The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Ukraine faces criticism over journalist’s fake death
Ukraine is under fire Thursday after it admitted staging the murder of anti-Kremlin journalist Arkady Babchenko, despite relief in Russia and Ukraine that he was alive.
Babchenko made a shock reappearance at a press conference in Kiev on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the Ukrainian authorities reported he had been shot dead at his home in a contract-style killing blamed on Russia. Ukraine’s security services said his death was faked to foil an assassination plot by Moscow, but Russian officials reacted with anger to what they branded an “anti-Russian provocation.”
The operation fooled the world’s media and angered press freedom groups which raised fears about the impact it could have on the work of journalists around the globe.
“There can be no grounds for faking a journalist’s death,” the head of Reporters Without Borders Christophe Deloire said Wednesday, describing it as a “pathetic stunt.”
An editorial in Russian daily Vedomosti argued the Babchenko operation “blurred the border between truth and fiction” and would lead to more distrust of the media.
Several Western commentators and reporters said it would be difficult to trust official statements from Ukraine again.
Ukrainian journalist defends his faked death in face of ‘moralizers’
Anti-Kremlin journalist Arkady Babchenko, whose faked death by Ukrainian authorities stunned the world this week, tells the media he had been preparing to stage his death with secret services for several weeks and dismisses criticism of the misinformation involved in the ruse.
“I wish all these moralizers could be in the same situation — let them show their adherence to the principles of their high morals and die proudly holding their heads high without misleading the media,” he writes on Facebook.
Babchenko’s death was faked by Ukrainian authorities in a reported bid to capture an alleged Russian-hired assassin pursuing him.
Some media commentators agreed that the ruse was a legitimate means for keeping him alive.
“The main thing is that the killing of a journalist was foiled, the organizers are caught and the journalist is alive,” says Russian political commentator Evgeny Roizman.
“Do not love an Arkady that is alive less than a dead one. In a hybrid war there are sometimes hybrid victims,” Russian journalist Boris Grozovsky writes on Facebook.
Palestinian detainees to launch hunger strike
Some 450 Palestinians held in administrative detention by Israel are planning to launch a hunger strike next week, according to Issa Karake, head of the PLO’s Commission on Prisoners.
Karake tells Voice of Palestine Radio Thursday that the prisoners, who are suspected of terror operations and are held under special emergency rules, will protest being held without trial for years at a time.
A former Palestinian Authority minister for prisoners’ affairs, Karake also says the prisoners will increase their refusal to recognize the courts dealing with their cases.
Liberman meets Russia counterpart in Moscow for Syria talks
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow.
In a statement to the media before their meeting, Shoigu says the two will discuss the deescalation zones in southern Syria, an area Israel has been urging be kept free of Iranian forces.
Shoigu also invites Liberman to join the annual Victory Day March commemorating the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, to be held in Moscow on May 9, 2019. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was present at this year’s march in Red Square.
Turkey announces $10m donation to UNRWA
Turkey announces it will transfer $10 million to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and another $1.2 million to the World Health Organization intended as humanitarian help for Gaza.
According to a statement by the foreign ministry in Ankara, the money is in addition to Turkey’s funding of the UN’s refugee agency.
Housing Ministry issues tenders for 1,162 more settlement homes
A day after the Israeli government advances plans for some 2,000 settlement homes in the West Bank, the Housing Ministry publishes tenders for an additional 1,162 homes over the Green Line.
The tenders are for 409 homes in the city of Ariel, 459 homes in the city of Ma’ale Adumim, 250 homes in Elkana and 44 in Ma’ale Efraim.
The publishing of marketing tenders by the Housing Ministry is a bureaucratic step that projects in larger settlements are required to go through even after receiving “final validation” approval for construction by the Defense Ministry.
— Jacob Magid
Turkish ambassador returns to US post after Jerusalem spat
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s state-run news agency says the country’s ambassador to Washington is returning to his post following a dispute over Washington moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Anadolu Agency says Serdar Kilic left Ankara on Thursday, two weeks after Turkey recalled him for consultations.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is scheduled to meet with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington on June 4. Cavusoglu had told reporters earlier this week that Kilic would return to his post before then.
The two ministers are expected to discuss a “roadmap” for the strategic northern Syrian town of Manbij that has driven a wedge between the two NATO allies.
Turkey is pushing for the withdrawal of US-backed Kurdish-led forces from Manbij and has vowed to retake the town and other territory.
In Moscow, Liberman says Russia ‘understands our security needs’
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, telling him that Israel “appreciates Russia’s understanding of our security needs” during a discussion about Iranian entrenchment in Syria.
The two defense ministers and their teams spoke for over an hour and a half, Liberman’s office says.
“It is important to continue the dialogue between us and to keep an open line between the IDF and Russian army,” Liberman says.
Israel is working to convince Russia to rein in its ally Iran in Syria and prevent the Islamic Republic from setting up a permanent military presence in the country — something Jerusalem has vowed it will take military action to prevent.
Israel demands the removal of all Iranian military forces and their proxies from all of Syria. Russia, meanwhile, appears prepared to limit itself to keeping Iran-allied troops away from the Golan border and not to interfere in Israeli air force raids against Iranian targets in Syria.
— Judah Ari Gross
Environment minister Elkin throws hat into Jerusalem mayor race
Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who also serves as minister of the environment, announces that he will run in the October election for mayor of Jerusalem as the Likud candidate.
“Dear residents of Jerusalem, I have just told the prime minister that I have decided to run as a candidate for Jerusalem mayor,” he says in a video posted on social media.
“I am willing to give up the position of a senior minister and member of the security cabinet for the sake of Jerusalem because Jerusalem is a challenge at a national level of the utmost importance,” he adds. “I ask for your trust and support in the elections.”
Elkin has held talks recently with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat and coalition heads.
— Raoul Wootliff
Denmark joins some European nations in banning burqa, niqab
Denmark joins some other European countries in deciding Thursday to ban garments that cover the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa.
In a 75-30 vote with 74 absentees, Danish lawmakers approve the law presented by the center-right governing coalition. The government says that it is not aimed at any religions and does not ban headscarves, turbans or the traditional Jewish skull cap.
However, the law is popularly known as the “Burqa Ban” and is mostly seen as being directed at the dress worn by some conservative Muslim women. Few Muslim women in Denmark wear full-face veils.
Justice Minister Soeren Pape Poulsen says that it will be up to police officers to use their “common sense” when they see people violating the law that enters into force August 1.
The law allows people to cover their face when there is a “recognizable purpose” like cold weather or complying with other legal requirements, such as using motorcycle helmets under Danish traffic rules.
British IS supporter pleads guilty in plot to kill 4-year-old Prince George
An alleged British supporter of the Islamic State group accused of encouraging attacks on 4-year-old Prince George has changed his plea from innocent to guilty.
Husnain Rashid is two weeks into his trial at Woolwich Crown Court when he admits Thursday to three counts of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts and one count of encouraging terrorism.
Judge Andrew Lees then puts two further charges on hold.
The trial, which had been scheduled to last six weeks, is abruptly ended because of the plea. Sentencing is set for June 28.
The prosecution had argued that Rashid ran a “prolific” Telegram channel named the Lone Mujahid.
Prosecutor Annabel Darlow had earlier told a jury that Rashid encouraged attacks on a range of targets, including “Prince George at his first school.”
Iran, Hezbollah to pull out of southern Syria — report
A Syrian war monitor says Iranian troops and fighters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group are getting ready to withdraw from southern Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Thursday Iranian advisers and Hezbollah fighters will be withdrawing from the southern regions of Daraa and Quneitra near the Israeli Golan Heights border.
A Syria-based official with the Iran-led “axis of resistance” denies the report saying it is “untrue.”
Russian news outlets had recently reported that Moscow wants to cut a deal that would see Russian military police deployed to areas near Israel. The agreement would envisage the pullout of all Iranian forces from the area and require Syrian rebels to surrender heavy weapons.
US philanthropist gives $10m for new U of Haifa downtown campus
A $10 million donation to the University of Haifa will be used to build a downtown campus in an effort to revitalize the school and the city.
A new campus of at least four buildings will be located in the Port of Haifa and the city’s downtown area.
The donation is from American philanthropist Lorry Lokey, the founder of the international media relations service Business Wire.
An early signer of The Giving Pledge — a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to giving back — Lokey has donated more than $800 million, or some 98 percent of his lifetime earnings, to philanthropies, universities and educational institutions, including University of Oregon, Stanford, the Leo Baeck School, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of Haifa.
The Haifa municipality is assisting the university with the acquisition of some of the new buildings, and Lokey’s donation will be used to cover the project’s renovation costs.
“This gift is an affirmation of its mission to improve access to education and bring more jobs, stability and security to northern Israel by establishing a downtown campus,” Lokey said in a statement. “I invite others to join me in transforming what is becoming one of Israel’s most important universities.”
PMO chief denies report he was attacked by Sara Netanyahu
Outgoing Prime Minister’s Office Director General Eli Gruner denies a report in the Haaretz daily that he was physically attacked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara over a dispute about funding the prime minister’s private residence. According to the report, the two were separated by another PMO official.
Haaretz runs the report Thursday citing unnamed PMO sources. The prime minister tells Haaretz the report is “a fable.”
Senior IDF officer says steps can be taken to ease Gaza crisis
A top official in the IDF’s Southern Command says Israel can take steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, a step that was likely to bring quiet to the Gaza region.
“We’re at a crossroads. Decisions have to be made,” the officer tells journalists Thursday. “There are small things that can be done to give us a year of quiet, and it’s also possible to reach a longer arrangement,” but that would require significant concessions from Hamas. “The more Hamas is accommodating, the better the arrangement will be,” the officer says.
No long-term arrangement is possible without the return to Israel of the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, the officer insists.
“Hamas is in its worst situation since it came to power [in 2007], and the same is true of the Gaza Strip. The responsibility for that lies first of all with Hamas, but we can also take steps. Hamas is trying to figure out how to save itself from collapse, and it has only two solutions: reaching an arrangement [for quiet with Israel] or turning to military confrontation.”
Jewish Democrats slam US envoy to Israel for ‘partisan rhetoric and behavior’
A US Jewish Democratic group protests US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s assertion that Democrats don’t support Israel as strongly as Republicans.
In a statement by former Florida Congressman Ron Klein, chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, the group responds:
“It is truly unprecedented for a sitting US Ambassador to Israel to engage in explicitly partisan rhetoric and behavior. Ambassador Friedman must remember that he is not the head of the Republican National Committee or the Republican Jewish Coalition political organization. He is the US Ambassador, as confirmed by the US Senate, to represent all Americans in Israel – not just those of one party, or those who share his political views. Ambassador Friedman should spend more time cultivating the historically bipartisan nature of the US-Israel partnership, as opposed to being politically divisive in his words and actions, including his refusal to invite Democratic members of Congress to the Jerusalem embassy opening. This type of partisan behavior is damaging to our national interests and must stop immediately.”
The European Union slams new settlement homes, expulsion of Bedouin community
The European Union’s External Action Service blasts Israeli plans announced Wednesday to build nearly 2,000 new homes in settlements throughout the West Bank, which “seriously undermine the viability of a negotiated two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”
“Yesterday, Israeli authorities approved and advanced plans for the construction of nearly two thousand settlement units in the West Bank. At the same time, the Israeli authorities have stated their intent to demolish the Palestinian community of Khan Al-Ahmar in Area C, which is the main land reserve of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state,” the statement reads, referring to a Bedouin village along Route 1 between Jerusalem and Jericho that the government has decided to relocate to the Abu Dis area east of Jerusalem.
“Building new settlements for Israelis while demolishing Palestinian homes in the same area will only further entrench a one-state reality of unequal rights, perpetual occupation, and conflict, the EU statement says.
“In line with our long-standing position on Israel’s settlement policy, illegal under international law, and actions taken in that context, such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions, and confiscations of homes, the EU expects the Israeli authorities to reconsider and reverse these decisions.”
Germany slams planned expulsion of West Bank Bedouin village
The German foreign ministry also weighs in on the much-criticized planned removal of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village along Route 1 between Jerusalem and Jericho that the government has decided to relocate to the Abu Dis area east of Jerusalem.
In a tweet, the ministry says: “The German government is deeply concerned by impending demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. We urge the Israeli government to refrain from resettling the residents.”
The German government is deeply concerned by impending demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. We urge the Israeli government to refrain from resettling the residents.
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) May 31, 2018
In video, Netanyahu raves about Iranians’ talents, laments ‘plundering’ regime
In a video posted to social media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raves about the Iranian people’s talents and laments that “Iran’s dictators plunder the country’s wealth.”
He urges viewers to “imagine Iranian and Israeli entrepreneurs working together, in Iran and Israel, for the betterment of all humanity.”
This may surprise you coming from the Prime Minister of Israel… pic.twitter.com/zVWOjJCAeb
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) May 31, 2018
The full text of Netanyahu’s video:
What I’m about to say may surprise you coming from the prime minister of Israel, but I categorically state: Iranians are among the most gifted and successful people in the world. Of course, there’s one catch — when they leave Iran. You see, in Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs of Iranian heritage are among the founders and CEOs of Uber, Ebay, Dropbox, and many other outstanding companies.
The Iranian people are brilliant, innovative. So why is Iran so poor? Why is unemployment so rampant? The answer is in two words: the regime. Iran’s dictators plunder the country’s wealth. Isn’t it a shame that Iran doesn’t invest in its people? Instead, they divert tens of billions of dollars to their nuclear program, to the spread of terror around the world, to their aggression throughout the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Iranian people are the ones that suffer.
I look forward to the day when the Iranian people don’t need to go to Silicon Valley, don’t need to go there to build the most successful companies in the world. Imagine Iranian and Israeli entrepreneurs working together, in Iran and Israel, for the betterment of all humanity. That’s my hope. That is my vision. And that can be our future.
Israel: ‘Even if it takes time, Iranian threat from Syria will be lifted’
Israeli officials tell Hadashot television news that close coordination with Russia and the US will ensure that Iranian forces leave Syria.
“Even if it takes a little time, and even if it means we have to take Assad back [in control of Syria and the Golan border], in the end of these talks the Iranian threat from Syria will be lifted,” an official says Thursday.
According to reports, talks earlier today between Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow focused on Iranian forces in Syria. Russia, Israeli officials heard, was interested in helping Assad return to control the Syrian Golan as quickly as possible and in coordination with Israel.
Ex-Shin Bet chief, current Likud MK calls PM phone-tapping claim a ‘lie’
Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, says a TV report Thursday that claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Shin Bet security agency to tap the phones of the leaders of the Mossad and the army in 2011 was a “lie.”
“It is impossible that a prime minister asks the head of the Shin Bet to eavesdrop on a certain person, let alone the leader of the Mossad or the [IDF] chief of staff,” Dichter writes in a Facebook post.
Dichter says there is little likelihood phone taps could be ordered directly by the premier, as any such eavesdropping is overseen directly by the attorney general and State Prosecutor’s Office.
Netanyahu has dismissed the report he asked for then-Mossad head Tamir Pardo and then IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz as a “complete lie.” Yoram Cohen, the Shin Bet head at the time, was quoted by Channel 10 as saying the report was “nonsense.”