The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Russian officials say Assad upbeat after strikes
A group of Russian politicians meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose mood they describe as “good,” a day after Western airstrikes.
In Assad’s view, the airstrikes that were launched in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian forces on the town of Douma will unify the country. That’s according to Dmitry Sablin, a member of the lower house of the Russian parliament, who is quoted by Russian news agencies.
Natalya Komarova, governor of Russia’s Khanty-Mansiysk region, also attends Sunday’s meeting. She says: “President Assad has an absolutely positive attitude, a good mood.”
Sablin is quoted as saying that Assad estimates rebuilding the country after years of war would cost $400 billion.
אסד נועד עם מחוקקים רוסים בארמון הנשיאות בדמשק ודן עמם במתקפה המשולבת של המערב: "הוכח פעם נוספת שרוסיה וסוריה מנהלות מערכה אחת לא רק נגד הטרור, אלא גם כדי להגן על החוק הבינלאומי שמתבסס על מתן כבוד לריבונות של המדינות" @kaisos1987 pic.twitter.com/21SikCIwaq
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 15, 2018
Chemical probe to begin in Syria after Western strikes
International inspectors are to begin work Sunday at the site near Damascus of an alleged chemical attack that prompted an unprecedented wave of Western strikes against Syria’s regime.
US, French and British missiles destroyed sites suspected of hosting chemical arms development and storage facilities but the buildings were mostly empty and the Western trio swiftly reverted to its diplomatic efforts.
Washington trumpeted the total success of the biggest international attack on President Bashar Assad’s regime but both Damascus and Syria’s opposition rubbished its impact.
A team of chemical experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, arrived in Damascus hours after the strikes.
They have been tasked with investigating the site of an April 7 attack in the town of Douma, just east of the capital Damascus, which Western powers said involved chlorine and sarin and killed dozens.
“The fact-finding team arrived in Damascus on Saturday and is due to go to Douma on Sunday,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Ayman Soussan tells AFP.
“We will ensure they can work professionally, objectively, impartially and free of any pressure,” he says, adding he was confident the experts would prove chemical weapons were never used.
The OPCW itself had declared that the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile had been removed in 2014, only to confirm later that sarin was used in a 2017 attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhun.
Netanyahu: Israel will continue to work against ‘underground threats’
After the military announces the destruction of a Hamas attack tunnel leading from the Gaza Strip into Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will continue working to counter “underground threats.”
“Over the weekend the IDF thwarted another tunnel from the Gaza Strip toward Israel,” says Netanyahu at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “We are operating in all sectors on behalf of Israel’s security and we underscore our backing for the IDF soldiers who are guarding our borders.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman described the tunnel earlier today as the “longest and deepest” to be discovered in Israel.
Hamas leader warns ‘armed Palestinian rebellion’ to break out on Nakba Day
A leader in the Hamas terror group warns Israel an armed Palestinian uprising will break out on May 15, when Palestinians mark the Nakba (“catastrophe”) of Israel’s founding.
“Tell Israel to wait until May 15, then the armed Palestinian rebellion will erupt and nothing will be able to stop it. Wave after wave until we meet in Jerusalem,” says Hamas deputy leader in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya, according to the Ynet news site.
Hayya’s comment comes two days after some 10,000 Palestinians took part in violent protests along Israel’s border with Israel as part of the “March of Return” for the third consective week.
Hamas has said the demonstrations will continue until Nakba Day on May 15, the day after the Gregorian calendar date for Israel’s Independence Day.
After Ghouta, Syria army to target province on border with Israel
BEIRUT — The capture of Eastern Ghouta is a significant milestone for Syria’s regime and paves the way for government troops to shift south to where the seven-year uprising first began: Daraa.
After securing the capital from deadly rockets that once rained in from its suburbs, President Bashar Assad now has forces ready to redeploy elsewhere in the war-ravaged country.
“The liberation of Eastern Ghouta means lifting the security and military threat posed to Damascus,” says Bassam Abou Abdallah, who heads the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies.
“After Ghouta, it’s likely the Syrian government will head south — the current situation in Daraa must be finished off,” he tells AFP.
The vast Daraa province lies south of Damascus and also shares borders with Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights.
Non-jihadist rebels, backed by the United States and Jordan, hold nearly three-quarters of it and parts of the provincial capital, also called Daraa.
Analysts say Assad’s regime will have to avoid any escalation with Israel.
“The areas in the south of Syria are particularly sensitive because they are located between Damascus on the one hand, and the Jordanian and Israeli borders on the other,” analyst Sam Heller says.
“Any military action could affect the national security of the three countries,” says the researcher at the International Crisis Group.
Palestinian jailed for West Bank bar mitzvah hike attack
The Samaria Military Court hands down its first sentencing for the November stone-throwing attack on a group of Israeli settlers on a bar mitzvah hike near the West Bank village of Qusra.
A Palestinian is sentenced to 16 days in prison, along with a year-and-a-half long suspended sentence, and a fine of NIS 8,000, NIS 3,000 of which will be transferred to the Israeli children from the attack as compensation.
The ruling is part of a plea bargain reached after the culprit confessed to stealing the cell phone of one of the children and installing his own SIM card in it for his own use.
Reading out her decision, the presiding judge states that the theft was indeed a serious crime, but “the fact that there is no evidence of the defendant’s presence in that incident, I decided to respect the plea bargain.”
Haim Bleicher, who has represented the Israeli settlers on behalf of the right-wing Honenu legal aid organization, says Sunday’s sentencing is “the tip of the iceberg” and calls on law enforcement to bring to justice all those involved in the attack “including the Qusra leadership.”
Separately Sunday, authorities return the weapon of one of the trip’s parent chaperones, who used it to shoot dead 48-year-old Qusra resident Mahmoud Za’al Odeh.
Last month, the Central District Attorney’s Office closed its investigation into the pair of chaperones responsible for Odeh’s death, saying it was an act of self-defense.
— Jacob Magid
Saudi king rejects US plan to transfer embassy to Jerusalem
DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday opens an Arab League summit by criticizing US President Donald Trump’s decision to transfer the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem,” the king says in a speech in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia.
“East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories,” he adds.
Islamic State claims attack in Egypt’s Sinai that killed 8
CAIRO — The Islamic State jihadist group claims responsibility for an attack on an Egyptian army base in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least eight soldiers.
The extremist group claims Saturday’s attack in a statement carried by its Aamaq news agency.
Egypt’s military said another 15 soldiers were wounded when suicide bombers blew themselves up as they tried to infiltrate the base. It said 14 militants were killed in the attack.
The attack comes two months after the launch of a massive operation against militants in Sinai as well as parts of Egypt’s Nile Delta and the Western Desert, along the porous border with Libya.
Saudi king rails against ‘blatant interference’ by Iran in Arab affairs
DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday denounces Iran’s “blatant interference” in regional affairs during the opening of the annual Arab League summit.
“We renew our strong condemnation of Iran’s terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries,” the king says in a speech in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia.
Assad says strikes on Syria were based on ‘lies’
Syria’s President Bashar Assad says the Western airstrikes against his country were accompanied by a campaign of “lies” and misinformation in the UN Security Council.
Assad speaks Sunday to a group of visiting Russian politicians. His comments are carried by state media.
Assad and Russia deny using chemical weapons, the trigger for the strikes early Saturday. An alleged gas attack last weekend in the town of Douma killed more than 40 people, according to opposition activists and rescuers.
Assad tells his visitors that the US, Britain and France, which carried out the strikes, had waged a campaign of “lies and misinformation” against Russia and Syria.
The UN Security Council has been paralyzed in dealing with the seven-year Syrian conflict and the use of chemical weapons. Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member, is a close ally of Assad.
Army announces West Bank closure for memorial, independence days
The army announces it will impose a closure on the West Bank during Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day this week.
The IDF says the closure will begin at midnight on Monday and be lifted on Thursday at midnight “in accordance with a situational assessment.”
Border crossings with the Gaza Strip will also be shuttered during this time, the army says.
“During the closure, passage will be allowed in humanitarian, medical and exceptional cases only and subject to the approval of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories,” the IDF says in a statement.
The West Bank and Gaza border crossings are typically closed during Israeli and Jewish holidays, when the risk of terror attacks is assessed to be higher.
Trump tweets defense of ‘mission accomplished’
US President Donald Trump is defending his use of the phrase “mission accomplished” to refer to the US-led strikes in Syria.
Trump tweets on Sunday that the mission was “so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term ‘Mission Accomplished.'”
He adds: “I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!”
Trump’s use of the phrase Saturday had evoked comparisons with former president George W. Bush, who in 2003 stood under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” as he declared that major combat operations had ended in Iraq six weeks after the invasion. But the war dragged on for years.
The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term “Mission Accomplished.” I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018
Liberman backs advancement of legislation to override High Court
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman expresses his support for a plan being advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to strip the High Court of Justice of its power to strike down laws it finds unconstitutional.
“I back the prime minister’s plan to implement a change in the relations between the Supreme Court and the Knesset,” tweets Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party.
“Since Yisrael Beytenu’s first day we have demanded the return of the mandate to the public officials who were chosen in elections,” adds Liberman.
“Now a chance has been created for a significant fix. I hope it’ll be realized.”
Iranian FM condemns Western strikes on Syria
Iran’s foreign minister condemns the Western strikes on Syria, saying no country has a right to take punitive measures against another “beyond international procedures.”
The semi-official Fars news agency quotes Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying that Iran had warned about the possibility that “terrorist groups” were behind the alleged chemical attack that triggered the strikes. It says he communicated his concerns in a phone call Sunday with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been accused of carrying out a chemical weapons attack near Damascus a week ago that opposition activists and rescuers say killed more than 40 people.
The attack prompted the US, Britain and France to carry out a missile attack on Syrian military targets early Saturday.
Mother of drowned baby suspected of murder
The mother of a one-month old baby who drowned in a jacuzzi earlier this month is suspected of murder.
The revelation comes after the Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court lifts a gag order on publishing details of the case.
Last week, a psychiatrist determined the mother of the baby is mentally unfit to stand trial.
The baby drowned while the ultra-Orthodox family, from the city of Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem, was vacationing in a hotel in the coastal city of Ashdod during the Passover holiday.
Gag order extended in Bezeq graft probe
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court grants an extension of a gag order in the Bezeq graft probe.
The gag order is granted for 45 days — the maximum allowed — suggesting investigators have further work to do in the probe, which is known as Case 4000.
The case involves suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advanced regulation benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.
Both have denied wrongdoing.
Army reveals ‘laboratory’ for detecting Gaza tunnels
After announcing earlier today the destruction of a major Hamas attack tunnel reaching into Israel from Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces unveils details of its special “laboratory” for locating tunnels coming from the coastal enclave.
The laboratory was established two years ago as part of the IDF’s Gaza Division and is headed by Captain B, who was trained in electrical engineering and chemistry.
“Under him work the best minds in an assortment of technological and research fields, including members of the Ground Forces’ Technology Brigade, physicist, engineers, intelligence personnel and geologists,” the army says.
The IDF describes the laboratory as its “technological arm” for tunnel detection and says it works in concert with operational and intelligence elements to locate tunnels on the Gaza border.
Putin talks with Rouhani, says further Syria strikes will ‘entail chaos’
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks by phone with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani regarding this weekend’s airstrikes in Syria by the US, UK and France.
“The leaders exchanged views on the situation following the missile strike on Syria delivered by the United States and its allies. They agreed that this illegal action is adversely impacting prospects for political settlement in Syria,” the Kremlin says, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
“Vladimir Putin stressed that if such actions done in violation of the United Nations Charter are continued, it will inevitably entail chaos in international relations,” the Kremlin adds.
Nikki Haley says US not yet pulling out of Syria
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is making clear the United States won’t be pulling troops out of Syria right away.
Haley speaks after US President Donald Trump in a tweet today defended his use of the term “mission accomplished” to describe US-led strikes in Syria. She says US involvement in Syria “is not done.”
Haley says the three US goals for accomplishing its mission are making sure chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm US national interests, that the Islamic State jihadist group is defeated, and that there is a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.
She tells “Fox News Sunday”: “We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things.”
Haley reiterates that if Syrian President Bashar Assad uses poison gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded.”
Hundreds attend funeral of soldier killed in tank accident
Hundreds attend the funeral of Eliyahu Drori, a 20-year-old IDF soldier killed in a tank accident over the weekend near the Egyptian border.
Drori, who is buried at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, is eulogized by the commander of the armored battalion in which he served.
Two of Drori’s comrades were seriously injured in Friday’s accident, during which their tank caught fire after falling into a riverbed.
Another soldier was lightly wounded.
US to impose new sanctions on Russia over Syria
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says the US will be imposing more economic sanctions on Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his apparent use of chemical weapons.
Haley says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will be making the announcement by Monday and it will affect companies that are “dealing with equipment related to Assad and any chemical weapons use.”
She tells CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Russia needs to feel the consequences for protecting the Assad regime. Haley notes that Russia has vetoed six resolutions in the United Nations Security Council regarding chemical weapons.
Haley says the fact that Assad was making the use of chemical weapons “more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop.”
Syrian opposition activists and first responders say a chemical attack on the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital, killed more than 40 people on April 7.
Dozens of ultra-Orthodox ‘extremists’ protest outside Jerusalem draft office
Dozens of ultra-Orthodox “extremists” protest against the military conscription of members of their community outside the draft office in Jerusalem.
Police say the demonstrators gather around a Military Police vehicle outside the draft office.
Officers at the scene are working “to restore public order,” police say.
— חדשות עשר (@news10) April 15, 2018
Nasrallah: Western strikes on Syria failed to benefit Israel
Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah says US-led strikes on Syria failed to accomplish their goals, which he says includes serving Israel’s interests.
Hassan Nasrallah says the strikes were not more expansive because the US, UK, and France feared a response from the Syrian regime, and its backers could trigger a wider conflagration, according to Reuters.
Egypt upholds death sentence against 4 over plotting attacks
CAIRO — Egypt’s highest appeals court upholds death sentences for four people for allegedly forming a terrorist cell to plot attacks on security forces and other institutions.
The court of cassation on Sunday also rejects an appeal by 14 other defendants against sentences of 15 years imprisonment in February over similar charges including joining an outlawed group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. The verdict is final.
Six defendants in the case are sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia. They remain at large and will be re-tried once they are apprehended.
Egypt has cracked down on suspected Islamists since the military ousted president Mohamed Morsi of the Brotherhood in 2013.
Since then, hundreds of Islamists, including Brotherhood members, have been sentenced to death. The authorities have carried out dozens of executions.
Simulated chemical incident part of Jordan-US military drill
AMMAN, Jordan — The United States and Jordan launch a 12-day military exercise with scenarios ranging from border security to counterterrorism and, for the first time, a simulated chemical incident.
The Eager Lion drill starts Sunday, a day after the US, France, and Britain launched missiles at Syrian military targets in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus a week ago.
Maj. Gen. Jon Mott, the director of Exercises and Training at the US Central Command, tells reporters that a mobile laboratory team will respond to a simulated chemical incident.
He sys that it is a “threat all too real, as we’ve seen recently in Syria.”
More than 7,000 troops, including 3,500 US service members, are participating in the annual drill, the US military’s largest and most complex in the region.
Report: Netanyahu meets with ex-chief justice on law to override High Court
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with former Supreme Court chief justice Aharon Barak regarding legislation stripping the court of its power to strike down laws as unconstitutional, Hadashot TV news reports.
Citing sources close to Netanyahu, the network reports that the premier met with Barak on Saturday, telling him he intends to move forward with the legislation, but will do so within legislation that defines the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches.
Barak, who served as Supreme Court chief justice from 1995-2006, is considered to have pioneered the court’s interventionist approach that has drawn the ire of the right.
Nasrallah says US ‘Zionist lobby’ pushed for Western strikes on Syria
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claims US-led airstrikes on Syria were carried out after pressure from the “Zionist lobby” in the United States.
“And it appears it was disappointed by the limited bombing,” says Nasrallah, according to Channel 10.
Some 200 African migrants freed from detention
More than 200 African migrants in jail in Israel are released by order of the Supreme Court, after a deal to deport them to another African country remained unsigned.
Some 207 African migrants and asylum seekers are released over several hours on Sunday from the Saharonim Prison in southern Israel, where they have been held after refusing to leave Israel voluntarily.
The Supreme Court last week ordered them to be released on Sunday — the day the government was to present its final plan for sending them to another country, in the absence of such a plan, which would require agreement from a third country to take them in. The court also ordered the government’s deportation plan suspended for an additional two weeks, Haaretz reported.
Gazans use kites to launch firebombs at Israel
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are using kites to launch firebombs at Israel from the coastal enclave.
“In the last day, there have been cases of kites flying with Molotov cocktails from the Strip to our territory. In all the cases, the bottles fell close to the murder and caused fires, without injuries,” the Eshkol Regional Council says in a statement.
Earlier today, one of the firebombs launched from Gaza landed in Israel, and caused a fire near Kibbutz Kisufim. There were no injuries or damage was caused by the fire.
Report: Police to recommend indicting ex-coalition whip for bribery
Police will recommend that former coalition whip David Bitan be charged in the coming weeks with bribe-taking, Channel 10 reports.
Bitan’s lawyer tells the network his client is innocent.
Bitan, who resigned as coalition chairman in December but remains a Likud MK, is suspected of bribery, fraud, money laundering, and breach of trust for having allegedly accepting bribes before entering the Knesset, when he was deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion.
Iran bans foreign social media networks in schools
TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian ministry of education on Sunday bans the use of foreign social media networks in schools, the ILNA news agency reports, amid a push by Tehran to limit the influence of outside online platforms.
Schools must “only use domestic social networks” for their communications, the ministry says in a statement, according to the reformist-linked news agency.
Telegram is the most popular social network in Iran. In 2017, the app claimed it had 40-million monthly users in the Islamic Republic.
Instagram is also very popular, and companies in Iran — like elsewhere — often use both platforms to communicate directly with customers.
Less used, Facebook and Twitter are blocked in Iran, but easily accessible using a virtual private network (VPN).
During a wave of protests that hit dozens of Iranian cities at the start of the year, Iranian authorities temporarily banned Telegram, accusing the app of allowing foreign-based “counter-revolutionary” groups to fuel unrest.
Since then, authorities have sought to develop Iranian social media networks and limit the reliance on foreign-based platforms, which Tehran accuses of hosting sites deemed hostile to the Islamic Republic.
Four police lightly wounded in clashes with ultra-Orthodox
Four police officers are lightly injured during clashes with hundreds of ultra-Orthodox “extremists” outside the IDF draft office in Jerusalem.
The officers receive treatment at the scene for their injuries, police say.
Police say officers are using riot dispersal means against the demonstrators, who object to the conscription of members of their community to the military.