Gantz says Blue and White will be largest party: ‘People are yearning for us’
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Phone of senior Likud member said to have been hacked

Gideon Sa’ar declines to comment on report saying he learned his cellphone had been broken into days before party primaries in February

Senior Likud party member Gideon Sa'ar is seen during a campaign stop at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, on April 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Senior Likud party member Gideon Sa'ar is seen during a campaign stop at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, on April 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

Iran warns it’ll respond in kind if US labels Revolutionary Guard a terror group

Iranian lawmakers warn they will respond in kind if the United States designates Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror group.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported such a move could come as early as Monday and would be the first time the US has designated a state entity as a terrorist organization.

Responding to the report, a vast majority of lawmakers in Iran’s parliament issue a statement threatening to designate elements of the US military a terror group, state-run news agency IRNA reports.

The US has accused the IRGC of supporting terror groups and militias throughout the Middle East that threaten allies such as Israel.

According to IRNA, the lawmakers also call the IRGC one of Iran’s greatest achievements since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Netanyahu to LGBT leaders: Gantz also won’t guarantee you equal rights

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosts LGBT leaders at his official residence in Jerusalem and says though his Likud party is committed to advancing equal rights for the community, he won’t this make this a condition to joining a coalition he heads after elections on Tuesday.

Netanyahu points to expected opposition from religious and ultra-Orthodox parties he is allied with to explain why he can’t make promoting gay rights a goal of a government he heads.

He also says his main political rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party will not succeed in guaranteeing equal rights.

“Benny Gantz also won’t succeed in giving you anything. The religious won’t allow him to pass anything,” he is quoted saying by Channel 12, referring to a scenario in which Gantz forms a government that includes religious parties.

Liberman files High Court petition against DNA tests for immigrants from USSR

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman submits an petition to the High Court of Justice to end DNA tests for immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Liberman files the petition after the chief rabbinate rebuffed his request to end the tests.

The petition also calls for prohibiting reexamining the Jewishness of immigrants who have already been determined to be Jews.

Many immigrants from the former USSR are not considered Jews under Jewish religious law, which requires having been born to a Jewish mother.

Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu draws substantial support from immigrants from countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

PA foreign minister: Netanyahu will face a ‘real problem’ if he annexes settlements

DEAD SEA, Jordan — The Palestinian Authority foreign minister says Israel’s leader will face a “real problem” if he follows through with his election campaign promise to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Riyad al-Malki tells The Associated Press Sunday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge was likely aimed at rallying his nationalist base in the final stretch of a tight race.

He adds that Palestinians would resist such a policy if carried out.

Netanyahu has promoted Jewish settlement expansion in his four terms as prime minister, but until now refrained from presenting a detailed vision for the West Bank, viewed by Palestinians as the heartland of a future state.

It would mark a dramatic shift for Netanyahu, ahead of Tuesday’s balloting.

— AP

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, attends the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of the Arab Summit, in Tunis, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Twitter suspends Hebrew accounts linked to Chinese Christian sect — report

Twitter has suspended dozens of Hebrew-language accounts operated by an eccentric Chinese Christian sect, according to BuzzFeed.

Citing an unnamed source familiar with the removals, the news site says the Church of Almighty God-linked pages posted content “amplifying” right-wing political messaging ahead of elections in Israel on April 9. The large majority of the posts were religious in nature and did not endorse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Buzzfeed says.

Adherents of the Church of Almighty God, which is banned in China, believe the wife of the group’s founder is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Twitter has not said why the accounts were suspended. It has also not given details why it suspended a number of accounts last week identified as part of an alleged network of fake accounts promoting content in support of Netanyahu, who is seeking a fifth term as prime minister in the April 9 vote.

Palestinian convicted for killing Israeli soldier Ronen Lubarsky

The Judea Military Court finds a Palestinian man guilty of killing an Israeli soldier during an operation in the West Bank last year.

Yousef Abu Hamid is convicted of “intentionally causing death” — the military equivalent of murder.

Hamid killed Staff Sgt. Ronen Lubarsky, a member of the elite Duvdevan unit, by dropping a marble slab on the top of his head from a neighboring home during an IDF raid last May at the al-Am’ari refugee camp in Ramallah.

The Israeli military says sentencing for Hamid will be forthcoming, but does not give a specific date.

Ronen Lubarsky, an IDF soldier from the Duvdevan unit who died on May 26, 2018, after being critically injured by a slab thrown on his head two days earlier (Courtesy)

Russia puppet rumors, dubious donors plague German far right

BERLIN — A series of potential scandals is plaguing the far-right Alternative for Germany party ahead of next month’s European Parliament elections.

The party has struggled to explain a number of murky donations to prominent party members in recent months. German authorities are investigating who the money came from.

In addition, German broadcaster ZDF reported Friday that Russian officials in 2017 described one of the party’s lawmakers, Markus Frohnmaier, as “absolutely under our control.” Frohnmaier denies the claim.

A poll published Sunday by German weekly Bild am Sonntag found the party’s support has fallen to 12% — its lowest value in year. The survey of 2,355 respondents between March 28 and April 3 asked about national elections, but recent polls for the May 23-26 European vote have reflected similar or lower support.

— AP

Alternative for Germany politician Markus Cornel Frohnmaier takes his seat during the first meeting of the German parliament after the election in Berlin, Germany, October 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Ferdinand Ostrop)

Health Ministry issues measles exposure warning

The Health Ministry puts out a pair of warnings to Israelis who may have been exposed to measles last week.

In the first, the ministry says a woman who attended two weddings at the Mondial event hall in Jerusalem on April 3 had measles and may have infected fellow wedding-goers.

It says those who were present should be vaccinated for measles within six days.

The ministry also says people who were at the Rashbi’s grave at Mount Meron on April 3 between noon and 2:30 p.m. may have been exposed to measles, as well as those who were at the Rabbi Amram ben Diwan synagogue in Tiberias at 6:30-7:30 p.m. on April 4 and 5.

Iran FM: ‘Netanyahu firsters’ seeking to pull US into ‘quaqmire’ with IRGC designation

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accuses “Netanyahu firsters” in the United States of pushing the Trump administration to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group in order to pull the US into the Middle East “quagmire.”

“[US President Donald Trump] should know better than to be conned into another US disaster,” Zarif tweets.

Gazan shepherd arrested by Israel revealed Islamic Jihad terror plot — report

Israel learned of an alleged Palestinian Islamic Jihad plot to conduct a terror attack along the Gaza border from a member of the group who was captured by security forces last week, a Palestinian newspaper reports.

According to the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper, Israeli soldiers arrested a Palestinian herding sheep near the Gaza security fence. Under interrogation, he reportedly told them he was a member of PIJ and revealed that the group was planning to abduct either a soldier stationed near the border or a civilian worker constructing the new barrier around the coastal enclave.

The Islamic Jihad has denied that it was planning to conduct an attack along the border, which could derail Egyptian-brokered ceasefire negotiations between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, telling the Egyptian military that it planned to uphold any agreement reached.

— Judah Ari Gross

IRGC chief says US terror designation will cause loss of ‘serenity’

The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responds to reports that the US is considering designating the military organization as a terror group.

“If (the Americans) make such a stupid move, the US Army and American security forces stationed in West Asia (Middle-East) will lose their current status of ease and serenity,” Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari is quoted saying by the Fars news agency.

“If they make a stupid move as such and endanger our national security, a reciprocal move will be placed on our agenda and then put into operation based on the policies of the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he adds.

In this file photo from October 31, 2017, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks to journalists after his speech at a conference called ‘A World Without Terror,’ in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Gantz says Netanyahu settlement sovereignty pledge ‘not serious’

The main election challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns the premier’s deeply controversial pledge to annex West Bank settlements, calling it an “irresponsible” bid for votes.

Benny Gantz, the former military chief whose centrist Blue and White alliance has posed a stiff challenge to Netanyahu, condemns the premier’s remarks in an interview with news site Ynet.

“Why not ask how in 13 years Netanyahu could have annexed and didn’t?” says Gantz, in reference to Netanyahu’s time as premier.

“I think that releasing a strategic and historic decision in an election campaign bubble is not serious and (is) irresponsible.”

Pressed on his personal position, Gantz says he opposed “unilateral” moves.

“We said we will strive for a regionally and globally backed peace agreement while maintaining our basic principles,” he says.

Those principles include keeping security control of the Jordan Valley, parts of which are in the West Bank, and maintaining the large settlement blocs in the West Bank.

Gantz has in the past signaled openness to withdrawing at least some settlers from other areas.

He labels Netanyahu’s remarks as “a meaningless statement.”

“It’s a shame to play with people like that,” he says.

— AFP

Blue and White party leaders speaks at a campaign event in the Israeli city of Rosh Ha’ayin on April 6, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Palestinian security prisoners reportedly call off hunger strike

Palestinian security prisoners have reportedly called off a hunger strike that began this morning.

Citing an unnamed Palestinian source, the Kann public broadcaster reports the hunger strike will be put off by more than week, though the exact timing depends on the progress of negotiations with the Israel Prisons Service.

Other reports say the decision to delay the strike came after progress in negotiations, but do not provide any specifics.

The planned hunger strike was called to protest the prisoners’ incarceration conditions, namely the installation of cellphone jamming technology in some prisons that has made it impossible to use smuggled cellphones in the wards.

Netanyahu denies promising far-right candidate seat on judicial appointments committee

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his last minute media blitz before Tuesday’s elections, again saying the Israeli right could lose power if right-wing voters don’t back his Likud party.

Speaking with Army Radio, Netanyahu rules out forming a so-called unity government with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and denies promising extremist candidate Itamar Ben Gvir a seat on the panel that appoints judges.

“I did not commit to this. This is nonsense,” Netanyahu says.

Ben Gvir releases a filmed response within minutes of Netanyahu’s remarks.

“Netanyahu suddenly decided to jump to the left. But the truth is I’m not bothered,” Ben Gvir says.

Ben Gvir says if the Union of Right-Wing Parties — an alliance of national-religious parties brokered by Netanyahu — wins enough seats on Tuesday, the premier will have no choice but to appoint him to the panel.

“So many times he’s made promises,” Ben Gvir says of Netanyahu.

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Bennett says PM’s push to boost Likud could ‘wipe out’ other right-wing parties

New Right leader Naftali Bennett says Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last-minute campaign to boost support for his Likud part ahead of Tuesday’s elections could “wipe out” other right-wing factions.

In a video, Bennett says polling data he has seen shows that right-wing and religious parties will comfortably win a majority of Knesset seats, positioning Netanyahu to again form a government.

“But he’s making a gevalt and the gevalt is succeeding toward the small right-wing parties and like a tsunami is threatening to wipe out a not insignificant number of right-wing parties,” says Bennett, using a Yiddish term meaning “woe is me” to describe last-ditch campaign bids.

Bennett, who is education minister, says he has “no other explanation” for this approach except to presume that Netanyahu wants to form a government with centrist challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

Netanyahu has ruled out teaming up with Gantz after elections in a number of recent interviews and has said he would include all right-wing parties in a government he heads.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan/Pool/via AP/File)

Netanyahu again specifies that he’ll apply Israeli law at all settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restates his pledge to apply Israeli law at all settlements in the West Bank.

In a Channel 13 interview, he specifies: “In the next term, if I win, I will apply Israeli law — I hope by agreement, I want to do it gradually, and to get American agreement for it — not just at the blocs. If you say ‘the blocs,’ that means 90,000 Israelis — that’s exactly what Lapid and Gantz say — will be uprooted from their homes or will be abandoned to their fates…”

Asked if that means he’ll annex Area C (some 60 percent of the West Bank, containing all the settlements), Netanyahu makes clear that is not his intention. He is speaking only of the settlements themselves, he clarifies:

“All the settlements. The settlements. All the area of the settlements themselves,” he says.

Asked why he has not done this already, he says he could not have done so in the era of the Obama administration, but now things have changed.

Potential coalition kingmaker Feiglin may recommend himself for PM

Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin will consider recommending himself as prime minister after the election, a party source tells The Times of Israel, a move that could potentially remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s perceived edge in the post-vote coalition calculation.

With Feiglin insisting he does not have a preference between Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, for Israel’s next premier, the party could emerge as a kingmaker in a tightly contested race.

Channel 12, meanwhile, reports that Feiglin will only decide on whether to recommend Gantz or Netanyahu after negotiating with both over his policy proposals. Feiglin has previously demanded he receive the Finance Ministry, if he is to join the next government.

— Raoul Wootliff

Phone of senior Likud member hacked — report

The cellphone of senior Likud party member Gideon Sa’ar was hacked, according to public broadcaster Kan.

The report says it was not clear when Sa’ar’s phone was hacked, but that he had learned about it a few days before the Likud primaries in February.

Sa’ar has declined to comment.

The report comes after a number of other top Israeli political figures reportedly had their phones hacked, including Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

Former minister Gideon Sa’ar speaks at a Likud party conference in the central city of Lod, on December 31, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Army to impose election day closure on West Bank, Gaza

The Israeli military announces it will be shutting down all crossings out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Tuesday for the Israeli national elections.

The Israel Defense Forces says the closure will begin at midnight on Monday and last through midnight Tuesday.

Exceptions will be made for humanitarian cases, namely the passage of medical patients to Israeli hospitals, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Gantz says Blue and White will be largest party: ‘People are yearning for us’

Former military chief Benny Gantz vows that the Blue and White electoral alliance he heads will be the largest party, after national elections on Tuesday, and will be best positioned to form the next government.

Speaking in Tel Aviv at Blue and White’s last major campaign event, Gantz addresses Prime Minister Netanyahu’s warnings that the right could lose power if Likud is not the biggest party after elections, even though right-wing parties are forecast to receive a majority of Knesset seats.

“People are yearning for us, we can feel the drift and our political rival Netanyahu understands and is doing everything he can to prevent this,” Gantz says.

“On Tuesday at midnight, after all the effort, we will be the biggest party. The president will pick up the phone and we’ll take it from there,” he adds.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz greets supporters at a campaign event in Tel Aviv, on April 7, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
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Gantz says Blue and White will be largest party: ‘People are yearning for us’

Former military chief Benny Gantz vows that the Blue and White electoral alliance he heads will be the largest party, after national elections on Tuesday, and will be best positioned to form the next government.

Speaking in Tel Aviv at Blue and White’s last major campaign event, Gantz addresses Prime Minister Netanyahu’s warnings that the right could lose power if Likud is not the biggest party after elections, even though right-wing parties are forecast to receive a majority of Knesset seats.

“People are yearning for us, we can feel the drift and our political rival Netanyahu understands and is doing everything he can to prevent this,” Gantz says.

“On Tuesday at midnight, after all the effort, we will be the biggest party. The president will pick up the phone and we’ll take it from there,” he adds.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz greets supporters at a campaign event in Tel Aviv, on April 7, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)