Bahrain jails 138, strips them of nationality on terror charges
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At Likud victory event, Netanyahu slams media, says will work for all citizens

PM says ‘many’ Arab leaders have congratulated him, adds some TV analysts ‘haven’t yet understood’ last week’s election results

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara at an event of the Likud party in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara at an event of the Likud party in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

Report says probe opened into Netanyahu stock deal with cousin; police deny

A report says police have collected testimony from a person who provided recordings and evidence regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cousin, US businessman Nathan Milikowsky, suggesting a stock deal over a decade ago between Netanyahu and Milikowsky was “problematic.”

Recent reports have suggested Netanyahu made a return of over 700 percent on the stocks in Seadrift, a company with ties to German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp. Netanyahu bought the shares for $400,000 in 2007 and then sold them in 2010 to Milikowsky for $4.3 million. That dramatic profit has led to speculation of possible impropriety in Netanyahu’s financial dealings.

The report by the Ynet news website claims police have initiated a probe into the matter, but the Israel Police denies that in a statement, saying that while it normally doesn’t confirm or deny the opening of a probe or investigation, it chose to do so in this case due to its “sensitivity and public significance.”

Netanyahu lashes out against Ynet, saying: “It seems there are some in the media who haven’t yet accepted the election results. The days are over when fake news is published in the media to push for futile investigations against Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

Notre Dame blaze being treated as accident, not arson: prosecutor

The Paris prosecutor says that investigators are treating the devastating fire at the Notre Dame cathedral as an accident, not arson.

“Nothing suggests that it was a voluntary act,” Remy Heitz tells reporters outside the Gothic cathedral, adding that workers employed at the site are being questioned over the blaze.

— AFP

United Torah Judaism gains Knesset seat at Likud’s expense: final tally

The Central Elections Committee publishes final results from last week’s election and says United Torah Judaism (UTJ) has received an additional Knesset seat at the expense of Likud, as the ultra-Orthodox party claimed yesterday.

That means UTJ is now at eight seats in the 120-member Knesset, bringing Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling party down to 35 seats, the same number as its Blue and White rivals. The right-wing bloc, however, still has a 65-55 edge and seems certain to form the next government.

Pope calls for ‘all to mobilize’ to rebuild Notre Dame

Pope Francis says he hopes everyone will pull together to rebuild the devastated Notre Dame cathedral in Paris following a massive fire.

“I hope the Notre Dame cathedral may once again become, thanks to reconstruction work and the mobilization of all, a jewel in the heart of the city,” Francis says in a statement issued by the Vatican.

— AFP

Madrid skyscraper housing several embassies evacuated over bomb threat

A skyscraper in Madrid that houses the British, Dutch, Australian and Canadian embassies is being evacuated over a bomb threat, police say.

“A bomb threat was received…. Evacuation has started, we have to work and do checks,” a police spokesman tells AFP.

— AFP

Bahrain jails 138, strips them of nationality on terror charges

A Bahraini court has sentenced 138 people to between three-year and life jail terms and revoked their citizenship for terror-related charges, the public prosecutor says.

The defendants were convicted of establishing a terror cell with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Ahmad al-Hammadi says in a statement.

A judicial source says all the defendants are members of the Shiite community in the Sunni-ruled Gulf state.

— AFP

Final election results extinguish last Knesset hopes for New Right

Final election results published by the Central Elections Committee, to be presented to President Reuven Rivlin tomorrow, show that Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party didn’t make it into the Knesset.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett hold a press conference of the New Right Political party, in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)

The party has been working day and night since last Thursday, trying to close a gap of just 0.03%, or some 1,400 votes, needed to pass the 3.25% electoral threshold.

However, the committee says in a statement, even after letting party officials review hundreds of ballot boxes and take a look at results in individual polling stations, not only has the party’s tally not increased — it has gone down by three votes.

‘Some weaknesses’ identified in Notre Dame structure after fire

“Some weaknesses” have been identified in the structure of the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, but overall the monument “is holding up ok,” junior interior minister Laurent Nunez says.

“Some weaknesses have been identified, particularly in the vault and the gable of the northern transept, which have to be secured,” Nunez tells reporters at the scene, adding that five neighboring buildings have been evacuated.

Firefighters continue to secure Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 16, 2019, in the aftermath of a fire that caused its spire to crash to the ground. (Zakaria ABDELKAFI / AFP)

— AFP

New Right criticizes ‘rushed’ statement on final election results

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party slams the Central Election Committee for publishing final election results that leave it out of the next Knesset, saying the statement was “rushed” and that it is weighing its next move.

“There were gaps found in 8% of the ballot boxes, including unequivocal evidence of grave election fraud,” the party says. “Unfortunately, we asked the committee to wait with the press release until the probe is over, but the urgency to publish was more important than sticking to the facts.”

Instagram blocks accounts of IRGC commanders after US terror blacklisting

Social media site Instagram has deleted multiple accounts belonging to senior commanders in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, including its commander Qassem Soleimani, according to various reports, after the United States officially recognizes it as a terror organization.

The official IRGC Instagram page is down, as are those of Soleimani, Brigadier Moussa kamali, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri and Brig. Gen. Ezatollah Zarghami.

Donations to rebuild Notre Dame top 600 million euros

Pledges from France’s corporations and richest families to help rebuild the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris have topped 600 million euros ($680 million), according to an AFP tally of donations announced so far.

The latest major contribution came from French cosmetics giant L’Oreal and its founding Bettencourt family, which gave 200 million euros to the reconstruction effort.

— AFP

Netanyahu, Liberman meet, agree to start coalition negotiations tomorrow

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman ahead of coalition negotiations.

The two met today for a “calm” meeting focusing on security, church and state and immigration, Yisrael Beytenu says in a statement.

“The sides decided to start the negotiations immediately after President Reuven Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming the government.”

That is scheduled to happen tomorrow evening.

Elected lawmakers to be sworn in on April 30 — Knesset statement

Elected members of the 21st Knesset will be sworn in on April 30 at 4 p.m., the Israeli parliament announces.

The law dictates the swearing in ceremony should take place 14 days after the elections, but the Knesset speaker uses his authority to delay it due to the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian festival of Easter.

Conference of European Rabbis expresses solidarity after Notre Dame fire

The Conference of European Rabbis expresses solidarity with France and its Catholic community after a fire burns through the Notre Dame cathedral.

Pinchas Goldschmidt. (Flash90)

“Notre Dame of Paris is a symbol of human ingenuity and endurance, celebrating almost one thousand years of European and French culture, architecture and freedom,” says Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis.

“Places of worship are a bridge between our past and future, symbolizing the aspiration of man to reach new heights and spirituality. The Conference of European Rabbis expresses its solidarity with France and especially with its Catholic community following this devastating incident and wish them strength and hope,” he adds.

Body of man, 38, found after he was missing for 2 weeks

A 38-year-old man’s body is found in an open field near the Arab town of Kafr Qassem. The man had been missing for two weeks.

Police begin an investigation to determine the circumstances of the incident, with an initial probe raising a suspicion he was abducted and murdered, police say.

Reports say the background is likely a dispute within the local community.

The man worked as a waiter at a restaurant in Jaffa, and was reported missing by his family when he didn’t show up for work.

Egypt court sentences Islamists to 5 years in prison

An Egyptian court has sentenced 36 people convicted of joining the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization to five years in prison.

The Alexandria criminal court also sentences the defendants to five years of probation. They were arrested in Alexandria in 2017.

The sentences can be appealed.

The Brotherhood won a series of free elections following Egypt’s 2011 uprising but was branded a terrorist group after the military overthrew an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. Since then, courts have held mass trials and sentenced hundreds of people to death.

Rights groups have repeatedly criticized such mass sentencings in Egypt and called on authorities to ensure fair trials.

— AP

Gay Likud MK admits he doesn’t think upcoming coalition will improve LGBT rights

MK Amir Ohana, the first openly gay lawmaker for the Likud party, admits in an interview with Army Radio that he doesn’t foresee any change in LGBT rights in Israel in the upcoming 21st Knesset.

Committee chairman Amir Ohana at the Knesset, on July 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The governing coalition will include 16 ultra-Orthodox members and more religious Zionist MKs, which is likely to foil any attempt to improve LGBT rights.

“I would have wanted the coalition’s opinion to be different,” Ohana says.

Central Elections Committee blasts New Right for ‘baseless’ fraud claims

The Central Elections Committee responds to criticism by the New Right party over the “rushed” publication of final election results that leave it out of the next Knesset.

“The New Right’s media statements are baseless and are made out of understandable distress,” the committee says in a statement. “The claims are unfounded and are undermining public trust in the election results, as well as being inconsistent.”

Second and last batch of Eurovision tickets go on sale

The second and last round of Eurovision tickets are on sale now on the Le’an website.

Tickets for the semifinal and final round next month in Tel Aviv went on sale at 6 p.m. (Israel time). Tickets for rehearsals — whose prices have gone down sharply — and for the Green Room during the final were already available for purchase.

PM ends meeting with URWP’s Peretz, who wants education, justice portfolios

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concludes a meeting with Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, at a political event in Petah Tikva, Feb 20, 2019. (Yehuda Haim/Flash90)

As the party stated before the elections, Peretz is asking for the education and justice portfolios, Likud says in a statement.

Netanyahu’s associates say the meeting was “good” and that negotiations will continue in the coming days.

United Torah Judaism says ready to go to new elections over Haredi draft law

United Torah Judaism says it is prepared to go to new elections, as it gears for tough coalition negotiations after the secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party said it will condition its entry to the next coalition on the passage of the current Haredi army draft bill.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 10, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The ultra-Orthodox party, which vehemently objects to the legislation, says it will insist that any yeshiva student will be exempt from military service if he is interested in studying.

“We are ordering the heads of ours local branches to remain on full alert in case — God forbid — that this issue isn’t solved,” the party says.

Trump envoy says speculation about Mideast peace plan ‘harms the efforts’

US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt criticizes reports about the content of the administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, saying the “guessing game” is only harming the efforts.

Sudan’s military ruler sacks prosecutor general

Sudan’s new military ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has sacked the country’s prosecutor general, the military council says, after protesters demanded he be fired.

“Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has issued a declaration sacking the prosecutor general Omer Ahmed Mohamed,” the council says in a statement.

— AFP

Official full election results published, will be presented to Rivlin tomorrow

The Central Elections Committee publishes the full and final results of last week’s Knesset elections, including the number of votes each party got and the number of Knesset seats.

A spokesperson for the committee confirms that there will be no changes to the results, and that they will be presented to President Reuven Rivlin tomorrow.

Syria, Iran decry US ‘economic terrorism’; Zarif slams Trump’s pro-Israel moves

Syria and Iran say the United States is waging “economic terrorism” against countries that have different opinions and should pursue its aims through diplomacy instead.

Syrian state news agency SANA quotes President Bashar Assad as saying the Trump administration’s decision to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization is an “irresponsible move.” Assad spoke at a meeting with Iran’s visiting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said the US move was “stupid.”

This photo released on the official Facebook page of Syrian Presidency shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, speaking with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Damascus, Syria, April 16, 2019. (Syrian Presidency Facebook page via AP)

Syria is in the grip of a severe fuel crisis aggravated by sanctions on the Assad government and Iran, its close ally.

Tehran has given the Syrian government billions of dollars in aid and sent Iran-backed fighters to battle alongside its forces — assistance that, along with Russian air power, has helped turn the tide in Assad’s favor.

SANA quotes Assad as saying that the US designation of the Revolutionary Guard “is a continuation of the wrong policies adopted by the United States and could be considered as one of the factors of instability in the region.”

Zarif says the Trump administration’s designation of the Revolutionary Guard and recognition of Israel’s sovereignty on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights are related and show the “failure of Washington’s policies,” according to SANA.

Zarif is scheduled to meet with Syria’s prime minister and foreign minister before heading to neighboring Turkey.

— AP

Egypt MPs back constitution changes to extend Sissi rule until 2030

Members of Egypt’s parliament have approved changes to the constitution that will allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in power until 2030, state media reports.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi at the 55th Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on February 16, 2019 (Sven Hoppe / DPA / AFP)

“The president’s current term shall expire at the end of six years from the date of his election as president in 2018,” says the official Al-Ahram news website and broadcaster Nile TV.

“He can be re-elected for another [six-year] term.”

— AFP

Yisrael Beytenu says it won’t publicly discuss coalition negotiations

The secularist right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party says it has made a decision not to publicly discuss coalition negotiations.

“All our demands and everything we have to say, we will say in the meetings between the negotiation teams,” Avigdor Liberman’s party says in a statement.

Bennett concedes defeat after a week of attempts to locate missing votes

After a week of desperate attempts to locate 1,453 ballots missing for his New Right party to pass the electoral threshold, Naftali Bennett concedes defeat.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at a press conference for his New Right party in the southern port city of Ashdod on March 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We did find irregularities at the polls and more, but that, in of itself, is not enough to cancel the election results. Our legal counsel will examine the findings in the next two weeks, but at this stage, we are moving on,” he says in a Facebook post.

He describes his co-chair, Ayelet Shaked, “the best justice minister in the history of Israel.”

“Together, in the past six years, we took the wheel and pulled it rightward and we managed to change, for the better, the direction of the State of Israel. The ship will continue to sail without us.”

“After six years of service as a minister, 100 days of campaigning, and another week of fighting for every vote, I can say: I did the best I could.”

PA warns Israel tax deduction over terror payments are risking Hamas coup

The Palestinian Authority has warned Israel that its withholding of some tax revenues over the PA’s monthly stipends to terror convicts and their families raises the risk of the Hamas terror group carrying out a military coup in the West Bank, Channel 12 news reports.

Israel says the sums of money the Palestinians pay to imprisoned terrorists and terror suspects, as well as the families of those killed in attacks against Israelis, are a direct reward and incentive for violence. Palestinians describe the payments as an important form of social welfare and say they are responsible for their citizens.

Israel earlier this year announced it was withholding over $138 million in revenue, the amount Israeli officials calculate that the PA spends on the stipends. In response, the PA refused to accept any of the tax money.

At Likud victory event, Netanyahu slams media, says will work for all citizens

At a Likud event celebrating the party’s victory in last week’s elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to “work for all of you and for all Israeli citizens.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara at an event of the Likud party in Jerusalem, April 16, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“I want all parts of Israeli society, Jews and non-Jews alike, to be part of the huge success story called the State of Israel,” he says, alongside his wife Sara, in front of thousands of supporters.

Netanyahu says he has received “many” congratulations from Arab leaders, though doesn’t provide any details.

He also lashes out at Channel 12 analyst Amnon Abramovich, who on Friday joked that if Netanyahu makes Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich justice minister, it would add a year to his sentence in the corruption cases against him, which prosecutors announced indictments for, pending a hearing.

“We will safeguard democracy,” Netanyahu says. “I have to say that, because some haven’t understood the consequence of democracy. Over the weekend I watched TV and thought I misheard. Scholarly analysts were sitting in the studios and making explicit threats against me, that I will pay a personal price.

“I’m not afraid of threats and not deterred from the media.”

Abbas gears up for diplomatic blitz against Trump’s peace plan — report

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing for a diplomatic blitz against US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

According to the TV report, Abbas will soon go to Cairo and then to Brussels where he will try to persuade European and other leaders to reject the plan.

“The US is about to present a plan that is contrary to all chances for peace,” Kan quotes an associate of Abbas as saying.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph during a joint press conference at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Macron vows to rebuild Notre Dame ‘within five years’

French President Emmanuel Macron vows to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral “within five years,” a day after a fire caused major damage to the 850-year-old Paris landmark.

“We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautifully within five years,” Macron says in an address to the nation.

This screen shot made on April 16, 2019 shows French President Emmanuel Macron addressing the nation on French private TV channel TF1 during which he vows to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral within five years, a day after a fire erupted in the 850-year-old landmark. (Photo by Olivier MORIN / AFP)

— AFP

Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism said in talks over Haredi draft law

Amid stiff disagreements over the ultra-Orthodox military draft law, associates of Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman have spoken to senior members of the United Torah Judaism party in an attempt to reach an agreement, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night asked Liberman not to intensify his attack on the ultra-Orthodox parties, the report says, adding that Liberman has agreed.

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Bahrain jails 138, strips them of nationality on terror charges

A Bahraini court has sentenced 138 people to between three-year and life jail terms and revoked their citizenship for terror-related charges, the public prosecutor says.

The defendants were convicted of establishing a terror cell with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Ahmad al-Hammadi says in a statement.

A judicial source says all the defendants are members of the Shiite community in the Sunni-ruled Gulf state.

— AFP