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TV: IDF probe focused on exchange of fire 150m from where Al Jazeera reporter killed

Report says Israel also asked Palestinian Authority for helmet Shireen Abu Akleh was wearing to analyze it, but was rebuffed

The site in Jenin where journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (blurred) was seen fatally shot early on May 11, 2022, as a colleague looks on (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
The site in Jenin where journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (blurred) was seen fatally shot early on May 11, 2022, as a colleague looks on (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

The Times of Israel liveblogging Thursday’s events as they happened.

Turkey says it opposes NATO membership for Finland, Sweden

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey does not have a “positive opinion” on Finland and Sweden joining NATO and accuses Scandinavian countries of harboring outlawed Kurdish militants.

“We do not have a positive opinion. Scandinavian countries are like a guesthouse for terror organizations,” Erdogan tells journalists after Friday prayers in Istanbul.

Erdogan says Turkey’s former rulers “made a mistake” by giving a green light for Greece’s NATO membership in 1952.

“We, as Turkey, do not want to make a second mistake on this issue,” he says.

The Turkish leader accuses Scandinavian countries of sheltering members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

UN calls for end to bombings of schools in Ukraine war

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations demands an end to the bombing of Ukrainian schools, and denounces their use for military ends during a meeting of the Security Council.

“Hundreds of schools across the country are reported to have been hit by heavy artillery, airstrikes and other explosive weapons in populated areas,” Omar Abdi, deputy executive director of the UN children’s fund, tells the Council.

“These attacks must stop,” Abdi says.

As of last week, of the 89 UNICEF-supported schools in eastern Ukraine, one in six had been “damaged or destroyed” since the Russian invasion on February 24, he says.

“Other schools are being used as information centers, shelters, supply hubs, or for military purposes — with long-term impact on children’s return to education,” he adds.

The Security Council meeting was convened at the request of Mexico and France, which stressed that attacks on schools were a flagrant violation of humanitarian law.

House panel probing US Capitol riot subpoenas Kevin McCarthy, 4 other GOP lawmakers

WASHINGTON — House investigators say they have issued subpoenas to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other GOP lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent January 6 insurrection, an extraordinary step that has little precedent and is certain to further inflame partisan tensions over the 2021 attack.

The January 6 panel’s subpoenas for McCarthy, who is from California, and Republican Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama came as the investigation is winding down and as the panel prepares for a series of public hearings this summer.

The committee has been investigating McCarthy’s conversations with then-US president Donald Trump the day of the attack and meetings that the four other lawmakers had with the White House as Trump and his aides conspired to overturn his defeat. They have been debating for months over whether to issue the subpoenas.

Congressional subpoenas for sitting members of Congress, especially for a party leader, are almost without precedent in recent decades. The panel had previously asked for voluntary cooperation from the five men, along with a handful of other GOP lawmakers, but all of them refused to speak with the panel.

“These members include those who participated in meetings at the White House, those who had direct conversations with President Trump leading up to and during the attack on the Capitol, and those who were involved in the planning and coordination of certain activities on and before January 6th,” the committee says as it announced the subpoenas.

Israel expected to soon drop mask mandate on airplanes

Israel is expected to soon drop the COVID-19 mask requirement on flights and at Ben Gurion Airport, Channel 12 news reports.

According to the network, the Health Ministry is expected to soon decide on the matter and the mandate could be scrapped as soon as May 20.

The indoor mask rule ended last month, but continues to remain in effect during air travel and at hospitals and senior living facilities.

IDF probe said focused on exchange of fire 150m from where Palestinian journalist was fatally hit

The military’s ongoing investigation is focused on one particular incident among the stream of exchanges of fire between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen during which Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, according to Channel 12 news.

This particular incident “took place about 150 meters from where the journalist who was hit by gunfire and killed was positioned. The incident took place at the time [that she was hit].”

“There were Palestinian gunmen and they fired at IDF forces, who returned fire. And therefore, in the IDF, they are saying that if there is a possibility that the journalist was hit by IDF fire, this was the moment,” the network’s Nir Dvori says.

He adds though that it’s “still impossible to know for certain whether the journalist was hit by Palestinian or IDF gunfire despite the proximity and the closeness between the exchange of fire in this incident and the place where she stood.”

Channel 12, which does not cite a source, also says Israel has asked the Palestinian Authority for the helmet she was wearing so they could analyze it, but was rebuffed.

It also says all the IDF soldiers who were in the area have been asked to hand in their weapons for ballistic analysis. “Thus far, there is no finding that can definitively place a bottom line on this complex incident,” it reports.

UN peace envoy denounces Israel approval of plans for West Bank settlement homes

The UN’s envoy for Middle East peace denounces Israel’s approval of plans for over 4,400 housing units in West Bank settlements.

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” Tor Wennesland says in a statement.

He adds: “I urge the Israeli authorities to cease the advancement of all settlement activity and refrain from such unilateral and provocative actions that fuel instability and undermine the prospects for establishing a viable and contiguous Palestinian State as part of a negotiated two-State solution on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”

French source links Iran’s ‘intensifying provocations’ to stalled nuclear talks

PARIS — Talks between Iran and world powers over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal are currently in a state of deadlock, a French diplomatic source says, expressing pessimism over the prospects of progress.

The talks have stalled since mid-March as negotiators seek to return to the landmark accord that curtailed the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

“The negotiations are at a point of deadlock,” says the source, adding a deal had been ready back in March but had “slipped away” due to a dispute over the status of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“We are quite pessimistic. Iran has made a mistake by playing down the clock,” says the source, who asks not to be named.

After Paris earlier confirmed two more French citizens had been arrested in Iran, the source says the lack of progress on the nuclear issue is coinciding with the “intensifying provocations” by Iran.

“Right now there is an interest in returning to the agreement but it will not always be that way,” says the source.

EU diplomat Enrique Mora, who chairs the negotiations, is currently in Iran for talks with Iranian officials.

Far-right Zemmour to seek parliamentary seat in upcoming French elections

PARIS — French far-right TV pundit-turned-politician Eric Zemmour says he will seek a seat in parliament standing in the glitzy constituency around Saint-Tropez, three weeks after failing with a presidential bid.

The Paris-born 63-year-old is seeking to establish his new party, Reconquest, as a national political force in parliamentary elections next month, but is expected to struggle.

“I will lead our beautiful and major fight along with our 550 candidates,” Zemmour writes on Twitter, announcing his plans to stand in Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera where he recorded one of his highest scores nationally in the presidential election last month.

Long known as a commentator and writer with virulent anti-Islam views, Zemmour launched his political career late last year in a bid to unseat French President Emmanuel Macron.

He was eliminated in the first round of April’s presidential polls with a score of seven percent and has since failed to agree to a tie-up with veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her deep-rooted National Rally party.

Some Zemmour aides had advised him to sit out the parliamentary elections for fear another defeat could permanently tarnish his career.

Zemmour, who is Jewish, has several convictions for racist hate speech, but he was cleared of a possible crime of denying the Holocaust today.

An appeals court in Paris upheld a previous judgment in his favor about his view that France’s war-time leader Philippe Petain, who collaborated with the Nazi regime, had “saved” French Jews.

The claim is contested by most historians, who point to Petain’s well-documented antisemitism, but the court ruled it did not amount to denying the existence or gravity of the Holocaust.

Russian missile strike Ukrainian industrial hub

KYIV, Ukraine — Between 8 and 12 Russian missiles hit the oil refinery and other infrastructure in the Ukrainian industrial hub of Kremenchuk today, the acting governor of the central Poltava region says.

In a Telegram post, Dmytro Lunin urges residents to remain in underground shelters, citing the “persistent” threat of airstrikes.

In early April, Lunin has said that the Kremenchuk refinery — Ukraine’s only remaining fully functional facility of its kind at the time — was no longer operational following a Russian attack. Moscow claimed to have targeted the refinery again at the end of the month, and to have destroyed further fuel production and storage facilities.

UN says over 6 million have fled Ukraine amid Russian invasion

BERLIN — The UN refugee agency is reporting that more than 6 million people have now fled Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

Geneva-based UNHCR also says today that the number of refugees who have returned back to Ukraine, either partially or fully, has reached more than 1.6 million. It says that number reflects cross-border movements, and doesn’t necessarily indicate “sustainable” returns. The agency says it’s too early to draw conclusions about “definitive trends” on returns.

Matthew Saltmarsh, an agency spokesman, also says that a total of 2.4 million people who have left Ukraine have moved beyond Ukraine’s immediate border countries which have taken in the lion’s share of refugees from the country. Poland alone has registered more than 3.2 million people who fled Ukraine. It and other European Union member countries have open borders, making tracking where people go a complex endeavor.

On Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, tweeted that the number of refugees from Ukraine had reached the same 5.7 million figure as the tally from Syria’s 11-year war, which previously was the source of the world’s biggest refugee crisis.

Health Ministry checking suspected contamination in production of Tnuva powdered milk

The Health Ministry announces it is looking into suspected contamination on Tnuva’s production line for powdered milk, as part of a probe into a salmonella outbreak at a Strauss factory.

The ministry says the product is sold to producers who further process it and not marked directly to consumers. It adds that initial tests on goods that used the powdered milk have come back clean.

“We are working in full coordination with the Health Ministry and in accordance with its instructions,” Tnuva says in response.

IDF wraps up first week of major military exercise

The military wraps up the first week of a major exercise that it is holding, involving nearly all units of the Israel Defense Forces.

During the past week, both conscript and reserve troops practiced responding to sudden events in multiple theaters simultaneously, with a focus on defending Israel’s northern border, the IDF says.

“Troops practiced the transition from routine to emergency in the northern sector, the Lebanese front, and the Syrian front — in parallel with the challenges in the other areas,” chief of the military’s northern command Amir Baram says.

The drill — dubbed “Chariots of Fire” — is scheduled to run for three more weeks.

UN rights council launches inquiry into alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine

GENEVA — The United Nations Human Rights Council votes overwhelmingly to launch an inquiry into alleged serious violations committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, heaping further diplomatic pressure on Moscow.

The council votes 33-2 in favor of a draft resolution brought by Ukraine to create an investigation into alleged violations in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions in late February and in March, “with a view to holding those responsible to account.”

Woman suspected of sending bullets, threats to Bennett’s family identified as Ashkelon resident

The woman suspected of mailing menacing letters and bullets to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his family has been named as Ilana Sporta Hania of Ashdod.

Hania, a fervent supporter of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is identified after the court lifts a gag order on her identity. She was arrested on Monday and remanded into custody today on suspicion that she sent two letters to Bennett’s wife, Gilat, and his son, Yoni, containing bullets and threatening their safety if the prime minister did not resign.

Details emerged today of Hania’s history of activism in support of Likud and against the current government. She has been investigated in the past for threatening politicians with whom she disagrees. In September, Hania was filmed calling on New Hope MK Bennie Begin — a former Likud member — to drown himself in the ocean.

Upon her arrest, police said Hania is suspected of extortion by threats, carrying or transporting weapons, threatening to commit an act of terrorism, and conspiracy to commit a crime. Ordering that she remain in police custody, Judge Erez Melamed said the investigative material demonstrated “a reasonable suspicion of the crime of making threats.”

Top security aide: Israel not seeking military conflict over Iran’s nuclear program

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata says Israel is not seeking a military conflict over Iran’s nuclear program that could involve the United States.

“We aren’t looking for a conflict with Iran. We don’t see this as a solution,” he says during an event at Tel Aviv University, according to the Walla news site. “We don’t want to drag the US into a military conflict with Iran. We think it can be solved in other ways.”

He adds that a restored Iran nuclear deal would be bad for Israel.

“There’s a better chance of a good deal without returning to the old deal,” Hulata says.

Susan Sarandon: Israeli snipers ‘executed’ Palestinian journalist

US actress Susan Sarandon is claiming that Israel “executed” an Al Jazeera journalist who was shot dead amid clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops during a raid in Jenin.

“Shireen Abu Akleh was EXECUTED with a shot to the head by Israeli snipers while wearing her helmet & bullet proof vest that said PRESS on in,” she writes on Twitter. “How long will we continue remaining silent while our ‘allies’ kill journalists for telling inconvenient truths?”

The Palestinians have blamed Israel for Abu Akleh’s death, while Israeli officials say Palestinian gunmen may have fired the fatal shot.

Russia warns of ‘military-technical’ response to Finnish decision to join NATO

MOSCOW — Russia has warned that it will have to take unspecified “military-technical” steps in response to Finland’s decision to join NATO.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says today that Finland’s accession to NATO will “inflict serious damage on Russian-Finnish relations, as well as stability and security in Northern Europe.”

It says in a statement that “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps of military-technical and other characteristics in order to counter the emerging threats to its national security.”

The statement notes that while it’s up to Finland to decide on ways to ensure its security, “Helsinki must be aware of its responsibility and the consequences of such a move.” The ministry charges that Finland’s move also violates past agreements with Russia.

“History will determine why Finland needed to turn its territory into a bulwark of military face-off with Russia while losing independence in making its own decisions,” it adds.

The ministry’s statement follows Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comment earlier today that Finland’s decision wouldn’t help stability and security in Europe. Peskov said that Russia’s response will depend on NATO’s moves to expand its infrastructure closer to the Russian borders.

East Jerusalem man caught after allegedly resisting arrest during riot, fleeing in ambulance

Police announce the arrest of a Palestinian for allegedly assaulting officers during clashes yesterday in East Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood.

According to police, the suspect resisted arrest yesterday and sprayed mace at officers, then fled the scene in a Red Crescent ambulance.

The suspect is identified as a 39-year-old from Shuafat. Police say he was arrested today in Jerusalem.

Bennett: I expect PA not to obstruct probe into Palestinian journalist’s death

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett slams the Palestinian Authority for rebuffing Israeli calls to hold a joint investigation into the death of a prominent Al Jazeera journalist, who was killed amid a firefight between gunmen and Israeli troops during a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

“Unfortunately the Palestinian Authority at this stage is preventing any possibility of a joint investigation or even access to basic findings required to reach the truth,” he says.

“I reiterate my expectation for open, transparent and full cooperation on the findings and I also expect from the Palestinian Authority not to take any step to obstruct the investigation or contaminate the process,” the premier adds.

He also vows Israel will continue carrying out counterterror raids, noting the recent wave of attacks in which 19 people were killed.

Bennett makes the remarks during a meeting with senior officials on forming a civil national guard.

Qatari emir: Those who killed Al Jazeera journalist must be held to account

TEHRAN, Iran — The emir of Qatar accuses Israel over the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh amid clashes between Palestinian gunman and Israeli troops during an IDF raid in the West Bank.

Abu Akleh was “killed by the Israeli occupation forces”, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani says at a joint news conference in Tehran with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi.

“We must hold the perpetrators of this heinous crime accountable,” the Qatari leader adds.

The Qatar-based pan-Arab television channel has charged that the Israeli forces had killed her deliberately “in cold blood.”

The Iranian president also implicates Israel, the sworn enemy of the Islamic Republic.

“We are certain that these crimes cannot bring security to the Zionist regime. To the contrary, they will only increase popular anger” towards Israel, Raisi says.

Meretz MK denounces committee’s greenlighting of planned settlement homes

MK Mossi Raz of the coalition’s left-wing Meretz party denounces the approval of plans for over 4,000 West Bank settlement homes.

In a statement, Raz calls the housing units “4,000 steps backwards from peace, security, morality and justice.”

German police foil ‘Nazi terror attack’ at school; teen suspect arrested

BERLIN — German investigators say today they foiled a school bomb attack, as they arrest a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack.”

“The police prevented a nightmare,” says Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state.

Police in the city of Essen had stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering several explosives, as well as antisemitic and anti-Muslim material.

Reul says officers did not find any detonators.

The suspect was allegedly planning to target his current school or another where he studied previously.

He is also believed to be suffering from psychiatric disorder with suicidal tendencies, adds Reul.

“All democrats have a common task to fight against racism, brutalization and hate,” says NRW’s deputy premier Joachim Stamp, as he thanks police for “preventing a suspected Nazi terror attack.”

The suspect is being questioned while investigators are still combing his home for evidence.

Israel authorizes plans for 4,427 West Bank settlement homes

The Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction has finished greenlighting plans for 4,427 settlement homes.

All 25 plans on the docket were advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee. More than half of the homes got the final approval for their construction.

While some of the projects are for settlements located close to the Green Line, other plans that were approved are for settlements deep in the West Bank. These include a project for 56 homes in Negohot, which is advanced through the earlier planning stage known as deposit, and a project for 534 homes in Shevut Rachel, which is advanced through the final planning stage

In addition to adding thousands of new homes, the plans retroactively legalized the Mitzpeh Dani and Oz V’gaon outposts. The former is a wildcat neighborhood of the Ma’aleh Michmash settlement in the heart of the West Bank and the latter is a nature reserve and education center that was built following the kidnap and murder of Israeli teens Gil-ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel in a terror attack in the summer of 2014.

In a celebratory tweet responding to news of Mitzpeh Dani’s approval, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked calls it a “holiday for the settlement movement.”

COVID deaths in Europe pass 2 million mark — WHO

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Europe, the long-time epicenter of the pandemic, has passed two million, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

“A devastating milestone has passed as reported confirmed COVID-19 deaths from countries in the WHO European Region have exceeded more than 2 million people,” the UN health agency says in a statement.

2 French citizens detained in Iran; Paris calls for their immediate release

PARIS — Two French citizens have been detained in Iran, the French foreign ministry says in a statement today, calling for their “immediate release.”

Iran’s intelligence ministry had announced yesterday that two “Europeans” had been arrested on accusations of seeking to “destabilize the country.”

NATO Chief: Finland’s entry to alliance will be ‘smooth and swift’

BRUSSELS — NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg welcomes a decision by Finland’s leaders to back joining the alliance, and says the eventual membership process would be “smooth and swift.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin expressed support for NATO membership — in defiance of warnings from Moscow — and a formal statement on joining is expected on Sunday.

“This is a sovereign decision by Finland, which NATO fully respects,” Stoltenberg says.

“Should Finland decide to apply, they would be warmly welcomed into NATO, and the accession process would be smooth and swift.”

Finland and Sweden have taken steps towards joining the alliance since Western powers began reviewing their security structures in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin denounced the idea that Finland, its neighbor, would join NATO.

“The expansion of NATO and the approach of the alliance to our borders does not make the world and our continent more stable and secure,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters.

Helsinki insists its decision is not a threat to anyone.

Qatari emir visits Iran amid deadlocked talks on nuclear deal

TEHRAN, Iran — Qatar’s emir has arrived in Iran for talks with the Iranian president, state media reports, as efforts to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers hits a deadlock.

State TV shows the arrival of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport, where he is received by Iran’s senior vice president Mohammad Mokhber. The report says said bilateral, regional and international issues are on the agenda during the visit.

The emir will meet President Ebrahim Raisi later today.

The official visit comes as the European Union’s coordinator trying to revive the nuclear deal is still in Iran.

Talks in Vienna have been stalled for months, apparently over an Iranian demand that Washington lift a terrorism designation on Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Enrique Mora met with the Iranian nuclear negotiator yesterday to make a diplomatic push, just after Iranian intelligence services announced they had detained two unidentified European citizens. Talks are continuing today, Iranian media reports without giving details.

Qatar hosted Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in February. Despite its small size, the tiny Gulf Arab sheikdom plays a strategic role as a quiet mediator and negotiator in a region rife with sectarian and political conflict. Qatar’s ties with both Washington and Tehran allow Doha to relay viewpoints between the two.

UN rights chief: Russia to blame for ‘vast majority’ of civilian deaths in Ukraine

BERLIN — The UN’s human rights chief says her office has found that Russian forces and affiliated armed groups are responsible for most civilian deaths during the war in Ukraine.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says the “vast majority” of civilian casualties have been caused by the use of explosive weapons, including heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes.

“According to our information, while such incidents can be attributed to both parties to the conflict, most of these casualties appear attributable to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups,” Bachelet tells a special session of the Human Rights Council today.

Ukraine and its backers led a push to convene the special session of the 47-member body. The Geneva-based council is set to vote on a resolution that would reiterate its demand “for the immediate cessation of military hostilities against Ukraine.”

The UN General Assembly voted last month to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, the UN’s top human rights body, over allegations of war crimes by Russian forces.

At memorial, Abbas says PA will go to ICC against Israel over reporter’s death

Thousands of Palestinians attend a memorial service in Ramallah for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in the West Bank city of Jenin amid clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid.

Addressing the ceremony, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he holds Israel responsible for her death and that the PA will take the matter to the International Criminal Court.

He also reiterates the PA’s rejection of a joint investigation of the shooting, suggested by Israel.

“They committed the crime and we do not trust them,” Abbas says at the presidential palace in Ramallah, adding the PA will instead “turn immediately to the International Criminal Court.”

“Israel bears full responsibility for this crime and this crime cannot go unpunished,” he says.

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