Trump confirms 2nd Abbas meet in a month during Israel trip
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Trump confirms 2nd Abbas meet in a month during Israel trip

US president will also visit Vatican and Saudi Arabia during first foray abroad; German president to pass on Breaking the Silence meeting but planning to praise its work in speech

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

  • US President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania step off a plane upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on January 19, 2017.  (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)
    US President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania step off a plane upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on January 19, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)
  • Newly elected German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech after the presidential election at the Bundesversammlung federal assembly Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on February 12, 2017, in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / Axel Schmidt)
    Newly elected German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivers a speech after the presidential election at the Bundesversammlung federal assembly Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on February 12, 2017, in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / Axel Schmidt)
  • This image released by Islamic State-affiliated Aamaq news agency in March 2017 shows a general view of Raqqa, Syria. (Aamaq news agency via AP)
    This image released by Islamic State-affiliated Aamaq news agency in March 2017 shows a general view of Raqqa, Syria. (Aamaq news agency via AP)
  • Illustrative: A view of the new television studios of the Knesset Channel, at the Knesset, Jan 19, 2011.  (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)
    Illustrative: A view of the new television studios of the Knesset Channel, at the Knesset, Jan 19, 2011. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Fox News' Sean Hannity during an interview aired on April 21, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Fox News' Sean Hannity during an interview aired on April 21, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)
  • US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speak in the Roosevelt Room during a joint statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM)
    US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speak in the Roosevelt Room during a joint statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 3, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM)
  • Louis Ahmad Shapik Zaabana, left, and his cousin Mahmoud Shapik Zaabana, arrested on suspicion carrying out shooting attacks on IDF forces and the Israeli civilians in the West Bank, April, 2017. (Shin Bet security service)
    Louis Ahmad Shapik Zaabana, left, and his cousin Mahmoud Shapik Zaabana, arrested on suspicion carrying out shooting attacks on IDF forces and the Israeli civilians in the West Bank, April, 2017. (Shin Bet security service)

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

PM calls out Abbas for comments on Palestinian culture of peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over comments he made yesterday during a meeting with US President Donald Trump in which he said the Palestinians educate their children toward peace.

“I heard President Abbas yesterday say that they teach, Palestinians teach their children peace. That’s unfortunately not true,” Netanyahu says in a statement. “They name their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and they pay terrorists.”

Saying he “fervently shares” with Trump a commitment to advancing peace, Netanyahu adds that he hopes to discuss the issue with the president himself.

“I hope that it’s possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for. I’m always ready for genuine peace,” he says.

World basketball body lifts ‘hijab ban’ during games

Basketball chiefs reverse a controversial ban on professional players wearing headgear after fierce criticism that the rule undermined diversity by disallowing religious coverings like the Muslim hijab.

The decision by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) means religious headwear can now be worn on court.

“The new rule comes as a result of the fact that traditional dress codes in some countries, which called for the head and/or entire body being covered, were incompatible with FIBA’s previous headgear rule,” it says in a statement.

In this undated image provided by Nike, figure skater Zahra Lari models Nike's new hijab for Muslim female athletes. (Nike via AP)
In this undated image provided by Nike, figure skater Zahra Lari models Nike’s new hijab for Muslim female athletes. (Nike via AP)

A furious Qatar withdrew its women’s basketball team from the Asian Games in 2014 because FIBA said they were not allowed to wear headscarves on safety grounds, calling the ban an “insult.”

— AFP

Anti-Semitic fliers posted in Montana gas station

Anti-Semitic fliers were posted at a gas station in Missoula, Montana, local media reports.

The fliers, which were discovered on Sunday morning, appear to have been distributed by a white supremacist group. They were taped to the gas pumps. Nothing else was vandalized.

The fliers are similar to others found in Missoula shortly after the November 8, 2016, election, according to the daily newspaper The Missoulian. They have been found in neighborhoods from time to time since then, according to reports.

American Nazi Party fliers dropped in Missoula, Montana, November 2016. (Courtesy photo)
American Nazi Party fliers dropped in Missoula, Montana, November 2016. (Courtesy photo)

The incident was reported to Missoula police.

A synagogue in Missoula in November requested a police patrol after American Nazi Party fliers accusing Jews of controlling the media were dropped in residential areas of the city.

— JTA

Shin Bet nabs West Bank shooting attack terror cell

The Shin Bet security services reveals details of an operation that caught a Palestinian terror cell responsible for a number of shooting attacks on security forces and Israeli civilians in the area around Jenin, in the West Bank.

The suspects were detained on suspicion of committing some 10 shooting attacks over the past few months around the communities of Shavei Shomron, Hermesh, Shaked, and the Salem Military Post.

Louis Ahmad Shapik Zaabana, left, and his cousin Mahmoud Shapik Zaabana, arrested on suspicion carrying out shooting attacks on IDF forces and the Israeli civilians in the West Bank, April, 2017. (Shin Bet security service)
Louis Ahmad Shapik Zaabana, left, and his cousin Mahmoud Shapik Zaabana, arrested on suspicion carrying out shooting attacks on IDF forces and the Israeli civilians in the West Bank, April, 2017. (Shin Bet security service)

There were no injuries in the attacks but some damage was caused to property. The frequent nighttime attacks “were a significant threat to civilians and security forces in the Samaria region,” the service says in a statement, giving the Hebrew name for the northern West Bank.

Security forces apprehended two suspects from Fahma, southwest of Jenin, on April 4. They were identified as Louis Ahmad Shapik Zaabana, born 1983, an attorney linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, and his cousin Mahmoud Shapik Zaabana 26.

Hamas accuses Trump of ‘conspiracy’ against Palestinian terrorism

The Palestinian terrorist organization ruling the Gaza Strip says US President Donald Trump’s call to strengthen the security forces of the Palestinian Authority in its fight against terrorism indicated a “conspiracy against the Palestinian resistance.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas met with Trump for the first time on Wednesday. In his public statements, Trump said the Palestinian leadership must do more to denounce and fight terrorism.

President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The official Hamas Twitter account posts: “White House statement about training PA forces to confront ‘terrorism’ indicates a conspiracy against the Palestinian resistance.”

Channel 20, ‘Israel’s Fox News,’ to air Knesset channel

Channel 20 has won the tender to produce, manage and broadcast the Knesset Channel for the next 10 years, the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting announces in a statement.

Channel 2, Channel 10 and an independent television production company lost out on the tender.

Since its founding in 2006, the Knesset Channel, which broadcasts all the plenary sessions from the parliament and a range of political and current events programs, has been run by Channel 2.

According to the council’s statement, Channel 20 received the most points in a system measuring whether the production companies fulfilled the criteria to run the Knesset Channel.

Channel 20 began broadcasting in August 2014 as a station focusing on Jewish tradition with a conservative bent. Sometimes referred to as Israel’s Fox News for its right of center programming and public claim to offer a counter to the “mainstream media,” the channel only received permission to broadcast its own news programs in December.

Illustrative: A view of the new television studios of the Knesset Channel, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem. Jan 19, 2011. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)
Illustrative: A view of the new television studios of the Knesset Channel, at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem. Jan 19, 2011. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)

 

Then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the channel and vowed to further the goal of making a variety of media channels available to the Israeli public.

“Congratulations to Channel 20! I will continue to work for competition in the media industry in Israel so that you — the citizens of Israel — can choose who to watch and who to hear,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.

Channel 20 came under fire in December of last year when it censured president Reuven Rivlin for attending a conference in New York at which members of Breaking the Silence — a group that publishes allegations of Israeli soldiers’ transgressions against Palestinians in the West Bank — also appeared.

Protesters hurl eggs at France’s Le Pen at campaign stop

Protesters hurl eggs at French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen during a campaign stop three days ahead of the election.

Around 50 people were on hand as Le Pen arrived at a shipping company in the western town of Dol-de-Bretagne, hurling eggs and shouting “out with fascists.”

None of the eggs hit their target as bodyguards hustled Le Pen, 48, into the building.

A picture taken on April 28, 2017 in Cessales near Toulouse, southern France shows campaign posters of French presidential election candidate Marine Le Pen, ahead of the final round of the presidential election on May 7. The posters show a swastika on one and the word 'thief' across Le Pen's forehead on the other. (AFP/ Eric CABANIS)
A picture taken on April 28, 2017 in Cessales near Toulouse, southern France shows campaign posters of French presidential election candidate Marine Le Pen, ahead of the final round of the presidential election on May 7. The posters show a swastika on one and the word ‘thief’ across Le Pen’s forehead on the other. (AFP/ Eric CABANIS)

France’s western Brittany region is not a stronghold of Le Pen’s National Front, handing her only 15 percent of the vote in the April 23 first round of the election. Her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, 39, scored 29 percent in the region.

Macron is tipped to win Sunday’s vote by a roughly 20-point margin.

— AFP

Le Pen’s father slams her performance in French debate

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s estranged father Jean-Marie says his daughter failed to “rise to the occasion” in a bruising debate with election frontrunner Emmanuel Macron.

“I always want my champion to win hands down,” Le Pen senior says of Wednesday’s debate viewed by more than 16 million people. But the 88-year-old deemed the duel a “draw,” saying his daughter — who kicked him out of her National Front (FN) party in 2015 — “perhaps did not rise to the occasion.”

Speaking on French radio, he blames the candidate’s advisers for underestimating a “very solid” Macron, wrongly “hoping for a collapse or a psychological meltdown.”

France's former far-right National Front party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen (R) and his daughter and current party leader Marine Le Pen (L) on November 29, 2014 (Jeff Pachoud/AFP)
France’s former far-right National Front party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen (R) and his daughter and current party leader Marine Le Pen (L) on November 29, 2014 (Jeff Pachoud/AFP)

A poll by French broadcaster BFMTV found that 63 percent of viewers thought Macron was the “most convincing” of the two, broadly mirroring the forecast result for the decisive election on Sunday.

Marine Le Pen has sought to purge the FN of associations with her xenophobic, anti-Semitic father, who co-founded the party in 1972. When Le Pen senior was a shock finalist in France’s 2002 election, his rival Jacques Chirac refused to debate him out of fear of “normalizing hate and intolerance.”

— AFP

Russia, Iran, Turkey sign on ‘de-escalation zones’ in Syria

Turkey, Iran and Russia sign an agreement calling for the setting up of four “de-escalation zones” in war-torn Syria in the latest attempt to reduce violence in the Arab country.

But as officials form the three countries backing rival sides in the conflict signed the agreement on Thursday at the Syria ceasefire talks in Kazakhstan, some members of the Syrian opposition delegation shouted in protest and walked out of the conference room in Astana, the Kazakh capital.

The opposition has protested Iran’s participation at the conference, accusing it of being a party in the war that’s killed some 400,000 people.

The Kazakhstan agreement calls for setting up four zones in northern, central and southern Syria. However, no details were provided about how violence will be reduced in these areas.

— AP

German president won’t meet Breaking the Silence during Israel trip

Germany’s president will not meet with Breaking the Silence during his upcoming trip to Israel, Spiegel Online reports.

Instead, Frank-Walter Steinmeier will deliver a speech about the danger to democracy, in which he will praise the controversial NGO. He is expected to quote from a recent speech Amos Oz delivered at the same venue, in which the famed Israeli novelist heaped massive praise on the organization.

However, Steinmeier plans to meet other leftist civil society organizations, his spokesperson told Spiegel Online.

Last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu snubbed German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel because the latter refused to cancel his meeting with Breaking the Silence. Netanyahu subsequently declared that he will not meet with dignitaries who legitimize groups that call for Israelis soldiers to be tried as war criminals.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel before his meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, April 25, 2017. /Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel before his meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 25, 2017. /Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

— Raphael Ahren

Obama endorses Macron for French presidency in campaign video

Former US president Barack Obama endorses Emmanuel Macron for the French presidency, praising the centrist frontrunner’s “liberal values” in a video posted Thursday on the candidate’s website and social media channels.

Macron has “stood up for liberal values (and) put forward a vision for the important role that France plays in Europe and around the world,” Obama says in the video, adding: “He appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears.”

— with AFP

White House officials confirm Trump Israel visit – report

White House officials confirm that US President Donald Trump will visit Israel later this month, Politico reports.

Citing two unnamed administration officials, the newspaper said Trump is planning visits to Israel, the Vatican and Saudi Arabia — a diverse mix of lands holy to all three Abrahamic faiths.

The report comes one day after Trump hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he expressed unyielding optimism in his ability to broker the elusive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Last month, a senior administration official told The Times of Israel the White House was “exploring” a presidential trip to Israel and other countries.

— Eric Cortellessa

73% of Jewish Israelis agree with Shabbat ruling – poll

Seventy-three percent of the Jewish public in Israel supports the High Court of Justice’s ruling allowing certain Tel Aviv businesses to stay open on Shabbat, according to a poll released by religious freedom advocacy NGO Hiddush.

Last month the High Court of Justice ruled in favor of the Tel Aviv municipality’s battle to expand facilities open to the secular public on Shabbat, saying that the city can permit mini-markets to operate on the Jewish day of rest.

The ruling was hailed as a victory by the city and liberal politicians, who said it was an important step against religious coercion. However, ultra-Orthodox officials vowed to fight it and bypass the court.

According to the survey, 97% of secular Israelis agree with the ruling, as do 31% percent of Jews who define themselves as “religious.”

“The Supreme Court’s ruling respected the public’s will and gave proper expression to the balance contained in the formula of ‘Jewish and democratic,’ granting local authorities the right to decide such matters based upon municipal public opinion,” said Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev.

Arab League requests UN probe over Israeli prisons

The Arab League is calling on the United Nations to open an international inquiry into “violations” against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails as some inmates enter their third week of hunger strikes.

The pan-Arab body “invites the United Nations and its relevant specialized agencies to send an international commission of inquiry to Israeli prisons,” representatives say in a resolution.

The commission would “view the violations being committed against the prisoners of war,” and to press international actors to compel Israel to abide by the Geneva convention.

The move came as about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are fasting in a protest launched on April 17 by jailed terrorist Marwan Barghouti demanding improved conditions including family visits, better medical care and phone access.

Palestinian women walk past a wall bearing posters, including a portrait of prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah in support of him and other prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails on April 24, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian women walk past a wall bearing posters, including a portrait of prominent prisoner Marwan Barghouti, during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah in support of him and other prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails on April 24, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

The Arab League also said that all “relevant international institutions and bodies” must “intervene immediately and urgently to compel the Israeli government to apply international humanitarian law,” according to the resolution.

— with AFP

Trump said planning main Israel speech at Masada

US President Donald Trump’s preparatory team members, who have been in Israel in recent days, have indicated he wants to deliver the main speech of his Israel visit at Masada, Channel 2 reported.

He does not intend to go to Ramallah, Channel 2 reported, but does want to visit Bethlehem. It is not clear if will meet Mahmoud Abbas for what would be their second session in less than a month.

From here, Trump is to go to Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, Brussels for a NATO summit on May 25, and finally to a meeting of G7 in Sicily on May 26-28.

Ex-president Katsav loses appeal to ease parole terms

Former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav loses his appeal to ease the terms of his parole, including leaving his home at night.

Even though the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority reported in February that the disgraced politician is fulfilling the terms of his release, the parole board rejects his appeal to loosen the restrictions placed upon him.

Former president Moshe Katsav arrives in his hometown of Kiryat Malachi on December 21, 2016, after he was released from Ma'asiyahu Prison where he served five years of a seven-year rape sentence (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Former president Moshe Katsav arrives in his hometown of Kiryat Malachi on December 21, 2016, after he was released from Ma’asiyahu Prison where he served five years of a seven-year rape sentence (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The former president, 71, was convicted in 2010, of two counts of rape, among other related charges. He began serving his sentence in Ma’asiyahu Prison in December 2011. He was freed from prison in December after serving five years of a seven-year jail sentence.

Under the terms of his parole, Katsav is banned from leaving his home in Kiryat Malachi between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In addition Katsav is not allowed to make any statements to the media until December 2018, when his full seven-year sentence would have ended.

German woman fined for photo of Nazi Easter eggs

A court says a 70-year-old woman in eastern Germany has dropped an appeal against her conviction for posting a photo on Facebook of eggs she had decorated with the Nazi swastika and other runes, wishing people “Happy Easter.”

The Dresden administrative court said Thursday that Margit H. withdrew the appeal of her conviction for displaying banned symbols and agreed to pay a 750-euro ($820) fine.

H., whose last name wasn’t given in line with privacy laws, over Easter 2016 posted the picture of the basket of 10 eggs decorated with the Nazi German flag, and with the SS symbol and other runes.

The woman had tried to argue variously that she didn’t know what the symbols were, that she was protected by freedom of speech, and that it was a joke.

— AP

Disgraced US preacher, child sex abuser Tony Alamo dies

Tony Alamo, a one-time street preacher whose apocalyptic ministry grew into a multimillion-dollar network of businesses and property before he was convicted in Arkansas of sexually abusing young girls he considered his wives, has died in prison. He was 82.

Once known for designing elaborately decorated jackets for celebrities including Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, Alamo died on Tuesday at a federal prison hospital in Butner, North Carolina, according to the US Bureau of Prisons.

Tony Alamo (L) is escorted to a waiting police car outside the federal courthouse in Texarkana, Arkansas, July 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)
Tony Alamo (L) is escorted to a waiting police car outside the federal courthouse in Texarkana, Arkansas, July 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

The disgraced preacher was convicted in 2009 on charges that he took underage girls across state lines for sex, including a 9-year-old. The judge who sentenced him to the maximum 175 years in prison told him: “One day you will face a higher and a greater judge than me. May he have mercy on your soul.”

— AP

Algerians vote amid anger over economy

Algerians are voting for a new parliament amid soaring unemployment and a deep financial crisis caused by a collapse in oil revenues.

The North African country weathered the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings with massive spending on wages and subsidies that depleted government coffers. But a 2014 collapse in crude oil prices forced the government to raise taxes and mothball many public projects.

Today, in a country of 40 million where half the population is under 30, one young person in three is unemployed.

Some 45,000 police officers are being deployed to guard the more than 53,000 polling stations across the country.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, voted from a wheelchair at a polling booth in Algiers.

— AFP

Knesset gives initial OK to strip new public broadcaster of news division

The Knesset approves in its first reading legislation that will restructure the new public broadcasting corporation, implementing a March compromise reached by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to dismantle its news division.

Furious with the coalition’s choice to call a highly unusual special recess evening session, the opposition boycotted the vote, allowing it to pass by 32-0. Netanyahu was one of the coalition MKs in attendance.

MKs also voted to establish a special committee, headed by coalition chair David Bitan, in order to deal with the legislation.

The deal reached by Netanyahu and Kahlon stripped the new broadcaster, formally called “Kan” and widely known as HaTa’agid (the corporation), of its news division and created a separate news entity in its stead, largely made up of staffers from the old Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Kan was set to begin transmission at the end of April but last week lawmakers delayed its opening until mid-May in order to allow the new legislation to pass. From Sunday, MKs will hold a marathon committee talks in an attempt to finalize the new legislation by next Wednesday.

Mural urging respect to be erected next to vandalized Jewish cemetery in Philly

A mural urging respect for people’s differences, including religion, will be erected next to a suburban Philadelphia Jewish cemetery that was vandalized, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent reports.

About 175 headstones at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Wissinoming were toppled and damaged in February. Two Philadelphia labor unions offered to provide free repairs and added security, including setting and gluing the stones, fixing the cemetery fence and increasing the lighting.

A man looking at fallen tombstones at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, February 26, 2017. (Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looking at fallen tombstones at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, February 26, 2017. (Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)

Now Mural Arts Philadelphia is launching the mural in partnership with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, Friends of Wissinoming Park and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.

The mural, which will be titled “Cultivate Respect,” will be erected in Wissinoming Park adjacent to the cemetery. The project will be unveiled later this month and is expected to be completed by the end of June, according to the Exponent.

— JTA

Orthodox magazine quotes Gorka saying ‘he’s not being asked to step down’

White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka tells a reporter for an ultra-Orthodox magazine that he met with President Donald Trump and “got assurances he’s not being asked to step down.”

The quote comes from a tweet, since deleted, by the publication Ami, whose reporter Jake Turx spoke Tuesday with Gorka on the White House driveway, the day after the meeting.

Although the Ami tweet has been taken down, CNBC reporter Eamon Jevers tweeted about the interview.

Reports have suggested that Gorka is leaving his post on the National Security Council to work elsewhere in the administration. Democratic lawmakers have urged his removal after the Forward reported that Gorka may have ties to far-right movements in Hungary.

On Monday, the White House said there is “no personnel announcement at this time” concerning Gorka.

— JTA

Liberman says Gaza won’t have electricity or water ‘in a few days’

Defense Minister Avigdor Libeman says Gaza will not have electricity or running water “in a few days,” due to an ongoing fight between the Strip’s rulers, Hamas, and Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

“The won’t have electricity because neither of them is willing to pay for it,” he says in an interview with Army Radio.

“It’s absurd. [Abbas] says he’s responsible for the entire Palestinian Authority, including the Gaza Strip, but he cancels money transfers to them,” Liberman says.

“On the other hand, Hamas is collecting taxes from Gaza residents, but instead of investing it in water and electricty, it invests all of it into tunnels and rockets,” he says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trump officially announces Israel trip

US President Donald Trump personally confirms that his first foreign trip will include a visit to Israel.

“My first foreign trip as president of the United States will be to Saudi Arabia, then Israel, and then to a place that my cardinals love very much, Rome,” he says during a meeting in the White House Rose Garden.

A statement from the White House said that Trump has “accepted the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Israel, where he will further strengthen the United States-Israel partnership.” They will also discuss “way to advance a genuine and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The statement also said that Trump would meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

UN expert seeks urgent review of Saudi terrorism law

Saudi Arabia should urgently review its definition of terrorism under a law used to prosecute non-violent journalists and human rights defenders, according to a United Nations special rapporteur.

After a visit to the kingdom, Ben Emmerson tells reporters that a 2014 counter-terrorism law contains an “unacceptably broad definition” of the crime and does not comply with international rights standards.

“I strongly condemn the use of counter-terrorism legislation and penal sanctions against individuals peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression”, religion, or association, says Emmerson, who reports to the UN’s Human Rights Council.

He urges Saudi Arabia to create an independent review mechanism to examine cases of people jailed for exercising such rights “and to commute or pardon all such prisoners with immediate effect.”

— AFP

Netanyahu warns Iran against threatening Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel was not bound by the 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers including the US to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and warns that Jerusalem would not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

“We will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and this [2015 nuclear] agreement does not bind us,” Netanyahu says during a speech at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking the 40th anniversary of Menachem Begin's Likud party revolution in 1977, at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, May 4, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking the 40th anniversary of Menachem Begin’s Likud party revolution in 1977, at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, May 4, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu warns that Israel will “retaliate” against “those who attack or or try to attack us.”

“Those who threaten our existence put themselves in existential threat,” he promises.

“When it comes to Israel’s security, there are no compromises and in the face of the threats posed by radical Islam, we are honing defensive and offensive abilities, thus ensuring our existence,” says the prime minister, adding that radical Islam threatened the world, not just Israel.

Friedman to work from Tel Aviv until decision made on Jerusalem embassy

Newly appointed US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will start working from the embassy in Tel Aviv until a final decision whether or not to move the embassy to Jerusalem is reached, Jewish Insider reports.

David Friedman, confirmed as US Ambassador to Israel, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
David Friedman, confirmed as US Ambassador to Israel, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

He will hold official ceremonies and festivities – such as the annual Fourth of July celebration – at the ambassador’s residence in Herzliya and will primarily work out of the King David Hotel when in Jerusalem for meetings with government officials, a source with direct knowledge of the arrangements tells Jewish Insider.

Cautious US welcome for Russia-backed Syria safe zones

The United States gives an extremely cautious welcome to a Moscow-backed plan to create safe zones in Syria as a step towards ending the civil war there.

The State Department says Washington hopes the agreement will help stem the violence but expressed concern at Iran’s involvement in negotiating the deal.

— AFP

Trump removes tweet saying it was ‘honor’ to host Abbas

President Donald Trump deleted a tweet in which he said it was an “an honor” to host Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House a day after the two leaders met.

An image of a tweet posted by US President Donald Trump on May 3, 2017. (Screen capture: Twitter)
An image of a tweet posted by US President Donald Trump on May 3, 2017. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The tweet, which also included video from the two leaders’ meeting, was gone on Thursday, 13 hours after it was originally posted, according to ProPublica, which tracks the president’s deleted tweets.

After meeting with Abbas, Trump wrote on Twitter: “An honor to host President Mahmoud Abbas at the WH today. Hopefully something terrific could come out of it between the Palestinians & Israel.”

A similar post on Trump’s official Facebook page, however, has not been deleted.

It was a great honor to welcome President Abbas to The White House today. We're hoping for a great agreement between the Palestinians and Israel that allows both peoples to live in safety and in peace.

Posted by Donald J. Trump on Wednesday, 3 May 2017

— with JTA

US Congress OKs spending bill averting gov’t shutdown

The US Senate passes legislation to keeps the government funded through September, averting what would have been an embarrassing shutdown just months into Donald Trump’s presidency.

The $1.16 trillion spending bill passed the House last week, also with broad bipartisan support, even though it ignores Trump’s persistent promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

It passed the Senate by a 79-18 vote, and now heads to the White House for Trump’s signature ahead of a Friday night deadline to fund the government or face a temporary shutdown.

The deal, which keeps federal operations running through the end of the fiscal year on September 30, was struck after weeks of tense negotiations.

— AFP

House OKs GOP health bill, a step toward Obamacare repeal

Republicans pass their health care bill through the House, taking their biggest step toward dismantling the Obama health care overhaul since Donald Trump took office. They won passage only after overcoming their own divisions that nearly sank the measure six weeks ago.

The measure skirted through the House by a thin 217-213 vote, as all voting Democrats and a group of mostly moderate Republican holdouts voted no. A defeat would have been politically devastating for President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan.

Passage was a product of heavy lobbying by the White House and Republicans leaders, plus late revisions that nailed down the final supporters needed. The bill now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where even GOP lawmakers say major changes are likely.

— AP

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