1 killed in Israeli drone strike near Quneitra — Syrian state TV
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TV airs recording of Gantz adviser assailing him as a ‘danger’ to Israel

Israel Bachar also says his boss ‘doesn’t have the courage to attack Iran’; Blue and White dismisses the report as Likud ‘lies’

Israel Bachar. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Illustrative: A member of the Syrian security forces walks near the border post with Israel in the Syrian town of Quneitra in the Golan Heights on March 26, 2019. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

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

1 killed in Israeli drone strike near Quneitra — Syrian state TV

Syrian state television reports that one person was killed in an Israeli drone strike in the Quneitra area of the Golan Heights.

“A civilian was martyred when his car was targeted by a drone belonging to the Israeli enemy south of Hader,” according to a tweet from SANA.

Israel denounces anti-Semitic routine at Spanish Carnival

MADRID — Israel’s ambassador to Spain has denounced a Carnival parade routine in a small town that featured men and women dressed up like Jewish Holocaust victims and Nazi soldiers.

Rodica Radian-Gordon says in a tweet that the performance was “a detestable banalization of the Holocaust,” an “affront to the victims” and “an intolerable manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

The offensive costumes were worn at a Carnival in Campo de Criptana, a central Spanish town of 13,000. Several women wore costumes depicting concentration camp victims carrying Israeli flags and men wearing replicas of the uniforms of SS officers from the German army. They paraded and danced to loud dance music emitted from a float that carried two towers that resembled smokestacks.

Spain’s minister of foreign affairs, Arancha González Laya, also said on Twitter that she was “horrified by the performance.”

After contacting the organizers, she said they have apologized to the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain.

The troupe, known as Asociación Cultural El Chaparral, has apologized and said it won’t be repeating its performance.

— AP

Far-left German MPs accuse Merkel of ‘abetting’ Soleimani killing

FRANKFURT, Germany — Eight MPs from Germany’s radical-left Left party say they’ve filed a criminal complaint against German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ministers, accusing them of complicity in the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Their complaint relates to the US Air Force’s massive Ramstein base in western Germany, believed to host a satellite relay station used to control American drones in the skies over Africa and the Middle East.

“The control signals for the drone attack (that killed Soleimani) can only have been transmitted via a satellite relay station on German territory, the US airbase in Ramstein,” Left party MP Alexander Neu says in a statement.

A copy of the criminal complaint Neu posted to his website targets Merkel, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and “other members of the federal government.”

The Left accuses Merkel and her ministers of “abetting through negligence” Soleimani’s killing.

“We cannot continue to accept that the federal government itself breaks international law by enabling and supporting the illegal US drone war,” Neu says.


Target of alleged Israeli strike in Syria said to be suspected terror operative

Quoting Syrian reports, Hebrew media names the person killed in an alleged Israeli drone strike in Syria as Imad Tawil.

According to Channel 13, Tawil was involved in setting up a Hezbollah terror network that could be used to launch attacks along the border.

Health Ministry publishes details of flight that Israeli with COVID-19 was on

The Health Ministry issues details about the flight from Italy that was carrying an Israeli man who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The plane, El Al flight LY 382 from Milan, touched down at 4:10 p.m. on Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport, the ministry says.

“Anyone who was on this flight must immediately enter home quarantine for 14 days from the date of the landing and report this on the Health Ministry website,” a ministry statement says.

The announcement comes as the Israeli man is brought to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where he will be quarantined.

Prosecutors announce charges against additional suspects in submarines graft case

The State Attorney’s Office announces charges against two more suspects in the so-called submarines probe into alleged corruption in the purchase of naval vessels from German shipbuilder ‎Thyssenkrupp.

Avriel Bar-Yosef, former deputy national security adviser, will face charges of requesting a bribe, taking a bribe, fraud and breach of trust in Case 3000.

Bar-Yosef was tapped by Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2016 to serve as national security adviser, but later withdrew his candidacy amid conflict of interest claims.

Shay Brosh, a former commander of the Israel Navy’s commando unit, will be charged with requesting a bribe, taking a bribe, tax offenses and money laundering.

The charges against the two are pending a hearing.

Prosecutors announced an initial round of charges in December against suspects in the case, among them former defense officials and close associates of Netanyahu.

The case has been described by some as the biggest graft scandal in Israel’s history.

Avriel Bar-Yosef is seen at a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court following his arrest in the ‘Case 3000’ affair on July 10, 2017. (Moti Kimchi/Pool/Flash90)

Education Ministry halts all school trips abroad over coronavirus fears

The Education Ministry announces the cancellation of all school trips abroad until further notice due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Iran VP reportedly tests positive for coronavirus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A state-owned newspaper in Iran says Masoumeh Ebtekar, a vice president in the Islamic Republic and a spokeswoman for the 1979 hostage-takers, has the new coronavirus.

The report comes from the English-language IRAN daily newspaper via its Twitter account.

Ebtekar was known during the hostage crisis as “Mary.”

The report comes as other top officials in Iran’s Shiite theocracy have caught the virus.

— AP

Masoumeh Ebtekar (Vahid Salemi/AP)

WHO chief says coronavirus outbreak at ‘decisive point’

GENEVA — The new coronavirus epidemic is at a “decisive point” globally, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says today, urging affected countries to “move swiftly” to contain the disease.

“We’re at a decisive point,” Tedros says, adding: “If you act aggressively now, you can contain this virus, you can prevent people getting sick, you can save lives.”


El Al suspends flights to Italy, Thailand due to coronavirus

El Al announces it is suspending all flights to Italy and Thailand due to the spread of the coronavirus in those countries.

The Israeli airliner also says it will delay the launch of direct flights to Tokyo until April. The direct line was scheduled to have launched on March 11.

Additionally, El Al extends its halt on flights to Beijing and Hong Kong until May.

1,700 Israelis under quarantine over coronavirus concerns– TV

Some 1,700 Israelis are currently under some form of quarantine to ensure they were not exposed to the coronavirus, Channel 12 reports.

Anyone who was close to man found to have virus ordered to quarantine

The Health Ministry says anyone who was in proximity to an Israeli man who tested positive for the coronavirus after returning Sunday from Italy must go into home quarantine.

The man flew to Milan on El Al flight LY 381 on February 21 at 6 a.m., the ministry says. After returning to the country, he frequented the “Red Pirate” store in Or Yehuda on Monday between 9 and 10 a.m.

“Anyone on the above-mentioned flight and also in the store ‘Red Pirate’ in Or Yehuda at the specific hour noted must immediately enter into home quarantine for 14 days and report this on the website of the Health Ministry,” a ministry statement says.

Most of those exposed to the infected man have been located, the ministry adds.

Israel advances plans for nearly 1,800 new settlement homes

The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction green-lights plans for nearly 1,800 Israeli homes in the West Bank.

Of the 1,739 homes advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, 1,036 clear an early planning stage known as “deposit,” while 703 homes receive final approval for construction throughout the West Bank.

Today’s session came less than two months after the last one, marking an increase in the frequency of the committee’s meetings, which according to unofficial rules instituted upon US President Donald Trump’s 2017 entry into the White House, have only taken place four times a year.

Shabtay Bendet from the Peace Now settlement watchdog refrains from concluding that the more frequent meetings marked a change in Israeli policy, but speculates they more likely have to do with the Netanyahu government’s efforts to cater to right-wing voters, particularly those in the settlements, ahead of next week’s election.

— Jacob Magid

Doctors union head says Netanyahu shouldn’t be ‘sowing panic’ over coronavirus

The head of a doctors union criticizes Prime Minister Netanyahu for saying any Israeli who recently returned from abroad and has symptoms of COVID-19 should immediately contact the Magen David Adom ambulance service.

“The role of the prime minister is to lead calmly, responsibility and cautiously and to refrain from sowing panic,” Dr. Hagai Levine of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians tweets.

Levine, an epidemiologist with the Hadassah School of Public Health, says Netanyahu’s comments are “wrong” and contradict Health Ministry guidelines and the recommendations of professionals.

“This should be corrected as soon as possible in order not to mislead the public,” he says.

Levine also addresses Netanyahu’s claim that a service launched by the Magen David Adom ambulance service to test people at their homes for the virus was likely the first of its kind in the world.

“The corona[virus] home testing service is not the first in the world but is rather in fact in practice in accordance with a similar model in England that has been already operating for a few weeks,” he says.

Levine had earlier criticized Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s conduct in regards to Israel’s efforts to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

In his comments earlier today, made during a visit to Magen Adom David’s coronavirus operations center in Jerusalem, Netanyahu defended Israel’s response to the novel virus.

“As soon as the coronavirus appeared, I determined a policy of over-preparation, not under-preparation, for the State of Israel. There was criticism of this but I thought, and still think, that an overly cautious policy is the correct one,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits
the Magen David Adom’s coronavirus operations center in Jerusalem, February 27, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Lebanon begins ‘historic’ offshore oil drilling amid crisis

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s president inaugurates the Mediterranean country’s first offshore exploratory drilling for oil and gas, calling it a “historic day” for the cash-strapped country.

Michel Aoun speaks today aboard the drill ship Tungsten Explorer, which will be conducting the drilling operations of the first exploration well, located approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) offshore from the capital Beirut.

“Today is a happy day for us and for all Lebanese, and we hope the dream we’ve all imagined is realized today. It is a historic day,” he says.

In 2017, Lebanon approved the licenses for an international consortium led by France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of 10 blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, including one that is partly claimed by Israel.

Total said the first well will be drilled at a depth of 1,500 meters (4,920 feet). The exploration well aims at exploring targets located more than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) below the sea bed. The drilling of the well is estimated to last two months, after which the drill ship will leave Lebanon, Total said.

At a later stage that hasn’t yet been scheduled, drilling should begin in Block 9, part of which Israel also claims. A major find in Lebanon’s southernmost waters could raise the possibility of a dispute with Israel.

The US has been mediating between Lebanon and Israel over the nearly 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea claimed by both countries.

— AP

High Court rules gay couples be allowed surrogacy rights

The High Court of Justice unanimously rules that the state must allow gay couples and single men access to surrogacy.

A statement from the court says current surrogacy laws “disproportionately harm the right to equality and the right of parenthood of these groups and are illegal.”

Gay rights group hails ‘historic’ High Court surrogacy ruling

A leading LGBT group hails the High Court of Justice’s ruling that surrogacy rights be extended to gay couples and single men.

“A historic victory for the gay community,” the Agudah says in a statement on its Facebook page. “This historic decision is another incredible milestone in our fight for equal rights.”

Swiss humanitarian channel to Iran begins operating

GENEVA — A new Swiss payment mechanism allowing food, medicine and other humanitarian aid to be sent to Iran without stumbling over US sanctions has officially taken effect, Bern says.

The system was created to allow Swiss companies in the food, pharmaceutical and medical sectors to make aid shipments to Iran without drawing the wrath of Washington for breaching a vast range of sanctions against the Islamic country.

“The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), a payment mechanism to enable humanitarian goods to be delivered to Iran, came into effect on 27 February,” the Swiss economic affairs ministry (SECO) says in a statement.

Iran has been facing severe medical shortages since the US pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on the country in 2018.

Washington had exempted humanitarian goods, especially medicines and medical equipment from its punitive measures.

But international purchases of such supplies are forestalled by banks being wary of conducting any business with Iran, for fear of falling foul of sanctions themselves.


Likud the largest party in TV poll, inching toward majority with allies

TV airs recording of Gantz adviser assailing him as a ‘threat’ to Israel

With just days to go before the elections, Channel 12 news publishes a recording of a top political adviser to Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz assailing his boss.

In the recording, a man said to be Israel Bachar can be heard talking about Gantz with an unidentified acquaintance. The network said the recording is from several days ago.

Bachar: “She [Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich] says he is stupid and a complete nobody and she says ‘he can’t be be prime minister.'”

He also says Gantz “doesn’t have the courage to attack Iran” and appears to warn the Blue and White leader would be “a threat to the Israeli nation” if he were prime minister.

Blue and White dismissed the report as “lies” from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu piles on Gantz over recording of adviser criticizing him

Prime Minister Netanyahu goes after his centrist rival Benny Gantz after Channel 12 news aired a recording of the latter’s political adviser saying the Blue and White leader lacks the courage to strike Iran.

“Even the people closest to Gantz know that he can’t be prime minister and that he is dangerous for Israel’s security,” Netanyahu writes on social media.

Over 85,000 infected globally by coronavirus, over 2,900 deaths

The coronavirus outbreak that began in China has infected more than 85,000 people globally.

The latest figures, based on WHO and national counts:

— Mainland China: 2,835 deaths among 79,251 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei

— Hong Kong: 94 cases, 2 deaths

— Macao: 10 cases

— South Korea: 3,150 cases, 17 deaths

— Japan: 941 cases, including 705 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, 11 deaths

— Italy: 888 cases, 18 deaths

— Iran: 593 cases, 43 deaths

— Singapore: 98 cases

— United States: 62

— France: 57 cases, 2 deaths

— Germany: 57 cases

— Spain: 46

— Kuwait: 45

— Thailand: 42

— Taiwan: 39 cases, 1 death

— Bahrain: 38 cases

— Malaysia: 24

— Australia: 23

— United Kingdom: 20 cases, 1 death

— United Arab Emirates: 19 cases

— Vietnam: 16

— Canada: 14

— Sweden: 12

— Switzerland: 10

— Iraq: 8

— Norway: 6

— Oman: 6

— Austria: 5

— Russia: 5

— Croatia: 5

— Israel: 5

— Netherlands: 4

— Pakistan: 4

— Philippines: 3 cases, 1 death

— Finland: 3 cases

— Greece: 3

— India: 3

— Lebanon: 3

— Romania: 3

— Norway: 2

— Denmark: 2

— Georgia: 2

— Mexico: 2

— Egypt: 1

— Algeria: 1

— Afghanistan: 1

— North Macedonia: 1

— Estonia: 1

— Lithuania: 1

— Belgium: 1

— Belarus: 1

— Nepal: 1

— Sri Lanka: 1

— Cambodia: 1

— Brazil: 1

— New Zealand: 1

— Nigeria: 1

— Azerbaijan: 1

— Monaco: 1

— Qatar: 1

— AP

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1 killed in Israeli drone strike near Quneitra — Syrian state TV

Syrian state television reports that one person was killed in an Israeli drone strike in the Quneitra area of the Golan Heights.

“A civilian was martyred when his car was targeted by a drone belonging to the Israeli enemy south of Hader,” according to a tweet from SANA.