobra exercise, which we are managing together, is another demonstration of the depth of the relationship between our armed forces and intelligence agencies,” Ya’alon says during their meeting at his office in the Defense Ministry’s Tel Aviv headquarters.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford speaks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in his office at the ministry's Tel Aviv headquarters on March 3, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford speaks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in his office at the ministry’s Tel Aviv headquarters on March 3, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

— Judah Ari Gross

Palestinian killed, 5 hurt in Gaza tunnel collapse

A Palestinian dies and five others are injured in the latest collapse of a tunnel being dug by the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.

The Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Strip names the fatality as 31-year-old Muhammad Moussa al-Astal, the Walla news website says. Channel 2 says that the collapse occurred in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, where several similar incidents have occurred.

The recent spate of tunnel collapses has killed at least 12 Hamas diggers.

Lawyer for Duma suspect compares Shin Bet to Inquisition

The lawyer for Amiram Ben-Uliel, the chief suspect in the firebomb attack last summer that killed three members of a Palestinian family, accuses the Shin Bet of torturing his client by “stretching his limbs like in the [Spanish] Inquisition.”

“The Jewish section of the Shin Bet is a torture factory” for its suspects, the lawyer tells a press conference, according to the Maariv daily.

Ben-Uliel is accused of deliberately starting the fire — which killed Saad Dawabsha, his wife Riham and their 18-month-old baby Ali — as the family slept in their home in the West Bank village of Duma.

Palestinians lash out at Paris city hall for rejecting Israel boycot

The Palestinians accuse the Paris municipality of attacking freedom of expression and promoting Israel’s settlement policy after the assembly recently adopted two resolutions condemning attempts to boycott Israel.

“Condemning a legitimate and non-violent movement against apartheid racist policies… actively supports the ongoing colonization enterprise,” writes senior PLO official Saeb Erekat to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

One of the resolutions says the City of Paris “opposes publicly all attempts to isolate Israel from the collective of nations,” and also reaffirms the French capital’s “commitment to the promotion of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.”


Israel demolishes illegal Palestinian structures in West Bank

Israel’s Civil Administration demolishes 16 structures built without permits by Palestinians in the West Bank, Walla reports.

The demolitions include a gas station and five other buildings in Hizma, near the Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev.

The procedures are carried out after demolition orders are issued.

UN envoy: Syria ceasefire holding despite some fighting

The six-day ceasefire in Syria is largely holding despite sporadic clashes in some cities and areas, the UN envoy to the crisis says, raising expectations ahead of next week’s planned resumption of peace talks in Geneva.

Staffan de Mistura says the truce, brokered by the US and Russia, has “greatly reduced” violence in Syria, and lays out hopes to resume negotiations called off last month after a spike in fighting.

“In general, the cessation has been holding,” says de Mistura, speaking alongside his humanitarian aid adviser Jan Egeland.

“Unfortunately, we have to admit, like in every cessation of hostilities or ceasefire — and in particular this one — there are still a number of places where fighting has continued, including parts of Hama, Homs, Latakia and Damascus, but they have been contained,” he adds.

To summarize, de Mistura says, the situation is “fragile, success is not guaranteed, but progress has been visible.”


Hamas: IDF behind recent Gaza tunnel collapses

Members of Hamas say they have seen Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border using liquid explosives and even “causing small earthquakes” to bring down tunnels dug by the terror group, The Jerusalem Post and the Maariv websites report.

The mother of one the dozen or so Hamas members killed in the spate of recent collapses says that they have not been told what happened in the tunnels.

“They don’t tell us anything, it’s secret,” she says.

Romney: Chance for safe future ‘greatly diminished’ with Trump

Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney says that prospects for a safe future are “greatly diminished” if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president.

Speaking at the University of Utah, Romney warns a packed auditorium that any of the other GOP candidates would be a better alternative to the billionaire businessman.

“The only serious policy proposals that deal with the broad range of national challenges we confront today, come from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich,” Romney says of Trump’s GOP rivals. “One of these men should be our nominee.”

Romney is charging into the increasingly divisive White House race with a verbal lashing of Donald Trump and a plea for fellow Republicans to shun the front-runner for the good of country and party.

“His is not the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader. His imagination must not be married to real power,” Romney adds.

— AP

Opposition leaders seek fresh debate on MK suspension bill

The heads of the opposition parties call on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to convene a fresh discussion on the so-called MK suspension bill, which would allow lawmakers to oust their colleagues for “unseemly behavior.”

The opposition claims that clauses of the bill, which allows for the suspension of an MK if approved by 90 lawmakers, were not discussed at fractious debate on the legislation earlier this week, Haaretz reports.

Monday’s debate by the Knesset’s Law and Justice Committee descended into a shouting match between MKs. The panel approved the presentation of the legislation in the Knesset, with members of the opposition on the panel boycotting the vote on the grounds that the preceding debate had been insufficient.

McCain backs Romney’s all-out attack on Trump

John McCain says he shares the same concerns as Mitt Romney about GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

In a statement issued today, the 2008 GOP nominee points to the 70 Republican defense and foreign policy leaders who have raised concerns about Trump’s “uninformed and indeed dangerous statements on national security issues.”

McCain says that with threats from Russia, Iran, North Korea and terrorist movements across the Middle East and Africa, Republican voters should pay close attention to what these national security experts are saying about Trump.

Voters should “think long and hard about who they want to be our next commander in chief,” says the Arizona senator.

He told reporters Monday, however, that he’d support whomever Republicans nominate for president.

— AP

Syrian official warns Turkey, Saudi Arabia

A Syrian official says the ceasefire in his country can succeed if Turkey and Saudi Arabia stop interfering and halt their support for militants.

Ahmad Mounir, Syria’s deputy minister of national reconciliation, tells a group of international reporters on a trip organized by Russian foreign and defense ministries that a peaceful settlement for his country would also curb the flow to refugees to Europe.

If there is no peace, Mounir says the “terror threat to Europe will increase.”

He says the government is determined to continue “fighting terrorism,” a reference to operations against the Islamic State group, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and other militant factions excluded from the US-Russia-brokered “cessation of hostilities,” which started on Saturday.

He also reiterated President Bashar Assad’s offer of amnesty to rebels who lay down their arms.

— AP

Holon firefighters rescue trapped and injured dog

Firefighters in the central town of Holon rescue a dog that got himself caught in the bars of a window.

The clumsy canine smashed the glass of the window while his owners were out, injuring himself and becoming trapped in the bars, Ynet says.

A passer-by calls the fire service after spotting the pup hanging half-in and half-out of the window.

The firefighters manage to cut open the bars and extricate the dog.

“It was a surgical operation,” says firefighter Adi Mor.

The dog is taken for veterinary treatment and police locate his owners.

Firefighters in the central town of Holon rescue a dog trapped between the bars of a window on March 3, 2016. (photo: Holon Fire and Rescue Service)

Firefighters in the central town of Holon rescue a dog trapped between the bars of a window on March 3, 2016. (photo: Holon Fire and Rescue Service)

German company buys Israeli app for $72 million

The German company RNTS announces its purchase of Inneractive, an Israeli-based ad exchange app, for $46 million in cash and another $26 million in potential earn-out and retention payments should the app hit growth targets in the next three years.

Industry magazine Tech Crunch reports that the start-up, founded by Ziv Elul and Offer Yehudai in 2007, has only managed to raise $11.5 million in funding of its own.

Inneractive says it had revenues of $43.2 million in 2015, and expects to double its revenues in the next two years.

MKs ‘plot to oust Netanyahu with new Knesset list’

Lawmakers from the right and center are reportedly planning to set up a new parliamentary faction with the intention of ending the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Haaretz, the MKs have come to the conclusion that there is no way to pry the Likud party from Netanyahu’s grasp, and that a new faction to pull votes away from the party is the only solution.

The paper names a list of senior lawmakers who could potentially work to end Netanyahu’s grip on the prime minister’s chair, including Kulanu leader and current finance minster Moshe Kahlon; his predecessor, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid; Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Lieberman; and former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, who appears to be leaning toward a political career.

Haaretz says that “in-depth” polls show while most Israelis would be happy to see Netanyahu go, a large percentage also believe that there is currently no viable alternative.

Protesters make police complaints over assault at Trump rally

Two people file police reports claiming they were punched and shoved by supporters as they protested at Donald Trump’s rally in Louisville on Tuesday.

One of the incidents is captured on video by WLKY-TV inside the Kentucky International Convention Center, where the bombastic presidential candidate stops his speech several times to shout at the protesters to “get them out of here, out, out, out.”

In the video, a black woman can be seen being shoved by numerous white men in the crowd, screaming “scum” at her.

Louisville Metro Police Spokesman Dwight Mitchell says a 17-year-old also filed a complaint, alleging a woman tried to grab the protester’s sign and punched them.

Mitchell says police are investigating both incidents and trying to confirm the identities of the alleged assailants.

Comptroller tells Barkat: Present your donors

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira tells Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to reveal the donors behind the political campaign he has been running since he announced he is joining the Likud party.

Shapira tells Barkat that he is allowed to fund-raise for the Likud primaries, but must provide him with a list of his donors, Channel 10 reports.

Barkat’s office says in response that the law is the mayor’s “guiding light,” and that all activity is carried out following legal advice and in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations.

Police believe Nazareth hit-and-run was deliberate

Police believe a hit-and-run on Sunday in Nazareth that left a cop in serious condition was a deliberate attack and the state is planning to indict the 19-year-old driver.

The security forces initially surmised that the incident was an accident, but a police source connected to the investigation tells Channel 2 television that the teenager, Nazareth resident George Graib, will be charged with assault with intent to injure. If he is convicted, Graib could face up to 20 years in jail.

The policeman hurt in the attack, Natan Yossipov, is still hospitalized and suffering from serious injuries.

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