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

Gallant, Netanyahu to meet tonight as reservists’ protest refusals grow

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are slated to meet this evening, according to several Hebrew media reports.

The pair will sit down as growing numbers of IDF reservists are saying they will refuse to turn up for service in protest against the government’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system. Earlier this evening, Gallant said the situation was serious and “requires us to talk, and quickly.”

Knesset votes to change bylaws to delay appointments to Judicial Selection Committee

The coalition votes to change the Knesset bylaws in order to delay appointing new representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, in the midst of its ongoing legislative push to restructure the panel responsible for appointing all of Israel’s judges and place it firmly in coalition control.

Passing 51 to 47, the amendment grants the Knesset an additional three months to select representatives for selection and appointment committees, extending the timeline from March 15 to June 15. Until today’s vote, the rules stated that the Knesset must choose representatives for these panels, including the Judicial Selection Committee, within four months of its seating.

The coalition explicitly tied the change to its ongoing push to transfer judicial appointments into its own power as “the reason” for the bylaws change, according to an accompanying explanation for amendment.

El Al says pilots found to staff Netanyahu’s flight to Rome after apparent boycott

El Al CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s flight this week to Rome is fully staffed and will depart as scheduled — hours after no pilots had volunteered to fly the PM in an apparent protest.

“I will not allow any boycotts of any kind, and certainly not against the prime minister of Israel,” Ben Tal Ganancia says in a statement. “It is a great honor for us to fly the prime minister on diplomatic missions. We have always done so and will continue to do so.”

Deri: Judicial overhaul laws will be amended before they are passed

Shas chief Aryeh Deri says the legislation making up the government’s judicial overhaul plan will be amended before passing into law.

“The laws that passed in a first reading will end differently in their second and third readings,” Deri says in an interview on the Kan public broadcaster.

“There will be changes. We’re doing everything we can so that it will be in agreement and dialogue [with the opposition],” he adds, but says calls to freeze the legislation before talks are “hypocrisy.”

One of the bills, coined the “Deri Law 2” by the media, prevents the courts from intervening in cabinet appointments, and is seen as paving the way for Deri to return as a minister after the High Court struck down his appointment as “unreasonable in the extreme.”

IDF says West Bank, Gaza crossings will close over Purim

The Israeli army announces it is imposing a closure on border crossings between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Purim holiday this week.

The closure is set to begin on Monday, March 2, at 5:00 p.m. and last until Wednesday, March 8, at 11:59 p.m.

Still, the Israel Defense Forces says the border crossings for Palestinians will reopen on Thursday “subject to a situational assessment.”

Such closures are standard practice during festivals and holidays, in what the military says is a preventative measure against attacks at those times, which are seen as periods of increased tension.

Exceptions during the upcoming closure will be made for humanitarian and other outstanding cases, but will require the approval of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

National Unity MK says party rejected Likud offers to replace Smotrich, Ben Gvir in government

MK Chili Tropper, a member of the National Unity party headed by Benny Gantz, says that his party was offered to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in place of far-right parties Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit — and refused.

“There have been inquiries, and we have said very clearly, it won’t happen,” Tropper says in an interview with the Knesset channel. “[They came] from senior officials in the Likud who said, ‘Come and save us from this government that we built and replace them’ — and the answer is no.”

Reports: IDF chief expresses concerns to PM about reservist refusal due to overhaul

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has expressed deep concerns over ongoing calls for reservists to refuse to show up to duty in protest of the government, according to a coordinated leak to several Hebrew media outlets.

According to the reports, Halevi spoke with Netanyahu and warned him that military officials are deeply concerned about the growing effect of such refusals within the IDF, and that it could harm the IDF’s operational capacity.

Lapid at Knesset: Stop overhaul legislation right now and let’s go talk with Herzog

Opposition leader Yair Lapid calls on the government to immediately halt votes on its slate of bills to radically overhaul the judiciary and enter dialogue tonight or tomorrow.

“The prime minister wants us to put a proposal on the table? Here’s a proposal: Stop the legislation, now, today, before the vote,” Lapid says in the Knesset plenum. “Instead of voting, let’s go to the President’s Residence, and announce that we are staying there until the State of Israel has a constitution.”

President Isaac Herzog has been leading calls for dialogue between the opposition and government over the highly controversial judicial shakeup.

“Instead of the enormous crisis you are creating — of values, the economy, security and socially — let’s together create a document that will unite the people of Israel,” Lapid adds.

Court said to reduce administrative detention of settler detained over Huwara rampage

A court has reduced the administrative detention handed to a settler who was arrested following the rampage in Huwara a week ago, according to the Honenu legal rights group representing the accused.

Honenu, which is known for providing legal services to Israelis accused of crimes against Palestinians, says that Lod District Court Judge Ruth Lorch cut the period that the settler can be detained without trial from four months to three months.

The Defense Ministry could still in theory extend the period once the three months are up.

The group says that a hearing will be held tomorrow about the minor who was also ordered to four months administrative detention by the Defense Ministry last month.

As calls grow for IDF reservist refusal, DM Gallant says ‘We must talk – quickly’

As an increasing number of reservist troops have warned they will not show up for duty, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issues a call for immediate dialogue, without specifying who should talk and what should be discussed.

“The situation today requires us to talk, and quickly,” Gallant says in a brief video statement.

“We face heavy and complex external challenges, any call for refusal harms the functioning of the IDF and its ability to carry out its tasks,” he says.

“I call upon every soldier and officer, the IDF is the protector of Israel, and the reserve army is the source of its great power. Leave the political debate outside of the army.”

Lapid aide says he will not show up for reservist duty next week in protest

A senior aide to opposition leader Yair Lapid says he will not show up to reserve duty next week as part of a protest against the government’s plans to radically overhaul the justice system.

Roei Konkol, an adviser to the former PM, says he made the decision “with a heavy heart,” after he saw those who oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal “called anarchists and terrorists.”

“I have no choice — I cannot do reserve duty under a regime that is trying to destroy us, and I cannot do reserve duty in an undemocratic country,” he writes on social media.

Konkol, 42, says he is scheduled to show up for reserve duty next week as a volunteer, “and until today I really did not know what to do — I was torn between my commitment of more than 20 years and my knowledge that I do not intend to serve a country that is not democratic.”

Growing numbers and groups of reservists as well as career soldiers have spoken out in recent weeks against the government’s plans and indicated they would not show up to duty or training.

Lapid spoke out over the weekend against such calls, saying he does not support them but understands the sentiments.

Al-Qaeda confirms top figure killed in US strike in Yemen last month, says monitor

Al-Qaeda confirms the death of a senior figure in the jihadist network’s Yemen branch in a suspected US airstrike last month, SITE Intelligence Group reports.

Security and local government sources told AFP last week that Hamad bin Hamoud al-Tamimi had been killed, identifying him as a top leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which Washington regards as among the group’s most dangerous branches.

Tamimi, a Saudi also known as Abdel Aziz al-Adnani, died in a drone strike on February 26 that targeted his residence in war-torn Yemen’s northern Marib province, according to the statement reported by SITE, which monitors jihadist websites.

The statement identifies him as a “media official” who “previously managed external operations in the group, including those striking American interests,” SITE says.

Strong winds causing high air pollution in south, officials warn

The Environment and Health ministries warn that strong southwesterly winds are causing high to very high air pollution in the Negev and Arava regions of southern Israel, with medium to high levels in the rest of the country.

They advise high-risk populations, among them the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people suffering from heart and lung problems, to avoid strenuous activity outside.

Healthy people should reduce their activity out of doors.

The winds are blowing sand in from the Sinai peninsula, a statement says.

Realtime air pollution levels can be followed (in Hebrew) on the Environmental Protection Ministry’s website.

Following hair salon siege, Shin Bet to take over guarding Sara Netanyahu

A ministerial panel votes to transfer the job of securing the wife and children of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from a special police unit to the Shin Bet security agency.

The move comes four days after Sara Netanyahu was trapped inside a Tel Aviv hair salon for several hours while hundreds of protesters gathered outside, preventing her from leaving.

Yair Netanyahu, 31, and Avner Netanyahu, 28, will also be protected by the Shin Bet moving forward. The move does not appear to apply to Netanyahu’s oldest daughter, Noa, who is in limited contact with her father and less known to the public.

Police question influential Rabbi Tau on charges of sexual abuse and rape

Rabbi Zvi Tau, an influential rabbi in the hardline national religious movement, is questioned by police months after an investigation was opened against him on allegations of rape and sexual assault.

According to police, the Lahav 433 national investigative unit summoned Tau to its offices for questioning “following many investigative actions.” Police says Tau was released on bail.

According to Army Radio, Tau was confronted during his questioning by one of his accusers, Nechama Te’ena.

Tau, the head of the influential Har Hamor Yeshiva in Jerusalem as well as the spiritual leader of the anti-LGBT Noam political party, has been accused by multiple women of sexual abuse and rape dating back decades, with two going public so far.

Michael Bloomberg: Netanyahu is ‘courting disaster’ by pushing judicial overhaul

Former New York City mayor and longtime Israel supporter Michael Bloomberg writes a New York Times op-ed warning that Israel is “courting disaster” with its plans to overhaul the judiciary.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is courting disaster by trying to claim that same power, imperiling Israel’s alliances around the world, its security in the region, its economy at home and the very democracy upon which the country was built,” he writes.

The billionaire also says that “I don’t blame” business owners who are pulling money out of the country as a result.

Bloomberg adds that it “is my fervent hope that Mr. Netanyahu will convince his coalition of the need to heed President Isaac Herzog’s plea to pull back and slow down.”

Following Rome trip, Netanyahu slated to visit Germany

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to Berlin Thursday, March 16, to meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

It will be his third weekend visit in recent weeks to a European capital, after flying to Paris last month, and his upcoming visit to Rome this weekend.

Egypt sentences 14 people, including rights activists, to prison on terror charges

Egypt sentences 14 people, including rights activists, to prison terms ranging between five and 15 years on terrorism-related charges in a trial deplored by rights groups as unfair.

The verdicts — the latest mass sentencings in Egypt — are reported by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the country’s most prominent human rights. The suspects were arrested in 2018 as part of a wide-ranging crackdown by authorities on dissent.

Two activist lawyers — Ezzat Ghoniem of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms and Mohamed Abu Horarira — are sentenced to 15 years in prison each. They were convicted of joining and funding a terrorist group, which is government parlance for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Reports: Israeli, Lebanese soldiers clash along border

Israeli and Lebanese soldiers are reportedly engaged in tensions along the border between the two nations amid accusations that members of the IDF breached the “Blue Line” between the countries.

A spokesman for UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping forces deployed along the buffer zone, tells the Lebanese news outlet L’Orient that it is “aware of tensions along the Blue Line in the area of Aita al-Shaab, where some Israeli maintenance works are ongoing” and that it its “peacekeepers are on the spot to de-escalate the situation.”

Ali Shoeib, a reporter for the Hezbollah-backed Lebanese Al-Manar news outlet, tweets video appearing to show Israeli and Lebanese soldiers arguing.

Ministers advance bill that would help Netanyahu keep donation for legal defense

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation advances a Likud-backed bill to ease donations to lawmakers, despite the measure being attacked by the attorney general and watchdogs decrying the bill as an opening for political corruption.

If passed into law after three Knesset votes, the measure would enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep $270,000 he received from his now-deceased cousin and former benefactor Nathan Milikowsky. Last year, the High Court of Justice ordered the premier to return the gift by February 2023 to Milkowsky’s estate, on the grounds that the funds for legal expenses were an illicit gift.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Justice Minister Yariv Levin earlier today that her office is against the bill, and that it is “harmful” and “contrary to the purpose of the [existing political gifts] law.”

Gantz calls on reservists to continue to serve ‘without conditions’

National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, calls on reservist soldiers to continue to show up for reserve duty even amid a wave of protest against the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

“I call on reservists and those in active service — continue to serve, to show up no matter what,” Gantz says at a faction meeting for his party in the Knesset. “To protect this country with protests and to protect it with [military] forays… despite the pain.”

Gantz calls on them to “continue fighting for this country in battle and continue fighting for it in protest. We will win this struggle sooner or later. The State of Israel and its values are stronger than any one government.”

Egypt’s Sissi sits down with Iraqi PM in Cairo

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is holding talks with Iraq’s prime minister in Cairo as the two countries sought to deepen ties and reinforce a regional alliance with Jordan.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani lands in the Egyptian capital and is greeted at the airport by his counterpart, Mustafa Madbouly. The Iraqi premier then meets with el-Sissi at his Cairo presidential palace where they discuss economic cooperation and security between the two countries, according to Egyptian presidential spokesman Ahmed Fahmi.

Fahmi says in a statement that the two leaders also discussed regional issues, including their cooperation with Jordan. The statement did not elaborate.

Far-right MK says US criticism of Smotrich is like ‘dogs barking’

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har Melech says US criticism of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich amounts to “dogs barking.”

“Personally I would recommend that Smotrich not get worked up — we’re used to it that dogs are barking and the convoy goes past,” she tells Ynet radio.

The US harshly condemned Smotrich’s call to “wipe out” Huwara last week, and the White House has held discussions on whether to grant him a visa for his trip to Washington next week.

El Al says no pilot has volunteered to fly Netanyahus to Rome

None of El Al’s pilots have so far volunteered to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, to Rome for an official visit this weekend, according to reports.

The opportunity to sign up for the job closed at 2 p.m. today. According to the Walla news site and Channel 12, pilots have refused to put their hand up to fly the couple due to their opposition to the coalition’s judicial reform.

There was further difficulty finding pilots due to the Netanyahus’ insistence that they fly on a Boeing 777. El Al’s fleet of the model has still not fully returned to service after being grounded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iranian media says new schoolgirl poisoning cases found in different regions

More cases of mysterious poisoning of Iranian schoolgirls are reported in several provinces, local media reports, sparking calls for the authorities to act amid growing concern among parents.

Since late November, hundreds of cases have been reported, mainly in the holy city of Qom south of the capital Tehran, with at least 52 schools targeted, according to an official tally published yesterday. Some of the students have required hospitalization.

The latest spate of poisonings affects several students in two high schools in the western city of Abhar and in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, ISNA news agency says, quoting local health officials. Schoolgirls at a primary school in the city of Zanjan in the west were also targeted, ISNA adds.

Netanyahu slams IAEA’s Grossi for calling attack on nuclear facilities ‘outlawed’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticizes International Atomic Energy Association chief Rafael Grossi for comments he made against a possible Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Grossi, who just returned from a visit to Tehran, said yesterday that “any military attack on a nuclear facility is outlawed, is out of the normative structures that we all abide by.”

“Rafael Grossi is a worthy person who made an unworthy remark,” Netanyahu says. “Outside of what law? Is Iran — which publicly calls for our destruction — to protect its weapons of destruction that will slaughter us?”

“Are we forbidden to defend ourselves?” Netanyahu continues. “Of course we are allowed, and of course we are doing this… nothing will prevent us from protecting our country and preventing oppressors from destroying the Jewish state.”

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