The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.
Female MKs hail denial of early release for ex-president
Several female Israeli lawmakers are praising the parole board decision to deny ex-president Moshe Katsav, a convicted rapist, early release from prison.
Zionist Union MKs Shelly Yachimovich and Merav Michaeli, and Meretz MK Michal Rozin, cite the board’s scathing evaluation of Katsav as unrepentant. He “views himself as a victim,” and also still acts “aggressively,” says the board.
“This is a very important decision for Katsav’s victims, and for all victims of sex crimes,” Yachimovich says.
Michaeli says she sides with the victims, and is glad the court does as well.
“Without a confession, without regret, without rehabilitation — any other decision the board would have made regarding Katsav would have betrayed the public trust,” she says.
Rozin calls the decision a “trust-building measure in the court system, for the public in general and the victims in particular.”
Meretz leader Zahava Galon hails the “excellent news.”
“The decision today is a big victory in our struggle, another step in the revolution unfolding before our eyes which predicts the end of an era in which women’s bodies, souls, and futures are for the taking,” she says.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also joins the chorus, saying that Katsav left a “stain on the presidency” forever.
“Moshe Katsav will have to live with the shame and disgrace he brought upon himself,” he adds.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says he respects the decision, but indicates that he opposes it.
“As a public servant, I respect the decision, but I would examine something there,” he says, according to the Walla news website. “There are parameters, and if a man meets the criteria, he must be freed, but I respect the decision.”
Kahlon says Herzog probe ends unity gov’t talks
Kahlon says the Zionist Union was about to enter the coalition, but the corruption investigation into opposition leader Isaac Herzog has made that an impossibility.
“The prime minister is willing and wants to include Buji [Herzog] in the government, but the recent incidents have put him off of it,” says Kahlon, according to Haaretz. “When the investigation was publicized, they were about to join the government. It seems there were contacts between Bibi and Buji to have them enter the government, but the probe simply made that a distant prospect.”
Helen Mirren to present ‘Jewish Nobel’ in Jerusalem
Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren has agreed to host the award ceremony of Israel’s Genesis Prize in Jerusalem.
Organizers of the award, known as “the Jewish Nobel,” announce the selection of Mirren on Wednesday. The $1 million prize is being awarded to Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman for his accomplishments as a musician, teacher and advocate for the disabled.
“Dame Mirren has been an outspoken supporter of Israel, and we look forward to the elegance and grace she will bring to the ceremony,” says Stan Polovets, the co-founder and chairman of the Genesis Prize Foundation.
In a statement, Mirren says she is “honored and humbled” to host the ceremony. “My connection to Israel and the Jewish people has truly been a part of making me what I am today, and I am very excited to be returning to this great country,” she says.
Mirren is one of the few actors to have won the so-called Triple Crown of acting — collecting an Oscar, Tony and four Emmy awards over the years. She received her Academy Award for the 2006 film “The Queen.”
The foundation says that Mirren, who is not Jewish, has visited Israel several times, including a stint as a volunteer on a kibbutz, or collective farm, in 1967. She also has been a vocal critic of pro-Palestinian activists who have called for a cultural boycott of Israel.
Lapid likens MK’s remarks to Germany in 1930s
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid likens racist remarks by “some Knesset members” to those common in Germany in the run-up to World War II.
In comments that appear to be directed at Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich — who on Tuesday called for segregated Jewish, Arab maternity wards — Lapid says: “Knesset members are spreading blatantly racist comments of the sort that were common in Germany in the 1930s. It’s dangerous.”
Rights group records 54% uptick in executions worldwide
Amnesty International reports that there was a dramatic 54 percent increase in executions globally in 2015, with Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia responsible for nearly 90 percent of the killings.
The human rights organization says that the figure of at least 1,634 people executed last year — up from 1,061 in 2014 — does not include executions in China where data on the death penalty is considered a state secret.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty tells several reporters on Tuesday that for China “our estimate is that they execute as much as the rest of the world.”
He says China is currently reviewing crimes punishable by the death penalty so there is “a slim ray of hope” that the number of executions may be reduced.
On the upside, Shetty says, four countries abolished the death penalty for all crimes in 2015 — Republic of Congo, Fiji, Madagascar and Surinam — bringing the global total of countries now banning executions to 102.
‘Measures taken’ over massive data leak — Turkish PM
Turkey’s prime minister says his government is taking protective measures after a database that appears to contain personal information on nearly 50 million Turkish citizens was leaked on the Internet.
The leak features information such as names, addresses and citizenship ID numbers for some 49.6 million people.
The Associated Press was able to partially verify the authenticity of the leak by running 10 Turkish ID numbers against names contained in the leaked data. Eight of them matched.
There are fears that the leak could put people at risk of fraud. Speaking during a visit to Finland Wednesday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says: “Our citizens must be reassured that measures are being taken.” He didn’t elaborate.
Meanwhile, Ankara prosecutors launched an investigation into the leak, the state-run Anadolu Agency reports.
Rivlin backs new peace talks with Palestinians
President Reuven Rivlin urges resumed peace talks with the Palestinians.
“Yesterday, I heard with great interest the comments by the prime minister that if Abu Mazen [Abbas] truly sees Hamas as a problem and not a solution, then we would certainly be happy to resume negotiations,” he says, according to Army Radio.
Le Pen fined for calling gas chambers ‘a detail’
Jean-Marie Le Pen is fined $34,000 for calling the Nazi gas chambers a “detail.”
The founder of the far-right National Front party, now retired, is convicted on charges of contesting crimes against humanity, according to the BBC.
Israel prepares to defend against Anonymous online attacks
Israeli security agencies are on alert over the potential for cyber-attacks by Anonymous on Thursday, after the hacker group previously targeted the Jewish state each April 7.
The attacks in solidarity with the Palestinians have in the past succeeded in blocking government sites, including for the ministries of defense and foreign affairs.
“We are prepared for all forms of aggression,” an official from the Shin Bet domestic security agency tells AFP. “Israel is well-protected.”
In the past Israeli governmental and company sites have been shut down; sites have been hijacked to display photos and videos from Anonymous; and data has been pirated and made public, says Meni Barzilai from the University of Tel Aviv’s cyber research center.
Dozens of experts from both the private and public sectors as well as hackers are to gather Thursday in Tel Aviv to monitor potential attacks and offer help to companies and institutions targeted.
Clinton maintains strong lead in delegate count
Hillary Clinton maintains a lead of more than 200 delegates after Bernie Sanders’s win in Wisconsin.
On Tuesday, Sanders netted about a dozen delegates, winning 47 to Clinton’s 36. Three remain to be allocated, pending final vote tallies.
But his win wasn’t big enough to make up much ground in delegates. Democratic contests award delegates in proportion to the vote, so more narrow victories do little to cut into a frontrunner’s big delegate lead.
Based on primaries and caucuses to date, Clinton now has 1,279 delegates to Sanders’ 1,027.
The lead is even bigger when including superdelegates, or party officials who can back any candidate.
Clinton now has 1,748 to Sanders’ 1,058. It takes 2,383 to win.
Syria army launches counteroffensive south of Aleppo
The Syrian army and its allies have launched a counteroffensive to recapture a village south of the city of Aleppo that was overrun by insurgents a few days earlier.
Syrian opposition groups say Wednesday that the push, which started late the previous night, is aimed at retaking the village of Tel al-Ais, which overlooks the Damascus-Aleppo highway. The village was captured on Monday by rebels allied with al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front.
The fighting outside Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city, has been the worst since a partial cease-fire agreement came into effect in late February. It pits Syrian government forces and allied Lebanese Hezbollah against militants, including the Nusra Front.
Brussels attacks a ‘failure’ but Belgium not a ‘failed state’ — PM
The March 22 Islamic State attacks in Brussels signaled a security “failure,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel admitted Wednesday, but he rejects the notion that his country was a “failed state.”
“When there is an attack like that of course that’s a failure and nobody can deny this,” he tells reporters in Brussels. But, he adds, “I cannot accept the idea that we’re a failed state.”
Hundreds at funeral of Israeli hiker who died in Peru
Hundreds attend the funeral for 21-year-old Shira Roth, who died in Peru last week, apparently from altitude sickness.
Roth was found lifeless on a bus on Thursday. She was being buried at the Mishor Adumim cemetery.
GOP senators seek to block proposal on Iran dollar rules
Two Republican lawmakers opposed to the Iran nuclear deal are trying to block an Obama administration proposal that would ease rules on dollar transactions to support legitimate trade business with Iran.
Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Mark Kirk of Illinois plan to introduce legislation Wednesday that would bar the Treasury from permitting foreign banks to conduct foreign currency trades in US dollars for transactions involving Iran. A copy of the bill, entitled “Preventing Iran’s Access to United States Dollars of 2016,” was obtained by The Associated Press.
Administration officials have denied they are considering giving Iran direct access to dollars or to the US financial system as part of nuclear sanctions relief, but have left open the possibility of easing rules on the use of dollars by offshore financial institutions.
Clinton says Sanders hasn’t ‘done his homework’
Hillary Clinton says Bernie Sanders deserves credit for a “good night” in the Wisconsin primary, but that he hasn’t “done his homework” when it comes to curbing gun violence or reining in Wall Street.
Clinton tells MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Sanders’ recent remark that gun dealers shouldn’t necessarily be subject to lawsuits was “unimaginable” because it put the rights of the gun industry above parents whose children have been killed by guns.
She says voters need to ask themselves whether he can deliver on his promises, including his pledge to break up big banks. She says none of what he has said about the banks “seems to be rooted in an understanding of either the law or the practical ways you get something done.”
Hezbollah cries free speech after TV channel dropped
Hezbollah slams the Egyptian satellite provider that dropped the terror group’s TV channel on Wednesday.
Al-Manar, the official station of Hezbollah, briefly went off air after its carrier, Egypt’s NileSat, cut the channel. Technicians scrambled to reprogram satellite receivers after the station switched its broadcast to Russia’s Express satellite provider in Lebanon.
“Hezbullah sees a blatant violation of freedom of opinion and freedom of expression in the unjust decision that was taken by the Egyptian Satellite Company (NileSat),” the group said in a statement, according to Naharnet. It calls it “an attempt to muzzle the voice of resistance and right that is embodied in this channel.”
— AP contributed
Turkey could strip Turks of citizenship for terror support
Turkey’s justice minister says the government will work on a regulation that would allow authorities to strip Turks deemed to be supporting terrorism of their Turkish citizenship.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag’s comments on Wednesday come a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for such a measure to strengthen Turkey’s fight against terrorism.
Bozdag says: “The president’s statement foresees a new regulation. Of course the necessary work will begin.”
Erdogan has also called for a new legal definition of terrorism and terrorist to include activists or journalists who voice support to terror groups, increasing concerns over free speech in Turkey where academics were recently imprisoned for speaking out against Turkey’s renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels.
Although the president’s role is largely ceremonial, Erdogan often intervenes in the running of government.
Netanyahu, top ministers tour West Bank
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers in the security cabinet tour the West Bank Wednesday and receive a briefing from top security officers on the decline in terror attacks in recent weeks.
The ministers visit the West Bank settlements of Kochav Yaakov and Psagot, just east of Ramallah, and are briefed by the head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa.
Numa and a Shin Bet officer discuss the “steady and significant decline in the number of attacks and number of injured,” the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement.
The prime minister instructed the security forces to continue with their firm, determined and continuous operations against terrorism everywhere and without limitations, the PMO says in a statement.
— Times of Israel staff
Germany arrests Syrian on war crimes charges
German authorities Wednesday arrest a Syrian national on war crimes charges, on suspicion of commanding a rebel militia in Aleppo that committed atrocities and plundered artifacts for sale.
Federal prosecutors say in a statement that the 41-year-old accused, identified only as Ibrahim Al F., had been detained in the western region of Westphalia on a German arrest warrant.
“The accused is strongly suspected of treating people entitled to protection under international humanitarian law cruelly and inhumanely in the autumn of 2012 during the Syrian civil war,” prosecutors say.
Ibrahim Al F. is believed to have led a 150-man district militia in Aleppo belonging to the Islamist rebel group Ghuraba al-Sham, then part of the Free Syrian Army, a loose coalition of opponents to President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Prosecutors says the militia, however, mainly pursued “self-serving aims.”
These included repeated plunder after the withdrawal of government troops from parts of Aleppo, including the looting of valuable art that the accused later tried to sell.
Israeli said to confess to spying on Romanian anti-corruption czar
One of the four Israelis being investigated in Romania for spying on the country’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor has confessed, according to Romanian reports.
The reports do not name the suspect.
Two of those being probed are former Mossad agents Dan Zorella and Avi Yanus, co-founders and directors of private Israeli investigation firm Black Cube, the report by the Rise Project investigators says. However, the company denies they are under investigation.
The other two, Black Cube employees Ron Weiner and David Geclowicz, have been arrested by Romanian police on suspicion of carrying out a series of cyber-attacks on Romania’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi.
Black Cube confirmed the two had been arrested, in a statement to The Times of Israel.
Palestinians dressed as Jews arrested in Beersheba
Police arrest two Palestinian teenagers near the bus station in the southern city of Beersheba.
The two brothers, 17 and 19, are residents of Hebron and are in Israel illegally, police say in a statement.
One of them was wearing a kippah and tzitzit, and raised the suspicions of a security guard at the bus station, who alerted the police.
The two are brought in for questioning. Police say the pair are not armed.
Anti-Semitic incidents in Austria up 80%
The number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Austria increased by more than 80 percent last year, according to the Austrian Forum Against Anti-Semitism.
The forum says 465 incidents were recorded during 2015, over 200 of them being Internet postings hostile to Jews.
The total number of Internet postings reported to Austria’s constitutional protection authority as offensive remained stable in 2015, but the number of postings liable to be used in criminal proceedings doubled compared to 2014, an Interior Ministry spokesman tells Reuters.
“The whole picture is terrifying,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria, tells the news agency.
There was a clear trend of increasingly hostile behavior by Muslims against the 15,000 Jews living in Austria, the Jewish community representative says.
“There is an increasing concern in our community that if the proportion of Muslims in Austria continues to rise due to immigration, due to the refugees, this could become problematic for us,” Raimund Fastenbauer says.
State Department seeks to limit questions in Clinton email case
Lawyers for the US State Department ask a federal judge to limit the scope of testimony about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account as secretary of state.
The government filed its response late Tuesday in a public records lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative legal advocacy group.
Federal District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan last month granted the group “limited discovery” into why the Democratic presidential front-runner used an email server at her New York home while serving as the nation’s top diplomat.
Judicial Watch wants to question eight current and former department staffers under oath, including top Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin.
In its response, the government asks the judge to strictly limit the questions that can be asked to those involving the 2009 creation of Clinton’s private email system. Topics the government asked Sullivan to forbid include the “employment status of a single employee; the storage, handling, transmission, or protection of classified information, including cybersecurity issues; and questions about any pending investigations.”
The FBI is investigating whether sensitive information that flowed through Clinton’s email server was mishandled. The inspectors general at the State Department and for US intelligence agencies are separately investigating whether rules or laws were broken.
Brussels bomber worked as cleaner in European Parliament
One of the Islamic State bombers in the deadly Brussels bombings had in 2009-2010 worked as a janitor in the European Parliament, a spokesman for the EU assembly tells Reuters.
During those years, “one of the perpetrators of the Brussels terrorist attacks worked for a period of one month for a cleaning company which was contracted by the European Parliament at the time,” the spokesman says.
The former janitor is identified by an unnamed EU official as Najim Laachraoui, 25, who blew himself up in the airport attack. He is also linked to the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Kerry breaks air travel record by US secretary
John Kerry is now the most traveled secretary of state in US history, breaking the record as he arrived in the Middle East kingdom of Bahrain on Wednesday.
The trip pushed Kerry past 1.06 million miles as America’s top diplomat, narrowly beating Condoleezza Rice by about 1,000 miles. Rice, who was secretary of state under President George W. Bush, held the previous mark with 1.059 million miles.
Kerry eclipsed Hillary Clinton’s mileage tally in December.
With 10 months left before a new president takes office, Kerry is showing no signs of tempering his hectic travel schedule. He flew to the Mideast on Tuesday from New York after attending an energy conference, stopping in Ireland to refuel. He plans to visit Japan later in the week.
With no immediate plans to leave the State Department, Kerry could easily pad his new record by hundreds of thousands of miles before departing government.
The former Massachusetts senator and former Democratic presidential nominee has spent more than 2,300 hours — or 96 days — in the air since becoming secretary of state in February 2013.
111,000 Israelis expected in Turkey over Passover
Some 111,000 Israelis are expected to travel to Turkey over the Passover holiday later this month, despite a severe travel warning in place, Channel 2 reports.
The Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the Prime Minister’s Office on March 28 issued a travel warning calling on the public to avoid visiting Turkey and urging Israelis currently there to leave as soon as they can.
The warning, which raised the terror risk in Turkey from level 3 (basic concrete threat) to level 2 (high concrete threat), came in the wake of a terror attack in central Istanbul on March 19, in which three Israelis were killed and several others wounded.
Sanders nets 10 delegates, still trails Clinton
Bernie Sanders has netted 10 delegates over Hillary Clinton after winning Wisconsin.
In all, Sanders won 48 delegates to Clinton’s 38 on Tuesday.
And he has now won 15 states compared to 18 for Clinton.
But Sanders still trails Clinton by a large margin.
Based on primaries and caucuses alone, Clinton now has 1,280 delegates while Sanders has 1,030.
Including superdelegates, or party officials who can back any candidate, Clinton holds a more substantial lead — 1,749 to Sanders’ 1,061.
It takes 2,383 to win.
Blaze kills at least one in Hadera
At least one person is dead and at least two others are trapped after a blaze ignited in an apartment building in the central city of Hadera.
Eight fire and rescue teams are on site struggling to battle the flames and rescue those trapped inside.
Footage from the scene shared on Twitter by Channel 2 documents the inferno.
שריפה בבניין מגורים בחדרה: קיים חשש ללכודים, צוותי כיבוי רבים במקום pic.twitter.com/0TeShls2HX
— חדשות 2 (@Channel2News) April 6, 2016
Three hurt in Hadera fire
Three people were lightly hurt from smoke inhalation in an apartment fire in Hadera and were taken to a local hospital. Earlier paramedics pronounced a woman dead at the scene.