A year later, PM promises inquiry into flood disaster, as hundreds protest inaction
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US slaps new sanctions on Hezbollah-linked businessmen, firms

Treasury Department says 2 individuals, three Belgium- and UK-based companies have been helping terror group evade existing sanctions

Illustrative: A Hezbollah flag is waved during an Al-Quds rally in London (Steve Winston/via Jewish News)
Illustrative: A Hezbollah flag is waved during an Al-Quds rally in London (Steve Winston/via Jewish News)

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

Israel ‘regrets’ Polish effigy burning, ‘encouraged’ by authorities’ reaction

Israel expresses “regret” over an anti-Semitic incident last Friday in Poland in which a crowd beat, hanged, beheaded and burned an effigy of Judas Iscariot — Jesus’ betrayer — which was given a hooked nose and a hat and sidecurls typical of an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

An effigy of Judas on Good Friday, hanging in the town of Pruchnik, on April 19, 2019, in southern Poland. (Hubert Lewkowicz / AFP)

“We regret the anti-Semitic incident in the village of Pruchnik during the festival of Easter, but are encouraged by the firm reaction by the Polish church, authorities and senior officials in Poland’s government,” the Foreign Ministry says in a statement.

The country’s Catholic Church has denounced the ritual, and the local province of Jaroslaw has opened a criminal investigation.

New Zealand and France leaders to host meeting calling for end to online terror

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she and French President Emmanuel Macron will host a meeting in Paris next month seeking to eliminate acts of violent extremism and terrorism from being shown online.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to journalists during a press conference at the Justice Precinct in Christchurch on March 20, 2019. (Marty MELVILLE / AFP)

Ardern says she and Macron will ask world leaders and chief executives of technology companies to agree to a pledge called the “Christchurch Call,” named after the New Zealand city where dozens of people were killed in attacks on mosques last month.

Ardern doesn’t release any details of the pledge, saying they are still being developed.

She says she has been talking with representatives from companies including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google along with world leaders and feels they could reach consensus by keeping the pledge tightly focused.

“This isn’t about freedom of speech,” Ardern says. “It’s specifically focused on eradicating those extreme acts of terrorism online.”

— AP

Saudi Arabia says no immediate plan to raise oil output after Iran waivers end

Saudi Arabia does not plan to immediately raise oil output after the United States ends sanction exemptions for buyers of Iranian crude, energy minister Khalid al-Falih says.

“(Global) inventories are continuing to rise despite what’s happening in Venezuela and tightening sanctions on Iran,” Falih tells a finance conference in Riyadh.

“So I don’t see the need to do anything immediately.”

— AFP

Ethiopian baby to return home after live-saving heart, kidney surgery in Israel

An 11-month-old Ethiopian baby will leave Israel tomorrow after undergoing successful heart and kidney surgery organized by an Israeli NGO and two hospitals.

The boy, Ablakew, was diagnosed with congenital heart disease at the age of one month, and Ethiopian doctors told his parents he would be dead at the age of six months unless he underwent open heart surgery, according to a statement by Save a Child’s Heart.

11-month-old Ethiopian baby Ablakew in Israel before returning home, April 2019. (Save a Child’s Heart)

Devastated, the family eventually contacted the Israel-based charity, which found an American donor, Jane Clement from the House of Destiny, and flew Ablakew to Israel, where he underwent surgery at Wolfson hospital in Holon on September 24, 2019.

However, doctors then told the parents their son had an additional kidney problem which would require surgery. Save a Child’s Heart helped arrange that operation, performed at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital.

“Ablakew was brought to Israel with a complex heart defect,” says Dr. Alona Raucher Sternfeld, head of the pediatric cardiology unit at Wolfson. “He was four months old and weight was less than four kilograms. After his heart surgery he recovered very nicely and gained weight. When we discovered that Ablakew suffered from a kidney malformation we understood that he needs a kidney operation as well.”

“I cannot explain in words how happy I am,” Ablakew’s mother says as she starts packing and preparing for their journey back home, to the baby’s father and sister.

UN rights chief condemns ‘shocking’ Saudi executions

The UN rights chief condemns the mass executions carried out by Saudi Arabia this week, stressing that those convicted were likely not afforded credible criminal trials.

The men were executed yesterday after being convicted of terrorism, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

In this September 21, 2016 file photo, then Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

“I strongly condemn these shocking mass executions across six cities in Saudi Arabia yesterday in spite of grave concerns raised about these cases,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, says in a statement.

The rights office restates its concern over the “lack of due process and fair trial guarantees (and) allegations that confessions were obtained through torture.”

“It is particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing,” Bachelet adds.

At least 100 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of the year, according to data released by SPA.

Bachelet urges the oil-rich kingdom “to immediately launch a review of its counter-terrorism legislation and amend the law to expressly prohibit the imposition of the death penalty against minors.”

— AFP

Trump says sending ‘armed soldiers’ to US-Mexico border

US President Donald Trump says the US is sending armed soldiers to the southern border after Mexican soldiers “pulled guns” on US troops.

Trump appears to be referring to an April 13 incident in which Mexican troops reportedly questioned and pointed their weapons at two US troops conducting surveillance on the border.

“Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers, probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the Border. Better not happen again! We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border. Mexico is not doing nearly enough in apprehending & returning!” Trump says on Twitter.

— AFP

Russia to start S-400 missile defense shipments to Turkey in July — report

A Russian official says Moscow will in July start delivering its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey, according to the Reuters news agency, citing Russian media.

“Everything has been already discussed and agreed,” Alexander Mikheev, the head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, tells the Interfax news agency, according to the report.

The United States has threatened to hit Ankara with sanctions if the deal is completed.

Illustrative image of Russian S-400 long-range air defense missile systems deployed at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, December 16, 2015. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Lithuania bans Holocaust denier David Irving for 5 years

Lithuania has banned British Holocaust denier David Irving from entering the Baltic country for five years, the dpa news agency reports.

British Holocaust denier David Irving. (JTA)

The 81-year-old is the author of “Hitler’s War,” a book that attempts to minimize both Nazi atrocities and Hitler’s responsibility for them.

“The spread of his ideas denying the Holocaust and praising [Nazi leader] Adolf Hitler is a crime in Lithuania and we can’t allow such crimes to be committed,” Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tells the BNS news agency, according to the report.

Polish authorities have said they will deny Irving’s entry when he comes for a planned tour in the country later this year.

Trump says he’ll go to US Supreme Court if Democrats try to impeach him

US President Donald Trump says he’ll go directly to the country’s Supreme Court “if the partisan Dems” ever try to impeach him.

But Trump’s strategy could run into a roadblock: The high court itself, which said in 1993 that the framers of the Constitution didn’t intend for the court to have the power to review impeachment proceedings. The Supreme Court ruled that impeachment and removal from office is Congress’ duty alone.

“I DID NOTHING WRONG,” Trump tweets. He says not only are there no “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” one of the bases for impeachment outlined in the US Constitution, “there are no Crimes by me at all.”

He alleges Democrats committed crimes and says they’re looking “to Congress as last hope!” because “We waited for Mueller and WON.”

— AP

Trump envoy denies ‘rumors’ that peace plan involves confederation with Jordan

US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, says the administration’s long-awaited peace plan will not include a confederation between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan and will not make Jordan the “homeland for Palestinians.”

In a tweet, Greenblatt denounces “rumors” about the so-called “deal of the century” and calls the Hashemite Kingdom a strong US ally.

Lebanese intelligence claims Israel trying to spy on country using tourists

Lebanon’s intelligence agency claims that Israel is trying to insert spies into the country, disguised as tourists coming for a vacation, local media reports.

The General Security Directorate statement urges Lebanese citizens to be alert about online ads for tours in the country, after they notices various banners on the internet allegedly posted by Israel.

Egypt court sentences 2 monks to death for abbot’s killing

An Egyptian court has sentenced two monks to death for killing an abbot in a desert monastery north of Cairo last year.

The Damanhur Criminal Court, north of Cairo, announces the verdict for two defrocked monks identified as Isaiah and Faltaous. They can appeal.

The two were convicted of killing of Bishop Epiphanius, an abbot at St. Macarius Monastery built in the 4th century, in July.

The abbot’s shocking death shook Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest in the world and the one that gave monasticism to the faith.

Following Epiphanius’ death, the church took measures aimed at instilling discipline into monastic life. Among them was a halt in admitting novices to monasteries nationwide for a year.

— AP

Iran threatens ‘consequences’ if US takes ‘crazy measure’ of blocking oil sales

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warns the United States of “consequences” if it prevents Tehran from selling oil with the ending of sanction exemptions over its energy exports.

“We believe that Iran will continue to sell its oil,” Zarif says at an event at the Asia Society in New York, according to the Reuters news agency. “We will continue to find buyers for our oil and we will continue to use the Strait of Hormuz as a safe transit passage for the sale of our oil.”

“If the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that then it should be prepared for the consequences.”

German woman, parents-in-law indicted for aiding IS

German prosecutors say they’ve indicted a 21-year-old woman on suspicion of membership in the Islamic State group and of keeping three Yazidis as slaves in Syria.

Federal prosecutors say the German-Algerian woman, identified as Sarah O. for privacy reasons, traveled to Syria as a teenager in 2013, joined IS and married a fellow German IS recruit.

Both allegedly received firearms training and conducted “guard and police duties” in IS-controlled areas. They also forced a Yazidi girl and two Yazidi women to work in their household and convert to Islam.

She was arrested in September upon her return to Germany.

O.’s parents-in-law, 51-year-old Ahmed S. and 48-year-old Perihan S., allegedly helped their sons supply IS with equipment such as firearms magazines and scopes. They are indicted on suspicion of aiding IS.

— AP

Authorities investigating after car plows into pedestrians in California, injuring 8

US authorities in Northern California say a man has been arrested after he appeared to deliberately plow into a group of people, injuring eight, but that a motive is still under investigation.

The FBI says it’s assisting California officials in the investigation.

Sunnyvale Police Cpt. Jim Choi tells KPIX-TV that witnesses told investigators the motorist was speeding and drove directly toward the pedestrians without trying to veer away or stop the car before striking the pedestrians last night.

Choi says some of the eight people injured were at a corner or on the crosswalk and that officials have no indication the motorist tried to avoid them. The department says the crosswalk remains closed today as officials investigate.

He says officials are looking into whether the driver was having a medical emergency or purposely hit the pedestrians.

— AP

Henry Bloch, US philanthropist and founder of H&R Block tax firm, dies at 96

Henry Bloch, who with his brother founded the international tax service giant H&R Block, has died at 96.

Bloch, a US philanthropist who contributed to Jewish causes, among others, died yesterday surrounded by his family, according to a memorial site.

Block returned to Kansas City from World War II at 24 a decorated veteran of the Army Air Corps, having flown 32 missions as a navigator, most over Germany. He started a bookkeeping service.

Henry Bloch in 1980. (Bloch family via JTA)

A decade later, in 1955, he and his brother Richard launched a tax preparation service. It quickly grew, and by the 1970s, Henry Bloch was its face, appearing as an avuncular tax adviser in TV ads. He was so good, other companies asked him to appear in their ads.

Richard Bloch, who died in 2004, said they used the “Block” spelling for the company to make sure clients pronounced their name correctly. The brothers did not want to hear clients say they got their taxes “blotched.”

Henry Bloch founded a foundation in 2011 with his wife, Marion Helzberg Bloch, who died in 2013. It lists seven areas of focus, including “organizations that advance social and economic justice issues in the Jewish community.” Among its beneficiaries are the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.

In 1990, The Washington Post reported, he became the center of a controversy when it was reported that he was denied membership in the Kansas City Country Club because he was Jewish. Tom Watson, a top pro golfer, quit the club and rejoined only when the club extended membership to Bloch.

Being the target of anti-Semitism did not dent Bloch’s humorous affect. Asked to comment on the affair, he liked to tell reporters, “It’s the first time I ever made the sports page.”

“Our Dad was passionate about his family and his community, and he will long be remembered for his benevolence, humility and fortitude,” the family said on its memorial site.

Bloch is survived by four children, 12 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

— JTA

US WWII bomb detonated in Germany, causing widespread damage

The controlled detonation of an American World War II bomb in the southern German city of Regensburg has caused widespread damage to nearby houses.

Some 4,500 residents had to be evacuated from the area before experts performed the detonation. A spokeswoman for the Bavarian city, Dagmar Obermeier-Kundel, says the 250-kilogram (550-pound) bomb still shattered windows in several surrounding buildings in the early morning hours. Photos also show damaged roofs.

A man passes a damaged building after a detonation of a World War II bomb in Regensburg, Germany, April 24, 2019. (Alexander Auer/dpa via AP)

Munitions expert Andreas Heil tells The Associated Press that the bomb couldn’t be safely defused because the type of detonator it contained was tamper-proof, very sensitive and could have triggered an explosion at any moment.

Thousands of unexploded relics of World War II’s extensive aerial bombardment are found in Germany every year, even 74 years after the end of the war.

— AP

US grants major exemptions to new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

The Trump administration is granting major exemptions to new US sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the House Appropriations Committee’s State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee about his department’s 2020 budget request, March 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlines the exemptions in notices published in the Federal Register. A ban on travel to the US stemming from the designation of the Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization will not apply to officials of foreign governments or businesses that have dealings with the elite military unit or its subsidiaries.

The US designated the force as a terrorist organization earlier this month.

US law authorizes authorities to bar entry to the US by anyone found to have provided “material support” to a terrorist organization.

Pompeo says the waivers are in the interests of US national security, but they are likely to frustrate members of Congress who favor tough measures on Iran.

— AP

Italian Lazio soccer fans hold fascist flash mob with Nazi salutes

Italian neo-fascists believed to be hardcore fans of the top-league soccer team Lazio have held a far-right flash mob ahead of today’s Coppa Italia semifinal second leg against AC Milan, according to media reports.

Their faces masked by a long banner reading “Honor to Benito Mussolini,” the group sang fascist songs and performed the Nazi salute near Milan’s Piazza Loreto, where the defeated dictator’s body was strung up in 1945, the Gazzetta dello Sport reports.

A short video circulating on social media shows the group holding up the banner, signed “IRR” in a reference to the Irriducibili — Lazio’s hardcore “ultra” supporters who have a long history of hard-right politics.

The flash mob comes a day before Italy’s Liberation Day, celebrating the end of Nazi occupation, and ahead of a match in Milan already marked by tension between the two teams.

A Serie A league clash between them at the San Siro Stadium earlier this month finished with Milan 1-0 winners and scuffles on the pitch after the home players held up the shirt of Lazio player Francesco Acerbi to their own fans like a trophy.

Milan midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie were fined a total of 86,000 euros ($97,000) for the incident.

Meanwhile, a video of racist chants directed at Frenchman Bakayoko by a group of Lazio fans has also circulated on social media.

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala says police are investigating the flash mob and insists the northern Italian metropolis “is and will remain forever a profoundly anti-fascist city.”

In Italy “apology for fascism” is a crime, but some cases have been thrown out in recent years on freedom of speech grounds.

February’s first leg of the semifinal between the two sides at the Stadio Olimpico finished goalless.

— AFP

Body of Israeli found dead in Berlin will be released tomorrow — city rabbi

The body of Yaniv Avraham, who was confirmed yesterday to have died in his Berlin hotel, will be released by German authorities before the seventh day of Passover — which begins tomorrow evening — to observe Jewish law that says bodies should be buried as early as possible, the city’s rabbi says.

36-year-old Yaniv Avraham who was found dead in a Berlin hotel room in April 2019. (Facebook)

Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal was in contact with local authorities and shortened the process, which normally takes several days, Hebrew-language media reports.

The seventh day of Passover is a full Jewish holiday in which — similar to the Shabbat day of rest — observant Jews do not use most electronic devices or travel by car or plane. This year, it leads into Shabbat, on Saturday, which means that if Avraham’s body is not released by tomorrow, Thursday, it will not be buried until next week.

PA prime minister meets US senators, urges Americans to support 2-state solution

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has met with US Senators Mitt Romney and Chris Murphy, and told them that the recent measures the Trump administration has undertaken, which affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be “worse” than the text of any US peace plan, the official PA news site Wafa reports.

Shtayyeh made the remark in response to questions posed by the senators about why the Palestinians have announced a position on the expected US peace plan before they have seen it, the Wafa report states.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has stated on a number of occasions that the Palestinians will reject the anticipated American proposal. Some Palestinian officials, however, have recently said they will read over the expected plan before taking a position on it.

The PA prime minister also told the senators that the Palestinians will not “engage in any political process that does not meet the minimum of Palestinian rights, which includes an independent and sovereign Palestinian state along 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and a just resolution to the refugees issue,” the Wafa report adds.

The meeting between Shtayyeh and the American lawmakers took place at the former’s office in Ramallah.

Shtayyeh also affirmed to the senators the “importance of American voices coming out in support of the two-state solution in accordance with international decisions and signed agreements at a time when the American administration is acting in a clearly biased manner in favor of Israel,” the Wafa report also says.
In addition to Ramallah, Romney and Murphy are scheduled to visit Israel and Jordan this week.

Shtayyeh also told them that he calls on the US Congress to vote to recognize the state of Palestine, similar to some European parliaments, the Wafa report adds.

— Adam Rasgon

Lebanese minister: ‘If Israel bombards our airport, we will bombard its airport’

Lebanon’s defense minister threatens to strike Israel’s airport and oil facilities if the Jewish state attacks it, Lebanese media reports.

“If Israel bombards our airport, we will bombard its airport. If it strikes our oil facilities, we will strike its oil facilities,” Elias Bou Saab says, during a tour of southern Lebanon, according to Hezbollah-affiliated website Al-Manar.

Bou Saab also reportedly says Beirut is concerned with protecting its national resources and stressed the importance of its armed forces.

Education Ministry official said to pan potential minister as ‘an insane problem’

Officials in the Health Ministry reportedly denounce some candidates to become the next education minister.

While accepting Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz as “limited consolation,” the unnamed source quoted by Channel 12 strongly criticizes the party’s more hardline No. 2, Bezalel Smotrich, who is reportedly also being considered for the post.

(L) Jewish Home chairman Rabbi Rafi Peretz speaks at the party’s convention in Ramat Gan on February 4, 2019. (R) Bezalel Smotrich celebrates after being elected chairman of the National Union faction, at the Crown Plaza hotel in Jerusalem, on January 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLash90)

“Equality and liberty will be replaced with majority rule and governance,” an official is quoted as saying. “He won’t hesitate to slam LGBTs and Arabs. It is an insane problem because, after all, this system belongs to all. We cannot have such a minister, it is a red flag.”

The official also criticizes the current culture minister, Miri Regev (Likud): “Everyone says she’s vulgar, but she can also bring good things.”

Regarding Likud MK Gila Gamliel, they say: “She’s neither here nor there, she will do the least damage of all.”

US slaps new sanctions on Hezbollah-linked businessmen, firms

The US Treasury Department increases its sanctions on the Lebanese terror group, Hezbollah, by targeting two individuals and three entities, as allegedly helping it evade existing sanctions.

In a release on its website, the department says it has targeted Belgium-based Wael Bazzi “for acting for or on behalf of his father and Hezbollah financier, Mohammad Bazzi,” as well as three companies owned by him: Belgium-based Voltra Transcor Energy and OFFISCOOP NV, and United Kingdom-based BSQRD Limited.

Also targeted was Lebanon-based Hassan Tabaja, “for acting for or on behalf of his brother and Hezbollah member and financier, Adham Tabaja.”

They are designated under an executive order targeting terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

“As Hezbollah continues to attempt to obscure its activities by using seemingly legitimate businesses, we will continue to take action against the front persons who hide the movement of money, including the relatives of designated terrorists,” says Sigal Mandelker, the department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

A year later, PM promises inquiry into flood disaster, as hundreds protest inaction

Some 400 people attend an event in Tel Aviv marking a year since the Tzafit river disaster, in which 10 teenagers were killed in a flash flood in the Judean Hills, after their pre-military academy did not postpone a planned trip.

The participants at Habima Square protest government inaction over the disaster, and the failure to call off the trip despite warnings of flash floods.

“It wasn’t nature that killed our children, it was human nature,” charges Eti Balali, whose daughter Gali was killed in the incident.

Amid the protest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office releases a short statement saying that “as the next government is established, procedures will be advanced to establish a committee of inquiry.”

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Live updates (closed)

A year later, PM promises inquiry into flood disaster, as hundreds protest inaction

Some 400 people attend an event in Tel Aviv marking a year since the Tzafit river disaster, in which 10 teenagers were killed in a flash flood in the Judean Hills, after their pre-military academy did not postpone a planned trip.

The participants at Habima Square protest government inaction over the disaster, and the failure to call off the trip despite warnings of flash floods.

“It wasn’t nature that killed our children, it was human nature,” charges Eti Balali, whose daughter Gali was killed in the incident.

Amid the protest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office releases a short statement saying that “as the next government is established, procedures will be advanced to establish a committee of inquiry.”