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

Palestinian draws knife at Jerusalem checkpoint, is arrested

A knife-carrying Palestinian man is arrested by Israeli security forces at the Shuafat checkpoint in East Jerusalem, police say in a statement.

According to spokeswoman Luba Samri, the 21-year-old man drew a knife when asked to present his ID card at the checkpoint.

The man is taken into custody unharmed, and no other injuries are reported.

The suspect is handed over to security forces for questioning over the circumstances of the incident.

Israel cuts UN payment by $1 million over UNESCO vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will cut its required payment to the United Nations by $1 million following the adoption of a UNESCO resolution that rejects Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

“The outrageous UNESCO decision and this kind of harassment has a price,” Netanyahu says.

In recent months, Israel slashed a total of $8 million in UN dues following what it saw as anti-Israel measures at the UN Human Rights Council and the Security Council.

Abbas stops funding Gaza electricity to ‘dry up’ cash flow to Hamas

The Palestinian Authority will stop paying for electricity in the power-starved Gaza Strip and “dry up” the flow of funds to the territory’s Hamas rulers, a senior official says.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA Civil Affairs Department, says the terrorist group profits because it collects electricity payments from Gaza residents. “We are not going to continue financing the Hamas coup in Gaza,” he tells the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Al-Sheikh says the aim is to “dry up Hamas’ financial resources.” He says efforts would be made not to harm services to Gaza residents, but did not elaborate.

Meanwhile Abbas aide Ahmed Majdalani says that as a next step, the West Bank government would sharply reduce the amount of medicine it ships to Gaza every month. Majdalani alleges that Hamas is “selling the medicine and collecting the money.”

He says that only “necessary medicine” would be sent directly to Gaza hospitals.

— with AP

Archbishop of Canterbury prays at Western Wall

The head of the Anglican Church prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem as part of a Mideast tour.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, is seen praying at the Jewish holy site alongside Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Earlier in Jordan, Welby met with Iraqi Christian refugees and led prayers at the Bethany Beyond the Jordan archaeological site, believed to be the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth.

At the site, he called for greater support for those in need, saying: “In this place where we hear birdsong and running water we are surrounded, within a few kilometers (miles), with violence.”

Trump to press Abbas on rewarding terrorists, attackers

US President Donald Trump will press Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to end payments to families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails, according to US officials, one of several actions Washington believes could lead to resumed peace talks with Israel.

Other actions include an end to Palestinian anti-Israel rhetoric and incitement of violence, said officials familiar with planning for the meeting. It will be Trump and Abbas’ first face-to-face discussion.

“We hope this will be a new beginning,” Abbas told Palestinians at a meeting in Washington last night.

He blamed the lack of dialogue in recent years on the Israeli government, saying its leaders “have no political vision,” and reiterated his demands for an independent Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

“Without this we will not accept any solution,” said Abbas, who touted an Arab League peace plan that offers Israel diplomatic relations with the Muslim world for a Palestinian state. “There is no alternative.”

— AP

Hamas warns PA of ‘catastrophic’ consequences over Gaza power cuts

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accuses Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of siding with Israel in trying to punish Hamas by halting electricity payments in the power-starved Gaza Strip.

“Today, Abbas put himself in a confrontation with the Palestinian people,” Barhoum says. “Its consequences will be catastrophic and disastrous, not only for Hamas, as they think, but for all Gazans.”

Yesh Atid fined for using Holocaust survivors’ info in campaign

The Justice Ministry fines the opposition Yesh Atid party NIS 40,000 ($11,000) for using “sensitive,” personal information on Israeli Holocaust survivors for political campaigning purposes during the 2015 election.

According to a statement from the ministry, the party requested and received the information from The Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, an umbrella group headed by former lawmaker Colette Avital.

Avital, who is also fined NIS 10,000 ($2,760) by the ministry, handed over files to the political party without the consent of the survivors and without completing the formal, legally mandated registration process.

Yesh Atid proceeded to use this “sensitive” and “personal” information to campaign to survivors, including through direct mail, the ministry says, in what it described as an illegal breach of the survivors’ privacy.

The party says in a statement Wednesday the incident was a “one-time mishap done during an election campaign, in good faith, and with no knowledge that the practice is improper.”

— Marissa Newman

Hebron shooter’s bid to consider similar incidents blocked by court

The IDF Court of Appeals largely refuses a request by the attorneys of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the so-called Hebron shooter, to allow the admission of evidence from other cases of security personnel who killed people against orders or protocol but were not tried.

The judges reject 16 of the 17 cases the defense wanted to include in the appeal, allowing only a case in which a volunteer police officer shot dead a Palestinian terrorist after a stabbing attack in Jaffa last year.

Defense attorney Yoram Sheftel argues the entire case was tainted by comments made by then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkott against Azaria immediately after the incident.

He cites previous cases where judges have acknowledged the influence of media coverage and statements by politicians on legal proceedings.

Sheftel also points to the promotion of Azaria’s company commander — who provided damning testimony — before his appearance in court in his argument that the army attempted to influence the outcome of the trial.

The company commander testified that after the incident Azaria told him he killed the Palestinian assailant because he deserved to die. Part of Sheftel’s appeal is that Azaria never said that.

He further says showing the “enemy’s” video of the incident, by which he means the left-wing B’tselem organization, to soldiers before they gave their testimony to military police “also influences” the outcome.

— Judah Ari Gross

Syria rebels ‘suspend’ participation in Astana peace talks

Syrian rebels say they are suspending their participation as a latest round of peace talks began in Kazakhstan, with the warring sides set to discuss a plan to create safe zones.

“The rebel delegation is suspending the meetings because of the violent airstrikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria,” a rebel source in the Kazakh capital Astana tells AFP.

Syrian government and rebel delegations gather for the start of a fourth round of talks sponsored by regime backers Russia and Iran and opposition supporter Turkey.

The latest round of negotiations begins with a series of bilateral meetings and was set to focus on a Russian plan to establish “de-escalation zones” around the war-torn country.


Hebron shooter’s lawyer casts doubt on commander’s testimony

Elor Azaria’s defense attorney Yoram Sheftel points to the company commander’s first testimony after the incident, in which he didn’t say Azaria said he killed the assailant because he deserved to die. Initially the commander only said Azaria told him he killed the assailant because he moved.

Judge Segal presses Sheftel to explain how he can claim that Azaria told the company commander that he shot the assailant because he moved when Azaria later testified that he told the commander that he shot the assailant because he was afraid of a bomb.

Sheftel says the defense doesn’t have to prove anything.

He says the issue is what the company commander and another soldier who also testified that Azaria said the assailant deserved to die, not what Azaria testified.

“On (their testimonies) the case will stand and fall,” he says.

— Judah Ari Gross

‘Sexist’ pre-army yeshiva head goes on leave

A controversial Israeli rabbi who made disparaging remarks about female IDF soldiers in March is going on indefinite leave from the pre-army yeshiva he heads in the West Bank.

According to Channel 2, the move will likely be seen as a victory for Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who called for the resignation of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein and threatened to withdraw accreditation from his academy if he failed to step down.

The furor first erupted after Channel 2 broadcast a video in March in which the rabbi — from the prominent Bnei David academy in the settlement of Eli — saying that military service drives female soldiers “crazy,” makes them unattractive, and strips them of their Jewishness.

Hebron shooter’s lawyer claims army conspired to convict his client

Defense attorney Yoram Sheftel says his client’s battalion and brigade commanders Col. Guy Hazut and Lt. Col. David Shapira “didn’t speak truth” in their testimonies.

When asked by Judge Tzvi Segal why the officers would do such a thing, Sheftel says they did it in order to square their testimonies with the claims of the chief of staff, who decried Azaria’s actions.

Sheftel is quickly corrected by the judges and prosecution that IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot made his statement after the battalion and brigade commanders testified.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israel eases restrictions on Gaza fishermen

Israel eases restrictions on Gaza fishermen, allowing them to travel up to nine nautical miles off the coast of the blockaded territory instead of the previous six, Palestinian officials say.

The new policy was to take effect today, says Mohammed al-Maqadma of the Palestinian office that coordinates with Israeli authorities.

It will, however, only apply to the southern half of the Gaza Strip, he said.

Nizar Ayash, head of the Gazan fishermen’s union, confirms the change and says he hopes it will help alleviate difficult conditions for them.


Hebron shooter’s lawyer: Corporal gave damning testimony to ‘save his skin’

Elor Azaria’s Defense Attorney Yoram Sheftel casts doubt on testimony of an IDF corporal who testified that Azaria told him the assailant deserved to die.

The defense attorney says the corporal, whose name cannot be published, gave his testimony when he was under arrest and accused of not preventing the shooting. Thus, Sheftel says, the soldier could have been looking to “save his skin” by testifying against Azaria.

Later outside the courtroom, an IDF official disputes Sheftel’s claim, telling The Times of Israel that the corporal was not under arrest when he gave his testimony.

— Judah Ari Gross

Dozens trapped as Iran coal mine explosion kills at least 2

A large explosion strikes a coal mine in northern Iran, trapping dozens of miners and killing at least two, state media reports.

Ambulances, helicopters and other rescue vehicles raced to the scene in Iran’s northern Golestan province as authorities work to determine the scale of the emergency.

The IRNA news agency quoted Golestan provincial emergency management department head Sadeq Ali Moghadam as saying that 40 to 50 people are believed to be trapped in the mine outside of the town of Azadshahr.

One official says twelve injured miners are pulled out alive.

The mine has 500 workers and the explosion happened during a change of shift, state media says.

— Agencies

Police announce road closures ahead of Justin Bieber concert

Police in Tel Aviv urge drivers to stay away from the roads adjacent to Tel Aviv’s Ganei Yehoshua, where Canadian pop superstar Justin Bieber is performing a concert.

Drivers are requested to to avoid Rokach Blvd, Shitrit St and Raoul Wallenberg St until after 11 p.m.

Police urge Tel Aviv residents to utilize public transportation

The Israel Police website says traffic updates will be available on the Waze navigation app throughout the evening.

Peretz says opposition will back PM if he pursues peace deal with Palestinians

Zionist Union MK and former defense minister Amir Peretz promises Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a political “safety net” if he should choose to pursue a peace initiative with the Palestinians.

In a statement directed to US Donald Trump hours ahead of his first visit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Peretz says that Netanyahu “does not have to worry about his coalition partners.”

“We in the Zionist Union faction will grant him a safety net for a political move toward making a peace agreement without preconditions and without portfolios if he chooses to take the path of political settlement.”

“We hope the meeting between Trump and Abu Mazen [Abbas] will bear fruit and advance the chances for a political settlement of two states for two peoples, an arrangement that is of great Israeli interest,” he says.

Peretz is one of nine candidates in the running for chairman of the Labor Party.

Herzog says Peretz’s offer to Netanyahu ‘made on his own volition’

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog says the earlier announcement by ex-defense minister Amir Peretz offering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unconditional support if he pursues a peace deal with Palestinians is not an official party statement.

“The leader of the opposition is in favor of a diplomatic process as he has said dozens of times and has been involved in efforts that have cost him nearly all of his political capital, however, Peretz released that statement on his own volition,” a statement from Herzog’s spokesperson says.

Herzog and Peretz are facing off against 7 other candidates for the leadership of the Labor Party in a July primary vote.

Red Cross to Israel: Allow visits to hunger-striking Palestinians

The International Committee of the Red Cross is urging Israel not to restrict family visits for hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

In a rare statement, the humanitarian organization criticizes what it called a “systemic suspension” of visits by Israeli authorities as a punishment of the striking prisoners, in violation of international law.

ICRC says that “families are paying the price for this situation.”

The strike reached its 17th day today. The prisoners seek better conditions, including more family visits.

Israel Prison Service spokesman Assaf Librati says about 850 prisoners are still taking part in the strike. He denied claims Israel is violating international law, but didn’t elaborate.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, thousands of Palestinians are attending a solidarity rally for the prisoners.

— AP

Trump hosts Abbas at White House in Middle East peace push

President Donald Trump is shortly expected to receive Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House as part of a push to end the long-running Mideast conflict.

After hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, the self-styled deal-maker-in-chief hosts Abbas for the first time since coming to office.

“The president’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region,” says White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

— With agencies

Trump greets Abbas at White house for first-ever visit

US President Donald Trump greets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House ahead of their first-ever meeting aimed at restarting the Middle East peace process.

The two leaders exchange a few words and share a friendly handshake before going inside.

Trump tells Abbas he’s hopeful for ‘terrific’ outcome to peace talks

In their first-ever meeting, Trump tells Abbas that he hopes “something terrific” will come of their talks aimed at resurrecting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Inside the Oval Office, Trump tells Abbas the conflict has been “going on a long time,” according to US reporters.

Trump says committed to brokering Mideast peace

Trump praises Abbas for his role in signing the 1993 Olso Accords, and says the agreement laid out the foundations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In a joint press conference, Trump says he is committed to supporting Abbas in helping formulate “the final and most important peace agreement that will give peace and prosperity” to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump tells Abbas that “there can be no peace until incitement ends,” and urges Palestinian leaders to “speak in a unified voice” against hatred.

Trump: Let’s see if we can prove the doubters wrong

Trump says Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot be imposed by the US, or other counties, but says he will do “whatever is necessary” to support both sides in reaching a final agreement.

Trump says he will act as an arbitrator and facilitator between the sides, and wants to “start a process towards peace.”

Trump says: It’s been said that this is the most difficult deal to make, so let’s see if we can prove them wrong.

Abbas responds with an “okay.”

Trump hails ‘unbelievable’ Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation

Trump says peace means “defeating ISIS and other terror groups” in the region.

In a joint press conference with Abbas, the US president praises cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in countering terror.

“They get along unbelievably well,” he says, adding he is impressed and surprised by how well they get along.

He urges a greater US backing to PA security forces.

Abbas: ‘God willing,’ Israelis and Palestinians have new opportunity for peace

At the joint White House press conference with Trump, Abbas says that “God willing,” Israelis and Palestinians have reached a new opportunity for peace.

“We, Mr. President, are coming into a new opportunity, a new horizon that will enable us to bring about peace,” he says in Arabic.

“We believe this is possible, and we will be able to solve the issues of refugees and prisoners according to international law.”

He goes on to say that “it’s about time” for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to end, and calls for an independent Palestinian state to be established along the 1967 lines.

Abbas denounces ISIS and other terrorist elements in the Middle East that he says “have nothing to do with our noble religion.”

Abbas: It’s about time for Israel to end its occupation of our land

At a joint press conference with Trump, Abbas calls on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and recognize an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines.

“It’s about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and of our land after 50 years; we are the only remaining people in the world that are living under occupation,” he says. “We are aspiring and want to achieve our freedom, dignity and our right to self-determination of our own nation.”

“We also want Israel to recognize the Palestinian state just as the Palestinian people recognize the state of Israel,” he says.

Abbas goes on to reject longstanding Israeli accusations of Palestinian Authority-sponsored incitement against Israel.

“I affirm to you that we are raising our children and grandchildren on a culture of peace, and we are endeavoring to bring about security and peace for our children to live in peace, freedom and security.”

Hamas rejects Abbas’s remarks on peace with Israel

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri says his group rejects Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s statement to US President Donald Trump.

“No one has authorized Mahmoud Abbas to represent Palestinian people and no one is obligated to any position he’s issued,” Zuhri posts on Twitter.

“We reject Abbas’s statement that all final status issues are solvable, because national rights belong to all Palestinians and no one person can relinquish them,” he adds.

— Dov Lieber

Over lunch, Trump and Abbas discuss ‘difficult’ Mideast conflict

After a joint Trump-Abbas press conference, the two leaders and their respective delegations sit down for a working lunch at the White House to discuss the “very difficult situation between Israel and the Palestinians.”

“It’s a great honor to have President Abbas with us,” Trump says according to reports. “We are having lunch together. We will be discussing details of what has proven to be a very difficult situation between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Let’s see if we can find the solution,” he says. “It’s something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.

“We need two willing parties,” Trump adds. “We believe Israel is willing. We believe you’re willing. And if you are willing, we are going to make a deal.”

Tillerson calls first Trump-Abbas meet a ‘historic opportunity’

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calls Abbas’s first-ever meeting with Trump a “historic opportunity,” expressing optimism of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement under the current administration.

“I think it’s a historic opportunity because there are a number of positive conditions in place, and I know under your leadership that we hope good things will happen,” Tillerson says at a working lunch after a joint Trump-Abbas press conference.

Ex-US envoy exasperated by Trump approach to Mideast peace

Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro expresses exasperation at President Donald Trump’s approach to brokering Mideast peace.

“I’m an optimist by nature. But goodness gracious!” Dan Shapiro posts on Twitter in response to Trump’s remarks to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “may not be as difficult as people have thought over the years.”

J Street cautiously applauds Trump’s ‘determination’ to reach Mideast peace

The left-wing American Jewish Mideast policy group J Street says it’s “encouraged by US President Donald Trump’s determination… to launch a serious attempt to negotiate an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

The statement comes on the heels of a joint press conference between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Trump, who said he would “do whatever is necessary” to facilitate a peace agreement.

In a statement, J Street says it still awaiting “critical details about how he sees such a peace being achieved.”

The group reiterates its support for a two-state solution, and calls on Trump to “commit himself to this principle without further delay if he is serious about pursuing peace.”

French chief rabbi joins multi-faith clergy endorsement of Macron

France’s chief rabbi joins Muslim and Christian faith leaders in an unusual endorsement of the centrist presidential candidate Emannuel Macron against the far-right hopeful Marine Le Pen.

Haim Korsia’s office is issuing the endorsement a day after a remarkably acrimonious televised debate between the two candidates ahead of the May 7 runoff. Titled “Call to Vote for Mr. Emmanuel Macron,” it was co-signed by Pastor François Clavairoly, president of the Protestant Federation of France, and Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

A combination of video grabs from an AFP video taken on May 3, 2017 during a live broadcast televised debate shows French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party, Marine Le Pen (L) and French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron talking during a face to face debate ahead of the second round of the French presidential election. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)
A combination of video grabs from an AFP video taken on May 3, 2017 during a live broadcast televised debate shows French presidential election candidate for the far-right Front National (FN) party, Marine Le Pen (L) and French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron talking during a face to face debate ahead of the second round of the French presidential election. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

An explicit show of support for any particular candidate is highly unusual for all three clergymen.

“Fully aware that our roles require us to be non-partisan, we are, however, first and foremost responsible citizens and therefore openly are calling for a vote in favor of Emmanuel Macron,” the three men write.


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