French police arrest four over Lyon package bomb blast
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MKs approves special committee to dissolve Knesset

Netanyahu urges Liberman to reconsider joining his government, says he’s ‘doing everything possible’ to solve coalition deadlock, avert snap polls

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the Knesset's winter session on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the Knesset's winter session on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

Gantz says Blue and White will vote against bill to dissolve Knesset

Benny Gantz says his opposition Blue and White party will not back a motion to dissolve the Knesset at a plenum vote later today.

“Netanyahu’s entire goal is to evade justice,” he says according to reports. “The silence from the sheep in Likud is embarrassing. They are paralyzed in fear.”

Opposition parties meet to coordinate stance on dissolving Knesset

Opposition parties are convening a meeting to coordinate positions ahead of a Knesset vote on holding new elections.

According to reports Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg says the opposition parties will likely vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset if there is no possibility of forming a center-left government.

According to reports, the opposition’s Blue and White and Labor parties are not in favor of dissolving the Knesset.

US wants Israel and Cyprus to head off Russian influence in eastern Mediterranean

A senior US lawmaker says the US wants to work with Cyprus and ally Israel to buttress peace in the eastern Mediterranean and to head off Russian influence over the region’s energy reserves.

Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says the US is looking for friendly nations in the region that share core democratic values in light of what he calls Russia’s “malevolent machinations.”

After meeting the Cypriot president earlier today, Engel says Russia “should not be able to control the situation” over Cyprus’ rights to offshore gas deposits.

Engel says he believes there will be progress in efforts to lift a 32-year-old US arms embargo on Cyprus, adding that “this is no longer the 1970s and we have to look at each problem with a fresh look.”

— AP

Liberman says no deal with Netanyahu: ‘We will not sit in a halachic government’

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avidgor Liberman says there is no way his party will join a Netanyahu-led government, saying that during negotiations “we made clear that we have no intention of compromising our values.”

“We will not be partners in a halachic government,” he says at a press conference ahead of a plenum vote to dissolve the Knesset.

He says his secularist Yisrael Beytenu party will vote in favor of a Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the Knesset later today.

Liberman accuses Likud of spreading lies about the negotiations in a bid to make it appear that his opposition to the coalition agreement was a personal vendetta.

“We were very practical and very clear, but Likud is trying to create a narrative of a personal vendetta using their propaganda machine.”

Liberman: Stalin-era Pravda more objective than pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom

Liberman slams the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom as more slanted in its reporting than the Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda during the years of Joseph Stalin.

“Even Pravda in the days of Stalin was more believable and more objective than Israel Hayom,” he says.

He accuses Likud and Netanyahu allies of spinning the unraveling coalition talks in the media as a a result of a personal vendetta against Netanyahu.

“They are trying to take the easy way out and blame me,” Liberman says. “If Likud needs to blame someone, they should look in the mirror.”

This morning, Israel Hayom’s front page headline read: “Deceit: and his name is Liberman.”

In last-ditch effort, Likud implores Liberman to avoid toppling right-wing government

The Likud party tells Liberman not to participate in the toppling of a right-wing government, after the Yisrael Beytenu chairman announced that his secularist party would not join a Netanyahu-led government.

“The faction heads have agreed that the minute Liberman signs the coalition agreement, the the coalition negotiations with all the other parties will conclude, based on the understanding that have already been reached,” the party says in a statement.

“We are inviting Liberman to join us today, and not have a hand in toppling a right-wing government,” says the statement released in response to Liberman’s press conference.

Would-be coalition informs speaker of intention to dissolve Knesset

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein receives a letter signed by coalition heads expressing their intention to advance the Likud bill to dissolve the government after negotiations between the parties broke down.

The letter is submitted at Eledstein’s request, and includes Liberman’s signature.

Earlier, Liberman said at a press conference that he would not join a “halachic government” and backed the measure to dissolve the Netanyahu-led government.

Germany commits to ensuring security for Jews with skullcaps

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman is stressing that Germany’s responsibility to ensure security for all Jews wearing skullcaps anywhere in the country without having to fear an anti-Semitic attack.

Steffen Seibert’s comments come after the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, was quoted Saturday as saying he “cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany.” That was criticized strongly by Israel’s president, among others.

Seibert says “it’s the job of the state to ensure that anybody can move around securely with a skullcap in any place of our country.”

Illustrative – file picture from June 10, 2014 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, shows a man wearing a Jewish kippa skullcap with the flags of Germany and Israel (Frank Rumpenhorst / dpa / AFP)

Government statistics released earlier this month showed that the number of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner incidents rose in Germany last year, despite an overall drop in politically motivated crimes.

— AP

Arab parties considering running on joint list if new elections called — report

The Ra’am-Balad and Hadash-Ta’al factions are meeting to discuss the possibility of running on a joint list if the Knesset is dissolved and new elections are held, according Channel 13 News reports.

The parties — Hadash, Ta’al, Balad and United Arab List (Ra’am) — formed the Joint (Arab) List ahead of the 2015 elections, but broke off into the two smaller factions before the April 9 vote.

Speculation is mounting over the possibility of fresh elections as Netanyahu has been unable to reach a deal with potential coalition partners.

Balad chairman Mansour Abbas says on Twitter that his faction will vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset at a plenum vote later today.

Brush fire near Gaza border; arson balloons suspected

Firefighters are battling a brush fire in a nature reserve adjacent to the Gaza Strip this afternoon.

According to reports, authorities suspect the fire in Be’eri Forest, across the border from the central Gaza Strip, was sparked by incendiary balloons flown across the border from the Palestinian territory.

Toning down rhetoric, Trump says not targeting regime change in Iran

The United States does not seek “regime change” in longtime foe Iran, President Donald Trump says during a historic visit to meet Japan’s new emperor.

Iran “has a chance to be a great country, with the same leadership. We’re not looking for regime change, I want to make that clear. We’re looking for no nuclear weapons,” he says at a joint press conference in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“I really believe that Iran would like to make a deal. I think that’s very smart of them and I think there’s a possibility for that to happen also,” he says.

Trump had earlier opened the door to negotiations with Tehran, saying: “If they’d like to talk, we’d like to talk also.”

US President Donald Trump (L) speaks during a joint press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on May 27, 2019. (Kiyoshi Ota / POOL / AFP)

The comments are in marked contrast to growing concerns in Washington about conflict after the administration dispatched an aircraft carrier, bomber planes and 1,500 extra troops to the region in response to alleged Iranian threats.

Trump has sought to dismantle an international agreement meant to reward Iran for opening its nuclear program to outside controls, instead adding crippling new US sanctions seen by many as aimed at bringing down the government.


Sara Netanyahu a no-show at arbitration talks in catering case

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, has reportedly skipped today’s arbitration talks in the so-called catering case.

The Ynet news site says Sara Netanyahu didn’t show up to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for arbitration, which was supposed to include state prosecutors.

The talks will be re-scheduled for a later date.

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, on October 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sara Netanyahu was charged last year with fraud and breach of trust over allegations she and a residence caretaker misused some $100,000 in funds on catered meals while there was a full-time chef on staff.

According to reports, the arbitration talks to settle the case have recently hit a wall over Sara Netanyahu’s refusal to return over $100,000 in state funds as demanded by prosecutors.

Route 444 near Petah Tikva closed to due brush fire

Route 444 near the central city of Petah Tikva is closed to vehicles due to a brush fire near the road.

The north-south highway is closed to vehicles in both directions between the Barkat and Shoham interchanges. Police are asking drivers in the area to use alternate routes.

French police arrest four over Lyon package bomb blast

French police arrest four people over a package bomb explosion in the heart of the southeastern city of Lyon last week which injured 13 people, authorities say.

A police raid is under way in a building in the Oullins suburb just south of the city, a few hours after the arrest of the suspected bomber, a 24-year-old Algerian IT student.

Soldiers of French anti-terrorist plan ‘Vigipirate Mission,’ secure the access near the site of a suspected bomb attack in central Lyon, Friday May, 24, 2019. (AP/Sebastien Erome)

The man’s parents were later arrested and taken in for questioning, as well as a second student of Algerian nationality who is a family relation, according the Paris prosecutor’s office, which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases in France.

The suspect was previously unknown to police, Lyon’s Mayor Gerard Collomb says.


Austria Chancellor Kurz loses confidence vote

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz loses a confidence vote in parliament, removing him from office over a corruption scandal that brought down his coalition government.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (2ndR) and Interior Minister Eckart Ratz (R) listen to speeches head of a confidence vote on May 27, 2019 in Vienna following the fallout from the “Ibiza-gate” scandal that toppled his coalition with the far-right. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

“An application (by the opposition Social Democrats) has been accepted, so he has lost the confidence,” says deputy parliamentary speaker Doris Bures.


Likud MK says ‘doing everything in our power’ to avert new elections

MK Miki Zohar says that even though Likud is advancing legislation to dissolve the Knesset it was still trying to work out a last-minute coalition deal to avert early elections.

“This is not something that we’re interested in, but we have arrived here through no fault of our own, and we are still doing everything in power to establish a government.

Zohar makes the remarks to the Knesset Arrangements Committee ahead of a discussion on a Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the Knesset as a deadline to form a coalition government nears with no progress in sight.

“I hope that even though we are advancing this legislation, we will be able to bring the negotiations to an end and not get dragged into an unnecessary election.”

Steinitz says Israel accepts US-mediated talks with Lebanon on sea border

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz says Israel has agreed to enter US-mediated talks with Lebanon on maritime borders that would have an impact on offshore oil and gas exploration.

After meeting US State Department official David Satterfield earlier today, Steinitz says that Israel agreed to move forward with the talks.

Lebanese officials said last week that Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, had informed them that Israel agreed to the negotiations. Israel did not comment at the time.

Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters, including for a block disputed by its southern neighbor Israel, with which it has fought several wars.


UN envoy says working with Egypt to broker Israel-Gaza calm

The UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov says the UN is working with Egypt to “provide calm for the region, with the understanding that this is what will prevent the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.”

Addressing a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies, Mladenov warns that the collapse of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees will destabilize the region and “won’t help Israel.”

Knesset committee okays vote to dissolve itself

The Knesset Arrangements Committee approves tonight’s plenum vote on Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the Knesset and trigger new elections.

MKs will debate the measure in the plenum this evening, and a preliminary vote on the bill is expected late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

If the bill passes, Israel would be in uncharted waters — sending the political system into disarray with a second snap election in just a matter of months.

Australian delegation apologizes for meeting with minister accused of aiding woman accused of child abuse in Melbourne

An Australian delegation has apologized for meeting yesterday with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is alleged to have pressured officials in his office to falsify their psychiatric evaluations to deem Malka Leifer unfit for extradition back to Melbourne, where she is charged with 74 counts of sexual abuse.

The delegation was organized by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, which seeks to promote business ties between Jerusalem and Canberra. It was hosting senior officials from the Australian state of Western Australia, including Deputy Health Minister Roger Cook.

Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman (third from R) meets with an Australian Health Ministry delegation for bilateral talks in his Jerusalem office on May 26, 2019. (Health Ministry)

“On reflection, the Chamber is profoundly sorry for facilitating the meeting with Litzman whilst there are serious allegations made against him and fully supports the campaign to bring Malka Leifer to justice in Australia. The Chamber sincerely apologises to the victims, their families and supporters for causing any hurt and pain,” the group’s director Paul Israel says in a statement, clarifying that his delegation had neglected to brief Cook on the allegations against Litzman beforehand.

In its own statement, Cook’s office says that “while the current court proceedings are a matter for the Israeli justice system, Minister Cook would never wish to cause pain or suffering to any alleged victims of child sex abuse.”

A private investigator tagged Malka Leifer as she spoke on the phone, while sitting on a bench in Bnei Brak, on December 14, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The Kol V’oz sexual abuse victims’ rights group, which lambasted the meeting with Litzman yesterday, thanks the chamber and the minister for their apologies. “Hopefully lessons have been learned, and we can all move on from this unfortunate saga. My thoughts continue to be with Leifer’s courageous alleged victims,” said Kol V’oz head Manny Waks.

— Jacob Magid

Trump hopes things ‘work out’ for Netanyahu amid coalition standoff

US President Donald Trump says he hopes things will “work out” for Netanyahu amid a coalition crisis that could provoke new elections only months after April 9 polls.

“Hoping things will work out with Israel’s coalition formation and Bibi and I can continue to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger than ever. A lot more to do!” he posts on Twitter.

Netanyahu, Liberman hold talks ahead of vote to dissolve Knesset

Netanyahu and Liberman are reportedly holding talks at the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence ahead of a Knesset vote to dissolve the parliament over deadlocked coalition negotiations.

Earlier, Netanyahu’s Likud party called on Liberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party to compromise on their demands on the ultra-Orthodox draft law and allow a coalition to be formed.

But Liberman said he had already made concessions and was not prepared to go further, adding he was ready for new elections if needed.

His party controls five seats in parliament and Netanyahu needs his support for the coalition he is seeking.

Bill to dissolve Knesset passes first plenum vote

The Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the Knesset passes a preliminary reading in a 65-43 plenum vote. Six lawmakers from the Hadash-Ta’al faction abstained.

Netanyahu announced earlier that he will address the Knesset tonight at 8 p.m.

Visiting Florida governor denounces BDS movement

Visiting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reiterates his opposition to the movement to boycott Israel, during a visit to University of Ariel in the West Bank.

“I say here: BDS has no place in Florida,” he says, during a ceremony the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (an MOU) between the University of Ariel and Florida State University.

“I personally have fought Airbnb’s discriminatory policy against Jewish-owned properties in Judea and Samaria, and only recently have they changed their discriminatory policy,” he says, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Russia, China to boycott Bahrain peace summitt

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Chinese Ambassador to Ramallah has assured him that both Russia and China have agreed to boycott the US-led Mideast peace summit in Bahrain next month.

The Palestinian Authority has rejected the economic conference planned for June, which is part of the rollout of the White House’s long-awaited Israel-Palestinian plan.

Netanyahu to announce new elections in Knesset address — report

Netanyahu will likely announce that his efforts to form a coalition have failed and that there is no option but to hold new elections in his Knesset address tonight, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

Earlier, Netanyahu met with Liberman in a last-ditch effort to reach a coalition deal that would prevent Israelis from going to the polls months after the April 9 vote. Reports said the talks were not successful.

Netanyahu urges Liberman to reconsider joining government to avert ‘unnecessary’ elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to join his governing coalition, and avert costly new elections this summer.

At a Knesset press conference, Netanyahu says he is “doing everything possible to form a right-wing government and prevent unnecessary elections that will cost billions of shekels.”

He says that Liberman is to blame for the deadlocked coalition talks.

“There’s no reason to do so and paralyze the country for another year and a half,” Netanyahu says. “There are excellent solutions, and if there’s the will, it can be solved within two minutes.”

Earlier, the Knesset plenum approved the Likud-drafted bill to dissolve the Knesset in a 65-43 plenum vote. The measure still needs to pass three more readings.

Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher church to undergo multi-million dollar restoration

The three churches in charge of Jerusalem’s holiest Christian site say they have reached an agreement to begin a multi-million dollar renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian churches issued a statement Monday announcing the project to restore the foundations and flooring of the church, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, entombed and resurrected.

The head of the Christian Communities in charge of the Status Quo in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Francesco Patton (L) custos of Franciscan friars, Theophilos III (C) Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and Nourhan Manoughian (R) Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem shake hands after they signed an agreement to initiate a project for the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the Old City of Jerusalem, on May 27, 2019. (THOMAS COEX / AFP)

A Greek team headed the 2016 restoration project to preserve the aedicule, a large structure inside the church housing the tomb. The upcoming second rehabilitation project will involve two Italian institutions.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by multiple Christian sects under a status quo management agreement. Even perceived alterations to the status quo have resulted in arguments or violence.

Plenum approves special committee to dissolve Knesset

Lawmakers approve the creation of a special committee tasked with preparing the legislation to dissolve the Knesset in a 64-46 plenum vote.

The bill already passed a preliminary reading earlier this evening, but needs three more votes in the plenum. If the bill passes the final readings scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday, Israel will be forced to hold new elections.

Earlier, Netanyahu said there was still time to avoid an “unnecessary” snap election, despite deadlocked coalition negotiations, and urged Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman to reconsider joining his government.

Likud instructs MKs to lay off Liberman ‘until further notice’

The Likud party is calling on its lawmakers to refrain from attacking Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, saying there is still a chance to reach a coalition agreement before the Wednesday deadline.

“Don’t attack [Liberman] until further notice,” the party says, in a statement. “Efforts are being made, and there is still hope that Liberman will back down and accept the solution that solves the Haredi draft issue and prevents the toppling of a right-wing government.”

IDF: Clashes with Lebanese rioters attempting to damage border fence

The Israeli military clashed with some 15 Lebanese nationals along the northern border, firing tear gas and stun grenades at them, after two men scaled the border fence and attempted to damage it, the army says.

According to Lebanese media, a riot broke out after Israel installed security cameras along the Blue Line, the internationally recognized dividing line between Israel and Lebanon.

The IDF says some 15 people participated in the riot, during which “two suspects climbed the fence and tried to damage it.”

The military says the demonstration dispersed shortly after the soldiers fired the less-lethal weapons at them.

— Judah Ari Gross

Gantz: Netanyahu could have functioning government tomorrow if he wanted

Opposition chief Benny Gantz says Netanyahu could solve the coalition crisis if he wanted to, but will not do so because it does not serve his own political needs.

“What’s one more night of stagnation after 13 years?” he posts on Twitter, after Netanyahu made a last-minute appeal for Liberman to join his government.

“Bibi could get out of his chair and there would be a functioning government tomorrow, but this is how it goes when the citizens are always the secondary consideration.”

IDF strikes in Syria after Israeli fighter jet comes under fire

The IDF says that an Israeli fighter jet was fired at on a routine flight in the north of the country, near the Syrian border.

The army says the anti-aircraft shell that was fired at the Israeli plane fell inside Syrian territory, and the mission was completed as planned.

In response, the IDF says it struck the site where the shells were launched.

Reports in Syrian media say one person was killed and another injured in the Israeli strikes in the Quneitra area.

Likud meets to give Kulanu 2nd, 12th, 20th and final spots in joint list

The Likud secretariat will meet at 4 p.m. to approve Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to fold Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu into the Likud slate ahead of possible elections later this summer.

The vote is expected to pass despite opposition from ministers and others in the party concerned that they would be pushed down the list to slots with an unlikely chance of making it into the next Knesset.

Kulanu will be given the 2nd, 12th and 20th and final spots on the joint list. Meaning, if Likud receives 35 seats, a Kulanu MK will receive the 35th seat, according to the Haaretz daily.

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French police arrest four over Lyon package bomb blast

French police arrest four people over a package bomb explosion in the heart of the southeastern city of Lyon last week which injured 13 people, authorities say.

A police raid is under way in a building in the Oullins suburb just south of the city, a few hours after the arrest of the suspected bomber, a 24-year-old Algerian IT student.

Soldiers of French anti-terrorist plan ‘Vigipirate Mission,’ secure the access near the site of a suspected bomb attack in central Lyon, Friday May, 24, 2019. (AP/Sebastien Erome)

The man’s parents were later arrested and taken in for questioning, as well as a second student of Algerian nationality who is a family relation, according the Paris prosecutor’s office, which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases in France.

The suspect was previously unknown to police, Lyon’s Mayor Gerard Collomb says.