Gantz-Lapid merger talks face serious obstacles — report
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High turnout in ruling Likud party primaries as polls set to close

PM Netanyahu said to invest significant efforts in blocking internal rival Gideon Sa’ar, in vote that will determine party’s slate in upcoming Knesset elections

  • Likud members cast their votes for the party list in primaries at the Tel Aviv Likud polling station on February 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Likud members cast their votes for the party list in primaries at the Tel Aviv Likud polling station on February 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Satellite photos released by ImageSat International appear to show three out of four missile launchers of the S-300 air defense system in the raised position in the northwestern Syrian city of Masyaf on February 5, 2019. (ImageSat International)
    Satellite photos released by ImageSat International appear to show three out of four missile launchers of the S-300 air defense system in the raised position in the northwestern Syrian city of Masyaf on February 5, 2019. (ImageSat International)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen hold a joint press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen hold a joint press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
  • Culture Minister Miri Regev casts her vote at the Likud primary polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin on February 5, 2019. (Flash90)
    Culture Minister Miri Regev casts her vote at the Likud primary polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin on February 5, 2019. (Flash90)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the complete lifting of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow on January 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the complete lifting of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow on January 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)
  • Illustrative. A wedding. (Shutterstock via JTA)
    Illustrative. A wedding. (Shutterstock via JTA)

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

More than a third of Jewish weddings in 2018 were outside the Rabbinate – report

The New Family organization says that almost 29,000 Jewish Israeli couples got married last year without updating the Chief Rabbinate — more than a third of all marriages and more than estimated thus far.

About 8,000 couples got married in a civil ceremony abroad, 7,000 had a religious ceremony not recognized by the Rabbinate — Reform, Conservative, Haredi or other — while 5,000 others had non-religious ceremonies in Israel and 5,000 got a domestic union card from New Family, according to the data.

The data was obtained by analyzing figures published by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Bituah Leumi national social security agency, the Foreign Ministry, courts, the Interior Ministry and the Immigration Authority.

Some 50,000 Israeli couples — Jewish, Muslim and Christian — got married through the state’s religious authorities in 2018, the report says.

While acknowledging that the numbers aren’t completely accurate due to difficulty in obtaining the data from official bodies, New Family says the data indicates how prevalent such marriages have become, marking a significant leap compared to previous years.

Egypt debates motion to extend presidential term limits

Egypt’s parliament is debating a motion to amend the country’s constitution, a move that could allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in office beyond his designated maximum two-term limit ending in 2022.

Lawmaker Haitham el-Hariri says today’s session will discuss the motion, which was submitted Sunday.

The proposed amendments also include the introduction of the role of vice president and a revived senate.

The motion is nearly certain to be adopted by the legislature, which is packed with Sissi supporters, but the amendments would also need to be put to a national referendum.

Sissi was elected in 2014, a year after leading the military’s overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president. He was reelected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to leave the race.

— AP

Turkey’s Erdogan slams US over delays in Syria buffer zone

Turkey’s president slams the US over delays in establishing a buffer zone in Syria, saying that if Washington won’t contribute to the effort, Ankara will do it alone.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump last month discussed setting up safe zone east of the Euphrates River in Syria.

Turkey has demanded Syrian Kurdish militia withdraw from there and Erdogan has been seeking logistical and financial assistance from Washington for that.

Erdogan says that if the US doesn’t keep to its promise to “cleanse the region of terrorists” and doesn’t contribute in the creation of a safe zone under Turkey’s control, “then we will take care of our own business.”

Erdogan warns Ankara’s patience is waning over delays in Kurdish fighters’ withdrawal from the Syrian town of Manbij.

This combination of file pictures created on August 11, 2018 shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) deliverling a speech during an AK party’s group meeting at the AK Party’s headquarters in Ankara, on January 26, 2018; and US President Donald Trump (R) during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 30, 2018.(Photos by ADEM ALTAN and SAUL LOEB / AFP)

— AP

Opposition activist slams US over Trump’s sharing of Netanyahu campaign ad

Uri Zaki, a member of the left-wing Meretz party, sends a letter to US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, asking Washington to refrain from intervening in the Knesset elections after US President Donald Trump posted a campaign ad for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his Instagram page.

“Israel is a free country and our elections, a corner-stone to any democratic regime, cannot be influenced by foreign governments,” writes Zaki, who founded a group called the Front for the Protection of Democracy.

“For that reason, many Israelis were shocked by the blunt intervention of the US President Mr. Donald Trump in the Israeli internal process, by indorsing and promoting the electoral campaign of the Chair of the Likud Party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, through his extremely influential social media accounts,” he continues.

“With great appreciation to our two great countries’ alliance, we ask that the United States government will cease to interfere in what has to be a free and independent electoral process. The US support should not and cannot become a political issue neither in Israel nor in the United States.”

Iran vows to teach Israeli leaders a ‘lesson’ if Syria strikes continue

A top Iranian official promises a “firm” response if Israel continues to strike targets in Syria.

“If these actions continue, we will activate some calculated measures as a deterrent and as a firm and appropriate response to teach a lesson to the criminal and lying rulers of Israel,” the Reuters news agency quotes Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, as saying, citing the Fars news agency.

Man dies after being hit by truck near Dead Sea

An employee working in a waste site near the Dead Sea dies after being hit by a truck.

Magen David Adom paramedics who came to the scene pronounce the 30-year-old man dead.

Authorities warn of flash floods in Negev, Dead Sea areas on Thursday, Friday

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority warns of possible flash floods that could be caused by rain in the Negev region and near the Dead Sea on Thursday and Friday.

Hikers shouldn’t enter or cross streams and riverbeds on foot or in vehicles until the water levels recede completely, it says in a statement.

Trump to tap critic of agency to lead World Bank — source

US President Donald Trump plans to nominate David Malpass, a Trump administration critic of the World Bank, to lead the institution.

That’s according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly on personnel decisions.

David Malpass, the US Under Secretary for International Affairs at the Treasury Department, right, speaks about Brexit during a meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, October 16, 2018, at the Treasury Department, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Trump is expected to make an announcement later this week.

Malpass, the undersecretary for international affairs at the Treasury Department, has been a sharp critic of the World Bank, especially over its lending to China.

Malpass would succeed Jim Yong Kim, who announced in January that he is stepping down three years before his term was set to expire.

The final decision on a successor to Kim will be up to the bank’s board.

Politico was first to report on the nomination.

— AP

Fake bomb threats prompt mass evacuations in Moscow area

Thousands of schoolchildren, office workers and shoppers were evacuated from over 100 buildings in and around Moscow today, reports say, in the latest wave of fake bomb threats to hit Russia.

Last week, 55 buildings were evacuated in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg and several other cities like Krasnoyarsk in Siberia and Volgograd in the south were forced to act after receiving similar threats.

Today’s alerts prompted the evacuation of some 20,000 people as authorities conducted sweeps, only to find nothing, news agencies report, citing the emergency services.

The false alarms targeted more than 90 buildings in Moscow and over 40 in the region of the capital, the TASS state news agency reports, citing an emergency services source.

Many of the warnings were sent by email and had very similar wording, Russian media reports say.

Hundreds of students gather outside the Russian State University of the Humanities in central Moscow, with the university saying it canceled all classes for the day due to a mass evacuation.

— AFP

Audio-only book features writer’s memories of Philip Roth

An upcoming audio-only book will feature an author’s memories of his complicated friendship with the late Philip Roth.

James Atlas’ “Remembering Roth” comes out March 1, the audio publisher and distributor Audible announces. Atlas, whose books have ranged from the memoir “My Life in the Middle Ages” to an acclaimed Delmore Schwartz biography, will reflect on a relationship which began in the late 1970s and continued for decades. Roth died last spring.

Author Philip Roth in the offices of his publisher Houghton Mifflin, in New York, September 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)

According to Audible, Roth and one of his literary heroes, Saul Bellow, would take walks together in Manhattan, where the two had apartments on the same block, and read each other’s work. (Atlas was among the few people Roth allowed to see a pre-publication edition of his novel “The Ghost Writer.”) In a 1979 profile which ran in The New York Times, Atlas wrote that Roth was “Discordant, manic, ebullient,” with “the verve of a Borscht-circuit comedian and a genius for mimicry.”

Their friendship was strained by Atlas’ biography of Bellow, a project that Atlas has written was suggested by Roth. Published in 2000, the book was condemned by many as an overly negative portrait.

Audible, which is owned by Amazon.com, is describing “Remembering Roth” as “Atlas’s deeply personal tribute to Roth delivered in his own voice.”

— AP

Israel’s failing postal service loses 1/8 of mail items — ombudsman

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s office releases a scathing report on the Israel Postal Company, saying that 13 percent of all letters or packages go missing and never reach their destination, and many others arrive after significant delays.

The Postal Company has struggled to modernize its operations and make them efficient despite years of public complaints, and its deputy CEO has acknowledged an “systemic service failure.”

The quality of the service provided to the public has deteriorated over the last decade, the report says, and postal costs have risen by 50% for private citizens and small businesses.

It gives an example from December 2017, when a large batch of letters sent by banks, insurance and telecommunications companies and other bodies — some likely containing personal and confidential information — were dumped in the street by employees of a mail delivery company.

Iran says Europeans aren’t buying oil despite US waivers

Iran says European nations have not responded to its offers to sell them crude oil despite having US waivers.

The semi-official Fars news agency quotes Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh as saying “we have called them many times, but they do not return our calls.” He does not name the oil importers, but appears to be referring to Greece and Italy, which were among eight nations granted waivers to import Iranian oil when the US restored sanctions in November.

The US began ramping up sanctions after President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers last year. Oil exports are a key source of revenue for Iran. The temporary waivers were intended to give countries more time to comply with the sanctions.

— AP

Netanyahu, Putin to meet in Moscow on February 21

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 21 for the first time in several months, the premier says.

Netanyahu and Putin spoke briefly in Paris three months ago, but haven’t sat down for a full meeting since July, before a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses in September. Moscow has blamed that incident on Israel, charging that Air Force jets had used the plane as a shield.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office says the leaders will discuss regional issues, Syria and strengthening the countries’ security cooperation.

Tomb of Karl Marx vandalized in London

Vandals have smashed and defaced the London tomb of Karl Marx in what the cemetery says appears to be a deliberate attack against the philosopher’s ideology.

Karl Marx (photo credit: International Institute of Social History, Wikimedia Commons)
Karl Marx (photo credit: International Institute of Social History, Wikimedia Commons)

A marble plaque with the names of Marx and his family — the monument’s oldest and most fragile part — was repeatedly hit with a blunt metal instrument, Ian Dungavell, who runs the cemetery trust, tells AFP.

The damage was discovered yesterday, he says.

“The name of Karl Marx seems to have been particularly singled out, so it wasn’t just a random smashing up of a monument — it seems a very targeted attack on Karl Marx,” says Dungavell, chief executive of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, the charity which runs the graveyard.

German revolutionary philosopher Marx moved to London in 1849 and lived in the British capital for the rest of his life. He died on March 14, 1883, aged 64.

— AFP

Amid Likud primaries, minister charges ‘leftist’ faction trying to affect vote

Culture Minister Miri Regev attacks members of an internal Likud faction that aims to challenge party doctrine, accusing them of “occupying south Tel Aviv” in their efforts to persuade primary voters to cast ballots for their candidates in today’s primaries.

“After the Sudanese conquered south Tel Aviv, now the New Likudniks are occupying south Tel Aviv,” Regev tells journalists outside the city’s central polling station at the Tel Aviv Convention Center.

Culture Minister Miri Regev casts her vote at the Likud primary polling station in Rosh Ha’ayin on February 5, 2019. (Flash90)

She has previously called Sudanese asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv “a cancer in our body.”

Regev says that the New Likud group, which has openly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his alleged corruption, “represents the left and is trying to harm and change the DNA of our party. We will beat them and it will happen if everyone come out to vote and influence [the results].”

The New Likud was founded in 2011 by leaders of the social justice protests, which that summer saw hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets to demand government action on behalf of the middle class. The group’s stated agenda is to push what it says are middle-class interests from within Likud. It takes no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But many Likud members have accused members of the group of being undercover leftists trying to influence the party from within.

New Likud claims it has 8,000 members who are eligible to vote in the primaries. The Likud party has some 119,000 members, in all.

— Raoul Wootliff

Austrian president vows ‘zero tolerance for anti-Semitism’ in Netanyahu meeting

Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen says his country is committed to having “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” speaking in Israel alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In remark to the press, Van Der Bellen says Israel and Austria have shared a bond since 1948 when Vienna supported the creation of the Jewish state.

He adds that he visited the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem yesterday, saying what happened during the Holocaust is “unbelievable.”

IDF to test emergency alert sirens in Jerusalem tomorrow at 10:05 a.m.

The Israeli military says it will test its emergency alert sirens in Jerusalem and some nearby communities tomorrow.

At 10:05 a.m., the sirens will sound in Jerusalem and its suburb Ramat Rachel, as well as the settlements of Givon Hahadasha, Givat Ze’ev, Ma’ale Adumim and Keidar.

In the case of an actual attack or other emergency, the system will sound twice, the IDF says.

In addition to the sirens, there will also be emergency broadcasts on the Radio Yerushalayim station, as well as on the IDF Home Front Command’s smartphone application, the army says.

There will also be an alert on the special beepers that the army has given to people with hearing problems.

As always, the IDF says that its system tests and exercises are not connected to any particular incident and are often scheduled months in advance.

— Judah Ari Gross

With 4 hours remaining, a third of eligible voters cast ballot in Likud primary

About 33.45 percent of eligible voters have cast their ballot in the ruling Likud party’s primaries, four hours before polling stations close.

The primaries, which will end at 10 p.m. and are conducted among party members, will determine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party’s slate in the upcoming elections.

Russia to design new intermediate range missiles in 2 years

Russia’s defense minister says the nation will develop land-based intermediate range missiles within two years.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Sergei Shoigu’s statement follows the US decision to suspend its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty over alleged Russian violations. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by saying that Moscow will also abandon the pact, but will only deploy intermediate-range missiles if Washington does so.

Russia has rejected claims that it has deployed a missile that violated the treaty’s ban on land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles). But Shoigu says such weapons need to be designed now.

He says a land-based version of the navy’s Kalibr cruise missile and a new land-based hypersonic missile must be built in 2019-2020.

— AP

Iran says Trump’s remarks on Iraq reveal American ‘lies’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says US President Donald Trump’s expressed wish to keep US forces in Iraq in order to monitor neighboring Iran has exposed American “lies” about fighting terrorism.

In a recent interview with CBS News, Trump said the US has an “incredible base” in Iraq that he intends to keep, “because I want to be able to watch Iran.”

Addressing Trump with sarcasm in remarks carried by official media, Rouhani says: “You say you stay in Iraq to watch Iran, while before that you were saying you stay there for fighting terrorism. It is so nice that you honestly expressed yourself!”

Iraq’s president also rejects Trump’s remarks, saying the US does not have permission to use the country as a listening station.

— AP

Top US general not consulted before Trump’s Syria pullout decision

The top general overseeing US military actions in the Middle East says US President Donald Trump did not consult him ahead of the decision to pull US troops from Syria.

Trump last month claimed the Islamic State group had been defeated in Syria and said all US troops were “coming back now,” upending years of doctrine in Syria.

US Central Command head Gen. Joseph Votel speaks at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, February 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“I was not aware of the specific announcement. Certainly we were aware that he had expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart Syria,” US Central Command head General Joseph Votel, who is retiring in the coming weeks, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I was not consulted,” he adds.

The detail that Trump did not speak to Votel ahead of the momentous decision will likely fuel critics who say the president refuses to listen to experts and instead relies on his gut, or even the counsel of foreign leaders.

Votel says the US withdrawal from Syria will be cautious and deliberate, and notes that IS are still not beaten.

The jihadists retain control of a pocket of about 20 square miles (50 square kilometers) in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in eastern Syria, according to Votel.

He says between 1,000 to 1,500 IS fighters remain in that area, though he notes thousands more have “gone to ground” elsewhere in Syria.

Trump is in an ongoing feud with the US intelligence community, which last week warned IS can quickly rebuild into a cohesive force in any vacuum left in the war-torn country.

— AFP

Netanyahus vote in Likud primaries in private polling booth

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu voted in the Likud primaries at a specially built polling station for the couple in their official residence in Jerusalem.

A spokesperson for the prime minister says the private polling booth, never before implemented, was in order “not to disturb polling stations” with excessive security measures.

Speaking before casting his ballot, Netanyahu tells Likud members he has one request: “Vote, vote, and vote for my proposal to strengthen the Likud in the face of the left-wing mergers.”

The proposal would allow him to appoint any candidate he likes to the 21st, 26th and 36th spots, in a move that could help him merge the Likud slate with a smaller party without needing separate permission from the Central Committee.

— Raoul Wootliff

Satellite images said to show Syrian S-300 defense system becoming operational

An Israeli satellite imaging company says it has for the first time detected a suspected Syrian S-300 air defense system that appears on track to become operational, though some significant questions about the anti-aircraft battery remain.

Following the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike in September, Moscow announced it was providing the Syrian military with the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft system.

Since the system was delivered in October, Russia has been training Syrian forces how to operate the powerful air defense platform, reportedly at a base near Masyaf in northwestern Syria.

The satellite photography analysis firm ImageSat International reveals that three of the four launchers of the S-300 missile defense system at the Masyaf base have been raised. This is the first time the launchers are photographed in this position, though not necessarily the first time they have been raised.

A satellite image showing Syrian S-300 missiles at at a base near Masyaf in northwestern Syria, February 5, 2019. (ImageSat)

“It is possible that the mentioned activity indicates [an] increase of the operational level and alertness,” the company says.

However, ImageSat notes that the precise meaning of this development is not clear from the images alone.

Notably, that one of the launchers remains down and covered by a camouflage net, while the rest are erect, is a “rare” situation that “raises question marks about the operational level of the whole battery,” the company says.

— Judah Ari Gross

US Embassy says Washington ‘not endorsing any candidate’ in Israeli elections

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Israel denies accusations that US President Donald Trump has intervened in the Knesset elections by sharing a photo of a campaign ad for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Instagram.

“It’s no secret that POTUS and PM Netanyahu have a strong relationship based upon mutual respect and that they reflect the mutual admiration and affection of the American and Israeli people,” the spokesperson tells The Times of Israel.

“The Administration is not endorsing any candidate.”

— with Raphael Ahren

‘The Band’s Visit’ to end Broadway run in April

“The Band’s Visit,” a musical set in an Israeli village that won 10 Tony Awards last year, will end its Broadway run on April 7.

The New York Times reports that although the play was relatively successful on Broadway and has booked a national US tour to begin in June, it failed to draw a large enough audience to sustain an “extended run.”

Kristen Sieh; John Cariani; Alok Tewaril Andrew Polk and George Abud in the Broadway remake of “The Band’s Visit.” (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

“[I]ts delicate tone and subtle story line proved a tough fit for brassy Broadway … where ticket-buyers are mostly tourists drawn to shows with more pizzazz or bigger brand names,” Michael Paulson wrote.

The show, which won the Tony for best musical, depicts an encounter between a group of Arab musicians and residents of a small fictional Israeli town, and drew rave reviews from critics. It was adapted from a 2007 Israeli film by Eran Kolirin.

Three of the show’s leads — Katrina Lenk, Tony Shalhoub and Ariel Stachel — won Tony Awards for their performances, in addition to its director, composer and book writer.

— JTA

Band pulls out of pre-Eurovision show over performing on Shabbat

The Shalva Band, which has advanced to the final stage of the reality TV show “Rising Star” where Israel’s representative in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest is determined, has decided to quit over performing on Shabbat.

The band — made up of musicians with disabilities, some of whom are observant Jews — was long rumored to be considering quitting the show. It advanced to the final earlier this week and had to make a decision before it taking place.

Eurovision contestants are required to perform onstage in the general rehearsal, which is held 24 hours before the tournament’s final — on Friday night, after Shabbat has begun.

Israel had unsuccessfully tried to persuade the European Broadcasting Union to bend the rules to allow the Shalva Band to compete without performing on the Shabbat.

The members of the Shalva Band, which successfully auditioned for ‘Rising Stars,’ a Keshet reality TV show (Courtesy The Shalva Band)

Gantz promises policies benefiting Israeli families, but doesn’t go into detail

In honor of Family Day, which is being marked today in Israel, Israel Resilience party chairman Benny Gantz made an unannounced visit to Petah Tikva to speak with young families, a party spokesperson says.

“I heard from the families how expensive afternoon programs, outings and mortgages are,” Gantz says in a statement.

Israel Resilience party chairman Benny Gantz (R) meeting children in a park in Petah Tikva on February 5, 2019. (Sraya Diamant)

“We will establish a government that will focus on Israeli families and not the ruling family,” Gantz adds in a dig at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

A spokesperson for the party refuses to reveal any details of policy proposals that would “focus on Israeli families” or help reduce the costs of afternoon programs, outings and mortgages.

The spokesperson says, “we will discuss all plans and policies in detail once the platform is out.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Gantz-Lapid merger talks face serious obstacles — report

Efforts to form a centrist alliance between rising star Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid that could challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud have hit a snag, Channel 13 reports.

Lapid isn’t willing to discuss a joint leadership in the form of a rotation that would see both leaders alternating in the chairman position, the TV network quotes a source familiar with the discussions as saying. The efforts are being led by former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who has promised to join such an alliance.

The problems don’t stop there, according to the report. Even if the leadership issue is settled, the parties are likely to spar over the makeup of the Knesset slate. Officials in Lapid’s party have reportedly pointed to a generous agreement Gantz made with former top general Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem, a party which wasn’t predicted to enter the Knesset had it run independently, thus demanding a similarly generous agreement.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (L) and Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90, Hadas Parush/Flash90)

With 1.5 hours left, more than half of voters have cast ballot in Likud primary

More than half of Likud party members, 51.5 percent, have voted in the primary, with an hour and a half left until polling stations close.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in recent hours invested considerable efforts in thwarting former MK Gideon Sa’ar’s run, as well as MK Haim Katz, the Kan public broadcaster reports. Netanyahu accuses Sa’ar of conspiring to replace him, a charge he denies.

Likud primary turnout will surpass that of previous vote

With 40 minutes left until polling stations close in the Likud party primary, almost 55 percent of eligible voters — more than 65,000 people — have cast their ballots.

It means the turnout is sure to pass that of the previous Likud primaries ahead of the 2015 elections, when 55 percent of party members voted.

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Live updates (closed)

Gantz-Lapid merger talks face serious obstacles — report

Efforts to form a centrist alliance between rising star Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid that could challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud have hit a snag, Channel 13 reports.

Lapid isn’t willing to discuss a joint leadership in the form of a rotation that would see both leaders alternating in the chairman position, the TV network quotes a source familiar with the discussions as saying. The efforts are being led by former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who has promised to join such an alliance.

The problems don’t stop there, according to the report. Even if the leadership issue is settled, the parties are likely to spar over the makeup of the Knesset slate. Officials in Lapid’s party have reportedly pointed to a generous agreement Gantz made with former top general Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem, a party which wasn’t predicted to enter the Knesset had it run independently, thus demanding a similarly generous agreement.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (L) and Israel Resilience party chief Benny Gantz. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90, Hadas Parush/Flash90)