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

Amid coalition turmoil, Kahlon calls for early elections

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call early elections.

“As things stand, the best thing for the citizens of Israel and the Israeli economy is to hold elections as soon as possible,” Kahlon tells Netanyahu today, according to sources close to the finance minister.

The call comes amid growing speculation that Netanyahu may be forced to call early elections following the resignation, announced yesterday, of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

According to Hadashot television news, Kahlon said that new elections that would result in a new and stable government is now “the most responsible course of action.”

In Rome, Rivlin tells pope Israel won’t ‘stand by’ in face of Hamas attacks

Israel would not “stand by” in the face of Hamas attacks, President Reuven Rivlin tells Pope Francis in a meeting today at the Vatican between the two leaders.

“Israel does not want escalation or to hurt innocent civilians, but will not stand by while Hamas undermines stability and our civilians are harmed,” Rivlin says, according to a press statement from his office.

He also praises Francis’ condemnation of anti-Semitism, saying, “Your absolute condemnation of acts of anti-Semitism and your definition of such acts as anti-Christian are a significant step in the ongoing fight to stamp it out.”

It is Rivlin’s second meeting with the pope. The two met in 2015 at Francis’ invitation.

Rivlin and wife Nechama reviewed the Pontifical Swiss Guard before meeting Francis at the Apostolic Palace.

Rivlin also tells the Catholic leader Israel “has full freedom of worship for all religions in all holy places.”

President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican, November 15, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Likud MK quits Knesset after being elected mayor in Bet She’an

Likud MK Jacky Levy resigns from the Knesset to take up his new post as the incoming mayor of the northern town of Bet She’an.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, after signing Levy’s resignation letter a short time ago, says Levy “is sure to bring the city to new heights very quickly.”

Levy’s resignation means the next person on Likud’s Knesset list, Osnat Mark, will be sworn in within a few days as the newest member of Knesset.

Saudi prosecutor seeks death penalty in Khashoggi’s killing

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor announces he’s recommended the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The announcement by the kingdom’s top prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, appears aimed at distancing the killers and their operation from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose powerful position in the kingdom has placed him in the center of a global outcry over the killing. The announcement is published in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The brutal death of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who had been critical of the crown prince, shocked the world and led many analysts and officials to believe it could not have been carried out without the prince’s knowledge.

Turkey says an assassination squad was sent from Riyadh for the writer and insists the orders for the killing came from the highest levels of the Saudi government, but not King Salman.

After issuing the statement, the spokesman for al-Mojeb’s office, Shalan al-Shalan, tells a rare press conference in Riyadh that Khashoggi’s killers had set in motion plans for the killing on September 29 — three days before his slaying in Istanbul. He says the killers drugged and killed the writer inside the consulate, before dismembering the body and handing it over for disposal by an unidentified local collaborator.

— AP

Turkey says Saudi explanation of Khashoggi murder ‘insufficient’

Turkey says the Saudi statement earlier today over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was “insufficient” and insists the killing was “premeditated.”

“We find all those steps positive but insufficient,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says in a televised speech.

His comments come shortly after Saudi Arabia admitted that 59-year-old Khashoggi was drugged and dismembered inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last month.

Riyadh’s public prosecutor said the journalist’s body parts were then handed over to an agent outside the consulate grounds and that five Saudi officials were facing the death penalty over the murder.

“I want to say personally that I don’t find some of the statements satisfactory,” Cavusoglu says. “This murder was premeditated.”

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen stepping into the Istanbul consulate to obtain paperwork for his marriage to a Turkish woman.


Shas chief Deri becomes latest minister to urge early elections

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the Shas party, urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “call early elections” amid a growing coalition crisis following the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Netanyahu and Deri meet Thursday afternoon as part of a round of meetings the prime minister is holding with coalition chiefs to attempt to ascertain support for keeping the government afloat until its currently scheduled election day in November 2019.

“The good of the country requires going to early elections with the agreement of all coalition parties,” Deri says.

German prosecutors seek to lift immunity of far-right leader

BERLIN — German prosecutors say they are seeking to lift the parliamentary immunity of a prominent far-right politician as part of a probe into potentially illegal campaign donations.

Prosecutors in the southern city of Konstanz want to investigate Alice Weidel, who is co-leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, over donations from Switzerland totaling about 130,000 euros ($146,500).

German law allows party donations from outside the European Union only if they are made by German or EU citizens. Switzerland isn’t a member of the 28-nation bloc.

In order to open a formal investigation into a lawmaker, prosecutors have to first ask for that person’s immunity to be lifted.

Alternative for Germany, which placed third in national elections last year, acknowledged this week that Weidel’s local party chapter received the money from Switzerland, which was marked “campaign donation Alice Weidel.” The Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported that the payments were listed as coming from a company named PWS Pharmawholesale International AG.

German media reported Wednesday that Weidel used part of the money to pay for social media advertising during her election campaign and for a lawyer suing journalists on her behalf. Alternative for Germany confirmed she used the funds to pay bills, but said she later ordered the donations returned after doubts were raised about their legality.

— AP

With rains expected, park officials close Masada, warn of flash floods

Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority warns hikers that rains are expected in mountainous parts of the country in the next few days, leading to possible flash floods in desert riverbeds throughout the country’s south and in the Jordan Valley.

The Masada National Park has been closed to visitors, as has the Arugot stream in the southeastern edge of the West Bank, both popular destinations for hikers and tourists.

The warnings come after some rain had already fallen on the Judean desert and northern Negev areas earlier today. More rain is expected on Friday.

Ten young Israelis were killed on April 29, 2018, in a flash flood in the Tzafit stream in the northern Negev, east of Dimona, amid heavy rains.

Hikers urged to leave Judean desert immediately amid flood fears

Hikers in the Judean desert, in the southern half of the West Bank, are being urged by Israeli authorities to leave the area immediately over growing fears of possible flash floods amid rains in the watershed highlands in the central West Bank and predictions of more rain over the next two days.

Swedish hospital department head quits after alleged anti-Semitic bullying

The head of a department at a Swedish university hospital resigns from his post following reports in the media about a physician’s uninterrupted bullying of Jewish staff.

The former manager left Karolinska University Hospital near Stockholm due to “a combination of personal reasons, but also because he has not handled the situation [efficiently] enough,” Annika Tibell, the hospital’s director, tells Sveriges Television, the broadcaster reported Tuesday. The department head is not named in the report.

In October, the California-based Simon Wiesenthal Center leveled accusations against a surgeon from Tibell’s hospital of anti-Semitic bullying, the Aftonbladet daily reports.

Management at Karolinska knew about the “obvious and open anti-Semitism” expressed by the physician to at least one Jewish employee since February, but the complaints were “ignored,” Cooper wrote in the letter. At least two other Jewish employees quit until only the one mentioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center remained, Cooper said.

Tibell tells Aftonbladet that the institution has a “zero tolerance for all types of harassment and offensive treatment.” She also says that “relevant investigative measures” are taken when “misunderstandings arise.” According to Aftonbladet, Karolinska has launched an internal investigation and asked outside council to review the complaints.

The report in Aftonbladet does not elaborate on the alleged harassment. Cooper said he wasn’t at liberty to recount it to protect the identity of the alleged victim, who wishes to remain anonymous.


British BDS promoter threatens to boycott Air India unless she is served wine

A British activist promoting boycotts against Israel was filmed threatening similar action against Air India unless flight attendants serve her wine on a flight that ended with her arrest.

Simone O’Broin, 50, went on a tirade aboard an Air India flight from Mumbai to London Heathrow on Saturday, the Mail Online reports.

O’Broin, who appeared inebriated and who used to work as a head researcher for the anti-Israel Badil organization as late as 2011, was filmed by fellow passengers telling flight attendants that she is a “leader of the f***ing boycott movement,” clapping in the air in front of a crew member. She added: “If I say boycott f***ing Air India, done. Do you understand me? You can’t give me a wee bottle of wine?”

Earlier in her rant, O’Broin, who once co-authored a research paper with former UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk on the situation of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, said: “Do you treat business class passengers like that? Who are international criminal lawyers for the Palestinian people?”

Then her profanity-laced fulminations appeared to take a racist turn, when she told the Indian flight crew:

“I work for all you f***ing people… ‘The f***ing Rohingyas, the f***ing people of all Asia, for you, I’m an international criminal lawyer. Don’t get any money for it by the way. But you won’t give me a f***ing glass of wine, is that correct?”

She then called a female crew member “Indian f***ing money grabbing bastard,” shouting that she will “turn you inside f***ing out, you f***ing stupid c***s.”

London Metropolitan Police says that O’Broin was taken into custody at Heathrow Airport upon landing. “She was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public disorder, common assault, and drunk and disorderly and taken to a west London police station,” a police spokesperson tells the newspaper. She was subsequently released under investigation, the spokesperson says.


Iran media: Gold traders’ execution a ‘clear message’

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s newspapers say today that the execution of two financial traders is a “clear message” to others seeking to “disrupt” the country’s economy.

Vahid Mazloomin, dubbed the “Sultan of Coins,” and his accomplice Mohammad Esmail Ghasemi were both executed less than a month after being convicted of “corruption on earth” — one of Iran’s most serious charges. They had been accused of exploiting a surge in gold demand from savers spooked by this year’s currency crisis, according to the judiciary’s news agency Mizan online.

News of the executions is hard to find on reformist dailies’ front pages, but conservative papers highlight it with large pictures of Mazloomin and excerpts of his last interview with Mizan before he was executed.

The ultra-conservative Javan daily writes on its front page that “the execution of economic corruptors started with the Sultan,” accompanied by a picture of Mazloomin smoking a cigarette during the interview in prison in which he spoke about his life.

The hardliner Keyhan daily calls for more trials, saying it was now time for the “officials in the banking system … complicit in this corruption” to be tried.

Jam-e Jam daily, which acts under the supervision of state TV, writes that the hanging sends a “clear message” to other “economic disruptors.”

Iran has suffered a sharp economic downturn this year, in part because of the US pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May, leading many Iranians to rush to secure their savings by buying foreign exchange and precious metals. The slide of the rial against the dollar started roughly a year ago, and at its height lost around 98 percent of its value against the greenback year-on-year. The price of gold coins quadrupled in the same time. Since January, there have been widespread reports of dealers and middlemen manipulating the markets by hoarding dollars and coins in order to push up prices.


Netanyahu, army chiefs to meet Gaza border mayors amid outcry

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invites the heads of regional councils and towns on the Gaza border to meet him at his Jerusalem office tonight amid continuing criticism over his handling of this week’s Gaza crisis.

The meeting also comes after Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, considered a Netanyahu confidant, called the rocket barrage that slammed into Israeli communities on Monday and Tuesday a “minor” attack because it didn’t hit Tel Aviv or Ben Gurion Airport.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and IDF Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi will also be in the meeting, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

Mayors from the Gaza border region slammed Hanegbi’s comments earlier today. Some residents of the southern communities are planning to hold a protest rally in Tel Aviv at 7 p.m. this evening.

Kibbutz movement slams Netanyahu for not visiting Gaza border communities

The Kibbutz Movement slams Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for inviting mayors of Gaza border communities to meet him in his Jerusalem office following Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s remarks about the “minor” rocket barrage from Gaza earlier this week.

“For many months residents of communities along the Gaza border have been dealing with Hamas terrorism. For many months, you have not set foot in the kibbutzim and moshavim [villages] close to the fence,” the movement says in a statement.

It adds: “For months you have not met with them, you have not heard them and you have not listened to them. Now, after the outrageous words of Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, don’t invite them to your office. Go to them. Meet them in their homes. Come hear their cries and distress. You have nothing to fear, they have bomb shelters to protect you, and there is no reason for you to hide. They will host you with the appropriate respect, Mr. Prime Minister. Come to the Gaza border communities and look them in the eye.”

— Jacob Magid

Amid coalition crisis, Netanyahu cancels upcoming trip to Austria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition appears to be collapsing around him with major partners calling for early elections, cancels his visit next week to Austria. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirms the cancellation.

— Raphael Ahren

Police close section of Route 90 amid flooding fears

Police close parts of Route 90, the road that wends its way down the Jordan Valley, between Ein Bokek and Ein Gedi amid expected flash floods in the riverbeds that dot the area.

Bennett says he asked to be defense minister so Israel ‘starts winning again’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett says he has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be appointed defense minister after Avigdor Liberman resigned the post.

“The greatest danger to Israel is that we’ve started to think there’s no solution to the terrorism, to the terrorists, to the rockets, that there’s nothing to be done, that it’s impossible to win,” Bennett says in a speech at an education conference in Ramat Gan.

“But there are things we can do, there is a solution. When Israel decides to win, we will win,” he adds.

“Yesterday I asked the prime minister to give me the position of defense minister, with one goal: that Israel start winning again…. As minister of defense, I intend to bring innovation, creativity and a fighting spirit, to challenge the conventional wisdom of the past.”

Without a “dramatic change” in Israel’s defense thinking, he adds, “Israeli deterrence will continue to decline.”

Bennett has long criticized the Netanyahu government’s reluctance to respond more forcefully to Gaza rocket attacks, and has advocated ground incursions into the Gaza Strip.

Without naming Hanegbi, Netanyahu releases video slamming comments on rockets

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distances himself from comments by his confidant, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, according to which the Hamas rocket barrage on Israeli communities was “minor” because it didn’t hit Tel Aviv.

The comment drew widespread opprobrium.

In a video posted to social media, Netanyahu says, “This morning I heard a regrettable statement, and even though there has already been an apology, I have to clarify: Sderot’s fate will be Tel Aviv’s fate. The safety of residents of the south is just as important as the safety of the rest of Israel’s residents. We’re in the middle of a campaign, and we must show patience, perseverance and determination.”

As he takes his leave, Liberman calls for keeping IDF out of partisan politics

In his last visit with the IDF top brass as defense minister, Avigdor Liberman calls for keeping the military out of partisan debates.

“There’s a consensus in Israel about two things: The Western Wall and the IDF. It’s the most agreed-upon thing that I know of in Israeli society. I have tried with all my strength, at least on this issue, to be supportive, to keep the army out of the political debate,” he says during the meeting with the IDF General Staff in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters.

Yesterday, Liberman announced he was resigning as defense minister, citing mainly disagreements with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the country’s policies toward Hamas and Gaza.

He was especially critical of Israel’s actions during this week’s battle with terror groups in the Strip, which ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Tuesday evening.

Liberman stressed that he had taken issue with the government’s policies, not with the military’s actions during the intense fighting.

As a parting gift, the General Staff gave Liberman a commando knife in a decorative box.

— Judah Ari Gross

German woman charged with Islamic State membership

Federal prosecutors say they’ve charged a 26-year-old German woman with membership in a terrorist organization on allegations she joined the extremist Islamic State.

Prosecutors say that Derya O., whose full name isn’t given in line with privacy laws, is accused of joining the group in Syria in February 2014 and marrying a fighter there with whom she had previous contact over the internet.

They lived in Syria and Iraq off funds the husband received from IS, and had a child together.

She’s alleged to have also received small-arms weapons training from her husband and had an explosive belt that could have been used in a suicide bombing.

She left Syria through Turkey in 2017 and returned to Germany that August.

— AP

Egypt, 5 Arab nations hold live ammunition military drills near Cairo

MARSA MATROUH, Egypt — Military units from Egypt and five other Arab nations conduct war drills with live ammunition in the Egyptian desert west of Cairo.

Thursday’s drills are held in the western desert around the “Mohammed Naguib” military base near the coastal Mediterranean city of Marsa Matrouh.

The drills, code-named “Arab Shield,” bring together ground, naval and air units from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and Kuwait. They are scheduled to end Friday.

Thursday’s drills involve target practice by rocket launchers, tanks and fighter jets.

Egypt has been holding separate drills with each of these five Arab nations in recent years, but Arab Shield marked the first time that all six allies simultaneously participated in war games.

— AP

US Treasury hits 17 Saudis with economic sanctions over Khashoggi killing

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The US Treasury Department is adding economic sanctions to the travel bans already in place against 17 Saudis accused of taking part in the October slaying of writer Jamal Khashoggi inside their country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The new sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the US and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them. The sanctions are announced Thursday. One of the men is a top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

US officials say they have pressed the Saudi government for a full investigation into the killing of Khashoggi. Turkish and Saudi authorities say the US-based columnist for The Washington Post was killed by a team from the kingdom inside the consulate after he went there to get marriage documents.

Saudi authorities have 21 people in custody and the country’s top prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty for five of the suspects.

— AP

Lawmakers set new date for Hof Ashkelon mayoral race delayed by rockets

The Knesset Internal Affairs Committee sets a date for the local election run-off in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, which will take place next Tuesday, November 20.

Hof Ashkelon was one of 54 municipalities that was slated to hold a mayoral run-off on November 13 after none of the candidates passed the 40-percent threshold in the nationwide local elections on October 30. But the Hof Ashkelon run-off was delayed because of the rocket barrage from Gaza that shuttered area schools, businesses and government offices on Monday and Tuesday.

Next Tuesday’s race is between the two frontrunners, Itamar Revivo and Dudi Saada.

IDF general warns Gazans not to approach border, ‘our patience has run out’

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians threatens Gazans that “our patience has run out and we will respond severely” to those who take part in clashes along the border tomorrow.

In an Arabic-language video posted to his Facebook page, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun — known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories — tells Palestinians that Israel is adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward border violence.

Since March 30, Friday afternoons have seen large-scale demonstrations, riots and clashes along the Gaza border as part of what’s known by Palestinians as the “Great March of Return,” which Israel maintains are being orchestrated by Hamas and are not, as many Palestinians claim, a grassroots protest movement.

The general says Israel is “well aware that these actions are not spontaneous, and that the Hamas terror group is the mastermind, managing and leading these activities.”

This week saw a massive, two-day battle between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas, apparently prompting Abu Rukun’s video warning.

The general says, “We will not show restraint and will not take lightly anyone who violates the following rules:

“Anyone who approaches within 100 meters of the fence, will put himself at risk.

“Anyone who destroys the fence or tries to damage it, will put himself at risk.

“Anyone who tries to cross the security fence into Israel, will put himself at risk.

“Anyone who throws improvised explosive devices, grenades and Molotov cocktails, will put himself at risk.

“Anyone who launches explosive balloons, will put himself at risk.”

Abu Rukun tells residents of the Strip to “wake up” and see that the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza is “leading you into the abyss. Understand this before it is too late. You have been warned,” he says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Jewish students tell Connecticut school board they don’t feel safe

Students at a high school in Connecticut say they have been subject to anti-Semitic hate and do not feel safe.

Some 50 students at Amity High in Woodbridge, many of them Jewish, attended the Board of Education meeting on Monday night and cried as they spoke about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of fellow students involved in a school sport.

While the students said that anti-Semitism has grown at Amity High in recent years, they charged that school officials have done little to deal with it, the New Haven Register reported.

The examples presented by the students included statements such as “these Jews deserve to die” and “we are the Nazis,” as well as swastikas found drawn and carved on surfaces throughout the school. Also, the homes of Jewish families in the area have been vandalized and egged.

Students also said they did not feel safe wearing Jewish symbols or shirts bearing the names of Jewish organizations.

Following the meeting, the interim superintendent of schools, James Connelly, released a letter to the school community in which he pledged that the district “will not tolerate this type of harassment and will investigate and take disciplinary action against students who demonstrate unacceptable behavior. We will also cooperate and coordinate with the local police department in some of these investigations.”

The letter said the district would partner with religious leaders and groups like the Anti-Defamation League to address the issue.


Hundreds of southern residents head to Tel Aviv to protest lack of security

Hundreds of residents of the south are in Tel Aviv this evening protesting years of insecurity in the shadow of Hamas rockets.

Protesters are blocking the major central Tel Aviv intersection in front of the Azrieli towers and mall. They are calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign, blasting “Code Red” rocket alert sirens and chanting “Tel Aviv wake up, the south is burning.”

Some of the protesters are scuffling with police, who are forming a human chain to prevent the protesters from walking onto the nearby Ayalon highway and bringing the main thoroughfare through Israel’s commercial capital to a halt.

Southern residents protest in Tel Aviv over lack of security for communities in the south living under the shadow of Hamas rockets and attacks. (Luke Tress/The Times of Israel)
Southern residents protest in Tel Aviv over lack of security for communities in the south living under the shadow of Hamas rockets and attacks. The signs read, ‘Let us grow up in peace.’ (Luke Tress/The Times of Israel)

— Luke Tress

Kahlon said to tell Netanyahu he won’t agree to Bennett as defense chief

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reportedly tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this evening that he would not allow Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, to be appointed defense minister.

Bennett has demanded the defense portfolio since Avigdor Liberman announced yesterday he was resigning from the post, and threatened to leave the government if he was denied it by Netanyahu. Bennett’s departure would push Netanyahu’s coalition below the 61-seat threshold required to sustain a government, likely sending the nation to elections.

But Kahlon, too, has the power to send the country to elections by withdrawing his Kulanu party from the coalition.

Miami Beach Jewish center vandalized with swastika and upside-down cross

A swastika and an upside-down cross are painted on a decorative post in front of a Jewish center in Miami Beach, Florida.

A security guard at the West Avenue Jewish Center discovered the vandalism early Wednesday morning, the local ABC affiliate News 10 reports.

An upside-down cross is sometimes a symbol of satanism or the occult.

The center houses a Jewish day school for boys, a rabbinical college and an Orthodox synagogue — Congregation Beth Medrash Levi Yitzchok Lubavitch. The official name of the building, which is several stories tall, is the Haim and Gila Wiener Florida Lubavitch Headquarters.

Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez tells the Miami Herald that detectives are reviewing surveillance video with the staff to gather more information.


Netanyahu said to tell ministers he may not be able to hold coalition together

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly telling ministers in his coalition that he will not be able to appoint Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party to the defense minister post because of opposition to the move from other coalition partners.

The reported comments suggest that Netanyahu will be unable to stabilize his narrow 61-seat coalition after the resignation of ex-defense minister Avigdor Liberman and withdrawal of his Yisrael Beytenu faction from the ruling coalition.

The report follows demands earlier this evening by the heads of Shas and Kulanu — Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, respectively — that Netanyahu call elections and not attempt to hold the coalition together.

The debate now, reports say, is over the date of the coming elections. Netanyahu prefers a later May date, while Kahlon and Deri prefer closer to March. According to Israel’s election law, once the Knesset votes on its own dissolution, a step that could take place within days, the country will begin a 90-day campaign to election day.

Fearing more incendiary attacks, Israel confiscates balloon shipment to Gaza

Israeli border officials confiscate thousands of balloons found on a truck heading into Gaza at the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Thousands of balloons attached to incendiary devices have been launched across the border, causing fires that have ravaged agricultural fields, forests and national park areas in Israel.

The cartons of balloons were discovered by border guards, who alerted the Land Border Crossings Authority officials on site. The officials classified the balloons as “dual-use,” meaning they could be taken by Hamas for use in incendiary attacks.

US-led coalition denies reports it killed dozens in Syria airstrikes

BEIRUT — The US-led coalition is denying reports that airstrikes it carried out in a part of eastern Syria held by the Islamic State jihadist group killed dozens of civilians.

Syrian state media, a war monitor and an IS-linked news agency reported Saturday that coalition airstrikes killed 40 people, mostly women and children.

The coalition said in a statement late Saturday that it conducted 19 strikes in the area starting late Friday in support of ground operations against IS. It says all the targets it struck were “legitimate” and that no civilians were present.

It says another 10 strikes in the area were not carried out by the coalition.

Syria and Russia regularly launch airstrikes against suspected militants, and Iraq has carried out cross-border strikes targeting IS.

— AP

Kansas governor calls on official who said whites are ‘master race’ to resign

LEAVENWORTH, Kansas — Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer has called on a white county official to resign after the official said at a public meeting that he belongs to “the master race.”

Leavenworth County Commissioner Louis Klemp cited the master race — the Nazi ideology of Aryan supremacy — at a board meeting Tuesday while responding to a presentation by a black official, Triveece Penelton, on road development options in Tonganoxie, just west of Kansas City.

Colyer, a Republican, said in a statement Saturday that the remark was unacceptable. He says: “Racial and discriminative language have no place in our society and most especially when spoken by someone holding public office.”

Some members of the county commission also have called on Klemp to resign.

Klemp, who was appointed to fill a Republican vacancy, told KSHB-TV off camera that his comment was a joke.

— AP

Cabinet approves widespread budget cuts to fund salaries of security forces

Government ministers approve budget cuts across a number of ministries to help fund increased pension and salary benefits for police and other members of Israel’s security forces.

“This is good news for police officers, police retirees, the Prison Service, the [Shin Bet] and the Mossad, for those who serve the security of the state with dedication. This is news that they have been hoping for for many years,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in a statement following approval of the cuts.

The cuts are passed despite opposition from a number of ministers whose ministries are set to lose budget funds as a result of the measure.

“This is a grave decision that will fatally harm the health of Israeli citizens,” says Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, whose ministry is set to lose tens of millions of shekels as a result of the cuts.

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