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‘We have to prevent fake conversions,’ PM says when asked about court ruling

Netanyahu avoids commenting directly on decision to legitimize non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, but appears to suggest that it could be exploited by African migrants

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL/AFP)

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

‘We see how it ended in Washington,’ says Gantz on PM’s ‘incitement’

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz says he fears incitement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the justice system poses a threat to the life of the attorney general.

“I am glad that [Attorney General Avichai] Mandelblit has security but am worried that he doesn’t have enough security guards. We see how it ended in Washington. I think there is a threat to Mandelblit’s life” because of uncontrolled “incitement,” Gantz tells Channel 12 in an interview.

“I think the attorney general could be harmed, even if the prime minister doesn’t want it to happen. He has no ability to control what will happen.”

“The prime minister is fueling [incitement] against the justice system,” he adds.

PA intensive care units operating at 99% capacity due to coronavirus

Palestinian Authority intensive care units in the West Bank are operating at 99 percent capacity, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry says in a statement.

Active coronavirus infections in the West Bank have nearly doubled over the past two weeks, from 9,632 to 17,989 active cases. Health officials blame the rapidly spreading British variant of the coronavirus.

“About 150 patients are in intensive care, while large numbers of patients suffer from very severe symptoms and in need of rapid medical intervention. Most of them are young,” Dr. Anan Rashid, a PA health official, tells Voice of Palestine Radio.

Hospitals in some Palestinian areas are operating at full capacity, senior Palestinian health official Naji Nazzal tells Palestinian media.

Police ask for help in search for 24-year-old man missing since Saturday

Police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating 24-year-old Avidan Gantshar, who has been missing since Saturday.

He was last seen near King George Street in Jerusalem at around 10:30-11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Gantshar is 5’9″ with brown eyes and short, brown hair and often wears a hoodie.

Police say he is likely in the Jerusalem area and may be in danger.

Those with any information regarding his whereabouts are asked to call 053-530-4398 or contact police.

Michaeli: I wear all black so people listen to what I say instead of thinking about how I look

Labor chair Merav Michaeli uploads a video to TikTok in which she explains why she always wears all-black outfits.

“Do you ever ask why [news anchor] Danny Cushmaro wears a black suit vs. a gray suit? You don’t even notice.”

“Who cares that I wear all black?!”

“I want people to listen to what I have to say and notice what I do, rather than talking about what I wear. That’s why I wear all black,” she says.

Russia to make Sputnik V vaccine in Italy, a 1st in EU

Russia has signed a deal to produce its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Italy, the first contract in the European Union, the Italian Russian Chamber of Commerce announces.

The deal is signed with Adienne Srl, the Italian subsidiary of a Swiss-based pharmaceutical company, and Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Production is set to start in July and produce 10 million doses this year.

“The innovative production process will help create new jobs and allow Italy to control the entire production of the compound,” the chamber says in a statement. Financial terms have not been released.

Russian authorities are working on 20 similar collaborations in Europe and the Sputnik V vaccine has been registered in 45 nations worldwide, the group said.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled the vaccine and markets it abroad has said that the production of Sputnik V will span several countries, including India, South Korea, Brazil, China, Turkey, Iran, as well as Belarus and Kazakhstan. Some manufacturers abroad have produced trial batches of the Russian vaccine, but there are few indications they have so far produced any large amounts of the shot.

Just 29% of Israelis think elections will end political deadlock, poll shows

Only 29% of Israelis think this month’s election will resolve the political stalemate, a poll from the Israel Democracy Institute shows.

Just 29% thinks the vote will offer a clear answer regarding the identity of the next prime minister.

The IDI Israeli Voice Index for February 2021 finds that 32% of Israelis support suspending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial if he wins the election and forms the next government.

Likud supporters are the most optimistic that the fourth consecutive election will result in a clear victor where others did not, the survey finds.

While a majority of Jewish Israelis still oppose a coalition that relies on support from Arab-majority parties, there is an increase of support among those who identify as centrist or right-wing for Arab-Jewish political cooperation.

Voting at embassies abroad to begin tomorrow

Voting for Israel diplomats and staff at 24 of the country’s embassies abroad will begin tomorrow, the Central Elections Committee announces.

In the coming weeks, 104 ballot stations will be opened at 100 embassies and missions abroad, including Morocco, the UAE and Bahrain.

Lebanon protesters block roads over worsening poverty

Lebanese protesters have set up new roadblocks to vent anger over political inaction in the face of deepening poverty, but security forces managed to reopen some to traffic.

The country has been mired in economic crisis, which has brought surging unemployment and spiraling prices while the currency has plunged to a new low to the dollar on the black market.

Yet the government — which formally resigned after a massive explosion in Beirut port last August that killed more than 200 people — has failed to agree on a new cabinet since.

Roadblocks have become a near daily occurrence in the small Mediterranean country and lasted all day Monday, including in and out of Beirut.

Demonstrators today are again cutting off some roads in the northern city of Tripoli and the eastern Bekaa Valley region, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Highways leading to central Beirut were also closed, though most later re-opened. Others blinked open and closed throughout the morning.

Some protesters are calling for a revival of the nationwide street movement of late 2019 that demanded the removal of Lebanon’s entire political class, widely seen as incompetent and corrupt.

More than half of the population is living below the poverty line, and prices have soared as the Lebanese pound has lost more than 80 percent of its value.

Moscow to host German lawmakers from far-right Afd party

Germany’s far-right AfD party will hold talks with the Russian foreign ministry and visit a vaccine research center on its second visit to Moscow in three months, the AfD’s parliamentary group says

Party leader Alice Weidel heads the three-person delegation which “has traveled to Moscow” and will be in Russia until Friday, the group said in a statement.

The trip is set to include talks with the Russian central bank, foreign ministry and Duma parliamentarians, as well as a visit to the Gamaleya research institute where Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine was developed.

The AfD hoped to help “deepen and improve” German-Russian relations, says Weidel.

She adds that the party’s aim was “to finally end economic sanctions” on Russia.

The visit is the second time an AfD delegation has traveled to Moscow in a matter of months.

Weidel’s co-leader Tino Chrupalla met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in December, as part of a visit during which he too criticized EU sanctions on Russia.

The latest trip comes as the AfD challenges a decision by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency to put the party under nationwide surveillance for posing a threat to democracy.

Rapid tests for Green Pass to be ready within two weeks, health official says

The head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Sharon Alroy-Preis, tells a Knesset panel that rapid tests for use at entry to events as part of the Green Passport program should be ready within two weeks.

However, Alroy-Preis warns that overreliance on these tests will overwhelm the healthcare system, which will slow response times as a result.

She says these rapid tests are only meant for those who cannot get vaccinated due to extenuating circumstances, such as an allergy to one of the ingredients in the vaccine.

Kremlin calls US vaccine disinformation claims ‘absurd’

Moscow says that claims it was spearheading a disinformation campaign against US-made coronavirus vaccines to boost its own homegrown shot were “absurd and groundless.”

The comments come a day after Washington said Russian intelligence was behind four websites involved in a campaign to undermine US-made vaccines, accusing Russia of putting lives at risk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov calls the allegations “absurd and groundless.”

“Russia has never taken part and is not going to take part in such information campaigns against other vaccines,” Peskov tells reporters.

On the contrary, he said, Russia was cooperating with foreign vaccine producers “to make a more effective product.”

“We’ve always been against politicizing any issues related to the vaccine in any way,” he says.

Peskov adds that once vaccines are tested and approved “they should be produced as much as possible to save the entire world from the coronavirus and save as many human lives as possible.”

Putin has boasted that Russia has developed the world’s best vaccines against the coronavirus, insisting last week they were better than the Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots.

The Global Engagement Center — an arm of the State Department whose activities include monitoring foreign propaganda — made the claims of Russian disinformation on Monday.

The four online platforms spread “disinformation about two of the vaccines that have now been approved by the FDA in this country,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, referring to the US Food and Drug Administration.

US intelligence has long suspected Russia in disinformation campaigns on health, including spreading the myth in the 1980s that US scientists created the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

Freed academic married to Israeli describes ‘psychological torture’ in Iran

A British-Australian academic imprisoned by Iran on a spying conviction says in a television interview broadcast that she endured “psychological torture” during her more than two years behind bars.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, 33, returned to Australia in November after serving 804 days of a 10-year sentence. She was freed in exchange for the release of three Iranians who were held in Thailand.

“It’s extreme solitary confinement room designed to break you. It’s psychological torture. You go completely insane. It is so damaging. I would say I felt physical pain from the psychological trauma I had in that room. It’s a 2-meter by 2-meter box,” Moore-Gilbert tells Sky News.

“There were a few times in that early period that I felt broken. I felt if I had to endure another day of this, you know, if I could I’d just kill myself. But of course, I never tried and I never took that step,” she adds.

Moore-Gilbert was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was picked up at the Tehran airport as she tried to leave the country after attending an academic conference in 2018. She was sent to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years. She vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard used Moore-Gilbert in an attempt to lure her Israeli husband to Tehran, the Australian Herald Sun reported last month.

The discovery that Kylie Moore-Gilbert had an Israeli husband led to Iranian authorities stopping her at Tehran’s airport as she prepared to leave the country in 2018 after attending an academic conference. Authorities sentenced her to 10 years in prison for espionage.

Russia and China plan to build joint lunar space station

Russia and China sign a memorandum of understanding for the joint construction of a lunar space station, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos says in a statement.

It says the lunar station will be designed as a “complex of experimental research facilities created on the surface and/or in the orbit of the Moon” and would be available for use by other interested countries and international partners.

14 African migrants die as boat sinks off Tunisian coast

Fourteen African migrants, including nine women and four children, perish at dawn off the Tunisian coast after a boat carrying 93 people sank.

The spokesman for the Tunisian National Guard, Houssameddine Jebabli, tells the AP that their bodies were recovered by relief units who came to the scene of the tragedy, four miles from the port of Sfax in southern Tunisia.

Jebabli says that a second boat also ran aground in the same area, noting that in total teams have so far rescued 139 migrants, all of them from sub-Saharan countries apart from two Tunisians.

Jebabli attributes the accidents to the dilapidated state of boats borrowed by the migrants and and probably to their being overloaded.

He says the death toll could grow as the search of the area by units of the National Guard continues with the help of amphibious teams.

Sanders aide calls Lapid’s support for two-state solution a ‘farce’

Responding to an interview in which Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid mapped out his vision for a two-state solution, US Senator Bernie Sanders’s foreign policy adviser Matt Duss tweets that unless the Israeli lawmaker is prepared to walk back previous positions taken on the matter, his backing is mere lip service.

The Foreign Policy article quotes Lapid saying, “We need two states because a new Palestinian leadership will rise up and come to Israel and demand, not a state— but voting rights… What will we do? Tell them no, and we’re no longer a democracy. Tell them yes, and we’re no longer a Jewish state. … You can’t tell the Americans… that you don’t agree to the principle of one person, one vote. There is no way to explain it in the US. In this sense, Netanyahu is leading us to disaster.”

To this, Duss tweets, “Unless Lapid is prepared to walk back his previously stated requirements for a Palestinian state, his support for 2 states is a farce.”

He then linked to an interview from 2019 in which Lapid said he would only agree to a two-state solution in which Jerusalem remained undivided and entirely under Israeli control, in which there would be no right of return for Palestinians to Israel, in which the Jordan Valley would remain Israel’s eastern security border and in which “Israeli security [would] stay in Israeli hands,” with the army allowed to enter Palestinian territory if it is aware of terrorists planning attacks against Israelis.

https://twitter.com/mattduss/status/1369280317849239561?s=20

Netanyahu to host Hungarian, Czech counterparts to discuss COVID cooperation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will host his Hungarian and Czech counterparts Viktor Orbán and Andrej Babiš in Israel to discuss policies for combating the pandemic, Reuters reports.

“The main topic of the meeting will be the effort to curb the pandemic,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s press chief says in a statement.

Last week Israel, Austria and Denmark said they would set up a joint research and development fund with Israel after their premiers visited the Jewish state to view the success of the country’s vaccine drive and how it is reopening the economy.

Both Hungary and the Czech Republic have been hit hard in recent weeks by the pandemic.

Rivlin warns that continued political deadlock risks destroying public confidence in government

Speaking to a conference for the senior command of the IDF Military Intelligence, President Reuven Rivlin says that “the ongoing political crisis not only strengthens voices seeking to exclude entire groups from broader Israeli society, but also threatens to destroy [whatever remaining trust the people still] have in government institutions, in the democratic system, and in our ability to argue, critique, but ultimately to compromise, to agree, to build and to lead the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, together.”

AG said leaning toward allowing Blue and White to keep cabinet power in transition, even if it fails to cross threshold

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is leaning toward allowing the Blue and White party to keep its cabinet posts through the period of the transition government, even if it doesn’t cross the electoral threshold on March 23, Globes reports.

Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he would not currently examine whether the prime minister can fire Gantz and his Blue and White members from the transitional government should the party fail to pass the electoral threshold in the March 23 vote.

Mandelblit informed Gantz this week that he will rule if and when the question becomes relevant.

Gantz has said recently he fears that if he fails to enter the next Knesset, Netanyahu may fire him and his ministers before a new government is established and take far-reaching steps to cripple the justice system and hinder his trial on criminal charges.

In a February interview with Channel 12 News, Gantz said: “If I do not cross the electoral threshold needed to enter the Knesset, and there’s a transitional government headed by Netanyahu, the very next day Netanyahu will fire all the Blue and White ministers, appoint [Likud’s Amir] Ohana as justice minister, fire Mandelblit, not extend the appointment of [new] state prosecutor Amit Aisman, and turn this place into a monarchy.

Gantz currently serves as alternate prime minister, an unprecedented post created as part of the power-sharing agreement between himself and Netanyahu in May 2020. In that role, he has the power to veto cabinet votes and holds control over key ministries that Netanyahu cannot pry away from him so long as the government holds.

He is also slated to take the reins as premier in November of this year, if that government is still in office — an unlikely scenario but one that could potentially come to pass should political deadlock continue and no new government be formed following the March 23 election.

However, it is not clear whether Gantz would retain these powers should his party be ejected from the Knesset. The Blue and White leader recently appealed to Mandelblit to rule on the matter.

Blinken calls family of likely deceased Jewish-American hostage on anniversary of kidnapping by Iran

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the family of former FBI agent Robert “Bob” Levinson yesterday to mark 14 years since his abduction by Iran, his office says.

“In December, the United States sanctioned two high-ranking officials of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security who were involved in the abduction, detention and likely death of Bob Levinson. However, this case is not closed,” the State Department says in a statement.

“We call on the Iranian government to provide credible answers to what happened to Bob Levinson and to immediately and safely release all US citizens who are unjustly held captive in Iran. The abhorrent act of unjust detentions for political gain must cease immediately,” the statement adds.

US officials believe Levinson has died, his family declared last year.

Levinson, who was Jewish, is survived by his wife, Christine, seven children, and numerous grandchildren.

PA’s PM says Ramallah prepared to fully cooperate with the ICC probe against Israel, Hamas

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh says during the weekly cabinet meeting that Ramallah will cooperate with the ICC’s probe against Israel and Hamas for actions over alleged war crimes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Shtayyeh says the PA will provide all relevant documents to assist The Hague in its investigation.

Last week, Israel sent warnings to the Palestinian Authority, which had submitted the requests to the ICC in 2014 that led to these probes, telling Ramallah that the war crime investigation will make it difficult for Jerusalem to advance confidence-building measures for the Palestinians, Kan reported Thursday. PA officials responded, saying that just as Israel has engaged in peace talks while building in the settlements, the Palestinians can continue their contacts with Israel while the ICC probe moves forward.

UN rights office laments Swiss ban on Muslim face-coverings

The UN human rights office expresses dismay that Switzerland is set to join a few other countries where “actively discriminating against Muslim women” is legal, after Swiss voters approved a ban on face coverings like burqas and niqabs that some Muslim women wear.

In a referendum on Sunday, Swiss voters narrowly approved a measure to ban the wearing of full-face-covering burqas and niqabs, which have slits for the eyes, in addition to ski masks and bandannas worn by some protesters.

The move will outlaw covering one’s face in public places, with some exceptions — including for health reasons like wearing masks to help prevent the spread COVID-19. Authorities now have two years to draw up detailed legislation.

Ravina Shamdasani, a rights office spokeswoman, acknowledges it was a “divisive issue” and said women shouldn’t be forced to cover their faces, but “the use of the law to dictate what women should wear is problematic from a human rights perspective.”

“The legal ban on face coverings will unduly restrict women’s freedom to manifest their religion or beliefs and has a broader impact on their human rights,” she tells reporters at a regular UN briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva.

She says the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a landmark human rights agreement, allows some limits on such freedom to protect public safety, health, order and morals, among other things, but that “vague justifications” about how face coverings are a threat were not legitimate.

The Swiss government had opposed the referendum proposal, calling full-face coverings a “marginal phenomenon.” Experts estimate that at most a few dozen Muslim women wear them in the country of 8.5 million people. Burqas and niqabs are far more common in places like Persian Gulf countries or Afghanistan.

A populist, right-wing Swiss party strongly favored the measure, while left-leaning parties opposed it. The approval puts Switzerland on track to join countries including Belgium and France that have already enacted similar measures.

“Now that the initiative has passed, in the wake of a political publicity campaign with strong xenophobic undertones, Switzerland is joining the small number of countries where actively discriminating against Muslim women is now sanctioned by law,” Shamdasani says. “And this is deeply regrettable.”

Such a ban, she says, could prompt greater marginalization of Muslim women at a time when they have reported growing discrimination, stereotypes, hostility “and in some cases even physical violence” because of their clothing.

John Kerry calls for US and EU to renew climate effort

US climate envoy John Kerry warns that Brussels and Washington must revive their joint efforts to fight climate change before the damage becomes irreversible.

Arriving in Brussels for his first face-to-face talks with EU officials since the change of government in Washington, Kerry warns: “We face an extraordinary crisis.”

UAE to host IAEA’s most complex nuclear crisis drill

The UAE says it will this year host the International Atomic Energy Agency’s most complex nuclear emergency exercise, a 36-hour drill that takes place every three to five years.

The exercise, which will involve more than 170 countries, will be held at the UAE’s Barakah nuclear power plant on the Gulf coast west of the capital Abu Dhabi, which lies some 340 kilometers (210 miles) from Iranian shores.

The drill is designed to test international responses and capabilities in the event of a severe nuclear emergency.

“In the last quarter of this year, UAE will be hosting an international emergency exercise by the IAEA, which is called ConvEx-3,” the permanent representative of the UAE to the IAEA, Hamad Al Kaabi, tells AFP.

“It allows all the countries, more than 170 countries including countries from the region, to participate.”

Known as the Level 3 Convention Exercise, it is the IAEA’s highest level emergency exercise.

The United Arab Emirates, the fourth largest crude producer in the OPEC cartel, was built on oil. Nevertheless, it is spending billions to develop enough renewable energy to cover half of its needs by 2050.

The Barakah plant, a first for the Arab world, started up in August when authorities pushed the button on the first of four reactors, with the second reactor receiving its operating license on Tuesday.

When fully operational, the four reactors will generate 5,600 megawatts, around 25 percent of the UAE’s electricity needs.

But the region is grappling with conflicts.

A few hundred kilometers away to the east, Iran has been facing severe sanctions designed to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

To the south, Yemeni rebels have been attacking Saudi Arabia and its oil facilities with drones and missiles.

Yemen’s Houthis, backed by Tehran, have threatened to hit targets in the UAE including the nuclear plant, over its involvement in the six-year Yemen war.

But Kaabi says that the Barakah site is well protected.

Asked whether the plant is “immune” to outside threats, the Emirati official told AFP that “when we gave the license, we took into consideration all these elements including physical security, cyber security, and protection against sabotage and any potential threat.”

“It continues to be updated, based on any additional information,” he says.

Turkey sentences five to life over 2016 Russian envoy killing

A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced five suspects to life in jail over the 2016 murder of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara, state news agency Anadolu reports.

Six other suspects were acquitted while seven others were convicted of membership in an armed terrorist group, NTV broadcaster reports, without giving further details.

The suspects were accused of links to the 22-year-old gunman, Mevlut Mert Altintas, who was killed by Turkish special forces shortly after he assassinated Karlov at a photo exhibition in the Turkish capital.

Russia said to transfer to Israel item which may have belonged to spy Eli Cohen

Russia has transferred to Israel an object believed to have once belonged to the late Mossad spy Eli Cohen, according to Syrian media reports.

The item was found in Syria is currently being examined for further evidence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed to the i24News that a search by Russian authorities for Cohen’s remains is underway in Syria.

“It’s true. That’s all I can tell you,” Netanyahu tells the network, adding that he is committed to returning all members of the Israeli security services who are being held abroad, whether they are alive or dead. He says the latest development was able to take place thanks to his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia, which is allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad, recently aided Israel in finding and recovering the remains of Israeli soldier Zachary Baumel who went missing in the 1982 First Lebanon War. That development similarly took place weeks before the 2019 election.

Just last week, Cohen’s widow cast doubt on a report that Russian soldiers were searching for his remains in Syria.

“This isn’t confirmation that is what will really happen,” Nadia Cohen said Sunday in an interview with Channel 13 news. “I’m happy that Eli is mentioned on television, mentioned by high-ranking officials.”

Cohen’s comments come after a report in the Ray Al-Youm Arabic news website that said that in recent days Russian soldiers in Syria had stepped up efforts to find the remains of the spy.

The report said the soldiers had been exhuming graves in the Yarmouk refugee camp cemetery and searching caves around Damascus, following “unremitting pressure” from Israel.

Cohen infiltrated the top levels of Syria’s political leadership in the years before the 1967 Six Day War, and information he obtained is credited with playing a key role in Israel’s stunning success in that war.

He was put on trial and executed by the Syrian government for espionage on May 18, 1965, after he successfully breached the Syrian government under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet for four years.

Cohen’s body has not been returned from Syria, despite decades of appeals by his family. Israel has asked for Russia’s help in that effort, so far to no avail.

Netanyahu says he’ll consider Lapid’s debate offer when latter stops ‘hiding’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Army Radio that he will consider accepting Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid’s offer for a one-on-one debate when Lapid stops “hiding” behind New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett.

Hamas leader Sinwar reportedly defeated in internal election

In a surprising turn of events, Hamas’s Gaza governor Yahya Sinwar is said to have lost internal Hamas elections to his competitor Nizar Awadullah, Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV reports.

No official confirmation has yet come from the Hamas terror group. Hamas’s internal elections are normally conducted in utter secrecy over a period of months.

Al-Mayadeen reports that Sinwar lost by seven votes in the internal Hamas primaries to his opponent.

Sinwar, a long-time terrorist who spent decades in Israeli jails, had been marked by many as an ambitious Hamas official with his eye on the terror group’s top spot — currently occupied by political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh.

Awadullah, a senior Hamas member born in Egypt, played a key role in the negotiations with led to the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas. He served as Gaza governor for the terror group in 2016, before Sinwar assumed the role.

Awadullah’s house was bombed twice by Israel, once in 2009 and again in 2014.

Ministry says fish from Mediterranean okay for sales, weeks after oil spill

The Environment Protection Ministry says that fish caught in the Mediterranean Sea can once again be sold, following last month’s major oil spill that ravaged Israeli coasts.

Eli Cohen’s daughter says family worried they’re being played

The daughter of the late spy Eli Cohen, Sophie Ben Dor, downplays Netanyahu’s confirmation of a Russian hunt for her father’s remains in Syria.

“Until there is confirmed news and findings, I feel I have nothing to say on the subject,” she tells Channel 13.

“There is a sense that they are playing with us, my family, and our feelings,” she says.

“We don’t know if this is some political spin ahead of the election,” hinting that Netanyahu is exploiting reports that Russia transferred an object believed to have belonged to Cohen to the Israelis for his own political gain.

“If the prime minister knows something, he should inform us privately and not through the media,” she says.

Hamas reportedly holding recount after Awadullah defeats Sinwar

Hamas is holding a recount of its leadership election vote after Gaza governor Yahya Sinwar lost to his competitor Nizar Awadullah, Lebanese al-Mayadeen TV reports.

No official confirmation has yet come from the Hamas terror group. Hamas’s internal elections are normally conducted in utter secrecy over a period of months.

Al-Mayadeen reportd that Sinwar lost by seven votes in the internal Hamas primaries to his opponent.

Sinwar, a long-time terrorist who spent decades in Israeli jails, had been marked by many as an ambitious Hamas official with his eye on the terror group’s top spot — currently occupied by political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh.

Awadullah, a senior Hamas member born in Egypt, played a key role in the negotiations with led to the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas. He served as Gaza governor for the terror group in 2016, before Sinwar assumed the role.

Awadullah’s house was bombed twice by Israel, once in 2009 and again in 2014.

Egypt arrests alleged pedophile caught on camera after uproar

Egyptian police arrests a man alleged to be a pedophile caught on a surveillance camera assaulting a young girl in footage that went viral, the interior ministry says.

“Security agencies were able to detain the person in question… to determine the circumstances of the incident that spread on social networking site Facebook showing a person sexually assaulting a girl in Maadi district in Cairo,” a statement by the ministry says.

It is not clear exactly when the footage was recorded, but it went viral on social media on Monday night, with many users calling for the perpetrator’s prompt arrest.

It showed a man abusing a minor near the staircase of a residential building in the upmarket suburb of the capital.

He was confronted by a woman who opened the door of her apartment, an interruption that enabled the girl to escape, the footage showed. The woman then pointed to a surveillance camera recording the incident.

The arrested man was referred to the prosecutor, the ministry’s statement adds.

Al-Azhar, the world’s foremost authority on Sunni Islam and based in Egypt, on Tuesday decried pedophilia in a tweet as “an aggressive crime that goes against any religion or humanity and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Egypt’s #MeToo movement has picked up momentum since last year with many women coming forward to share testimonies of sexual misconduct.

United Nations surveys say most women in the deeply conservative country have been subject to harassment ranging from catcalling, to pinching, groping and rape.

PM’s office denies report on discovery of object belonging to spy Eli Cohen in Syria

The Prime Minister’s Office has issued a denial of an i24news report claiming that an object believed to have once belonged to the late Mossad spy Eli Cohen has been transferred to Israel from Syria.

“I can say that as for Eli Cohen, we have not stopped looking. I did not say that we are doing so through Russia, but we are not giving up. The efforts continue these very days, not in particular, but yes they are part of an ongoing effort that I hope it will yield results,” he says.

Earlier, Netanyahu confirmed to the network that efforts were underway in Syria to retrieve Cohen’s remains, leading the executed spy’s family to accuse the premier of engaging in pre-election political spin at the family’s expense.

High Court issues temporary injunction against Health Ministry providing info on unvaccinated

Israel’s top court issues a temporary injunction barring the Health Ministry from handing local authorities information on those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine.

The High Court of Justice also instructs state bodies and health providers to explain why legislation allowing the ministry to do so has not been scrapped. They were given until Sunday afternoon to submit a response.

The controversial law, which was approved last month by the Knesset, authorizes the Health Ministry to transfer data to municipalities and the Education Ministry for a three-month period. The legislation is aimed at encouraging the unvaccinated to be immunized and prohibits the use of the information for other purposes.

In their decision, the judges cite the laws “harming of the constitutional right to privacy” guaranteed in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

The next hearing is set for March 16, with an expanded bench of seven judges.

Bipartisan letter to Blinken calls for any deal with Iran to address ‘full range of threats’

A group of 140 representatives, 70 Democrats and 70 Republicans, have sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to ensure that any agreement or set of agreements that the Biden administration reaches with Iran “comprehensively address the full range of threats that Iran poses to the region.”

The AIPAC-organized letter cites states that any agreement “must address three core tenets: “their nuclear program, their ballistic missile program, and their funding of terrorism.”

“As Democrats and Republicans from across the political spectrum, we are united in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior,” the letter reads.

President of Honduras helped smuggle tons of cocaine into US — prosecutor

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez helped smuggle tons of cocaine into the United States, a US prosecutor says, at the trial of an accused drug trafficker.

That accused trafficker, Geovanny Fuentes, bribed the president with $25,000 in cash and this made Fuentes “untouchable,” prosecutor Jacob Gutwillig says, in opening arguments at the trial of the accused drug lord.

The president, says the prosecutor, “made the defendant bulletproof.”

Official election results might not be published for days after polls close

Channel 13 reports that election officials are not expecting to be able to publish the official results of the March 23 vote until the Passover holiday, which starts on March 27.

That is because some 100,000 votes will be in “double ballots,” for those in quarantine.

Asked about High Court ruling, PM says, ‘We have to prevent fake conversions’

Asked about last week’s High Court decision to legitimize non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu avoids answering directly.

However, he tells the Tel Aviv International Salon for English-speaking voters, “we have to be very careful about tampering with the Law of Return.”

He asserts that Israel is the home to all Jews, but says, “We have to prevent fake conversions that could come into the country.”

Netanyahu highlights that he had a wall put up along the Egyptian border to keep migrants out, suggesting that African refugees are seeking to convert to Judaism in order to remain in Israel — a phenomenon that has yet to be reported.

15-year-old killed, 12-year-old seriously injured in Arab town shooting

A 15-year-old boy succumbed to his wounds and a 12-year-old boy is in serious condition after both of them were shot in the Arab town of Jaljuliya.

According to the Abraham Initiatives, this marks 23 Arabs who have died violently in Israel since the beginning of the year.

Another Arab Israeli has been moderately wounded following a shooting incident in Sakhnin, according to local reports.

It is not yet known who is behind the shooting.

Netanyahu says Israel will have reciprocal Green Passport arrangement with US

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the Tel Aviv International Salon that Israel will have Green Passport exchanges with various countries, including the US.

“Within a few weeks, we’re going to finish inoculating the whole adult population of Israel, and we’ll have reciprocal arrangements with the United States,” he says.

Netanyahu: ‘I have a close relationship with the American public’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the Tel Aviv International Salon, “I have a close relationship with the American public. I know them very well, and they know me very well.”

He says there are sometimes disagreements in the “mishpucha.”

Likud, Yesh Atid enjoy boost, New Hope plunges to single digits in latest poll

In Channel 13’s latest poll, Likud and Yesh Atid each see a boost in support, while Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope plunges to single digits. Ra’am and Meretz manage to both cross the threshold.

The results are as follows:

Likud: 29
Yesh Atid: 20
Yamina: 11
New Hope: 9
Joint List: 8
United Torah Judaism: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 7
Shas: 6
Labor: 6
Religious Zionism: 5
Blue and White: 4
Meretz: 4
Ra’am: 4

Canada appoints first woman to number two military post

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau salutes the first appointment of a woman to Canada’s second-highest military post, which came amid a shakeup of the top ranks over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Lieutenant-General Frances Allen has been named vice-chief of the defense staff, the military said in a statement.

“I am very pleased to see a strong woman in the vice-chief position for the first time in Canada’s history,” Trudeau tells a news conference.

Her nomination follows accusations reported in the Canadian media and now being probed by military police of inappropriate behavior and relations with subordinates against former top soldier General Jonathan Vance — which he has denied. Vance retired in January before these were made public.

Weeks later, his successor Admiral Art McDonald also stepped aside after an investigation was launched into separate allegations against him.

Trudeau said the senior leadership must “move forward on ending the challenges of harassment and discrimination in the military… and ensuring that anyone who comes forward to share stories or allegations is given the support and resources that they need.”

He acknowledged that measures taken to date to address these issues “didn’t go far enough, and they haven’t moved fast enough.”

“It’s my commitment that we will be moving faster and going further to make sure that anyone who serves their country… has a safe workplace,” he says.

Arrested journalist pleaded with officer: ‘This is my job’

An Iowa journalist covering a protest for racial justice was blinded when a police officer shot pepper spray in her face, and jailed for hours, despite telling the officer repeatedly that she was just doing her job, according to video played at the reporter’s trial.

Body camera video captured by Des Moines Police Sgt. Natale Chiodo showed Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri in custody on May 31, 2020, her eyes burning from pepper spray. She said she was with the newspaper and asked Officer Luke Wilson why he arrested her, adding that she was in pain and could not see.

“This is my job,” Sahouri says on the video. “I’m just doing my job. I’m a journalist.”

Sahouri’s defense played the video for jurors on the second day of a trial in which Sahouri and her former boyfriend, Spenser Robnett, are charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts. The prosecution has drawn widespread criticism from media and human rights advocates, who say that the charges are an attack on press freedom and unwarranted. The pair face fines and potentially even jail time, if convicted.

Officer Wilson testified Tuesday that he failed to record the arrest on his body camera and did not notify a supervisor as required by department policy. But Chiodo captured the scene on his body camera, shortly after Wilson detained Sahouri. Chiodo said he did not arrest a second Register reporter who was nearby because she was not disobeying orders and “seemed very scared.”

“I just tried to give her very simple instructions that she needed to get up and go,” Chiodo testified.

A press badge for Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri features her jail booking photo from her May 31, 2020 arrest while covering a Black Lives Matter protest. Sahouri is set to stand trial on March 8. 2021, on misdemeanor charges, a case that prosecutors have pursued despite international condemnation from advocates for press freedom. (Andrea Sahouri via AP)

The newspaper had assigned Sahouri to cover the protest at Merle Hay mall in Des Moines, days after the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who was declared dead after a white officer put his knee on his neck for nine minutes. Hundreds of protesters gathered, and Sahouri was reporting the details live on Twitter.

Wilson, an 18-year veteran of the Des Moines Police Department, said he responded to the protest and found a “riotous mob” that was breaking store windows, throwing rocks and water bottles at officers, and running in different directions. He said his unit was told to clear a commercial parking lot, and he used a device known as a fogger to blanket the area with clouds of pepper spray.

He said the chemical irritants worked in forcing most of the crowd to scatter, including Robnett, but that he decided Sahouri needed to be arrested when she did not leave. Wilson said he was unaware that Sahouri was a journalist.

Wilson said that he grabbed her with his left hand while his fogger was in his right hand. Wilson said that Robnett returned and tried to pull Sahouri out of his grasp, and Wilson deployed more pepper spray that “incapacitated” Robnett.

Sahouri was taken to jail and released hours later.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt, Wilson said that he charged Sahouri with interference because she briefly pulled her left arm away while he was arresting her. He acknowledged that he did not mention that claim in his police report on the arrest.

Wilson said that he only rarely used his body camera during his normal job at the city airport, wrongly believed it had recorded Sahouri’s arrest, and was unfamiliar with the details of the department’s body camera policy.

The cameras are always capturing video when on and can retrieve video of incidents that were not recorded afterward if they have not yet been erased. Officers who fail to record incidents that they should have are required to notify supervisors, who can then try to recover video that does not have audio. It was clear immediately that Sahouri’s arrest was newsworthy and controversial.

Prosecutors say Sahouri and Robnett ignored police orders to leave the area long before their arrests, while the defense argues any such orders were not clear.

Body camera video played in court showed officers yelling at protesters to get out of an intersection and instructing them to be peaceful about 90 minutes before their arrests, and that Robnett and Sahouri complied.

A separate order to disperse could be heard faintly on the video in the background — so quiet that even an officer testifying for the prosecution seemed to struggle to make it out. But prosecutors argued that the message was louder at the scene and broadcast over a public address system.

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