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Senior investigators pulled from Netanyahu graft cases

Police say Chief Superintendent Meshulam and his deputy will still contribute to indictment recommendations despite being transferred off year-long probes into PM

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a tour of the Jerusalem Police headquarters at the Russian compound in Jerusalem, October 7, 2015. (GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a tour of the Jerusalem Police headquarters at the Russian compound in Jerusalem, October 7, 2015. (GPO)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife, Sara, host Polish President Andrzej Duda (second from right) and his wife, Agata Kornhauser, at the president's residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife, Sara, host Polish President Andrzej Duda (second from right) and his wife, Agata Kornhauser, at the president's residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
  • Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during the official ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland, April 19, 2016. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)
    Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during the official ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland, April 19, 2016. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)
  • This file photo from March 15, 2016, shows casino mogul Steve Wynn at a news conference in Medford, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
    This file photo from March 15, 2016, shows casino mogul Steve Wynn at a news conference in Medford, Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 28, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 28, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
  • A billboard supporting Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in the presidential election scheduled for March hangs in downtown Cairo, Egypt, on January 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
    A billboard supporting Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in the presidential election scheduled for March hangs in downtown Cairo, Egypt, on January 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
  • Blackhawk helicopters were featured in a hostage rescue drill at a Jordanian military base near the town of Zarqa, Jordan, on January 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Muntasser Akour)
    Blackhawk helicopters were featured in a hostage rescue drill at a Jordanian military base near the town of Zarqa, Jordan, on January 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Muntasser Akour)
  • The remains of the ancient Ain Dara temple in Syria. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Odilia, Wikipedia)
    The remains of the ancient Ain Dara temple in Syria. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Odilia, Wikipedia)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

Netanyahu: Claims Rwanda isn’t safe for deported migrants are ‘a joke’ – report

At the opening of a meeting of Likud party cabinet members, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defends Israel’s plans to deport tens of thousands of African migrants to a third country.

Netanyahu tells ministers that Rwanda is a safe country for Israel to deport African migrants to as the United Nations is already taking care of nearly two hundred thousand refugees in the African state, Hadashot news reports.

Netanyahu has announced deals to send migrants to third-party countries in Africa, but has refused to publicly divulge where they are. Media reports have focused on Rwanda and Uganda as the destination countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 24, 2018. (GPO)

“There are 180,000 refugees sitting there under the protection of the UN, so the claims that it is dangerous are a joke,” Netanyahu says, reportedly about Rwanda.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called “Infiltrator’s Law” paving the way for the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March, and the indefinite imprisonment of those who refuse to leave “voluntarily.”

IKEA says founder Ingvar Kamprad has died at 91

Ingvar Kamprad, the IKEA founder who turned a small-scale mail order business into a global furniture empire, has died at 91, the company says.

IKEA Sverige, the chain’s Swedish unit, says on Twitter that Kamprad died Saturday at his home in Smaland, Sweden.

“He will be much missed and warmly remembered by his family and IKEA staff all around the world,” the company says.

Born March 30, 1926, Kamprad was a precocious entrepreneur who sold matchboxes to neighbors from his bicycle. He found that he could buy them in bulk very cheaply from Stockholm, and sell them at a low price but still make a good profit. From matches, he expanded to selling fish, Christmas tree decorations, seeds, and later ballpoint pens and pencils.

Later in life, his name often appeared on lists of the world’s richest men, but he never adopted the aura of a tycoon. He drove a modest Volvo and dressed unassumingly. In a 1998 book that he co-authored about IKEA’s history, he described his habit of visiting vegetable street markets right before they closed for the day, hoping to get a better price on their goods.

— AP

Russian police detain opposition leader Alexei Navalny at rally

Police on Sunday detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a rally in Moscow which he had called to protest March presidential polls expected to extend Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin term to 2024.

“I have been detained,” Navalny tweeted. “This means nothing. Come to Tverskaya (Avenue),” he said, referring to Moscow’s main thoroughfare.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, sits at the Russia’s Central Election commission in Moscow, Russia, December 25, 2017. (Evgeny Feldman/Navalny Campaign via AP)

— AFP

Court rejects journalist’s appeal of NIS 100,00 libel damage award to Netanyahus

The Tel Aviv District Court rejects an appeal by a journalist who was told to pay compensation of  NIS 100,000 ($28,300) to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara following a libel lawsuit against him.

The Netanyahus filed a defamation suit against Igal Sarna in 2016 after he alleged in a Facebook post that Sara had stopped the prime minister’s convoy on a major highway and kicked her husband out of the car on the side of the road.

Israeli journalist Yigal Sarna waits at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on March 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Heidi Levine)

In its latest ruling, the court rejects his claim that the libel lawsuit was filed to try and shut him up by overwhelming him with legal fees until he withdrew his comments.

“The lawsuit that was not filed expressing criticism or giving an opinion but in the matter of a factual publication of something that happened,” Judge Abigail Cohen says. “The suit filed for a proportionate amount.”

— Stuart Winer

 

PM bemoans lack of privacy after wife heard berating aide in secret recording

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife slam the press after a secret recording of Sara Netanyahu was broadcast in which she can be heard screaming at a media adviser working for the family.

“We have had enough of secret recordings and the breakdown of the norms of privacy, all in the name of slandering the Netanyahu family,” says a statement by the Netanyahus. “This is a prejudicial and vicious publication of secret recording from nine years ago.”

The response comes after Walla news broadcast a 2009 recording of Sara Netanyahu berating a media adviser for a brief news article which said “the wife of the prime minister also has to to do public work.”

“What is this?” Sara Netanyahu can be heard shouting down the phone. “Why? Why? This wife of the prime minister does public work every day! In her professional work! I am doing it as a woman of the profession as an educated woman! Psychologist BA! MA! That’s it!”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara visits cancer patients and their parents at a protest tent in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on June 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sara Netanyahu is trained and works as an educational psychologist.

In their statement, the Netanyahus say that the prime minister’s wife “devotes a significant amount of her time towards treating children, their families… as an expert psychologist.”

Earlier this month recordings of the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, were broadcast in which he could be heard making disparaging comments about women during a night of excess in a series of Tel Aviv strip clubs and trying to parlay, apparently in jest, a gas deal worth billions of dollars into cash for strippers from a gas tycoon’s son.

Yemen president orders his forces to cease fire in Aden

Yemen President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi orders his forces to cease fire immediately in interim capital Aden after fierce clashes with southern separatists.

The call comes in a communique issued by Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher to the commanders of government forces in the southern port city.

“Based on instructions from President Hadi, supreme commander of the Yemeni armed forces, and after talks with the Arab coalition… you must order all military units to cease fire immediately,” says the communique.

It orders government forces “to return to base,” and said all positions taken on Sunday should be vacated by all sides unconditionally.

— AFP

Afghanistan says death toll from Kabul bombing rises to 103

Afghan authorities raise the death toll from Saturday’s suicide bombing in Kabul to 103.

The attacker, driving an ambulance filled with explosives, was able to race through a security checkpoint by saying he was transferring a patient to a hospital. The explosion damaged or destroyed dozens of shops and vehicles in the heart of the city, near government buildings.

Afghan security personnel take position at the rooftop of the Intercontinental Hotel during a fight between gunmen and Afghan security forces in Kabul on January 21, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/WAKIL KOHSAR)

Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak says that in addition to the fatalities, 235 people were wounded in the attack.

He says the attackers drove two ambulances, both of which made it past the checkpoint before one of them turned around and left the area, indicating some of the attackers escaped.

— AP

RNC finance chairman Steve Wynn resigns amid sexual misconduct accusations

Casino operator Steve Wynn steps down from his position as Republican National Committee finance chairman following a report alleging sexual misconduct.

Wynn, 76, who is close to US President Donald Trump, denies the allegations published in the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

Wynn says in a statement that he cannot continue to effectively serve in his position with the “distraction” of the accusations. He says that the accusations stem from his ex-wife, Elaine, who he said is seeking a revised divorce settlement.

— with JTA

Netanyahu says he expects Polish Holocaust bill to be fixed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he expects Poland will amend proposed legislation that would outlaw the blaming of Poles for crimes committed during the Holocaust.

Netanyahu tells ministers that Israel has “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 21, 2018 (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

The lower house of the Polish parliament’s bill prescribes prison time for referring to “Polish death camps” and criminalizes the mention of Polish complicity.

The bill still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and president. Still, it marks a dramatic step by the nationalist government to enforce its official stance that all Poles were heroes during the war.

— AP

WJC: Poland’s Holocaust law a ‘historical obfuscation,’ an ‘attack on democracy’

The World Jewish Congress slams proposed Polish legislation that would outlaw the blaming of Poles for crimes committed during the Holocaust.

“While it is true that Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Majdanek, Chełmno, Sobibór and Bełżec should be referred to as ‘Nazi’ or ‘German’ camps in occupied Poland, it is a serious mistake for Poland to seek to criminalize those who do not adhere to this practice,” says WJC CEO Robert Singer.

“Having spent decades in the field of education, I deeply believe that this must be changed through a campaign of education, not criminalization. Poland’s new law is especially objectionable as it stifles any real confrontation with the most chilling aspect of the country’s wartime history – the extent to which local Poles were complicit in the destruction of their Jewish neighbors,” he adds.

“The passage of this law can only be seen as an act of historical obfuscation and an attack on democracy.”

Egypt Islamist party backs Sissi re-election bid

Egypt’s ultra-conservative Islamist Al-Nour party announces support of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi in his bid to be re-elected in March.

Sissi, who has been in power since 2014, appears set to run unopposed after all other presidential hopefuls announced they would not take part in the election on March 26-28.

Al-Nour chief Yunes Makhion says he is confident in Sissi’s policies on the economy, corruption, human rights and fighting terrorism, among others.

Egyptian Salafist al-Nour party leader Younes Makhioun (Screen capture: YouTube)

“The current president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, is the most capable to carry out these heavy responsibilities, and to bring cooperation between all the state’s institutions of the armed forces, police, and parliament,” says Makhion.

This unity “would achieve stability, and steer the country away from many dangers,” he says.

Sissi was elected president a year after heading the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood, amid mass protests against his one-year rule.

— AFP

Jordan marks handover of 12 US Black Hawk helicopters

Jordan marks the US’s delivery of 12 Black Hawk helicopters over the past nine months with a military ceremony, including a hostage rescue drill and a flyover.

The helicopters are meant to help secure the borders of Jordan against external threats, including from Islamic State extremists in neighboring Syria and Iraq. IS militants have been pushed back from large swaths of territory by a US-led military coalition in which Jordan plays a key role.

US Black Hawk helicopters. (Matti Friedman/Times of Israel)

Sunday’s ceremony at a Jordanian military base was attended by General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command.

The Royal Jordanian Air Force and its Quick Reaction Force showcased the Black Hawks in a drill showing the rescue of a wounded hostage.

The aircraft were delivered between March and December 2017.

— AP

Poland’s president promises to review Holocaust bill

Poland’s president vows to review a new bill that would outlaw the blaming of Poles for crimes committed during the Holocaust following a diplomatic fallout with Israel.

Poland’s rightwing-dominated parliament on Friday adopted legislation that sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as being Polish. The measure, intended to apply to both Poles and foreigners, must still pass the Senate before being signed by the president.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife, Sara, host Polish President Andrzej Duda (second from right) and his wife, Agata Kornhauser, at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

President Andrzej Duda says statement that he would present his “final evaluation of procedural legal provisions after the completion of parliament’s work and a careful analysis of the final shape of the act.”

Apparently addressing the concern that Holocaust survivors could be prosecuted for their testimony should it concern the involvement of Poles in war crimes, Duda says “everyone whose personal memory or historical research speaks the truth about the crimes and shameful behavior that occurred in the past with the participation of Poles has full right to this truth.”

— with AFP

Gaza police block women from attending soccer game

Gaza police are blocking dozens of women from attending a soccer game in the Gaza Strip, in what activists say they hoped would have been the first such permission under Hamas’s rule.

Authorities in the Palestinian enclave run by the terrorist Hamas group told the women they had orders not to allow them into the stadium at Nuseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City.

Some of the women instead watched the match between Al-Nuseirat and Al-Jalaa by standing outside the fence.

“We came here to encourage the team and youths in Nuseirat and watch the game, but we were surprised by the presence of Hamas security guards who closed the gates in our faces and did not allow us to go inside to cheer,” Ayat Othman, one of the women who tried to attend, says.

Female relatives of players have previously been allowed to attend games in Gaza, but Sunday’s match would have marked the first time under Hamas women could have attended on a large-scale basis, according to organizers.

— AFP

Ancient Syria temple damaged in Turkish raids

Syria’s antiquities department and a war monitor says a 3,000-year-old temple has been damaged in Turkish air strikes on a Kurdish militia in the country’s north.

The Iron Age neo-Hittite temple of Ain Dara dates back to the Aramean era, from around 1300 to 700 BC, and is named after a village located in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin.

Turkey launched Operation “Olive Branch” on January 20, against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, supporting Syrian opposition fighters with ground troops and air strikes.

The remains of the ancient Ain Dara temple in Syria. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Odilia, Wikipedia)

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said the temple was struck by air strikes on Friday.

“It has been destroyed up to 60 percent,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syria’s antiquities department, a government agency, confirmed the attack on “one of the most important monuments built by the Arameans in Syria during the first millennium BC”.

— AFP

Greenblatt slams Hamas for ‘wasting’ resources on tunnels

US envoy Jason Greenblatt tours a tunnel dug under the Gaza, slamming the Hamas terrorist group for using funds to bolster its military capabilities, rather than deal with the Strip’s worsening humanitarian situation.

Greenblatt, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Mideast peace, toured the Gaza border area with Israeli military officials, led by Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai, who is the top Defense Ministry official in charge of liaising with the Palestinian Authority.

He wrote on Twitter:

Senior police investigators pulled from PM corruption cases

Both the head of the investigation team probing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two separate graft cases, and his de facto deputy have been transferred to different units, just weeks before final police recommendations on indictments are expected, Channel 10 reports.

Chief Superintendent Moshe Meshulam, who has headed the year-long investigations, and Superintendent Dani Ofer, his number two, have been pulled from Cases 1000 and 2000 and moved to the international department of the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit.

Channel 10 quoted police sources as describing the moved as “inexplicable.”

Netanyahu is being investigated in two cases. Case 1000 relates to allegations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Police respond after senior investigators pulled from PM graft cases

Israel Police respond to a report by Channel 10 news that the two senior investigators probing alleged corruption by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been taken off his cases.

“The investigations are being carried out with full responsibility and seriousness by the skilled and professional investigation teams and under the supervision of the State Prosecution,” a police statement says. “These specific officers are still taking part in preparing the summary of the investigation.”

IDF warns Lebanese that Iran is turning their country into a ‘missile factory’

Israel’s top military spokesman accuses Iran of turning Lebanon into “one big missile factory,” in a rare Arabic op-ed published Sunday on Lebanese news outlets.

In the piece, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis says Iran’s extensive support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group had turned the country into a “branch” of the Islamic Republic.

“Lebanon is becoming by deed and by the failure of the Lebanese authorities into one big missile factory,” writes Manelis.

“It is no longer the transfer of weapons, money and advice. Iran has de facto opened a new branch — ‘the Lebanon Branch.’ Iran is here,” he adds.

France to ‘intervene’ if Jihadist nationals sentenced to death in Mideast

France says it “will intervene” in cases of its nationals sentenced to death in Iraq and Syria for belonging to jihadist organisations.

“Of course, if there was a question of the death penalty, the French state will intervene,” Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet tells a host of French media outlets.

Pressed on what this meant, Belloubet says France would “negotiate with the state in question… on a case by case basis.”

An Iraqi court sparked controversy last week after condemning to death by hanging a German woman of Moroccan origin, after finding her guilty of belonging to the Islamic State jihadist group.

Several dozen French nationals are believed to currently be held in detention in Iraq and Syria, after an international military coalition rolled back the jihadists’ advances.

— AFP

Iranian-American held in Iran jail granted brief leave over health concerns

An Iranian-American dual national held in Tehran is being granted a brief leave from prison over health concerns.

Lawyer Jared Genser says in a statement that his 81-year-old client will be out of Tehran’s Evin prison on a four-day leave. Namazi has undergone surgery already while imprisoned to have a pacemaker installed.

Genser says his client’s leave should be made permanent given his poor health.

Iranian state media did not immediately report Namazi being granted leave.

This undated photo released and made available by Babak Namazi, who is the brother of Siamak Namazi and son of Baquer Namazi, shows Baquer Namazi, left, and his son Siamak in an unidentified location. (Babak Namazi via AP)

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says: “We welcome the release of Baquer Namazi given his deteriorating health, but we note that his release is only temporary. We call for the immediate and full release of the Namazi family, including his son Siamek, as well as other Americans unjustly held by the Iranian government”

Baquer and Siamak Namazi are among several dual nationals held by Iran. Both Namazis are serving 10-year prison sentences after closed-door trials.

— AP

Polish Jews split on bill to outlaw ‘Polish death camp’ term

Leaders of Polish Jewry offer diverging reactions to the controversial bill passed Friday in the country’s parliament, which aims to criminalize the term “Polish death camps” and claims of complicity by Poland in Nazi crimes.

Artur Hoffman, the president of the TSKZ cultural organizations of Polish Jews says he strongly supports the bill, whereas Rabbi Eliezer Gur-Ari of the Chabad movement in Poland says he opposes it, the Israeli daily Makor Rishon reports.

“Israel and Jews all over the world need to help Poland fight this combination of words,” Hoffman says, referencing the term “Polish death camps” to describe facilities set up by Nazi Germans on Polish soil during their occupation of that country. “Everyone knows it’s just false, these were Nazi camps.”

But Gur-Ari said he opposes the bill because “it would be a great sin to erase the actions of the Poles during the Holocaust. Many of them collaborated. There were rescuers, but they were not the majority,” he tells Makor Rishon.

— JTA

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France to ‘intervene’ if Jihadist nationals sentenced to death in Mideast

France says it “will intervene” in cases of its nationals sentenced to death in Iraq and Syria for belonging to jihadist organisations.

“Of course, if there was a question of the death penalty, the French state will intervene,” Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet tells a host of French media outlets.

Pressed on what this meant, Belloubet says France would “negotiate with the state in question… on a case by case basis.”

An Iraqi court sparked controversy last week after condemning to death by hanging a German woman of Moroccan origin, after finding her guilty of belonging to the Islamic State jihadist group.

Several dozen French nationals are believed to currently be held in detention in Iraq and Syria, after an international military coalition rolled back the jihadists’ advances.

— AFP