French judge drops hate crime charges against Arab gang in Jewish teen’s assault
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Liberman vows not to ‘succumb’ to Haredi ‘extortion,’ even if it means elections

As ultra-Orthodox parties threaten to topple government, Yisrael Beytenu party digs in and insists it will resist fast-tracking of military draft law

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to the press in a field just outside the  Gaza Strip on February 20, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to the press in a field just outside the Gaza Strip on February 20, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

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

Polish president asks forgiveness for 1968 persecution of Jews

WARSAW, Poland — Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday apologized to Jews chased out of the country 50 years ago during the communist regime’s anti-Semitic campaign.

“The free and independent Poland of today, my generation, is not responsible and does not need to apologize. But… to those who were driven out then… I’d like to say please forgive the Republic, Poles, the Poland of that time for having carried out such a shameful act,” Duda said.

His apology comes amid heightened tension between Poland and Israel over Warsaw’s new controversial Holocaust bill, which the Jewish state sees as a bid to deny that certain Poles participated in the genocide of Jews during World War II.

— AFP

Egypt condemns UN rights chief’s criticism ahead of vote

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemns the UN human rights chief’s critical statements on what he describes as the “pervasive climate of intimidation” in Egypt ahead of the presidential election later this month.

The ministry said in a statement late Wednesday that the UN report includes “baseless allegations” that reflect “deep disregard” for Egypt’s efforts to promote for human rights.

It also urged UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein “to stop attacking the Egyptian state.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is virtually certain to win another four-year term as he faces no serious challengers after a string of potential contenders withdrew under pressure or were arrested.

— AP

Serial home burglar in south caught after 3-day manhunt

Police in the south finally nab a serial home burglar who managed to escape from police custody earlier this week.

Amad Alkadi, 39, robbed a large number of homes in the city of Yavneh before he was finally caught by police on Monday. He was taken to the Yavneh police station.

But Alkadi managed to flee the station, and evaded a massive police manhunt for three more days before he was finally caught this morning in his hometown of Rahat by officers from the local police department.

According to the Ynet news site, he was captured after officers chased him down on foot through Rahat’s streets.

Environmental agency warns of airborne dust

The Environmental Protection Ministry warns Israelis of a massive dust storm that is sending large concentration of sand and dust into the air.

Starting in the afternoon hours, the ministry says, air pollution from high concentrations of dust will be felt nationwide, and will continue into the night.

Red Cross postpones aid convoy to war-battered Damascus suburb

A second convoy with desperately needed aid for the besieged rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus is postponed on Thursday because of violence and a rapidly evolving situation on the ground, the International Committee of the Red Cross says.

The postponement comes as Syrian government forces intensify their offensive on the area, known as eastern Ghouta, under the cover of airstrikes.

This photo released by the Syrian Red Crescent shows a convoy of vehicles of the Syrian Red Crescent arriving at Douma, eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Monday, March 5, 2018. (Syrian Red Crescent via AP)

The government forces seized more than half of the area, including a stretch of farmland on Wednesday, effectively dividing the besieged enclave in two and further squeezing the rebels and tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside, state media and a war monitor report.

The most densely populated areas in eastern Ghouta are still under rebel control, including the towns of Douma, Harasta, Kfar Batna, Saqba and Hammouriyeh.

— AP

Two men apprehended after stealing 150 chickens

Two residents of the Bedouin town of Tel Arad, both in their thirties, are arrested as they are allegedly caught in the act of stealing chickens from the agricultural village of Kerem Shalom.

The two reportedly had stolen livestock before. Their truck was tracked by a police helicopter and they were apprehended by Border Police forces on the way back from Kerem Shalom. At least 150 chickens were found in the truck.

Germans arrest Iraqi who allegedly planned attacks

German prosecutors say they have issued a formal arrest warrant for a 17-year-old Iraqi citizen who was allegedly planning to commit an extremist attack in either Germany or Britain.

Federal prosecutors say that Deday A., who was already detained on February 13 by local authorities in Frankfurt, is accused of having stored a large quantity of firecrackers in his apartment in the state of Hesse to use them to build a bomb.

Prosecutors say in the statement that A. is also accused of membership in the Islamic State group. They do not release any further details and don’t give his last name in line with German privacy rules.

— AP

Israel, Lebanon talking ‘nearly every day’ in bid to avoid conflict

Reuters reports that Israeli and Lebanese officials have been “holding talks nearly every day” over Lebanese complaints about a barrier Israel is erecting along the two countries’ borders.

A spokesperson for UNIFIL, the UN force in south Lebanon charged with keeping the peace and carrying out the UN’s demand in UNSC Resolution 1701 that Hezbollah disarm tells the wire service: “There is a full engagement from all the sides and there have been meetings almost on a daily basis. The dialogue is open. No one has ever walked out from these meetings.”

Lebanon and Israel also disagree about where each country’s economic waters lie, a dispute that sparked an exchange of threats between the two countries once natural gas reserves were believed to be located under the disputed zone.

Reuters adds:

Lebanon, Israel and UNIFIL were already holding three-way talks every few weeks in a building on the border near the peacekeepers’ base at Naqoura in southern Lebanon. They are now being held more often, [spokesperson Andrea] Tenenti said, along with indirect talks conducted through UNIFIL.

“There is a will to keep this dialogue open … I think now, beside the heightened rhetoric, the reality on the ground is different and there is no appetite for instability or for war,” Tenenti said.

Knesset members who once protested their raise now accept it

Just four lawmakers waived their salary raise in 2018, according to Channel 10.

After lawmakers voted in 2016 to raise their wages, many MKs protested. MKs’ salaries were already set at over NIS 35,000 per month, more than three times the average wage and over six times the minimum wage.

In 2016, amid the uproar, fully 32 lawmakers, or over a quarter of the Knesset, asked to forgo the raise. In 2017, it seems, 25 of them neglected to file the same request. Just seven refused the raise: David Amsalem, David Bitan, Eli Cohen, Mickey Levy, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Revital Swed and Ifat Sasa-Biton.

By 2018, that list had shrunk further to just four lawmakers: David Amsalem, Mickey Levy, Yossi Yona and Ofer Shelach.

Palestinians plan Gaza border tent protests for refugees

Hundreds of tents are to be erected near the Gaza-Israel border for a six-week show of support for Palestinian refugees, Palestinian officials say, in what may stir fresh tensions with Israeli forces.

Palestinian families are to set up hundreds of tents — possibly thousands — for the protests running from March 30 to May 15, organizers say.

Protesters plan to call for the right of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East to return to homes they fled in the war surrounding the 1948 creation of Israel.

Organizers say the families could stay in the tents for prolonged periods, with youth and community activities planned.

The demonstration has the backing of all political factions in the Gaza Strip, including its Islamist rulers Hamas.

— AFP

Hundreds of Haredi men block Jerusalem entrance over arrest of draft-dodger

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men demonstrated against the IDF military draft on Thursday, blocking the main entrance into Jerusalem during rush hour.

The so-called “Jerusalem faction,” consisting of several thousand followers of the late Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who passed away late last month, has been carrying out at-times violent protests against the military draft in recent months.

The protests aren’t over the actual drafting of ultra-Orthodox seminary students, who receive automatic draft waivers if they remain studying full-time in seminary during their draft years and for a few years afterward. But Auerbach’s followers have sought ways to stem a growing phenomenon of young Haredi men choosing to embrace military service, seeing it as a vehicle for their integration into the broader Israeli society and economy.

Thursday’s protest was sparked after a traffic cop discovered that a driver he had pulled over was listed as AWOL from the army because the young man, a student at Jerusalem’s Kol Torah Yeshiva, had refused to go through the IDF’s longstanding process for draft waivers, which involves officially joining the IDF, then obtaining the waiver and being discharged.

Police find hundreds of articles of forged name-brand clothing at Tel Aviv stall

Police catch hundreds of items of purportedly name-brand clothes that turned out to be forgeries at Tel Aviv’s Shuk Hacarmel.

The clothes were being sold at a stall in the outdoor market. A storage unit near the stall also housed fake bags from brands such as Louis Vuitton.

Afghan man admits to Vienna knife attacks, denies terror motive

A 23-year-old man held after two knife attacks in Vienna on Wednesday night confesses to both acts but denies any political motive, police say on Thursday.

The first attack near the Nestroyplatz metro station resulted in a couple and their 17-year-old daughter receiving severe injuries. The 67-year-old father is still in a critical condition, while the injuries of his two relatives are not thought to be life-threatening, police say.

The suspect, an Afghan national, blames his “aggressive feeling and rage about his life situation” for the stabbings, according to police spokesman Patrick Maierhofer.

Around half an hour later the man attacked another Afghan man in the Praterstern area. Maierhofer says the suspect knew the man and blamed him for his drug addiction problems. Police say the victim is not thought to be in a life-threatening condition.

— AFP

Hebrew language study sees decline among US college students

The Chronicle for Higher Education reports on a new study by the US-based Modern Language Association that finds a general decline in foreign language study among American undergraduates — and an especially steep decline in the study of Hebrew, both biblical and modern.

According to the Chronicle, “enrollment in language courses other than English fell 9.2 percent in colleges and universities in the United States between the fall of 2013 and the fall of 2016.”

The sharpest declines were in Biblical and modern Hebrew, Italian, ancient Greek, and Portuguese programs, “which ranged from 17% to 24% drops.”

Only Japanese and Korean saw growth, at 3.1% and 13.7% respectively.

Likud MK Zohar hospitalized with chest pains

Likud MK Miki Zohar is hospitalized with chest pains.

According to officials at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon, the Kiryat Gat native was rushed to hospital after he reported experiencing the pains. He is in “good condition,” the hospital says.

German anti-Nazi crusader Heiko Maas to become foreign minister

Germany’s designated next foreign minister Heiko Maas is a sharp dresser with a steely edge, who has become the nemesis of far-right and online giants spreading hate speech.

As justice minister for the past four years, the 51-year-old became a passionate crusader against extremists who have railed, in the streets and online, against Germany’s mass influx of refugees and migrants since 2015.

In this April 5, 2017 file photo, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

A trained lawyer and passionate triathlete whose partner is a German TV actress, Maas is a relative newcomer to Berlin and has even less experience in international affairs.

He takes over the job of chief diplomat of Europe’s top economy from fellow Social Democrat (SPD) Sigmar Gabriel, who has fallen out of favor with the center-left party’s new leadership.

— AFP

Egypt says 105 terrorists killed in Sinai offensive

Egypt’s army says 105 terrorists have been killed in the military’s offensive in the Sinai peninsula.

At a press conference in Cairo, an army spokesman says Thursday that 16 members of Egypt’s security forces were killed in the operation and 19 more were wounded.

“The military operation will continue until terror in central and north Sinai is suppressed,” the spokesman says.

Liberman vows not to ‘succumb’ to Haredi ‘extortion,’ even if it means elections

As Israel’s politicians prepare for possible early elections, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman issues a statement flatly refusing to acquiesce to the ultra-Orthodox parties’ demand to pass a bill this week that would release ultra-Orthodox seminary students once and for all from the military draft.

Israelis “are being held hostage to a group of extremists,” Liberman says, referring to the lawmakers from the United Torah Judaism party threatening to topple the government if such a law isn’t passed. “They threaten to drag us all to unnecessary elections, in the middle of a complex security situation, and demanding that we submit to their extortion.”

Yisrael Beytenu “won’t surrender our principles,” he vows, and calls for a military draft compromise to be based on the military’s needs, and not Haredi lawmakers’ demands.

Liberman’s apparent decision to stick to his guns may make elections all but inevitable, as ultra-Orthodox parties will find it more difficult to give up on a law in whose name they have already publicly threatened to topple the government.

Photos from ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem

Photos from today’s ultra-Orthodox protest at the entrance to Jerusalem, after police arrested a Haredi draft-dodger.

Ultra orthodox Jewish men protest against the army draft, at the entrance to Jerusalem on March 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ultra orthodox Jewish men protest against the army draft, at the entrance to Jerusalem on March 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police use water cannon to disperse ultra-Orthodox draft protesters on March 8 2018 (Police spokesperson)
Mounted police disperse an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Israel Police)
Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators stop traffic to protest the arrest of a draft-dodger in Jerusalem, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Israel Police)
Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators stop traffic to protest the arrest of a draft-dodger in Jerusalem, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Israel Police)
Police work to contain an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Israel Police)

Police deny opening new graft probe in the wake of PM confidant’s testimony

Much has been made in recent days of unconfirmed reports about the allegedly explosive testimony delivered to police by former Netanyahu confidant Nir Hefetz in three corruption probes surrounding the prime minister, cases dubbed by police “1000,” “2000” and “4000.”

Police had to issue a special statement Thursday denying widespread media reports that Hefetz’s testimony had already incriminated two other Likud ministers, saying the reports were simply false and that Hefetz’s information did no such thing.

Now, Hadashot television reports that a “senior official” is denying separate reports according to which Hefetz’s testimony had led to the opening of new corruption investigations.

French judge drops hate crime charges against Arab gang in Jewish teen’s assault

NICE, France — A French judge drops hate crime charges against Arab teenagers who allegedly assaulted a Jewish teenager outside a synagogue near Paris, a watchdog group says.

The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, protested in a Tuesday statement the omission from the indictment of the suspects in the February 28 assault in Montmagny.

Jewish groups, including CRIF and BNVCA, have praised the French authorities efforts to protect Jews, but also criticized the judiciary’s perceived failure to address the aggravated element of hate crimes in several cases of violence against Jews.

In the Montmagny assault, the alleged attackers, aged 14 and 15, called the Jewish boy, his sister and brother “dirty Jews” at the park where they were playing, Le Parisien reported, based on police sources. According to BNVCA, all four suspects are of Arab descent. The boy said the assailants beat him with a stick and took away his kippah, which he was wearing when they approached him.

BNVCA says it was “dismayed” by the judge’s decision, which the group says runs “totally contrary” to the law.

— JTA

Several hurt in reported training accident at Hamas facility in Gaza

Several people are said hurt in a training accident at a Hamas training facility in the Gaza Strip, according to media reports in Gaza cited by Hebrew-language media this evening.

The facility is located at the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City.

There are no reports of deaths. According to the Walla news site, Hamas is refusing to publicize any details about the incident.

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French judge drops hate crime charges against Arab gang in Jewish teen’s assault

NICE, France — A French judge drops hate crime charges against Arab teenagers who allegedly assaulted a Jewish teenager outside a synagogue near Paris, a watchdog group says.

The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, protested in a Tuesday statement the omission from the indictment of the suspects in the February 28 assault in Montmagny.

Jewish groups, including CRIF and BNVCA, have praised the French authorities efforts to protect Jews, but also criticized the judiciary’s perceived failure to address the aggravated element of hate crimes in several cases of violence against Jews.

In the Montmagny assault, the alleged attackers, aged 14 and 15, called the Jewish boy, his sister and brother “dirty Jews” at the park where they were playing, Le Parisien reported, based on police sources. According to BNVCA, all four suspects are of Arab descent. The boy said the assailants beat him with a stick and took away his kippah, which he was wearing when they approached him.

BNVCA says it was “dismayed” by the judge’s decision, which the group says runs “totally contrary” to the law.

— JTA