The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
Dozens of wounded IDF veterans block traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem, as part of a protest calling on the government to approve plans to provide better care for them.
Before blocking Route 1, the protesters rallied outside the Knesset, with some scuffles with parliamentary security when they tried to move barricades at the Knesset entrance, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Governmental approval of the Defense Ministry plan for improving the treatment for wounded veterans, called One Soul, is being held up by infighting over funding.
The Defense Ministry’s much-maligned Rehabilitation Department came under heightened scrutiny after a veteran with PTSD, Itzik Saidyan, who had struggled to receive help from the ministry, set himself on fire outside the department’s offices in Petah Tikva last month.
BRUSSELS –An Iranian diplomat’s 20-year prison sentence in Belgium for plotting to bomb an opposition rally outside Paris was confirmed today after letting an appeal deadline lapse, prosecutors say.
Assadollah Assadi, 49, was convicted in February by an Antwerp court of supplying explosives for the planned June 30, 2018 attack on the exiled opposition group the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI).
“Mr Assadi’s lawyer has failed to lodge an appeal,” a spokesman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office tells AFP.
Three individuals sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison as accomplices are maintaining their appeals against their convictions, the spokesman says.
Iran has protested Assadi’s conviction. Days after the February verdict Iran’s foreign ministry summoned Belgium’s ambassador in Tehran to convey its fury.
Belgian police thwarted the 2018 attack when they intercepted a car carrying the bomb, acting on information gathered by several European intelligence services.
Assadi, who was attached to Iran’s embassy in Austria at the time, was arrested the following day in Germany, where he was deemed unable to claim diplomatic immunity.
Investigators concluded that he was an Iranian agent working under diplomatic cover.
CAIRO — Egyptian and Turkish officials are meeting for talks aiming to reset ties between the two regional powers after years of enmity.
The two-day “political consultations” between the two nations starting in Cairo are chaired by Hamdi Loza, Egypt’s deputy foreign minister, and his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announced the meetings in a statement.
It describes the talks as “exploratory discussions” that will focus on “the necessary steps that may lead towards the normalization of relations between the two countries, bilaterally and in the regional context.”
The statement doesn’t elaborate.
Egypt and Turkey have been at loggerheads since the Egyptian military’s 2013 ouster of president from the Muslim Brotherhood group who enjoyed the support of Turkey. Egypt has designated such Islamist group as terrorists.
Recently, top Turkish officials signaled a warming of ties with Egypt, a shift from their previous, sharply critical approach to the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on March 12 that the two countries have held “intelligence, diplomatic and economic” contacts, adding that he hoped for “strong” ties between the two nations.
A week after Erdogan’s remarks, his government asked three Istanbul-based Egyptian TV channels, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, to soften their critical political coverage of the Egyptian government. The TV channels immediately stopped broadcasting some political programs.
Egypt welcomed the move, calling it a “good initiative from the Turkish side that establishes a favorable atmosphere to discuss issues of dispute between the two nations.”
The sister of Itzik Saidyan, an IDF veteran suffering from PTSD who was critically hurt when he set himself alight last month after struggling to receive help from the Defense Ministry, says her brother’s condition is stable but that there still is a risk to his life.
In an interview with Ynet news site, Leah Saidyan also comments on today’s protest over the government’s delay in approving a plan to improve care for wounded vets.
“I feel that he was burned again. I have received appeals from people with post-trauma that includes their threats, that they say they want to do things to themselves. I’m dying of fear. We stop them, talk with them.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc announces it’ll recommend that President Reuven Rivlin send the mandate to form a government to the Knesset rather than task another lawmaker with doing so, after the premier’s failure to accomplish the task by last night’s deadline.
Netanyahu’s Likud party, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, and the far-right Religious Zionism party say they are doing so because Yamina chief Naftali Bennett would not rule out forming a “left-wing government” with the prime minister’s rivals.
“Likud calls on Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and all the members of Yamina to honor their election pledge to not go to a government with Lapid and the rest of the left. Likud is convinced that the moment Bennett and Shaked pledge to be part of the right-wing bloc, it’ll be possible to guarantee a majority in the Knesset for a right-wing government,” a statement from Likud says.
In a letter sent by Likud to Rivlin, the party claims there’s no “feasibility” that if another lawmaker if tasked with forming a government, that MK will be able to do so, and says therefore the matter should be sent to the Knesset to decide.
It also asserts that sending the mandate to the Knesset will raise the likelihood a government will be formed and thus reduce the chances of fifth elections.
The Islamist Ra’am party, which emerged from the March 23 elections as a potential kingmaker, refrains from recommending any specific Knesset member be tasked with forming a government, telling President Reuven Rivlin it will cooperate with whichever lawmaker is charged with assembling a coalition.
With Ra’am’s decision, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid emerges from the consultations with 51 recommendations and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett has seven. The majority-Arab Joint List has not yet announced a final decision, while Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc recommended sending the mandate to the Knesset rather than having it go to another lawmaker.
Rivlin is holding the consultations on how to proceed after Netanyahu’s deadline for forming a government expired last night, with the premier having failed to securing a ruling majority.
At least one wounded IDF veteran has broken into the Finance Ministry headquarters in Jerusalem during a protest for better care, according to the Walla news site.
Earlier video shows demonstrators scuffling with cops as they approach the entrance to the compound in the city’s government quarter.
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) May 5, 2021
GENEVA — Scores of Nobel laureates, ex-heads of state and government, and former senior UN officials have demanded an international probe into the alleged killings of dissidents in Iran’s prisons in 1988.
In an open letter to UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet made public today, more than 150 signatories back a call for the international community to “investigate the cases including through the establishment of an international investigation.”
Rights groups have long campaigned for justice over alleged extrajudicial executions of thousands of mainly young people across Iranian prisons in 1988, just as the war with Iraq was ending.
Those killed were mainly supporters of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), a group banned in Iran that had backed Baghdad during the conflict.
Last September, seven independent UN rights experts wrote to the Iranian government to say they were “seriously concerned by the alleged continued refusal to disclose the fate and whereabouts” of those killed.
“The situation may amount to crimes against humanity,” they wrote, urging a “thorough” and “independent” investigation as well as “accurate death certificates” to be provided to family members.
They also called for an international probe if Tehran continued “to refuse to uphold its obligations.”
Today’s letter echoes that call.
“We appeal to the UN Human Rights Council to end the culture of impunity that exists in Iran by establishing a commission of inquiry into the 1988 mass extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances,” it says.
Signatories include former Irish president Mary Robinson — Bachelet’s predecessor as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights — as well as the heads of previous UN international probes into rights abuses in North Korea and Eritrea.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is continuing to lash out at Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, on whom it pins the blame for the premier’s failure to form a government ahead of last’s deadline.
A Likud source quoted by Hebrew media says there were “advanced contacts” for Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc to recommend Bennett be tasked with forming a government, if the Yamina chief were to pledge to forming a right-wing coalition.
The source claims, however, that Bennett got cold feet and refused to pen a letter pledging his personal commitment to a right-wing government.
“The widespread opinion in the political system today, on right and left, is that Bennett is deceiving everyone and playing on every field. You can’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth,” the source says.
MOSCOW — Russia is ready to promote direct contacts between Israel and the Palestinian leadership and working toward a high-level meeting of the Middle East Quartet mediating the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the Russian foreign minister says.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says after meeting with Palestinian Authority counterpart Riad al-Maliki, “We emphasized our readiness to facilitate direct dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis in order to resolve all fundamental final-status issues.”
Lavrov says Russia considers it crucial to hold a ministerial-level meeting of the Quartet, which consists of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
Al-Maliki says that the administration of US President Joe Biden “is again aware of its responsibility in the Quartet….We expect that this will create a new environment of trust.”
Al-Maliki says that during Donald Trump’s presidency, “the American administration showed that it openly leaned toward Israel. Based on this experience, we understand that we cannot return to that situation.”
The Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties will recommend Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid be tasked with forming the next government, according to Hebrew media reports.
MK Sami Abou Shehadeh, the head of the Arab nationalist Balad sub-faction, is not expected to recommend Lapid, while the Joint List’s five other lawmakers are.
With those five recommendations, Lapid would have the recommendations of 56 MKs to form a government, more than Prime Minister Netanyahu received after the March 23 elections, but still short of the 61 needed for a majority in the Knesset.
Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai spoke with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and asked him to set up an investigative committee into the deadly crush during Lag B’Omer festivities at Mount Meron in which 45 people were killed, Channel 13 news reports.
Shabtai asked that the committee be headed by a judge, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Channel 12 news says Shabtai has told associates he can’t think of a single thing police did before the disaster that he would now do otherwise, and that he sees no problem with the officers who were involved in the incident continuing in their posts.
Jared Kushner has launched an institute to promote his major accomplishment when he advised his father-in-law, former US president Donald Trump: the normalization agreements between Israel and a number of Sunni Arab countries.
Kushner founded the Abraham Accords Institute for Peace with Avi Berkowitz, a friend Kushner brought in to be the chief Middle East peace negotiator in the latter part of his father’s single presidential term, Axios reports today.
Berkowitz helped broker the accords last year that brought normalization agreements between Israel and Sudan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.
The institute will promote trade, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges between Israel and the Arab countries.
The other founders include Haim Saban, an Israeli American entertainment mogul who also is a major donor to the Democratic Party. Axios says that Kushner wants to bring more Democrats on board. The Abraham Accords is one of the few diplomatic initiatives launched by Trump that US President Joe Biden has fully embraced.
Kushner has lain low since his father-in-law left office and has not commented on the false claims Trump peddles that Joe Biden’s election was fraudulent. Kushner, who led Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, is reportedly no longer among his father-in-law’s political advisers.
The other founders of the institute include Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and the ambassadors of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to Washington. Rob Greenway, the senior Middle East official on Trump’s National Security Council, will be the executive director.
SAN FRANCISCO — Former US president Donald Trump won’t return to Facebook. The social network’s quasi-independent Oversight Board has voted to permanently ban his account after it was suspended four months ago for inciting violence that led to the deadly January 6 Capitol riot.
Trump has also been permanently banned from Twitter.
The Joint List releases a statement explaining its decision to recommend that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid be tasked with forming the next government.
The alliance of three predominantly Arab parties says between backing Lapid, backing Yamina chief Naftali Bennett or recommending the mandate go to the Knesset, it “prefers to task MK Yair Lapid with the mandate.”
“The Joint List emphasizes that it doesn’t support a government led by MK Naftali Bennett and will continue to have contacts with MK Yair Lapid,” the statement says.
The Joint List also notes that the Hadash and Ta’al sub-factions back Lapid, while the one lawmaker from the hardline Balad party doesn’t.
The Health Ministry announces it is extending the “Green Pass” for those vaccinated against COVID-19 or who have recovered from coronavirus through 2021. The pass grants holders access to certain events and venues.
A ministry statement chalks up Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s decision to order the extension to the continued decline in morbidity “and the fact it appears the vaccine will protect us until at least the end of the year.”
Chezy Levy, the director-general of the ministry, says he is “happy that the vaccines protects us and allows to get back to routine,” but urges Israelis to continue to take measures such as masking indoors and social distancing.
He also says there is still not enough information on how much protection vaccines offer against coronavirus variants.
Regarding its assessment that the vaccine will work to the end of the year, the ministry cites figures on how much protection the vaccine provides and “deliberations on the timing of giving a third booster dose.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani denounces Israel as “the enemy” of the Middle East in comments ahead of Quds Day, which Iran inaugurated after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protest the Jewish state’s existence.
“The Zionists are the enemy of the region, the security of the Palestinian people, the enemy of the nations of the region and the executioners and atrocities of history who have displaced millions from their homes,” Rouhani says during today’s cabinet meeting, according to his office.
He adds: “The Zionists hold grudges against the Iranian nation… and have always tried to strike at this nation.”
Rouhani asserts Israel is failing in “the two great seditions” of opposing a US return to the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program and undercutting Tehran’s ties with neighboring states.”
He also addresses the talks on reviving the nuclear deal, predicting the US will soon lift sanctions, which President Joe Biden has repeatedly pledged not to until Iran returns to compliance with the accord.
“Today, our people are witnessing the fruit of their patience and resistance in the Vienna talks, and in my opinion as the head of the government, the sanctions have broken and they will be lifted soon if we are all united,” Rouhani says.
An 80-year-old woman dies after a fire breaks out at her apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon.
Two other people are lightly injured in the blaze.
“Heavy smoke was coming out of the windows of the apartment. When we went inside, the woman had no signs of life and suffered from serious burns,” a Magen David Adom paramedic is quoted saying by the Kan public broadcaster.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 5, 2021
TORONTO — Canada’s health regulator has authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12 to 16, a person familiar with the decision the tells the Associated Press.
The official speaks on condition of anonymity as they aren’t authorized to speak ahead of the upcoming announcement.
The US Food and Drug Administration is also expected to authorize Pfizer’s vaccine for that age group by next week, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year. The announcement comes barely a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorized for those age 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump reiterates his false claims that voter fraud caused his election loss to Joe Biden last November, shortly after a Facebook oversight board upheld the platform’s ban on the former US president.
“Had gutless and clueless MINORITY Leader Mitch McConnell… fought to expose all of the corruption that was presented at the time, with more found since, we would have had a far different Presidential result,” Trump says in a statement following the Facebook ruling.
Trump, who is mulling another run for the White House, repeats his insistence that there is abundant evidence of voter fraud, and urges his followers to “never give up.”
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett laments Israel’s years-long political deadlock and the lack of permanent government to address numerous issues, saying the continued elections cause “direct harm to human lives.”
After Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, Bennett reiterates that he preferred a right-wing coalition, but the premier was unable to muster a majority. According to the Yamina chief, during the past day he tried to keep open the options for a right-wing coalition, apparently referring to his reported efforts to get Netanyahu’s right wing-religious bloc to recommend that Bennett form the next government.
“But Netanyahu slammed the door on us,” he says.
Bennett says there are two options: further elections, “which will simply destroy the country,” or the formation of a “broad emergency government… that will get the wheel out of the mud.”
“This is the time to stop and reconsider a new path,” he says, in an appeal to right-wing and religious parties aligned with Netanyahu. “Whoever cynically takes the State of Israel to fifth elections based on personal interests, in complete opposition to the needs of the nation and state, the people won’t forgive him. This is the time for a unity government.”
President Reuven Rivlin will announce at 6:30 p.m. which Knesset member he will next task with forming a government, his office says.
United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni, whose ultra-Orthodox party is part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc, says the premier made a mistake by empowering the far-right Religious Zionism party.
Religious Zionism, an alliance of three far-right factions that Netanyahu helped broker, has refused to join a government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party, dooming Netanyahu’s chances of forming a narrow coalition of allied parties.
“Netanyahu erred and he acknowledged this mistake, that he gave such power to [Bezalel] Smotrich,” Gafni tells Kan public radio, referring to the head of Religious Zionism.
Following the March 23 elections, reports indicated UTJ and fellow Haredi party Shas were angered at Netanyahu, believing he bolstered Yamina at their expense.
Gafni is also asked if he believes Netanyahu has lost power, after Israel’s longest-serving premier returned the deadline to form a government after failing to assemble a coalition before last night’s deadline.
“It’s possible, but I’m not saying that,” Gafni says.
Meanwhile, Gafni also releases a statement on Yamina leader Naftali Bennett’s call for Netanyahu’s allies to join forces and form a unity government.
“No one is stupid. From the first moment Bennett preferred a government with Lapid to one with Netanyahu. I reject his offer to join such a government. No thanks,” Gafni says.
President Reuven Rivlin announces he will task Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid with the mandate to form a government.
In a televised statement from his official residence, Rivlin notes Lapid secured the recommendations of 56 MKs, versus seven for Yamina leader Naftali Bennett.
Explaining his decision, Rivlin stresses his “main consideration” was who has the best chances of forming a government that can win the Knesset’s backing.
“On the basis of the recommendations I received… I spoke just now with Knesset Member Yair Lapid and informed him I am tasking him with the mandate to form a government, whether this is a government that he initially leads, or whether it is a government led first by another candidate first and in which he initially serves as alternate prime minister,” Rivlin says.
The president also says that sending the mandate to the Knesset at this stage, which Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc recommended, “transgresses against the law and is likely to lead to fifth elections, without exhausting all the opportunities for forming a government.”
The following is the full text of President Reuven Rivlin’s announcement on May 5, 2021, tasking Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid with forming the next government:
“Yesterday, Prime Minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu informed me that he had been unable to form a government and that, accordingly, he was returning the mandate to me. Having received the positions of all the parties, and spoken to MK Yair Lapid and MK Naftali Bennett, I understood that MK Naftali Bennett remains with seven recommendations, while MK Yair Lapid gained 11 recommendations so that he has 56 recommendations.
MK Mansour Abbas wrote that he would ‘cooperate positively with anyone who is entrusted with forming a government, that is to say the person that receives the most number of recommendations.’ MK Naftali Bennet expressed his wish for a stable government that will serve the Israeli people and clarified that he does not rule out the possibility of forming a government with MK Yair Lapid.
The main consideration that Israeli presidents must weigh when arriving at the decision of who to entrust with forming a government is who has the best chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the new Knesset. From the number of recommendations, it is clear that MK Yair Lapid could form a government that has the confidence of the Knesset, despite there being many difficulties. Given these circumstances, returning the mandate to the Knesset would be a misapplication of the law and could result in a fifth round of elections before all possibilities for forming a government had been exhausted.
On the basis of the recommendations I received from the parties in the Knesset, and according to the authority granted to me under paragraph 7 of the Basic Law: The Government 2001, I have just spoken to MK Yair Lapid and informed him that I am entrusting him with forming a government, whether this is a government that he will head at the beginning, or a government headed by someone else first in which he will serve as alternate prime minister.
I told him that this is a position that only a very few people have attained when they are entrusted with forming a government for Israel, and that I am sure that for him it is a moment that signifies the highest level of importance and national responsibility.
My fellow Israelis, we have been caught in a maze – if not a political crisis – for some time now. But we must not allow these difficulties to undermine our faith that we are on the right path, and that we can continue to build the sovereignty of the Israeli people here. Whatever it takes, we will know how to come out of this stronger, unified, on the highway guided by Israeli society.
Once I was young and now I am old, but I have never seen any crisis that has weakened the spirit of this wonderful people.
Earlier this week, at the Jerusalem Unity Prize ceremony here at Beit HaNasi, Rabbanit Racheli Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali Fraenkel who was killed together with Gilad Shar and Eyal Yifrah, spoke words that touched my heart and which should be in the mind of our leaders as they work to form a government. ‘We are close to desperate,’ said Racheli, ‘yearning for normal days when we can stand together, without trampling or being trampled. To be close without crushing each other’s identity. To allow room for each one of us to breathe, separately and together. To manage to move forward without being forced to clamber over other people. To experience the sacred and the light of each other, but together.’ She added, “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai said: ‘my son, do not expect the footsteps of the Messiah until you see all the colors of the rainbow clearly’. This teaches us that redemption requires all shades of colors.’
Israeli society is stronger, more robust, more united and better than they tell us. We know how to support each other in solidarity. The IDF and our security offices, in hospitals, in charitable organizations, in social initiatives that move the heart like I saw after the terrible tragedy on Mount Meron, and as we have seen all throughout the corona crisis. From this crisis, there is a great opportunity to repair and, perhaps there is no alternative but to repair, to heal, to regrow stronger.
My dear fellow Israelis. Like my predecessors, the former presidents of Israel, I have done everything I can to preserve public confidence, even in tempestuous times. Unlike my predecessors, this is my sixth, and last, time when the decision of who to entrust with forming a government has fallen to me. ‘Forgive my hidden faults. …May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.’” (Psalms 19)
Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid issues his first response to being tasked with forming a government by President Reuven Rivlin.
“After two years of political paralysis, Israeli society is hurting. A unity government isn’t a compromise or a last resort — it’s a goal, it’s what we need,” he says in a statement.
Lapid continues: “We need a government that will reflect the fact that we don’t hate one another. A government in which left, right and center will work together to tackle the economic and security challenges we face. A government that will show that our differences are a source of strength, not weakness.”
He also pledged to “do everything” to ensure the swift formation of a new government “so we can get to work for the people of Israel.”
MK Avigdor Liberman, whose right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party is part of the anti-Netanyahu “change bloc,” praises President Reuven Rivlin for his “correct decision” to task Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid with forming a government.
“The job is now on us” to form a government, Liberman writes on Twitter, predicting a “stable” coalition can be formed within a week.
With Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid now officially tasked with forming a new government, a lawmaker from his centrist party is set to takeover as chair of the Knesset Arrangements Committee.
The post will be filled by MK Karine Elharrar. She will take over as committee chair from Likud MK Miki Zohar, who gained control of the panel when Prime Minister Netanyahu was initially tasked with assembling a coalition after the March 23 elections.
The Arrangements Committee, the first Knesset committee to be formed after an election, controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed.
With the ongoing political deadlock complicating the formation of a coalition, the influence of the Arrangements Committee has recently been amplified.
Labor leader Merav Michaeli says she is optimistic after Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was tasked with forming a government.
“In a few days we can really replace Netanyahu,” tweets Michaeli, whose party recommended Lapid get the mandate.
She wishes Lapid luck in forming a government and says she trusts him to ensure “the views of our camp are represented in the best way.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu gives a televised speech after President Reuven Rivlin tasks Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid with forming a government, following the premier’s failure to do so before last night’s deadline.
As in past speeches, Netanyahu first trains his fire on Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, lashing him for refusing to rule out a unity government with Lapid.
“The truth is simple. This will be a dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu says.
Netanyahu again implores Bennett to reject a government with Lapid, claiming he and the Yamina leader can together form a right-wing government. However, he doesn’t say how such a government would secure sufficient support in the Knesset to be sworn in.
Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked has told associates she is on the same page as party leader Naftali Bennett, but still working to form a right-wing government, Channel 12 news reports.
Shaked said she won’t jump ship to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party in a move that would lead to Yamina’s dissolution
Yamina chief Naftali Bennett is pushing to finish the talks on forming a government within days over fears that another lawmaker from his party could come out against assembling a coalition with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
The report comes after Yamina MK Amichai Chikli announced his objection to the emerging Bennett-Lapid government earlier today.
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s president says that his country recently hosted direct talks between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran on more than one occasion, the first public recognition of Baghdad’s role as mediator.
The first round of talks between Riyadh and Tehran took place early last month, Iraq’s President Barham Salih says during an interview broadcast live by the Beirut Institute, a think tank. He says talks have since occurred “more than once,” describing the discussions as ongoing, “important and significant.”
It marks the first time that an Iraqi official publicly confirms the talks had occurred. Salih doesn’t comment when asked what the fruits of the talks had been.
Saudi Arabia has sought talks with Iran as the kingdom tries to end its years-long war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Tehran, meanwhile, appears to have calculated that a gradual détente with Riyadh, a long-time US ally, will work in its favor during renewed nuclear talks with Washington and world powers.
For Iraq, hosting the talks is seen as a significant step for Baghdad, which has consistently sought to play the role of a regional mediator. Salih echoes that, saying that “for Iraq to be able to play that convenient role between these regional actors is important.”
Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia has confirmed that the talks took place, though Iranian officials have alluded to them and welcomed the discussions.
Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been regional rivals. Relations worsened considerably in 2016, when Riyadh removed its diplomats after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad in retaliation for the kingdom executing a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.
Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked is supportive of party leader Naftali Bennett’s efforts to form a government with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Yamina sources have told The Times of Israel.
Additionally, Yamina MK Idit Silman has no intention on disrupting Bennett’s effort to form a government. Silman was mentioned as a lawmaker who could join fellow Yamina MK Amichai Chikli in voting against a unity government, due to such a coalition needing to rely on some leftist parties and Lapid.
Economy Minister Amir Peretz, a former Labor party leader who until declining to run in the March 23 elections was the longest-tenured Knesset member, announces he won’t seek the presidency when President Reuven Rivlin’s term ends later this year.
“When I finish my current position I will turn to new horizons and dedicate more time to my close family, something that has been very hard for me to do during my 37 years of public service,” Peretz writes in a Facebook post.
He adds: “Israeli democracy allowed me, a kid born in Morocco who grew up in a transit camp, to reach the most important places and achieve accomplishments for all Israeli citizens. It was an honor to contribute to the security of Israel, to Israeli society and the working man. To me this is a great privilege and a testament that despite all the difficulties, the State of Israel is a land of many opportunities.”
National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will lead a meeting tomorrow on reviving an effort to give vaccine doses to other countries, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
The report says Israel is also leaning toward approving the distribution of some COVID-19 vaccines to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
The military liaison to the Palestinians and relevant government ministries have drawn up a plan for deciding on how to allocate the vaccines, with preference given to those who work in or are employed by Israel, according to the broadcaster.
The Israel Defense Forces says troops are continuing to search for the suspected terrorists who carried out a drive-by shooting attack Sunday in the northern West Bank, wounding three Israelis.
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