The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
A European Union court upholds a freeze on Hamas funds as it rejects the group’s appeal against its EU listing as a terrorist organization.
The General Court’s ruling amounts to the latest rejection of Hamas’s efforts to be struck from an EU blacklist created in 2001 based on a UN resolution following the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
“In today’s judgment the General Court looks into each of the arguments made by Hamas and rejects them in their totality,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement.
As a result, “the decision to extend the freezing of Hamas funds is confirmed.”
Veiled women carrying babies and wounded men on crutches hobble out of Baghouz after US-backed forces pummel the last jihadist village in eastern Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces leading the assault expect more fighters to surrender with their families in tow before moving deeper in the Islamic State group’s last redoubt.
The tiny village on the banks of the Euphrates River where diehard IS fighters have made a bloody last stand has regurgitated unexplained numbers of people.
Kurdish officers in the SDF and aid groups have voiced their surprise that the flow of evacuees never seemed to dry up after weeks of evacuations.
North Korea is restoring facilities at a long-range rocket launch site that it dismantled last year as part of disarmament steps, according to foreign experts and a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by Seoul’s spy service.
The finding follows a high-stakes nuclear summit last week between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump that ended without any agreement.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service provided the assessment about the North’s Tongchang-ri launch site to lawmakers during a private briefing Tuesday. North Korea has not immediately responded.
Around 90 percent of Israeli women are content with their quality of life and with their profession, according to statistics released by the Central Bureau of Statistics to mark Friday’s International Women’s Day.
The CBS says 56% of women are satisfied with their income. However the average income for men is higher by NIS 3,700 ($1,000) than the average income for women.
Women continue to live longer than men on average — 84.6 years compared to 80.7 years.
Meanwhile females have a far higher rate of bagrut (matriculation) certificates than males at the end of high school: 70.9% of females successfully complete their studies, compared to 59.2% of males.
The Defense Ministry will hold a security drill tonight at a checkpoint near the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe.
The drill at Eliyahu checkpoint will be held between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. and will include sounds of gunfire. Road 55 will be closed intermittently.
Former chief Ahkenazi rabbi Yona Metzger, following his early release from prison today, arrives for prayer at Rachel’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
A parole board on Tuesday accepted Metzger’s request for early release after serving less than two years of his 3.5-year sentence.
He was imprisoned after pleading guilty in 2017 to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting millions in bribes, under a plea bargain reached with state prosecutors.
The number 19 candidate on Likud’s election slate, Pinchas Idan, has announced he is taking himself out of the running due to questions surrounding his eligibility.
Idan is the head of the Israel Airports Authority labor union. Under election laws, senior officials at state-run companies must resign 100 days before taking office, which Idan did not do.
Instead, last month he requested and received a demotion that allowed him to retain his job while running for Knesset.
But the Central Elections Committee had raised questions regarding the legitimacy of the move, leading Idan to drop out.
All Likud candidates numbered 20 and above will now move ahead one spot.
A top Israeli radio station says it will cut buck on playing the songs of the late Michael Jackson, amid new sexual assault allegations made against the pop singer.
The Galgalatz radio station, a subsidiary of Army Radio, says it is taking action in light of the global outrage over documentary film “Leaving Neverland,” in which two men recount their alleged abuse at Jackson’s hands as young boys.
The station says it will review the decision in a few weeks’ time.
Hamas says Israel’s decision earlier today to designate Hamas-run television network Al-Aqsa TV as a terror organization is a “targeting of media institutions.”
The terror group says the move is “an attempt to demonize” Palestinians and prevent their story from reaching the world.
“These aggressive practices against our people and media institutions are the worst forms of terrorism and will not succeed in extinguishing the voice of the truth and the legitimate rights of our people,” a Hamas spokesman tells Palestinian media.
Two explosive devices attached to clusters of balloons are launched from the Gaza Strip and detonate above a community in the southern Israeli Eshkol region, the local government says.
The blasts caused neither injury nor damage.
“There are no special safety instructions for residents besides showing increased awareness and reporting all suspicious objects,” an Eshkol spokesperson says in a statement.
After a brief lull, Palestinians in the Strip again began launching balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel in recent weeks. So far, no Israelis have been injured by the attacks, though damage was caused to a home in the Eshkol region last week.
— Judah Ari Gross
Much has been said of the Blue and White party’s hitherto murky policies on a range of national issues. The party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid is now hoping to rectify that and is releasing its platform to the public.
Among the highlights: A promise that there will be no repeat of the 2005 unilateral Gaza Disengagement; a vow that far-reaching diplomatic decisions vis-a-vis the Palestinians will only be taken following a national referendum or with a special majority in the Knesset; a call for limited public transportation during the Sabbath; a promise to limit a prime minister’s time in office to three terms, or eight straight years.
The paltform is being released as a document with 24 sections touching on various areas of life including security, civil society, health, and economy.
More on Blue and White’s new party platform:
The 45-page manifesto “addresses all the essential issues facing the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel… embodying the right of Israeli citizens to live in dignity, security, prosperity and freedom.”
The diplomatic program includes support for a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, continued Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and retaining settlement blocs in the West Bank, along with a willingness to enter negotiations with the Palestinians.
The party promises to “initiate a regional conference with the Arab countries that seek stability and deepen the process of separation from the Palestinians while maintaining uncompromising security interests of the State of Israel and the IDF’s freedom of action everywhere.”
It makes no mention of Palestinian statehood or a two-state solution.
— Raoul Wootliff
At a special session of the Central Elections Committee to discuss petitions to rule out the candidacy of Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben Ari, Ben Ari rejects allegations that he is a racist.
Ben Ari calls the claims against him “terrible, ugly.”
He adds: “I’m the dangerous man the attorney general has said should not be in the Knesset…We’re the dangerous ones? We’re the inciters? We’re the racists? …We that go from funeral to funeral [of terror victims]?
“I’m not a racist. They’re making me into a madman, a demon.”
The committee is set to vote on Ben Ari candidacy. With the Kulanu party not expected to participate in the vote, the candidacy will likely be approved. However, the issue will likely move on to the courts regardless of the committee’s decision.
Iran hopes to have its part of a new payments vehicle — devised to bypass US sanctions — ready within a fortnight, its Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi says.
“We hope it will be before the end of the Iranian calendar year,” Araghchi tells reporters in Vienna, referring to March 20 when the Iranian year ends.
Araghchi is in the Austrian capital for a “joint commission” with representatives from China, Russia, Britain and France — all signatories of the international deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
The new payments vehicle, known as INSTEX, is seen as key to European Union efforts to preserve the deal struck in 2015 between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
At the Central Elections Committee session on fellow party member Michael Ben Ari’s candidacy for the Knesset, Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir says ultranationalist rabbi Meir Kahane was “a great and wonderful man.”
He adds, “Those who have raised flags of Palestine and identified with terrorists are enemies of Israel.”
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party says the Blue and White party’s newly released party platform seeks “to destroy the Jewish state.”
Shas says the party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid “has copy-pasted the platform of [Lapid’s] Yesh Atid,” and seeks to “trample the honor of Shabbat by running public transportation and making it into a national shopping day,” to harm “the sanctity of marriage” and to “desecrate the Western Wall by allowing Reform movements to enter.”
The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties announce that they have signed a vote surplus agreement for the upcoming Knesset elections.
The agreement means that any “extra” votes — votes that are over the threshold for the party’s final number of Knesset seats but below the threshold to receive another seat — are pooled between the two signatory parties in the hopes that together there will be enough to gain another seat for one of them. The additional votes are only counted if both parties pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold.
In a joint statement, UTJ and Shas say that the agreement “reflects the existing cooperation between the heads of the parties and the candidates, and that they will continue to work together during the coming term in full coordination.”
— Raoul Wootliff
While Blue and White’s newly released platform states that the party will “strengthen the settlement blocs” that most Israelis believe would remain part of the Jewish state in any peace deal, one settler leader blasts the plan as insufficient.
“The Etzion bloc will not be used as a fig leaf for those who want to divide the land and uproot thousands of Jews from their homes in order to fulfill false dreams and snap photographs on the White House lawn,” says Shlomo Ne’eman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council.
The council he heads contains several settlements that the Blue and White Party says it will strengthen if given the keys to the next government.
“There should be one law for all settlements in terms of construction, development and implementation of Israeli sovereignty,” says Ne’eman.
— Jacob Magid
The Central Elections Committee has — just barely — approved the candidacy of Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben Ari for the Knesset, rejecting petitions that claimed he should be banned for racist positions.
Fifteen members of the committee vote in favor of barring Ben Ari from running, while 16 vote against the action — this despite Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s recommendation to strike down the candidacy.
The committee also approves the technical union of Otzma Yehudit and Jewish Home in the Union of Right Wing Parties, a union that is expected to end after the election. Only one member votes against the move, 25 vote in favor and five abstain.
The battle over Otzma Yehudit’s candidates is expected to continue in the High Court of Justice.
Following the vote on Michael Ben Ari, the Central Elections Committee has voted similarly to approve the candidacy of his fellow Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir.
As with Ben Ari, 15 members of the committee vote to reject Ben Gvir’s candidacy and 16 vote against, defeating the motion.
The Labor party says the Blue and White party’s newly released political platform proves the party is “right-wing.”
Labor says “those who run from a two-state solution will end up with one state with an Arab majority and an end to the Zionist vision.”
Earlier today, Labor leader Avi Gabbay said he hopes Blue and White leader Benny Gantz forms the next government.
Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir says Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has called to bar the party’s Michael Ben Ari from running, “should engage in self-examination.”
He calls the attorney general’s position “an attempted assassination” against the political aspirations of his party, and says justice officials are trying to thwart Otzma Yehudit’s stated intention of getting a representative into the nation’s Judicial Selection Committee.
Ben Gvir thanks the Central Elections Commission for approving Ben Ari’s candidacy as well as his own, saying it “proved that it is independent and unbiased.”
A Jordanian court sentences two men to 10 years in prison with hard labor for planning an attack against Israeli forces on the countries’ borders.
The state security court in Amman rules that the men, Jordanians both in their twenties, had planned to target Israeli soldiers with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a pistol.
They had hatched the plan last year after US President Donald Trump announced his controversial decision to recognize the city of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, sparking outrage among Palestinians, a court document says.
One of those convicted planned “to carry out an armed terrorist operation… after [Trump’s] decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and over the abuses against Palestinians by the Israeli army,” it says.
Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg says the Central Elections Committee’s “embarrassing” decision to “ignore the attorney general and save the Kahanists” by approving the candidacy of Otzma Yehudit members is “a mark of shame for the Knesset.”
She says her party will appeal to the High Court of Justice.
The Reform movement also lambastes the decision saying the committee, which is made up members of the various Knesset factions, “has given backing to racism and incitement and has failed shamefully to enact the law.
The movement says it provided the committee with “an extensive basis of evidence the proves Michael Ben Ari’s longstanding incitement and racism.”
The Polish government says it is considering carrying out exhumations at a World War II-era site where Jews were burned alive in a barn by their Polish neighbors, something which would violate Jewish religious law.
The matter concerns the 1941 pogrom in the Polish town of Jedwabne, where Poles burned alive more than 300 Jews during the German wartime occupation of the country.
An exhumation began in 2001 but was stopped at the time by then-justice minister Lech Kaczynski out of respect for Jewish sensitivities.
Moving forward with the exhumations would threaten new controversy following recent spats with Israel related to Holocaust memory.
Labor MK Stav Shaffir says she too will appeal to the High Court of Justice against the Central Elections Committee’s decision to approve the candidacy of Otzma Yehudit leaders.
“We will make sure to distance these violent and inciting racists…from the legislature,” she says.
Two swastikas drawn in blood have been discovered at a public park in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the incident discovered Monday as a possible hate crime, according to KCBS-TV.
The park is located near the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, though police do not believe the swastikas and the museum are connected.
Investigators believe the blood came from someone who had suffered an accident, a self-inflicted injury or a criminal act, Officer Norma Eisenman told CBS.
Americans’ support for Israel is at its lowest point in a decade, according to a new Gallup poll.
The survey found that 59 percent of Americans sympathize more with Israelis in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, down from 64% in 2018 (which was itself a high point for the past two decades). Meanwhile 21% favor the Palestinians, the same figure as last year and the highest level of support since 2001.
Republican support for the Jewish state was at 76%, down from 2018’s all-time high of 87%. Democrats’ support, meanwhile, dropped from 49% to 43%, the lowest level of support since 2005.
Support for Israel among Democrats has particularly dwindled among those who describe themselves as liberal. The net sympathy towards Israel among this group — the percentage who favor Israel minus those who side with the Palestinians — has dropped from 17% in 2013-2016 to 3% in 2017-2019.
For the third time today, a suspicious device attached to a cluster of balloons launched from the Gaza Strip lands inside a community in the southern Israeli Eshkol region and explodes, the local government says.
The device caused neither injury nor damage.
“We do not know for sure if it contained explosive material, but it did contain something burning — a coal or a detonator,” an Eshkol spokesperson says in a statement.
“We’re repeating the instructions [for residents]: Be aware and in any case of finding a suspicious object, walk away, don’t touch it and report it to your community’s security liaison,” he says.
Earlier in the day, two explosive devices flown into Israel detonated over communities in Eshkol, also not causing injury or damage.
After a brief lull, Palestinians in the Strip again began launching balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel in recent weeks. So far, no Israelis have been injured by the airborne attacks, though damage was caused to a home in the Eshkol region last week.
— Juda Ari Gross
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman travel to an undisclosed site where the US has deployed its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system as part of a drill.
The two received a briefing from commanders in the field and toured the site.
The THAAD system serves to protect against ballistic missiles, including those carrying nuclear warheads.
The two say the deployment is a sign of the close cooperation between the allies and of American commitment to Israel’s security.
Iran and France are set to exchange ambassadors, officials say, after months of tensions including over an alleged Iranian plot to bomb an opposition rally near Paris.
Bahram Ghasemi, a former envoy to Spain and Italy and current spokesman of the foreign ministry, has been appointed as Iran’s new ambassador to France, an official source in Tehran says.
In Paris, the Official Gazette says that Philippe Thiebaud, a former envoy to Pakistan who once represented France at the UN atomic watchdog, has been appointed as ambassador to the Islamic republic.
Ghasemi and Thiebaud will fill posts that had been vacant for more than six months after a series of diplomatic fallouts between France and Iran broke out last year.
Blue and White’s Yair Lapid lambastes the Kulanu party and its leader Moshe Khalon for sitting out the vote at the Central Elections Committee on approving the candidacy of Otzma Yehudit party members.
“Kulanu decided to be absent from the vote and to allow this group of violent racists to run for the Knesset,” he tweets.
Kulanu is running its campaign for reelection under the slogan of “A sane right-wing” and has depicted Kahlon alongside the image of Likud founder Menahem Begin.
גם מנחם בגין גויס למילואים בתנאי קבע, בקמפיין של כחלון. pic.twitter.com/BmqnqtLsFF
— Rafi Mann (@RafiMann) February 27, 2019
Lapid begs to differ: “This isn’t a sane right-wing. It’s not right-wing at all. If Begin could he would peel himself off of Kahlon’s posters out of shame.”
The vote to approve Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben Gvir was passed by a single point advantage. Had Kulanu’s three members on the committee opposed, the party’s candidates would have been struck down.
Moshe Kahlon’s decision not to partake in vote on Otzma Yehudit’s candidacy is also taking flak from the right.
Betzalel Smotrich of Jewish Home, Otzma Yehudit’s partner in the Union of Right Wing Parties, welcomes “the reveal of the true face of Moshe Kahlon, who has tried in recent weeks to dress up as ‘right-wing’ but was the only one in the coalition today not to support democracy and the freedom of expression and choice.
“Kahlon is left-wing. Period,” he says.
Police and the state prosecution are looking into the possibility of opening a probe into the Otzma Yehudit party’s Michael Ben Ari for racist incitement, Channel 13 news reports.
Officials involved in the review of Ben Ari’s conduct are expected to file a report in the coming weeks, which will lead to a decision on whether to pursue the case, the network says.
In response Otzma Yehudit says Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan are seeking to “influence Israel’s election process and tarnish Dr. Ben Ari’s character” and calls for such attempts to be “rejected outright.”
Israel and Jordan are holding talks in an effort to end the conflict over a contested religious area near Jerusalem’s Golden Gate, according to Hebrew media reports.
The site’s longstanding closure has ignited tensions between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police in recent weeks. Worshipers have forced it open and entered on several occasions.
Jordan oversees the Waqf, the religious custodians of the Temple Mount.
Haaretz reports that Jordan has offered for the site be closed for long-term renovations. While Israelis have agreed, they’ve insisted it must first be closed without renovations taking place, as a statement of Israeli authority. This disagreement reportedly led to talks breaking down.
Several hundred Palestinians are reportedly participating in protests along the Gaza border.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says four people have been injured by Israeli gunfire.