New US envoy: I went to Western Wall, prayed for Trump’s success
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New US envoy: I went to Western Wall, prayed for Trump’s success

Five new sharia court judges, including first woman qadi, sworn in; defense minister acknowledges clash with Washington over US embassy move

  • Illustrative: A Jewish man covers himself with a prayer shawl while praying near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the Passover priestly blessing on April 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Illustrative: A Jewish man covers himself with a prayer shawl while praying near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the Passover priestly blessing on April 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Israel's first woman sharia judge, Hana Khatib, left, is sworn in by President Reuven Rivlin, second right, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is at right. (President's Residence Twitter account screen capture)
    Israel's first woman sharia judge, Hana Khatib, left, is sworn in by President Reuven Rivlin, second right, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is at right. (President's Residence Twitter account screen capture)
  • Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends talks at the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh, March 29, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)
    Saudi Arabia's King Salman attends talks at the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh, March 29, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)
  • Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (l) and IDF Deputy Chief of the Staff Major General Yair Golan at a ceremony marking Israel's Memorial Day in Tel Aviv on May 1, 2017. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
    Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (l) and IDF Deputy Chief of the Staff Major General Yair Golan at a ceremony marking Israel's Memorial Day in Tel Aviv on May 1, 2017. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
  • Zionist Union chairman MK Isaac Herzog, left, and fellow Labor MK Amir Peretz, right, at a Knesset committee meeting on February 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Zionist Union chairman MK Isaac Herzog, left, and fellow Labor MK Amir Peretz, right, at a Knesset committee meeting on February 1, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Illustrative. Palestinian fishermen at the Gaza City port, May 13, 2015. (Aaed Tayeh/Flash90)
    Illustrative. Palestinian fishermen at the Gaza City port, May 13, 2015. (Aaed Tayeh/Flash90)
  • Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 14, 2017. (Emil Salman/Flash90)
    Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 14, 2017. (Emil Salman/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.

4 Palestinian vessels run Gaza blockade, 1 man wounded

An Israeli Navy ship opens fire Monday at a Palestinian vessel off the Gaza coast, reportedly wounding one person aboard the vessel.

According to the IDF, the Palestinian vessel crossed Israel’s line of blockade and was ordered to turn back. When the vessel refused, Israeli sailors fired warning shots in the air. When the vessel continued, they opened fire at the vessel itself.

The wounded Palestinian was taken by the navy to a hospital inside Israel.

Six more Palestinians are under arrest after three other ships attempted to cross the blockade line.

Monday is being marked by Palestinians as “Nakba Day,” a day of mourning over Israel’s establishment in 1948.

2 Shin Bet employees indicted for stealing agency money

Two employees of the Shin Bet security service are caught allegedly stealing money from the organization, the agency says Monday.

The two hold administrative positions with no operational roles, the organization says.

The were caught when an internal audit of the agency’s finances found irregularities, leading the agency to turn to the Justice Department’s independent Police Investigations Department to open an investigation.

Their indictments are filed Monday, along with prosecutors’ request that they be remanded for the duration of their trial.

Palestinian man arrested in Tel Aviv carrying cocaine, heroin – report

A Palestinian man from the West Bank is under arrest Monday on suspicion that he was trafficking drugs to Tel Aviv.

Police officers notice the man, who has a valid work permit allowing him to enter Israel, walking to the backyard of an apartment building in southern Tel Aviv. When they confront him, they find him holding a sock filled with drugs, according to police.

The drugs are still being analyzed, but officials say an initial assessment found 24 grams of suspected cocaine and 55 grams of what officers believe to be heroin.

The man is also found carrying thousands of shekels in cash.

Lapid calls for US Embassy to move to Jerusalem

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid says Israel should not give in to “threats” over its request that the United States move its embassy to Jerusalem.

“I join the prime minister’s call to the president of the United States to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem,” he tells Yesh Atid MKs during a tour of the Six Day War memorial at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill.

“We cannot let the threat of riots influence us. Israel and the United States do not determine policy based on threats but on what is right and what is just. And there is nothing more just — historically and morally — than our connection to Jerusalem.”

“We are here to say that we are here to stay. Jerusalem will remain united forever,” he says, noting that the memorial site “symbolizes the great victory of the Six Day War.”

Referring to recent White House comments and Israeli media reports, Lapid says he welcomes efforts “to try to restart the diplomatic process” with the Palestinians.

“Like all the Israeli center — from Likud to Labor — Yesh Atid supports the principle of two states. It’s time to separate from the Palestinians, to divorce the Palestinians,” he says.

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid, center, flanked by MKs Aliza Lavie, second right, and Yoel Razvozov, right, at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill, May 15, 2017. (Courtesy)
Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid, center, flanked by MKs Aliza Lavie, second right, and Yoel Razvozov, right, at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill, May 15, 2017. (Courtesy)

— Raoul Wootliff

Conservative drops out of Iran election to back hardliner

TEHRAN, Iran — A conservative candidate drops out of Iran’s presidential election on Monday to back a hardliner, state television reports, narrowing the field of those hoping to unseat moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

The report says Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf made the decision to boost the chances of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, believed to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“I ask all my supporters to contribute their full capacity and support for the success of my brother, Ebrahim Raisi,” Qalibaf says in a statement announcing his withdrawal, according to the state TV.

In this May 2, 2017 file photo, Tehran's mayor and conservative presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center right, listens to a cleric on his arrival to attend a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
In this May 2, 2017 file photo, Tehran’s mayor and conservative presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center right, listens to a cleric on his arrival to attend a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Qalibaf’s decision brings the number of candidates competing in Friday’s election to five, though more may drop out in the coming days to solidify support for other candidates.

The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the 2015 nuclear deal struck with world powers shepherded by Rouhani’s administration. That deal saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions.

Rouhani remains the favorite as every Iranian president since 1981, when Khamenei himself took the presidency, has won re-election.

— AP

Ukraine’s Jewish PM tells Rivlin of his country’s ‘Righteous’ during the Holocaust

President Reuven Rivlin meets Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman at his residence in Jerusalem Monday morning.

Groysman is leading a delegation of his government’s ministers for wide-ranging talks with their Israeli counterparts.

The only Jewish prime minister in the world besides Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Groysman tells Rivlin about his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum earlier in the day.

“It was a tragic page in history and is directly related to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and we are proud to have had 2,500 ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ who represented Ukraine,” Groysman says, according to a press statement from the President’s Residence.

The Holocaust was “a real tragedy, the murder of six million Jews just for being Jews, and this horrible figure includes 1.5 million children.”

Rivlin responds that “when we say as Jews ‘never again,’ we are not preaching to our people. We learned the lesson, we know what we have to do…. When we are talking about what happened, we have to teach all people [in the world] in order that it will not happen again. Fascism is a phenomenon, Nazism is a phenomenon, and it was all over Europe, there were a lot of people who thought like the Nazis about the Jews, and every one of us has to learn the lesson for their own people. No one can ignore the facts of history.”

Rivlin praises Groysman for “what you are doing against hatred, against fascism, and against anti-Semitism.”

Groysman replies that his visit was meant to “develop [an] even better relationship with our friend Israel, and to deepen our strategic partnership.”

President Reuven Rivlin, right, meets Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, left, in Jerusalem, May 15, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin, right, meets Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, left, in Jerusalem, May 15, 2017. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Bennett: We must tell Trump Palestinian state ‘ain’t going to happen’

Ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel next week, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett says Israel must make clear that a Palestinian state “ain’t going to happen.”

At the start of the weekly faction meeting, the education minister also concedes right-wing disappointment in Trump’s shifting tune on Israel and the Palestinians, saying that there was a “change” in his views since the election campaign, and “the source of that change is unclear.”

He says that his experience doing business in the US has taught him two things: that Americans value honesty and that one must make clear what he wants.

A Palestinian state “ain’t going to happen,” says Bennett, reverting to English. “And we should say this.”

Bennett reiterates his support for Palestinian autonomy without statehood and economic initiatives to better the Palestinians’ lives. And he says Israel must clarify that it will never relinquish control over any part of Jerusalem.

The minister welcomes Trump’s visit, saying it has “strategic value” and reflects the “deep friendship” between Israel and the United States.

— Marissa Newman

Herzog says Trump visit will be test of Netanyahu’s intentions

Opposition head MK Isaac Herzog tells his weekly Zionist Union faction meeting on Monday that US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel next week is a “decisive” moment in Israeli history.

“After Trump’s visit we will know not just if we have a [Palestinian] partner or not, but if we have a prime minister who understands the need for an agreement or a prime minister who plans to continue to avoid the greatest Zionist challenge of the 21st century: separating from the Palestinians,” he says.

“We need a brave Israeli leader who can stand up and face the challenge,” he adds.

Herzog says he will continue to work to form “a centrist, Zionist and responsible political bloc that will fulfill the task of saving Zionism and defending Israel as a Jewish and democratic state for generations to come.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Germany warns it could pull its NATO troops out of Turkey base

BERLIN — Berlin on Monday slams Ankara’s refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit a NATO base near Syria and warns it could move its troops elsewhere.

The German foreign ministry describes as “absolutely unacceptable” Turkey’s latest ban on a visit to the Incirlik base in southern Turkey, used by the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

Germany has about 250 military personnel stationed there, flying Tornado surveillance missions over Syria and refuelling flights for partner nations battling IS jihadists.

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Turkey’s position is “unfortunate” and that Germany, while continuing talks to resolve the issue, would also “search for alternatives to Incirlik,” including in Jordan.

A defense ministry spokesman says Jordan offers “the best conditions” after Berlin had also looked at Kuwait and Cyprus since Turkey first denied such visits to German MPs for several months last year.

Turkey rejects the latest lawmakers’ visit because of anger over Germany granting political asylum to some of its military officials since last year’s failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer suggests.


Trial of alleged Faqha assassins begins in Gaza

The trial of three men accused of the March assassination of Hamas operations man Mazen Faqha gets underway in Gaza on Monday.

Officials from the Hamas organization that rules the territory say Israel’s Shin Bet security service planned the killing, which was carried out by Palestinian “collaborators” in Gaza.

The chief suspect is former Hamas military wing official Ashraf Abu Lila, who was expelled from the organization a decade ago after he was accused of killing Fatah fighters amid Hamas’s violent coup against the Palestinian Authority.

According to the Walla news site, the other two suspects served as lookouts for the killing.

Faqha, who was freed from an Israeli prison as part of the 2011 deal to release captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and deported to Gaza, was serving a life sentence for organizing a 2002 suicide bombing.

He was shot dead near his home on March 24 in Tel el-Hawa, a neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City, by assailants using a weapon equipped with a silencer.

50-year-old man found dead in Arad apartment fire

A 50-year-old man is killed Monday in an apartment fire in the southern city of Arad.

Initial findings by investigators suggest the fire may have been sparked when a gas balloon exploded outside the building.

Defense minister acknowledges clash with Washington over embassy move

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman appears to concede a clash with Washington over moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Our stance has been clear over the years: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” he says, adding that the Trump White House is a “friendly administration.”

“And even among the greatest friends there are differences of opinion. This is not the first time we’ve had differences of opinion with the United States, on this question or any other,” he says, responding to a question on the proposed relocation at the start of the weekly Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting Monday.

You don’t need to “turn it into a fight or a tragedy,” he adds. “Here, too, you need to transcend your instincts and try and handle it in a respectful, organized fashion. Less in the media, more in private conversation.”

Liberman rebukes his fellow ministers for publicly going head-to-head with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the upcoming Trump visit, in an apparent reference to Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

“Every fight in the media doesn’t strengthen our position in negotiations — not with the Palestinians and not with the United States,” he says.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump was deliberating whether the embassy relocation would help or harm peace prospects, prompting Netanyahu to release a statement saying it will boost efforts, in that it will “shatter Palestinian fantasies” of Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

— Marissa Newman

At least 11 hurt as Palestinians clash with IDF troops in Ramallah, Bethlehem

Palestinians marching to remember the Nakba, the 1948 founding of Israel, clash with Israeli forces in Ramallah and Bethlehem, leaving several wounded.

At a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah, dozens of Palestinian youths hurl rocks at IDF soldiers, who respond with rubber bullets and the foul-smelling riot control spray known as skunk.

A Palestinian emergency worker says that 11 Palestinians are taken to the hospital, most of them wounded by rubber bullets. The extent of their injuries is not known.

Earlier, thousands of people carrying Palestinian flags marched through the city, many carrying large keys to symbolize their claims to the homes they or their family members lost in 1948.

In Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinians stone IDF troops guarding the tomb of Biblical matriarch Rachel, a shrine venerated by Jews and Muslims, an AFP photographer says.

Soldiers fire tear gas and stun grenades, but the number of Palestinian casualties is not immediately known.


France’s Macron appoints center-right PM to widen appeal

PARIS — France’s new President Emmanuel Macron names Edouard Philippe, a little-known center-right mayor, as prime minister on Monday, in his first major decision since taking power on a promise to lead a French “renaissance.”

Philippe, a 46-year-old MP and mayor of the northern port of Le Havre, comes from the moderate wing of the rightwing Republicans party and is seen as a pragmatist.

His appointment is seen as a strategic move by 39-year-old Macron, a former minister in the outgoing Socialist government who is trying to woo modernizers of all stripes to his new centrist party, La Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, REM).

France’s youngest ever president has already attracted dozens of Socialist MPs to his side, triggering a major realignment in French politics that has left the traditional parties floundering.

Like Macron, Philippe is a product of France’s elite ENA college for senior public servants and worked for a while in the private sector.

Relatively unknown outside his Le Havre fiefdom, he has already crossed the floor once in his career, defecting from the Socialists to the Republicans as a young politician.


Netanyahu: ‘Moving US embassy to Jerusalem will advance peace’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is wrong in his assessment that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem could harm the peace process.

US President Donald Trump had promised while campaigning to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but appeared in the months after being elected to retreat from that vow as Arab and Western officials warned a move could inflame tensions and spark fresh violence.

On Sunday, Tillerson said the Trump administration was evaluating whether relocating the US mission to Jerusalem would help or harm the peace process.

Speaking at his weekly Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, Netanyahu says, “Not only will moving the embassy not harm the peace process, it will advance it. It will correct a historical injustice and burst the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel,” he tells Likud’s lawmakers.

“This is my position, it is clear to all. It hasn’t changed, and it won’t change.”

— Raoul Wootliff and Times of Israel staff

Gaza fisherman shot by navy dies in hospital, IDF says

A Gazan fisherman shot by an Israeli Navy ship on Monday after breaching the blockade off the Palestinian territory dies from his wounds, an IDF spokeswoman says.

The IDF said earlier that naval forces fired warning shots when “a vessel deviated from the designated fishing zone in the northern Gaza Strip.”

The vessel was reportedly the fourth such ship to breach the blockade on Monday, which Palestinians mark as “Nakba Day,” a day of mourning for the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s founding in 1948.

The vessel did not turn back after the warning shots, and the Navy ship shot towards it, wounding the fisherman aboard. Navy sailors took the man to an Israeli hospital, where he died from his wounds.

— AFP and Times of Israel staff

Second body found in Arad apartment building fire

Rescuers find the body of a woman in an Arad apartment building that was engulfed in flames after a suspected gas canister explosion.

The woman’s death bring the total death toll from the fire to two. About an hour ago, rescuers found a 50-year-old man dead in another apartment.

In Knesset shouting match, Bennett derides Yisrael Beytenu MKs as Liberman’s ‘puppies’

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, spars angrily with Yisrael Beytenu lawmakers in the Knesset plenum Monday, accusing party leader Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of sending them like “little puppies” to attack him.

Coalition partners Bennett and Liberman have been trading barbs for months, with the defense minister on Monday deriding Bennett for criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the latter’s refusal to rule out a Palestinian state in talks with the Trump administration. Liberman also accused nationalist-religious leaders of spreading “incitement” and “libels” over the closure of a pre-military yeshiva.

During a Question Time session in the plenum, a query about the rescheduling of the Lag B’Omer holiday vacation in schools quickly spirals into a screaming match between Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer and the education minister.

“Yvet Liberman sent you like little puppies,” Bennett says dismissively, drawing furious yelling by Forer and fellow Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky.

“Yisrael Beytenu is very combative today,” the minister taunts, “is it possible they received an order from above?”

He also takes aim at the defense minister personally, saying, “Have you assassinated [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh today?” The question refers to repeated promises by Liberman last year that if he were appointed defense minister he’d assassinate Haniyeh within 48 hours if the Hamas leader failed to return the bodies of IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war.

“In the IDF, the officer stands in front, he doesn’t send his soldiers [ahead of him],” Bennett tells Liberman’s party members.

The spat only dies down after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein intervenes.

— Marissa Newman

Bennett calls Netanyahu ‘childish’ for school mosque visit criticism

Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday dismisses criticism of him by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deriding the PM’s comments as “a little childish.”

The education minister says that every time he expresses his opposition to Netanyahu’s diplomacy, the prime minister attacks him and accuses him of being left-wing, among other things.

He refers to a Likud statement on Saturday that implied the education minister has sent Jewish schoolchildren to convert to Islam after footage emerged of Israeli students on a class trip to a mosque bowing inside the building.

“Come on, really?” Bennett says incredulously.

— Marissa Newman

Saudi king touts Trump’s Islamic summit as ‘new partnership’

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is touting an upcoming meeting between US President Donald Trump and heads of state from across Muslim-majority nations as the start of a new relationship that will strengthen global security.

Trump is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia this weekend for his first overseas trip as president.

The kingdom, in an effort to show its reach, has invited more than 50 heads of state from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia to a summit with Trump on Sunday. In a statement carried on the Saudi Press Agency on Monday, King Salman expresses hope the May 21 summit “will establish a new partnership in confronting extremism and terrorism.”

Trump is also expected to meet separately with the Arab rulers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

— AP

Bennett backs Western Wall deal, but will go along with coalition partners

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also holds the Diaspora Ministry portfolio, says he supports the compromise that would see a a mixed-gender prayer plaza built at the Western Wall, but will go along with whatever the coalition decides on the matter.

“I support implementing the Western Wall deal. Certainly, if the government decides otherwise, I am subject to coalition [restrictions],” he says.

While throwing his support behind the stalled agreement, on ice since January 2016 amid protests from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, the education minister says he was behind building the platform at Robinson’s Arch four years ago as an interim compromise.

Bennett says he “loses sleep” over the “apathy” of American Jews toward Judaism and Israel. He says his ministry is investing millions to strengthen Jewish identity in the Diaspora, which he says is the State of Israel’s third most pressing priority, behind its security and social cohesion.

“We are losing millions of Jews to assimilation,” he says.

— Marissa Newman

German neo-Nazi fugitive caught in Hungary

BUDAPEST, Hungary — A well-known German neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier who was on the run after skipping his jail sentence is arrested in Hungary on Monday, police say.

Horst Mahler, 81, a co-founder of the 1970s far-left Red Army Faction group who later swung violently far-right, is detained in the city of Sopron near the Austrian border.

Mahler received two concurrent prison terms of five and six years in 2009 for disputing that Nazis had systematically slaughtered six million European Jews during World War II.

Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany.

Mahler was temporarily released in 2015 because of ill health and was due to continue serving his prison sentence in the eastern city of Brandenburg on April 19 but failed to show up, according to German newspaper Taz.

Once a left-wing fanatic, Mahler joined Germany’s most radical extreme-right party, the NPD, between 2000 and 2003 before quitting because he found it “outdated.”

Mahler has called the Holocaust “the biggest lie in history,” praised the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and given a Hitler salute to a Jewish journalist in an interview.


New US ambassador David Friedman lands in Israel

The new US ambassador to Israel David Friedman lands in Israel Monday afternoon.

He is greeted by the Foreign Ministry’s head of protocol Meron Reuben, who tweets in Hebrew, “Welcome home.”

Friedman’s arrival comes one week before US President Donald Trump is expected to arrive in Israel on May 22 during his first foreign trip as president.

5 sharia court judges, including first woman, sworn in

Five new judges in Israel’s Muslim sharia court system are sworn in today at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

The group includes Israel’s first female qadi, or sharia judge, Hana Khatib, who drew praise from President Reuven Rivlin.

Khatib is from the town of Tamra, located in the lower Galilee. She practices family and sharia law, according to an online advertisement for her firm.

Sharia courts in Israel deal with personal status issues for the Muslim community, such as marriage, divorce, conversion, inheritance and prevention of domestic violence.

They have existed in what is now Israel since early Ottoman times and through the British Mandate, and were recognized by the State of Israel upon its founding in 1948.

— Dov Lieber contributed

Virginia Jewish mayor faces anti-Semitic tweets after white supremacist protests

The mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, is hit with anti-Semitic tweets following protests by white nationalists over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park.

White supremacist leader Richard Spencer, who attended the nearby University of Virginia, led the protests on Saturday — one during the day and another at night with demonstrators holding tiki torches. The Charlottesville City Council had voted to remove the statues of Lee and another Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson, located in a different park.

A court injunction will halt the action for six months.

“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced!” Spencer said during the daytime protest.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, who is Jewish, issued a statement published Saturday on Facebook criticizing the protesters, calling them “profoundly ignorant.”

“This event involving torches at night in Lee Park was either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK,” Signer wrote on his Facebook page. “Either way, as mayor of this City, I want everyone to know this: we reject this intimidation. We are a welcoming City, but such intolerance is not welcome here.”


Fox News reporter says Netanyahu asked Trump to delay embassy move

A senior Fox News correspondent, Conor Powell, says on Twitter that American officials have told him Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked US President Donald Trump not to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu insisted earlier Monday that his “position has not changed, and won’t change,” and called yet again on Trump to order the embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But, Powell tweets, “Everyone I’ve spoken to in DC that has been briefed on #Jerusalem embassy move says #Netanyahu told #Trump not to move embassy at this time.”

US accuses Syria of mass executions, disposing of bodies in a crematorium

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday accuses the Syrian government of carrying out mass killings of thousands of prisoners and burning the bodies in a large crematorium outside the capital.

The State Department says it believes that about 50 detainees a day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes from Damascus. Many of the bodies, it says, are then being burned in the crematorium.

“We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison,” says Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat for the Middle East.

The department releases commercial satellite photographs showing what it says is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium. The photographs taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not definitely prove the building is a crematorium, but they show construction consistent with such use. One photograph taken in January 2015 shows one area of the building’s roof cleared of snow due to melt.

In presenting the photographs, Jones says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government “has sunk to a new level of depravity” with the support of Russia and Iran, and calls on both countries to use their influence with Syria to establish a credible ceasefire and begin political talks.

— AP

Syrian activists: Airstrikes on IS-held areas kill dozens

BEIRUT — Air raids on an Islamic State-held village and town in Syria kill at least 32 civilians over the past two days, activists say Monday, underscoring the risk for hundreds of thousands of residents trapped in areas under the militant group’s control ahead of the looming battle for Raqqa.

It is not immediately clear who was behind the strikes on the village of Akayrshi on Sunday and the town of Boukamal on the Syrian-Iraqi border Monday. Activists blame the US-led coalition.

— AP

UN chief condemns North Korea over missile launch

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday condemns North Korea over its latest ballistic missile launch, and calls on Pyongyang to return to denuclearization.

“This action is in violation of Security Council resolutions and a threat to peace and security in the region,” Guterres says in a statement issued by his spokesman.

The UN chief calls on North Korea “to ensure full compliance with its international obligations and return to the path of denuclearization.”

North Korea on Sunday carried out its latest test of a ballistic missile, which Pyongyang said was capable of carrying a “heavy nuclear warhead.”

Under UN resolutions, North Korea is barred from developing nuclear and missile technology.

The UN Security Council is weighing its response to the latest launch, with diplomats saying that the United States is pushing for a toughly-worded statement of condemnation.

A closed-door emergency Council session is set for Tuesday.


Ahead of Trump visit, US official says Western Wall ‘in the West Bank’

Channel 2 reports on a shouting match between Israeli and American officials charged with preparing US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel.

At a meeting of the two teams, the Israeli team asks if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can accompany Trump on the president’s planned visit to the Western Wall, a sacred site to Jews. The Americans officials are quoted as rejecting the suggestion, saying the president’s visit to the site was in a private capacity.

When the Israelis nevertheless suggest that the publicity accompanying Trump’s tour broadcast his visit live, a “senior American official” retorts, “Certainly not. This isn’t your jurisdiction. This is part of the West Bank.”

The tone, Channel 2 says, citing Israeli officials, is “rude.”

The meeting then degenerates into “actual shouting,” according to the TV report, with Israeli officials responding that the Western Wall is sacred and sovereign Israeli territory.

Channel 2, reflecting the views of Israeli officials, suggests the exchange reflects the “ignorance and arrogance” of the Trump preparation team. “This is about Trump, and everyone else is an extra, including the prime minister,” the television report offers.

“For example, there is no answer yet [to the Israeli request] that Netanyahu speak alongside Trump at Masada.”

A PMO official responds to the Channel 2 report, saying, “The statement that the Western Wall is in the West Bank was received with shock. Israel is certain that this statement is contrary to President Trump’s policy.”

New US envoy: I went to Western Wall, prayed for Trump’s success

The new US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, on Monday evening visits the Western Wall to pray for his family and the success of his boss, US President Donald Trump.

“Well, it was a long trip. We’re a bit tired, but we wanted to come straight to the holiest place in the entire Jewish world, the Kotel Hamaaravi, the Western Wall, so we straight came here,” Friedman says in a filmed statement provided by the Embassy, flanked by his wife Tammy and his daughter Talia.

Friedman is greeted at the holy site by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the Western Wall’s rabbi. Rabinovitch reads a Psalm in Hebrew before Friedman approaches and kisses the stones, his eyes closed.

“I had the opportunity to say some prayers,” he says, adding that he prayed for health for his family — and for Donald Trump.

“I prayed for the president, and I wished him success, especially on his upcoming trip. I hope we all wish him success. We hope it’s going to be an amazing trip.”

He also says the Sheheheyanu prayer, a blessing said by Jews when they reach an important milestone.

Friedman is scheduled to hand his letter of credence to President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday morning in Jerusalem, officially taking up the post of US ambassador to Israel. While Friedman owns an apartment in the capital, he is expected to move into the ambassador’s official residence in Herzliya.

— Raphael Ahren

Trump’s Muslim statements scrutinized by travel ban judges

SEATTLE — Federal judges on Monday pepper a lawyer for US President Donald Trump with questions about whether the administration’s travel ban discriminates against Muslims, and hone in on the president’s campaign statements. This is the second time in a week that the rhetoric has faced judicial scrutiny.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who is defending the travel ban, tells a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that “over time, the president clarified that what he was talking about was Islamic terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor or shelter them.” He argues that the executive order halting travel from six majority Muslim nations doesn’t say anything about religion, and neither the state of Hawaii nor an imam from that state who wants his mother-in-law to visit has standing to sue.

“This order is aimed at aliens abroad, who themselves don’t have constitutional rights,” Wall says in a hearing broadcast live on C-Span and other news stations.

Neal Katyal, who represents Hawaii, scoffs at the argument and says Trump had repeatedly spoken of a Muslim ban during the presidential campaign and after.

“This is a repeated pattern of the president,” Katyal says.

The 9th Circuit panel is hearing arguments over Hawaii’s lawsuit challenging the travel ban, which would suspend the nation’s refugee program and temporarily bar new visas for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The judges will decide whether to uphold a Hawaii judge’s decision in March that blocked the ban.

Last week, judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments over whether to affirm a Maryland judge’s decision putting the ban on ice. They also questioned whether they could consider Trump’s campaign statements, with one judge asking if there was anything other than “willful blindness” that would prevent them from doing so.

— AP

NY Times publisher defends hiring of conservative columnist Bret Stephens

The publisher of The New York Times sends a personal letter to subscribers who canceled over the newspaper’s hiring of conservative columnist Bret Stephens.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr. sent the email on Friday afternoon to subscribers who specifically mentioned Stephens as their reason for canceling their subscription, Politico reports, after obtaining a copy.

Stephens, who is Jewish, came to the Times after serving as the foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, at 28, he became editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post in 2002. He is a Pulitzer Prize laureate and an assertive defender of Israel and its current government’s policies. Stephens is also a fierce critic of US President Donald Trump.

“Our customer care team shared with me that your reason for unsubscribing from The New York Times included our decision to hire Bret Stephens as an Opinion columnist. I wanted to provide a bit more context,” the email says, according to Politico.

Stephens has come under fire for questioning the theory of climate change and its dangers, as well as for calling anti-Semitism the “disease of the Arab mind” and “the short answer for why the Arab world is sliding into the abyss.”

Sulzberger says in his letter to subscribers that the newsroom functions separately from the opinion department where Stephens works and that his columns will not inform the newsroom. He also lists several of the Times articles about climate change and a recent issue of the Sunday magazine dedicated to the climate’s future, according to Politico.

“This journalism is unrivaled in its sophistication and imagination,” he writes. “The support of our subscribers is what allows us to pursue such ambitious stories all over the globe.

“Meanwhile, The Times’ Opinion pages remain an independent and unblinking forum for debate from a wide range of viewpoints among open-minded, informed writers and readers. I don’t think, in these polarizing and partisan times, there’s anything quite like it in American journalism.”

A New York Times spokesman tells Politico that fewer than six percent of subscribers who canceled since Stephens was hired in April cited him as the reason for the cancellation.


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