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Herzog, ministers meet new UAE leader during condolence visit to Abu Dhabi

President hails his counterpart Mohamed bin Zayed for normalizing ties with Israel: ‘Together we will advance and strengthen the prosperous ties of peace’

President Isaac Herzog meets his new UAE counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to pay his condolences on the passing of the Gulf state's late leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 15, 2022. (President's Office)
President Isaac Herzog meets his new UAE counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to pay his condolences on the passing of the Gulf state's late leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 15, 2022. (President's Office)

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

Armed Palestinians march in Jenin after jailed terror chief’s brother

Dozens of armed Palestinians are marching in Jenin this evening following the death of Daoud Zubeidi in a Haifa hospital, days after a gun battle with Israeli troops in the northern West Bank city.

Israeli officials are currently debating returning his body to the Palestinians, according to the Ynet news site.

Israeli delegation to visit Kyiv as Jerusalem weighs reopening embassy

An Israeli delegation led by Ambassador Michael Brodsky is due to visit Kyiv this week as Jerusalem weighs reopening its embassy in the Ukrainian capital, a Foreign Ministry official confirms to The Times of Israel.

Israel shuttered the embassy in Kyiv and moved the mission to Lviv in western Ukraine on the eve of Russia’s invasion on February 24. On the second day of the war, it was transferred from Lviv to a hotel on the Polish border city of Przemysl.

In Jerusalem, Polish Nobel-winning author calls Russia a threat to ‘free world’

A Polish Nobel Prize-winning author has called Russia a threat to the “free world,” saying its attack on neighboring Ukraine had echoes of the Second World War.

Olga Tokarczuk, known for her humanist themes and playful, subversive streak, spoke today at a writers festival in Jerusalem.

“The Poles share the Ukrainian feeling of danger that Russia presents to the free world,” Tokarczuk said, adding that the Polish government had warned about the risk presented by Russian aggression for years.

Poland, Ukraine’s western neighbor, has taken in over three million Ukrainian refugees since Russia launched its invasion in late February. Warsaw has called for tough international sanctions against Russia.

“Nobody could imagine that this war would be so cruel so anachronistic and this war brings to mind the horrible images of World War II,” she said.

Tokarczuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018 for her 18th-century epic “The Books of Jacob,” about a Jewish mystic and sect leader named Jacob Frank.

US delegation led by Kamala Harris to pay condolence visit to UAE

US President Joe Biden announces the American delegation traveling to United Arab Emirates to pay respects for the death of the late president Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The presidential delegation will be led by US Vice President Kamala Harris and will include US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, climate envoy John Kerry, CIA chief Bill Burns, senior National Security Council officials Brett McGurk and Barbara Leaf, as well as Harris’s National Security adviser, Phillip Gordon.

After Buffalo mass shooting, Biden says hate ‘remains a stain on the soul of America’

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden calls on citizens to end the hate that is “a stain on the soul of America,” as he mourns 10 people killed at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in a racially motivated shooting.

“We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America,” the president says, at a service for fallen US police officers.

The Justice Department, Biden adds, has announced that it is investigating the rampage “as a hate crime, racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism.”

Housing prices in Israel up 16.3% over past year, according to stats bureau

Housing prices in Israel have surged by 16.3 percent in the past year, according to a report released today by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the biggest uptick the country has seen since 2010.

The months of February and March saw housing prices climb 1.9%, the data show.

Governments have long promised to lower ever-climbing housing prices for over a decade. The sky-high costs have put home ownership out of the reach of many Israelis, hurting the middle class.

The statistics bureau also reports that the consumer price index rose by 0.8% in April. The index is up 2.3% since the start of the year and 4% over the past year.

The CPI measures the average cost of household goods. Notable rises were seen in fresh vegetables and fruits (5.5%), clothing and footwear (2.8%), transportation (2.3%), and culture and entertainment (1.5%).

However, communication costs dipped 1.2%, according to the data.

Herzog, ministers meet new UAE leader during condolence visit to Abu Dhabi

President Isaac Herzog meets with new UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi to pay his condolences, after the death of the Gulf state’s leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

“He left behind him a legacy of progress and friendship between the nations of the region and of striving for peace in the Middle East,” Herzog is quoted as saying in a statement from his office.

He also congratulates the new leader on his selection as president.

“You are continuing the path of your brother, in that you brought about a dramatic change following that Abraham Accords you signed with the State of Israel and other countries,” Herzog says, referring to the series of US-backed normalization deals inked in 2020.

“I believe that together we will advance and strengthen the prosperous ties of peace, between us and our countries,” he adds.

Herzog is being accompanied by Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej.

https://twitter.com/EsawiFr/status/1525877807204777984

Bonfires to be banned nationwide during Lag B’omer

Local fire department chief Eyal Caspi signs an order banning bonfires throughout Israel during Lag B’Omer.

The ban on lighting bonfires, a custom during the Jewish holiday, will be in effect from tomorrow morning until Friday evening, though they will be permitted in some authorized areas. Lag B’Omer begins Wednesday night.

Police said seeking criminal probes of Joint List MKs Tibi, Cassif

Police will likely ask Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara tomorrow to authorize an investigation into Joint List MKs Ahmad Tibi and Ofer Cassif, Channel 12 news reports.

The network, which does not cite a source, says police brass are determined in their effort to open a criminal investigation against the members of the predominantly Arab party.

In separate events caught on camera, Cassif was filmed hitting a police officer after security forces blocked his vehicle from reaching a protest in the West Bank, while Tibi is accused of obstructing police and helping a suspect escape during an attempted arrest in Jerusalem.

Swedish ruling party backs joining NATO, setting up membership application

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s ruling party says it’s in favor of joining NATO, reversing its decades-long opposition and paving the way for the country to submit a membership application.

“The Social Democrats will thereby work to ensure that Sweden, if the application is approved, expresses unilateral reservations against the deployment of nuclear weapons and permanent bases on Swedish territory,” the party says today in a statement just hours after neighboring Finland announced its official intention to apply for membership.

Gantz to visit US this week to meet Pentagon chief

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is heading to the US this week for a meeting with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin, his office says.

Gantz will take off on Wednesday and is slated to meet with the Pentagon chief the next morning (3 p.m. Thursday in Israel).

Also during his trip, the defense minister is expected to meet with bereaved families and other members of the Jewish community in New York and Miami.

Satellite images show Syrian facilities after reported Israeli strikes

Private Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International (ISI) publishes satellite images of a site in Syria’s Masyaf region that was reportedly struck by Israel on Friday.

According to ISI, the airstrikes targeted an apparent underground facility. The site was also struck in September 2018, according to the firm.

The Masyaf area is thought to be used as a base for Iranian forces and pro-Iranian militias and has been repeatedly targeted in recent years in attacks attributed to Israel.

According to Syria’s official SANA news agency, five people were killed in Friday’s strike. Other media in the country said six were killed, all crew members of a Pantsir air defense system.

Additionally, ISI’s imagery shows that the nearby Scientific Studies and Research Center, known as CERS, was struck in airstrikes attributed to Israel in April.

Western officials have long associated CERS with the manufacture of chemical arms. According to the United States, sarin gas was developed there, a charge denied by the Syrian authorities.

Prosecutors seek to amend indictment in Netanyahu corruption case

Prosecutors are asking the Jerusalem District Court to amend their indictment in opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial amid the cross-examination of state witness Shlomo Filber, a former confidant of the ex-premier.

According to a statement from the State Attorney’s Office, prosecutors want to change a line alleging that Netanyahu instructed Filber to work to benefit Bezeq’s then-controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch during a meeting on an unknown date after appointing him director-general of the Communications Ministry, to a meeting on an unknown date after Netanyahu decided to appoint him director-general of the Communications Ministry.

Prosecutors say their allegations about what occurred during the meeting itself — which they have dubbed “the instruction meeting” — still stand.

Filber is a state witness in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of advancing regulatory moves that financially benefited Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site. Elovitch and his wife have also been charged and along with Netanyahu deny wrongdoing.

US to remove 5 groups from foreign terror blacklist, including Kahane’s Kach

BERLIN — The United States is poised to remove five extremist groups, all believed to be defunct, from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including several that once posed significant threats, killing hundreds if not thousands of people across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Although the groups are inactive, the decision is politically sensitive for the Biden administration and the countries in which the organizations operated, and could draw criticism from victims and their families still dealing with the losses of loved ones.

The organizations include the Basque separatist group ETA, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, the radical Jewish group Kahane Chai (Kach) and two Islamic groups that have been active in Israel, Gaza and Egypt — the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem and Gama’a al-Islamiyya.

Kach was a movement founded in Israel by the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and is also blacklisted by the Jewish state.

A US official speaking to The Times of Israel clarified that the move as it related to Kahane Chai, saying the revocation “was required by US law since there was insufficient evidence from the last five years that [the] organization, directed or engaged in terrorist activity.

However, the US official said that Kahane Chai “will remain a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity,” even if it is dropped from the FTO list. “The US government remains concerned by the legacy of Kahane Chai and the continued use of its rhetoric among violent right wing extremists.”

The US State Department notified Congress on Friday of the moves, which come at the same time as an increasingly divisive but unrelated debate in Washington and elsewhere about whether Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard should or can be legally removed from the US list as part of efforts to salvage the languishing Iran nuclear deal.

That designation, which was imposed by the Trump administration, was not mentioned in Friday’s notifications.

In separate notices to lawmakers, the State Department said the terrorism designations for the five groups will be formally removed when the determinations are published in the Federal Register, which is expected this coming week.

Copies of the notifications, all of which were signed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, were obtained by The Associated Press.

Woman suspected of sending bullets, threats to PM and his family to be freed to house arrest

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court orders that a woman suspected of sending bullets and threatening letters to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his family be released to house arrest tonight.

Police request that the suspect, who was identified last week as a supporter of ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu, remain in custody so they can appeal the ruling.

Ra’am chief denies demanding Bennett oust Yamina member from Knesset

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas denies a report that his Islamist faction demanded Prime Minister Naftali Bennett force out a member of the premier’s Yamina party from the Knesset for visiting the Temple Mount.

Abbas’s comments to the Kan public broadcaster come as opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu shares a false report on social media claiming a Ra’am lawmaker said in a radio interview that the party did in fact demand Yamina’s Yomtob Kalfon be ousted from the Knesset, before deleting the post.

NATO chief: Membership for Finland, Sweden will prove ‘aggression doesn’t pay’

BERLIN — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says that membership by Finland and Sweden will prove “aggression does not pay” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Their membership would increase our shared security, demonstrate that NATO’s door is open and that aggression does not pay,” Stoltenberg tells reporters virtually at an alliance meeting in Berlin.

He voices confidence at resolving Turkey’s concerns on expected membership bids by Sweden and Finland.

“I am confident we’ll be able to find common ground, consensus on how to move on membership issues,” Stoltenberg says, adding that he was in touch with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says NATO countries are ready to provide military assistance to Ukraine to help it repel Russia’s invasion for as long as it is needed.

“We agree that we must not and will not let up in our national efforts, especially in terms of military support, for as long as Ukraine needs this support for the self-defense of its country,” Baerbock says at the NATO meeting.

High Court rejects petitions against controversial Jerusalem cable car

The High Court of Justice has rejected rejects four petitions against a controversial plan to build a cable car to Jerusalem’s historic Old City, ending the legal route for those who are opposed.

Writing on behalf of a three-judge bench, Yosef Elron says today that the court’s job is to intervene in planning decisions only if they can be proved to have been defective and that the planners made the decisions on the basis of irrelevant considerations or acted beyond their briefs.

This was not the case with the planning of the cable car.

Iran official says Tehran looking at sending gas to Europe amid soaring energy prices

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran is considering the possibility of exporting gas to Europe, an oil ministry official says today against the backdrop of soaring energy prices due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Iran is studying this subject but we have not reached a conclusion yet,” deputy oil minister Majid Chegeni is quoted as saying by the ministry’s official news agency, Shana.

“Iran is always after the development of energy diplomacy and expansion of the market,” he adds.

Though Iran boasts one of the world’s largest proven gas reserves, its industry has been hit by US sanctions that were reimposed in 2018 when Washington withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

Talks aiming to revive the 2015 nuclear deal began last year in Vienna but have been on pause for weeks amid outstanding issues.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February sent global oil and gas prices soaring, with many European countries dependent on energy imports from Russia.

The situation worsened Wednesday when Kyiv said Russia had halted gas supplies through a key transit hub in the east of the Ukraine, fueling fears Moscow’s invasion could worsen an energy crisis in Europe.

Last year, the European Union received around 155 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, accounting for 45 percent of its imports.

Iran’s deputy oil minister also confirms that Tehran and Baghdad had signed a memorandum of understanding a few weeks ago that will see the Islamic Republic increase gas exports to Iraq.

Lapid, other coalition members join Liberman’s call to amend nation-state law

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid backs Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s call to amend the legislation that defines Israel as a Jewish state, after a special forces officer killed during a 2018 covert operation in Gaza was identified this morning as Druze.

“I agree with every word,” Lapid tweeted in response to Liberman’s earlier remarks.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv says the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will deliberate amending the law.

“Liberman’s call is an important opening to anchoring the principle of equality in a Basic Law of the State of Israel, as well as strengthening the legal status of the Declaration of Independence,” Kariv writes on Twitter.

The Labor lawmaker, who heads the panel, says it will convene in the coming days “to consider preparations on the matter.”

Knesset members from the Blue and White party also say they back amending the legislation.

Despite these expressions of support for changing the law, the Walla news site quotes coalition sources saying the chances of passing any amendments are very low due to opposition from the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties.

New UAE president meets Macron as leaders stream in for funeral; Herzog set to depart for UAE

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE’s new president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, holds talks today with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron as world leaders stream in to the oil-rich Gulf state to pay tribute to his late predecessor.

Macron, on his first foreign trip since his second term started last week, expresses his condolences to the leader dubbed MBZ following the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa on Friday after a long illness.

Macron, the first Western leader to pay his respects, will be followed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and the king of Spain, among a long list of dignitaries.

The United Arab Emirates has begun wielding increased influence in the Middle East and further afield due to its wealth, oil resources and strategic location.

MBZ has been quietly running the country since 2014 when Sheikh Khalifa, his 73-year-old half-brother, was sidelined by a stroke. The cause of his death was not announced.

Today Qatar’s emir, Bahrain’s king and the Palestinian Authority, German and Indonesian presidents are among more than 20 senior officials expected.

Herzog, who is due to depart shortly, will be joined by Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel. The president is expected meet his new UAE counterpart during his stay.

Before leaving, Herzog says he will offer his condolences on Israel’s behalf to MBZ on the death of his half-brother and congratulate him on his appointment as president.

“In a global reality of wars, interests, and conflicts — friendship has truly great value, and it is measured also, and perhaps in particular, in moments of sorrow and pain,” he says, according to a statement from his office. “The partnership between our countries is an asset for us and for the whole region, and it has been built and is still being built by bold and groundbreaking leaders, of whom the late Sheikh Khalifa was one.”

Finland officially declares it will seek NATO membership: ‘A new era’

HELSINKI — The Finnish government officially announces its intention to join NATO, as Sweden’s ruling party is set to hold a decisive meeting that could pave the way for a joint application.

Less than three months after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the move is a stunning reversal of Finland’s policy on military non-alignment dating back more than 75 years.

Sweden, which has been militarily non-aligned for more than two centuries, is expected to make a similar announcement expected tomorrow.

“Today, the President of the Republic and the Government’s Foreign Policy Committee have jointly agreed that Finland will apply for NATO membership, after consulting parliament. This is a historic day. A new era is opening,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto tells reporters today.

Finland’s parliament will convene to debate the membership proposal tomorrow.

“We hope the parliament will confirm the decision to apply for NATO membership during the coming days. It will be based on a strong mandate,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin says.

An overwhelming majority of Finnish MPs back the decision, after Marin’s Social Democratic Party said it was in favor of membership.

“Hopefully we can send our applications next week together with Sweden,” Marin said yesterday.

The two Nordic countries broke their strict neutralities after the end of the Cold War by joining the EU and becoming partners to NATO in the 1990s, solidifying their affiliation with the West.

But the concept of full NATO membership was a non-starter in the countries until the war in Ukraine saw public and political support for joining the military alliance soar.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia, has been leading the charge, while Sweden appears anxious at being the only non-NATO country around the Baltic Sea.

Man seriously wounded in terrorist axe attack in Elad regains consciousness

A man seriously wounded in the terror axe attack in Elad regained consciousness, the hospital where he is being treated says.

The patient has seen a slight improvement, but he remains in serious but stable condition, according to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.

There is no change in the condition of a second victim, who is also listed in serious but stable condition, according to the medical center.

IDF to test warning sirens in Tel Aviv, Haifa on Monday

The Israel Defense Forces announces it will hold a test of the siren systems and emergency preparedness in Tel Aviv and Haifa tomorrow.

The sirens will sound in Tel Aviv’s city center at 10:05 a.m., in the south of the city and Jaffa at 10:15 a.m., east at 10:25 a.m., and the Ever Hayarkon industrial zone at 10:35 a.m.; at 12:05 sirens will sound in Haifa’s Neve Sha’anan and Ramot Hacarmel neighborhoods.

Residents of the area are asked to enter bomb shelters when they hear the sirens and to ensure that their shelters are well-stocked for an emergency.

In the case of an actual attack, the sirens will sound twice, the military says.

The drill comes amid the IDF’s month-long “Chariots of Fire” exercise, involving nearly all units of the military.

Funeral held for police commando killed in firefight during raid near Jenin

Noam Raz, a veteran police commando who was killed during a counterterror operation in the Jenin area, is buried today in the police section of Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem.

Raz, 47, was fatally wounded Friday during fierce clashes with Palestinian gunmen in the northern West Bank. A founding member and resident of the settlement of Kida in the West Bank, he leaves behind a wife, Efrat, and six children. He was posthumously promoted yesterday to command sergeant major.

Residents from settlements around Kida stood along the road and waved Israeli flags as the funeral procession set out to Mount Herzl, where hundreds of mourners are taking part in the ceremony.

“He is an Israeli hero, a man of the land, of settlement. He raised a wonderful family. He was nice, modest,” one of his friend’s tells reporters outside the cemetery, after the family asked that media not attend the burial.

Raz was an organ donor, according to the National Transplant Center, which says his corneas will be used in a transplant.

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