7 Turkish journalists jailed for ‘terrorist propaganda’
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Significant progress said made in coalition talks between PM and Liberman

After Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu chair meet for first time in nearly a week and a half due to impasse in negotiations, TV report says sides closer to signing deal

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman in the Knesset, on October 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

Opposition pans PM for using hearing delay to avoid facing justice

Reacting to the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement that he has agreed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for a delay in the pre-indictment hearing against him, opposition lawmakers argue that the premier will use the extra time to stifle the courts in order to avoid being charged at all.

“I welcome the attorney general’s decision, rejecting Netanyahu’s attempt to postpone the hearing for an entire year whole year, instead only granting him a proportionate extension,” says Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich, referring  to Mandelblit’s decision to agree to a three-month delay from July until October, instead of the 12 months that the Likud leader had requested.

“In any event, it is already clear that the deferral will be used [by Netanyahu] for destructive attempts to assure that the hearing will not take place, and that he will escape justice while destroying the foundations of democracy,” the former opposition chairwoman added.

Meretz head Tamar Zandberg provided a more fiery response, saying in a statement that “the prime minister suspected of bribery intends to throw everything he’s got toward abolishing the independence of the courts in order to evade prosecution.

The Movement for Quality Government announced that it will petition the High Court of Justice against Mandelblit’s delay.

Amid ‘extreme’ heat wave, officials close parks, restrict holiday bonfires

Police and firefighting officials are preparing for an “extreme” heat wave starting today and continuing into the weekend, shuttering popular hiking areas and limiting permits for traditional bonfires tonight amid the Lag B’Omer holiday.

The Darga, Qumran, Og and Prat parks, each containing an eponymous riverbed that feeds into the Jordan Valley, are closed to visitors from Wednesday through Friday.

The Nature and Parks Authority also announced that Carmel National Park and its nearby hiking trails would be closed.

Officials reiterate that there is a blanket ban on unapproved fires in all public areas for the duration of the heat wave.

Temperatures are expected to reach their peak on Friday, which will see highs in various parts of the country ranging from 38 to 46 degrees Celsius, or 100 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

The extreme conditions fall on the Lag B’Omer holiday starting this evening, which is characterized by the lighting of bonfires.

Seeking energy independence, Palestinians open solar plant

Palestinian officials say they have inaugurated their first solar panel plant as part of a plan to reduce their dependence on Israeli power sources.

Mohammed Mustafa, head of the government’s investment fund, says that this morning’s plant opening in the ancient West Bank city of Jericho is one of four planned plants. One has been donated from China.

He says the Palestinians rely almost entirely on power imported from Israel and the new plants are part of a long-term project to reduce that by 50% over the next decade. He says the four solar panel stations should cover about 30% of Palestinian power consumption.

Mustafa says the West Bank consumes about $700 million a year in electricity.

— AP

Israel cracks top ten in list of countries offering best digital life for expats

A survey conducted by the Expat Insider finds that Israel provides the 6th best digital life experience in the world.

The Jewish state finishes four spots ahead of the US and only Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand are found to fare better.

Expat Insider says Israel “receives its best ratings for the unrestricted access to online services such as social media and the ease of getting a local mobile phone number (3rd worldwide for both).”

Nearly all expats in Israel (95%) rate their access to online services positively (vs. 80% globally), and 84% say it could not be any better (vs. 58% globally).

Similarly, 94% of expats in Israel find it easy to get a mobile number (vs. 86% globally), and 80% think this could not be any easier (vs. 58% globally).

Expats in Israel are not nearly as satisfied with the availability of administrative or government services online; however, the country still ranks a good 21st out of 68, with 67% positive ratings for this factor (vs. 55% globally), the Expo Insider says.

In shadow of deadly Yavne crane collapse, cops close down construction site in Ashdod for safety reasons

Three days after a crane collapsed in the central town of Yavne, killing four workers, police’s division for investigation of work accidents announces that it has shut down a construction site in the southern coastal city of Ashdod over its failure to meet certain safety requirements.

Deadly strike hits Syria market as Damascus battles jihadists

Syrian government air strikes have killed 15 civilians, 12 of them in a market, as fierce fighting raged for the jihadist-held northwest, a monitor says.

Government forces battled to repel a jihadist counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda that has left more than 50 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance, led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The jihadist-dominated region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the government and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.

At least 12 people have been killed and another 18 wounded when the warplanes hit the jihadist-held Idlib province town of Maarat al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the Observatory says.

The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The bombardment blew in the facades of surrounding buildings, and ripped through the flimsy frames and canvas of stalls in the market square, an AFP photographer reported.

The bodies of market-goers were torn apart.

— AFP

7 Turkish journalists jailed for ‘terrorist propaganda’

A Turkish court has handed multiple jail terms for editors and journalists from the now defunct pro-Kurd daily Ozgur Gundem on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda.”

Seven people, including the newspaper’s editors-in-chief Eren Keskin and Huseyin Aykol, were given sentences ranging from 15 to 45 months in prison, the paper says on its Twitter account.

A total of 24 people from the newspaper appeared for Tuesday’s hearing, but only seven were convicted of “disseminating terrorist propaganda,” according to the P24 press freedom website.

The newspaper has been accused of running propaganda in favour of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

It was permanently shut in August 2016 following an attempted coup by opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I don’t believe I have committed a crime. I don’t believe expression of a thought is a crime. I request my acquittal,” Keskin tells the court.

At least 146 journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkey, according to P24, most detained under the state of emergency imposed after the attempted coup.

Turkey is ranked 157th in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, which says the government has increasingly seized control of media outlets and is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.

— AFP

Ukraine’s Zelensky under fire over top appointment

Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky is under fire, just days after taking office, for appointing a chief of staff with links to a controversial oligarch.

Zelensky — a former Jewish comedian with no previous political experience — won a landslide victory last month on promises to reboot the political system and purge the influence of powerful oligarchs.

But late Tuesday he issued a decree choosing as his top aide Andriy Bogdan, until now a personal lawyer of tycoon Igor Kolomoisky.

During the presidential campaign Zelensky was forced to bat off accusations he was running as a front for the interests of Kolomoisky, who owns the television channel that broadcasts the performer’s shows.

Kolomoisky was accused by authorities of siphoning $5.5 billion from the country’s largest bank, PrivatBank, before it was nationalized in 2016.

According to reports, the oligarch returned to Ukraine last week after almost two years of self-imposed exile in Switzerland and Israel.

Critics say the appointment of Bogdan is not just politically suspect but also illegal, as he had held government posts under the ousted pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych.

Those who served under Yanukovych are now banned by law from taking certain top positions.

— AFP

Yair Netanyahu files complaint against police official in charge of PM probes

Yair Netanyahu has filed a police complaint against the cop charged with leading the criminal investigations into his father, Hebrew media reports.

The complaint was filed last week. Police are said to still be looking into the matter and have not decided if they will open an investigation.

According to the younger Netanyahu’s complaint against Commander Manny Yitzhaki, police tailed the prime minister when he was not yet a suspect in the so-called Case 1000, which the complainant charges is illegal.

Netanyahu claims that the information gathered by the police who surveilled the premier was used to reach Hadas Klein, an assistant to Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan — a key player in Case 1000.

Public security minister urges public not light bonfires for Lag B’Omer holiday

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan issues a statement calling on the public to avoid lighting bonfires as is traditionally done to mark the Lag B’Omer holiday that begins this evening.

“Today and tomorrow there will be a heavy and extreme heat wave around the country, and we all know what it means: a risk of fires and danger to human life. There is no commandment to light a bonfire [on Lag B’Omer and it is certainly worth reconsidering [doing so] due to the current weather,” Erdan says.

Firefighters work to extinguish 6 blazes caused by incendiary balloons near Gaza

Since this morning, firefighters are working to extinguish six blazes caused by incendiary balloons in the Eshkol Regional Council adjacent to the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services says.

Israeli suspected of trying to smuggle thousands of balloons into Gaza

An Israeli citizen is suspected of trying to smuggle hundreds of thousands of balloons into the Gaza Strip, the Tax Authority says.

According to its statement, 50-year-old David Cohen used his citizenship to skirt security checks at the Ashdod port on the import of the balloons to Hebron where the container was slated to be transferred to Gaza.

4th and final victim of Yavne crane collapse laid to rest

Dozens attend the Beersheba funeral of 33-year-old Sergei Semyenov, the fourth victim from the Sunday crane collapse in Yavne to be laid to rest.

Liberman asks to use parliamentary immunity to dismiss libel suit filed by far-right lawyer

MK Avigdor Liberman has requested to use his parliamentary immunity to postpone a libel suit against him filed by far-right lawyer and Otzma Yehudit member Itamar Ben Gvir, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

In March, Ben Gvir filed a libel lawsuit against Liberman after the former defense minister alleged in a radio interview that the Otzma Yehudit Knesset hopeful could be an agent for the Shin Bet security service.

 

Pilgrims flock to Africa’s oldest synagogue for annual festival

Worshipers pray, light candles and write wishes on eggs as an annual Jewish pilgrimage to Africa’s oldest synagogue gets under way in Tunisia.

Hundreds of pilgrims converge on the Ghriba synagogue on the Mediterranean island of Djerba where one of the last Jewish communities in the Arab world lives.

They are joined by ministers and other dignitaries to celebrate the Lag B’Omer festival.

The event, which starts 33 days after the start of the Jewish Passover festival, coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year for the first time since 1987.

A fast-breaking meal is due to be shared by Muslims and Jews on Wednesday evening in Djerba.

This year’s pilgrimage is the first since Rene Trabelsi, who has been co-organizing the festival for years, was appointed as Tunisia’s first Jewish minister in decades, in charge of tourism.

Several hundred police officers and soldiers, backed by tanks and helicopters, have been deployed to protect pilgrims.

The community is still recovering from a suicide bombing claimed by Al-Qaeda at the synagogue in 2002 that killed 21 people.

Before that, some 8,000 pilgrims used to travel to Djerba for the annual celebration.

The number plunged afterwards but has since recovered somewhat.

Tunisia’s tourism industry was also left reeling by attacks on a museum and a tourist resort in 2015 that left dozens dead, including 59 foreigners.

This year organizers expect more than 5,000 pilgrims, including Israelis, to visit the synagogue, believed to have been founded in 586 BC by Jews fleeing the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

The number of Jews in Tunisia has fallen significantly, from around 100,000 before independence from France in 1956 to an estimated 1,500 today, most of whom live in Djerba.

— AFP

Briefing Security Council, Greenblatt urges PA to attend Bahrain ‘workshop’

Briefing the UN Security Council, US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt urges the Palestinian Authority to attend next month’s economic peace summit in Bahrain.

“They have nothing to lose, and much to gain, if they do join us,” he says. “But of course, it’s their choice.”

Settlers filmed torching Palestinian fields in northern West Bank

The B’Tselem rights group releases footage purportedly showing Israeli settlers setting fire to fields belonging to Palestinians in the northern West Bank last Friday.

The fires were started near the villages of Asira al-Qibliya and Urif, with locals blaming residents of the Yitzhar settlement.

B’Tselem says IDF soldiers at the scene did not allow the Palestinians to reach the fires in order to put them out after clashes broke out between the residents.

A Yitzhar spokesman charged at the time that the neighboring Palestinians had been responsible for setting fields belonging to the settlement on fire before the clashes began.

South Africa lawmakers reelect Cyril Ramaphosa as president

South African lawmakers reelect Cyril Ramaphosa as the nation’s president, two weeks after the ruling ANC party returned to power in legislative elections.

Ramaphosa was “duly elected president of the Republic of South Africa,” chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng tells parliament after Ramaphosa was the only name nominated by lawmakers in Cape Town.

MPs from the African National Congress, which won 230 out of 400 seats on May 8, choose the head of state in the parliament’s first post-election sitting.

The ANC won the ballot with 57.5 percent of the vote, its thinnest majority since the end of apartheid.

Ramaphosa will be sworn in on Saturday and name a deputy president and cabinet at the weekend.

Under South Africa’s 1996 constitution, electors vote for a party, and the party selects individuals who go to the National Assembly, which then chooses the head of state.

Ramaphosa, 66, is a trade unionist who played a prominent part in the struggle against white minority rule before becoming a successful businessman after the end of apartheid.

He will serve his first full five-year term since taking over last year from Jacob Zuma who was forced out over a series of corruption scandals.

Ramaphosa’s first test as he starts his new term will be his choice of a cabinet — a task beset by rival factions within the ANC.

— AFP

Yisrael Beytenu chairman arrives at PMO for coalition talks

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem for coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two are expected to discuss, among a variety of issues, a compromise on a law that would regulate exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

Search warrants tied to former Trump lawyer Cohen released

Months before the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room, investigators were examining the flow of foreign money into his bank accounts and looking into whether the funds might be connected to a plan to lift Russian sanctions, according to court filings unsealed today.

The five search warrant applications, made in the early weeks and months of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation in 2017, were made public in response to requests from The Associated Press and other media organizations.

The warrants shed further light on how the longtime Trump fixer, who this month began a three-year prison sentence, tried to financially capitalize on his closeness to the president. The newly unsealed material doesn’t reveal further information about Trump’s own role in the crimes that put Cohen in prison.

The documents provide more detail about the early stages of Mueller’s investigation as agents and prosecutors examined whether any Trump campaign aides had conspired with Russia to sway the outcome of the 2016 election. At the time, Cohen was Trump’s personal lawyer and a close aide and confidant.

The warrant applications cover requests to search his email accounts, including one associated with the Trump Organization. Representatives for Cohen declined to comment Wednesday.

The documents show how investigators by the summer of 2017 had zeroed in on bank accounts for Essential Consultants, LLC, the company that Cohen formed and used to make hush-money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who has said she had a sexual relationship with Trump a decade before the election.

— AP

Tarantino says recent marriage to Israeli singer made him ‘take stock’

Hollywood filmmaker Quentin Tarantino says his recent wedding to Israeli singer Daniella Pick has made him “take stock” from a different perspective.

“I can honestly say that my taking stock is different than it would have been three years ago, four years ago or even 10 years ago,” the Reuters news agency quotes Tarantino. “I just got married six months ago … I’ve never done that before and now I know why. I was waiting for the perfect girl.”

Libyan strongman Haftar tells Macron no ceasefire for now

Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is leading a military offensive against the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, has rejected a ceasefire requested by French President Emmanuel Macron during talks in Paris, an Elysee official says.

Hafter said the conditions for halting hostilities “were not met,” while acknowledging that a “political dialogue” is needed to end the standoff with his rival, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, the official says on condition of anonymity.

— AFP

Danon tells Security Council it’s time to ‘reassess’ UNRWA’s mandate

Speaking at a UN Security Council session on the role of UNRWA, Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon says it is time to “reassess” the Palestinian refugee organization’s mandate.

The UN envoy says the organization should have stated objectives and they should match the reality on the ground.

Danon claims UNRWA “has succeeded in inciting violence against state of Israel.”

UNRWA rep says political actors, not humanitarian groups responsible for prolonging conflict

Dismissing criticism by Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon, UNRWA Commissioner Pierre Krähenbühl asserts that political actors on the ground, not humanitarian groups, are the ones responsible for prolonging the conflict.

Krähenbühl is responding to Danon, who accused Palestinian refugee agency of protracting the conflict and asked him how much longer will the agency need to operate.

“I turn the question to you,” Krähenbühl says. “For how long?”

The UNRWA representative also rejects US criticism lobbed by Trump peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, who called its model flawed.

UNRWA rejects Israel’s assertion that refugee status only passed down with Palestinians

Pierre Krähenbühl dismisses the assertion from Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon that only in the case of Palestinians is refugee status passed down to the next generation.

“Under international law and under the principle of family unity, the children of refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees under the eyes of both UNRWA and UNHCR. [Refugees of] Palestine are no different from other refugees in other protracted conflicts,” says Krähenbühl, citing Afghanistan as an example where the children of refugees also receive refugee status as the conflict in Kabul is still ongoing.

Responding to other criticism lobbed by Danon, Krähenbühl says his agency immediately reported to the necessary authorities when it found weapons stored in a number of its schools vacated over the summer. He says UNRWA also immediately dismissed two of its members upon learning that they had been elected to serve as Hamas parliamentarians. Moreover, he says the agency itself filled with cement an attack tunnel dug under one of its schools upon discovery.

He says the agency is determined to continue its dialogue with the US and Israel despite their respective calls that the agency be discontinued.

Firefighters extinguish 15 blazes caused by incendiary balloons near Gaza

Firefighters have extinguished 15 blazes since the morning caused by incendiary balloons near Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services says.

Navot Tel-Zur to leave PM’s defense team due to disagreement over his payment

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorney Navot Tel-Zur announces that he will be stepping down from the premier’s defense team and that responsibility for the cases involving the premier will be transferred exclusively to attorney Amit Hadad.

The decision comes in the backdrop of disagreements Tel-Zur has had with the PMO in recent weeks regarding his payment.

400,000 Israelis attend annual Lag B’Omer bonfire on Mount Meiron

With extreme weather conditions, including a forecasted heat wave, 400,000 people attend the Lag B’Omer holiday bonfire on Mount Meron in northern Israel.

Liberman said to be gearing for return to Defense Ministry

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman is gearing up to return to the Defense Ministry, which he ran until resigning last November over disagreements regarding the government’s policy in Gaza, Hebrew media reports.

Liberman has spoken on the phone in recent weeks with top security brass, including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and Shin Bet security service director Nadav Argaman, according to Channel 13.

Channel 12 reports that the main issue Liberman is not prepared to see continue under his watch is Jerusalem’s allowing of the transfer of Qatari funds for needy families in Gaza.

PM said to view passing of court override law as top priority in next government

In order to be a member of his coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants parties to agree to a bill giving the Knesset the power to re-legislate laws struck down by the High Court of Justice, Channel 12 reports.

The bill would be widespread and would only require 61 MKs in order to override a court veto.

Arab-Israeli couple whose engagement at IDF ceremony went viral says nobody will rent them an apartment

An Arab-Israeli couple whose engagement video at an IDF ceremony last year went viral says that now that they are no longer in uniform they have been refused apartments by Jewish tenants in Jerusalem, who refuse to rent to Arabs.

Luna Khalil Saliba Luna says in a Facebook post that she was interested in one particular apartment and sent a private message to the owner, only to be amazed at the reason for the refusal she received: “Based on your name I understand that you are an Arab… I have no problem with this. On the contrary, I am in favor of encouraging relations between Arabs and Jews, but I previously had two Arab tenants and the neighbors harassed them until they left.”

“So many people were excited by the two patriotic soldiers getting engaged in uniform,” Luna writes, saying that now when she reaches out to people to find an apartment, “they stammer and try to avoid such a simple question: ‘Is the listing still relevant?’ Let me spare you the suspense: It is not. Not when you have an Arabic accent. When you have an Arabic accent, almost every apartment listing becomes charmingly irrelevant.”

Progress said made in coalition talks between PM and Liberman

Significant progress has been made toward Yisrael Beytenu joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, Channel 12 reports.

Netanyahu met earlier this evening with Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman for the first time in nearly a week and a half after talks hit a snag.

In first, Germany votes against anti-Israel text at World Health Organization

Germany for the first time has voted against an annual anti-Israel resolution passed in the World Health Organization, apparently making good on a recent promise to change Berlin’s voting pattern in international organizations in Jerusalem’s favor.

In previous years, Germany usually voted in favor of the text, which blames Israel for the poor public health situation in the Palestinian territories. Last year, the country abstained.

Despite Germany’s “no” vote at Wednesday’s WHO summit in Geneva, the resolution passed with an overwhelming majority, with 96 countries voting in favor, 11 against and 21 abstaining.

— Raphael Ahren

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7 Turkish journalists jailed for ‘terrorist propaganda’

A Turkish court has handed multiple jail terms for editors and journalists from the now defunct pro-Kurd daily Ozgur Gundem on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda.”

Seven people, including the newspaper’s editors-in-chief Eren Keskin and Huseyin Aykol, were given sentences ranging from 15 to 45 months in prison, the paper says on its Twitter account.

A total of 24 people from the newspaper appeared for Tuesday’s hearing, but only seven were convicted of “disseminating terrorist propaganda,” according to the P24 press freedom website.

The newspaper has been accused of running propaganda in favour of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

It was permanently shut in August 2016 following an attempted coup by opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I don’t believe I have committed a crime. I don’t believe expression of a thought is a crime. I request my acquittal,” Keskin tells the court.

At least 146 journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkey, according to P24, most detained under the state of emergency imposed after the attempted coup.

Turkey is ranked 157th in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, which says the government has increasingly seized control of media outlets and is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.

— AFP