The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
Likud said to warn draft law feud could herald fresh elections
Senior officials in the ruling Likud party warn coalition infighting over legislation exempting ultra-Orthodox students from military service could lead to the government’s collapse and bring fresh elections, Hadashot TV news reports.
“The Haredim are very high up a tree, very much increasing the chance of elections,” the network quotes the officials as saying.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have threatened to veto the 2019 state budget if the military draft bills aren’t passed, which would lead to the government’s collapse. The legislation is vociferously opposed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.
Amid the threats to the government’s stability, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Wednesday to set up a committee made up of representatives from all six coalition parties to formulate a bill.
Abbas welcomes ‘important’ visit by Prince William to West Bank
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes this summer’s “important” visit by Prince William, the first official trip to the Palestinian territories by a member of the British royal family.
“We look forward to contributing to strengthening the bonds of friendship between the two peoples,” a statement from the Palestinian presidency on official news agency WAFA says, calling the visit “important.”
Egypt’s Sissi warns media defaming security forces is ‘high treason’
CAIRO — Egypt’s president warns the media that he considers any defamation of the country’s security forces to be “high treason.”
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s warning Thursday comes as security forces enter the fourth week of a campaign against Islamists centered in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
The warning comes one day after Egypt’s chief prosecutor ordered his staff to move against media outlets “hurting national interests.”
Since coming to power, Sissi has sought to turn most Egyptian media into mouthpieces for his program. Many dissenting television hosts have been pushed off the air, multiple independent news websites have been blocked, and around 20 journalists have been imprisoned.
The government has stepped up its warnings to the media ahead of this month’s presidential election, in which Sissi faces no serious challenge.
Putin boasts of new Russian nuclear weapons
MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin says Russia has tested new nuclear weapons, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile and a nuclear-powered underwater drone, that would be immune to enemy intercept.
Speaking in a state-of-the-nation speech Thursday, Putin says that the nuclear-powered cruise missile tested last fall has an unlimited range and high speed and is capable of penetrating any missile defense.
He says the high-speed underwater drone capable of carrying a nuclear warhead could target both aircraft carriers and coastal facilities.
Putin says that Russia also tested a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat, with a range and number of warheads exceeding its predecessor.
Report: El Al lobbying for permission to use Saudi airspace
Israel’s El Al has requested an airline trade group help it gain permission to fly in Saudi airspace, Reuters reports.
“I am approaching you and kindly requesting IATA to intervene and to represent aviation industry’s interest by advocating equal overfly rights for all carriers over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and opposing any form of discrimination,” El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin tells Alexandre de Juniac, the head of the International Air Transport Association, in a letter quoted by Reuters.
Usishkin also says he asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help on the matter.
The report says the request was made in light of Air India’s announcement last month it’ll begin direct flights to Tel Aviv that fly over Saudi Arabia. Israeli airliners must take a more circuitous route when flying between India and the Jewish state.
While Jerusalem and Riyadh don’t have formal relations, there has been a reported growth in behind the scenes security ties in recent years.
Rivlin hands out Purim treats to troops
President Reuven Rivlin hands out treats for the Jewish holiday of Purim to Israeli troops.
Accompanied by his grandson on a “special operation,” Rivlin gives treats to Military Police soldiers and Border Police officers guarding at the Hizme checkpoint north of Jerusalem.
“Also during the holiday we remember our soldiers who are standing guard and thanks to whom we’re having a happy holiday,” Rivlin says.
גם בחג אנו זוכרים את לוחמינו העומדים על משמרתם ובזכותם יש לנו חג שמח. נסעתי היום עם נכדי שי למחסום חיזמא, שם יצאנו למבצע מיוחד של חלוקת משלוחי מנות ללוחמות ולוחמי המשטרה הצבאית מגדוד "ארז" ולוחמי משמר הגבול מפלוגת עוטף ירושלים. שיהיה לכולנו חג נהדר! pic.twitter.com/7dRug5itJd
— ראובן (רובי) ריבלין (@ruvirivlin) March 1, 2018
France’s Le Pen charged over Islamic State tweets
NANTERRE, France — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is charged on Thursday for posting on Twitter gruesome images of purported atrocities by Islamic State jihadists, prosecutors say.
The move by a judge in Nanterre, just outside Paris, comes after the National Assembly voted in November to strip the National Front chief of her parliamentary immunity over the three photos of IS violence posted in 2015.
Le Pen, who lost to Emmanuel Macron in last year’s presidential vote, is facing charges of circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity” and that can be viewed by a minor.
The crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($91,000).
The pictures were posted just a few weeks after the Paris terror attacks in November 2015 in which 130 people were killed.
“I am being charged for having condemned the horrors of Daesh,” Le Pen tells AFP, using an alternate name for IS. “In other countries this would have earned me a medal.”
Foreign Ministry officials meeting with Polish delegation over Holocaust law
Foreign Ministry officials meet with a Polish delegation regarding a Polish law that outlaws blaming Poland for Nazi crimes during World War II.
“It is no secret that the issue of the Polish law on the Holocaust has caused concern in Israel and among the Jewish people across the world,” Foreign Ministry director Yuval Rotem says ahead of the meeting. “We need to ensure that the historic truth is preserved and that there won’t be limits on freedom of speech and research, and that the fear of criminal punishment in this context will be discussed and solved.”
“Likewise, we’ll raise our concern about the substantial rise in anti-Semitic incidents recently. We are aware that the Polish leadership has condemned these expressions [of anti-Semitism], but we intended to discuss the matter,” he adds.
— Assaf Moran ???????? (@AssafMoran) March 1, 2018
Egypt says 2 officers killed during anti-jihadist operation
CAIRO — Egypt’s military says two officers have been killed and two others wounded in fighting a part of a massive security operation against Islamic State group jihadists in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula and other areas.
The armed forces say in a Thursday statement that forces killed 13 militants in an exchange of fire and arrested 86 people, including “highly dangerous” militants and “criminals.”
The army says it has destroyed hundreds of targets and killed dozens of militants since the operation began February 9. The offensive covers north and central Sinai and parts of Egypt’s Nile Delta and the Western Desert, along with the porous border with Libya.
Thursday’s tally brings the army’s death toll to 12 so far. The figures cannot be independently confirmed as media access is severely restricted.
Bennett: Coalition parties must ‘avoid unnecessary ego games’ over draft law
Education Minister Naftali Bennett calls on coalition parties “to avoid unnecessary ego games” over legislation that would exempt ultra-Orthodox students from compulsory military service.
“There is a moderate and balanced solution to the draft law framework that’ll allow us to continue to manage the State of Israel,” says Bennett.
Ultra-Orthodox parties are at loggerheads with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party over the legislation, leading to warnings that the continued impasse could prompt fresh Knesset elections.
UN Syria envoy not ‘giving up’ as Ghouta reels
BEIRUT — The United Nations envoy for Syria is insisting that a government-led assault on eastern Ghouta must not devolve into a “copycat” of the bloody siege on northern Aleppo in late 2016.
UN and other aid officials are facing an inability to get humanitarian assistance into the rebel-held region east of Damascus and escort out the critically sick and injured despite a UN Security Council resolution passed over the weekend calling for a 30-day ceasefire.
The envoy, Staffan de Mistura, says: “We cannot afford to have the luxury of giving up. So any type of feeling that the UN is frustrated: Forget it.
“Otherwise, (this) becomes a copycat of Aleppo,” he says.
Cyberattack against German government ‘ongoing’
BERLIN — A cyberattack targeting Germany’s government IT network is “ongoing,” the parliamentary committee on intelligence issues says, without confirming a media report that Russian hackers were behind the assault.
“It is a real cyberattack on part of the government system. It’s an ongoing process, an ongoing attack,” says Armin Schuster, chairman of the committee, adding that no further details would be given to avoid passing crucial information on to the attackers.
Quoting unnamed security sources, German news agency DPA reported Wednesday that Russian hackers had infiltrated government networks including those of the foreign and interior ministries.
It said the hacker group known as APT28 — which has been linked to Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and accused of attacks on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign — managed to plant malware in the ministries’ networks for possibly as long as a year.
Konstantin von Notz, deputy of the committee, complains it was “completely unacceptable” that members of the oversight body only learnt of the attack through the media.
Paris suburb rescinds symbolic recognition of Palestinian state
A month after its controversial “recognition” of “the State of Palestine,” the Parisian suburb of Gennevilliers has rescinded its gesture under pressure from local government.
The office of Mayor Patrice Leclerc, a Communist Party of France politician who on January 21 made the so-called recognition in a document he then sent to other mayors, nullified the policy paper on February 14, the National Bureau Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, says in a statement Thursday.
Leclerc’s recognition move was symbolic and has no bearing on French foreign policy. He nullified it following intervention by Pierre Soubelet, a politician for the France on the March! Party of President Emmanuel Macron. Soubelet, a former army general, heads the Hauts-de-Seine region, which includes Gennevilliers.
Toddler in critical condition after nearly drowning
An 18-month-old toddler is in critical condition after nearly drowning at a pool in the Jordan Valley, the Magen David Adom ambulance service says.
The toddler was treated by IDF and MDA paramedics at the scene before being taken by a military helicopter to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, an MDA spokesperson says.
Paramedics worked to resuscitate the toddler en route to the hospital, the spokesperson adds.
FIFA boss: Iran-Saudi spat should stay off soccer field
TEHRAN, Iran — FIFA president Gianni Infantino says on Thursday that a two-year diplomatic rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran should not be allowed to get in the way of soccer.
Saudi clubs have refused to play in Iran since the kingdom broke off relations in January 2016, forcing AFC Champions League fixtures with Iranian clubs to be played in neutral Oman.
“It’s very clear that politics should stay out of football and football should stay out of politics,” Infantino says at a joint news conference in Tehran with Iranian Sport Minister Massoud Soltanifar.
“There are of course political issues between countries all over the world but this should not have an impact on the soccer tournament.
“The solution is always just to play home and away like in every competition in every country.”
Ex-tech CEO imprisoned in US arrives in Israel to finish sentence
A former tech CEO arrives in Israel to serve out the remainder of his prison bid.
Jacob “Kobi” Alexander, an Israeli citizen, is serving a 30-month jail sentence for secretly manipulating stock options at voicemail software maker Comverse Technology Inc.
Alexander was sentenced in New York but was transferred to Israel at his request.
— חדשות עשר (@news10) March 1, 2018
Saudi Arabia begins issuing movie theater licences
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia began issuing licences Thursday to operate movie theaters in the kingdom ahead of their reopening, after a decades-long ban was lifted as part of a far-reaching liberalization drive.
The move is another step towards opening the Saudi market to regional and international theater chains, which have long eyed the kingdom as the Middle East’s last untapped mass market.
The culture and information ministry says it had “finalized the terms of licensing to restore cinema in Saudi Arabia.”
“Licensing commences immediately,” the ministry adds in a statement.
Major cinema chains are seeking to break into the market of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom are under 25.
Argentina soccer team to play friendly in Israel ahead of World Cup
Israel will host Argentina for a soccer friendly on June 9, days before the start of the World Cup in Russia, the Israel Football Federation says on Thursday.
Israel’s federation agrees to pay $3 million to host the match with the two-time World Cup winners (1978 and 1986) who were also finalists in 2014, Israeli media reports.
The amount could be reduced by half if star Lionel Messi does not play out of fear of being injured before the World Cup, the reports say.
The location of the match has not yet been announced, with details of the contract still being worked out, the federation says.
Israel did not qualify for the World Cup.
Argentina will play their first World Cup match on June 16 against Iceland before also facing Croatia and Nigeria in Group D.
UN hopes to enter Syria’s Eastern Ghouta in ‘next few days’
GENEVA — The United Nations says Thursday it hoped aid convoys could head into Syria’s besieged rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta within days, after the Damascus government appeared to have finally provided authorization.
“We may now be able to go to Eastern Ghouta in the next few days,” says Jan Egeland, head of the UN’s humanitarian task force for Syria.
He tells reporters in Geneva that he received word during a task force meeting on Thursday “that we may have the first facilitation letter, permit from the government, to go to [the main Eastern Ghouta town of] Douma in a very long time.”
But he stresses that the five-hour daily “humanitarian pause” declared by Russia for the enclave was not enough to allow aid deliveries or ensure orderly medical evacuations.
“Five hours is not enough,” he insists, underscoring that deliveries take time and that an estimated 1,000 civilians needed medical evacuation.
More than 40 trucks loaded with aid have been unable to reach the 400,000 people living in the battered enclave.
Two Syrian refugees on trial in Germany on terrorism charges
BERLIN — Two Syrians go on trial in Berlin on allegations they fought with Islamic extremist organizations in their home country.
Abdulmalk A., 31, and Anas Ibrahim A.S., 26, who came to Germany as refugees in 2015, go on trial Thursday in Berlin state court on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. Their last names are withheld in line with privacy laws.
A. is accused of joining the Nusra Front jihadist group in 2012 and becoming a commander, taking part in the capture of gas fields and the town of Tabqa. He later joined the Islamic State group and was put in charge of a strategically important dam near the city.
A.S. is accused of joining the Nusra Front in 2012 and participating in the takeover of an ammunition depot.
Massachusetts man charged for sending white power to Trump Jr.
BOSTON — A Massachusetts man is charged with sending a letter with a white powder to Donald Trump Jr. that landed his wife, Vanessa, in the hospital.
Daniel Frisiello, of Beverly, was arrested Thursday. He is expected to appear in federal court in Worcester later Thursday. It can’t immediately be determined if he has a lawyer.
Federal authorities say he also sent letters containing powder to four other people, including the office of Senator Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan.
The letter to the president’s son was opened by Vanessa Trump on February 12. She called 911 and reported she was coughing and felt nauseous. She was hospitalized briefly.
The substance in the letter turned out to be cornstarch.
Report: Netanyahu, wife to be questioned in separate locations
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his wife Sara will be questioned Friday in the Bezeq graft probe at seperate locations, Channel 10 reports.
The network says the prime minister will be questioned at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, while Sara Netanyahu will be questioned at the headquarters of the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in Lod.
Case 4000 involves suspicions Netanyahu advanced regulation benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage of the Netanyahu family at Bezeq’s Walla news site.
Pentagon: Putin’s nuclear weapons claims no surprise
WASHINGTON — Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White says the Defense Department isn’t surprised by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims of new nuclear weapons. She says the US military is prepared to defend the nation.
Putin said that Russia has tested an array of new strategic nuclear weapons that can’t be intercepted and would make NATO’s missile defense “useless.” He said the weapons include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone and new hypersonic missile that have no equivalent elsewhere in the world.
White tells Pentagon reporters that America’s missile defense has never been about Russia.
The US has consistently argued that missile defense systems in Europe are not aimed at Moscow, but instead designed to defend against threats from Iran, North Korea, and rogue threats.
Former Nazi death camp guard submits new clemency bid
BERLIN — A former Auschwitz death camp guard has submitted a fresh request for clemency in a bid to avoid serving his sentence for accessory to murder.
German news agency dpa reports Thursday that officials say former SS sergeant Oskar Groening has asked Lower Saxony’s justice minister to spare him from going to prison.
A previous clemency request filed to prosecutors was rejected in January.
The 96-year-old was convicted in Lueneburg in 2015 as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews and sentenced to four years in prison. He hasn’t yet spent any time behind bars because of the appeals process. His lawyer says Groening is too frail to go to prison.
Germany’s highest court rejected his last legal appeal in December.
Khamenei praises Assad for defending ‘Syrian resistance’
TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters, praises Syrian President Bashar Assad for his “resistance” after seven years of war.
“Syria is on the front lines today; it is our duty to defend the Syrian resistance,” Khamenei’s official website quotes him as saying.
“Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, appeared as a great example of resistance and a fighting image; he never hesitated and stood strong: this is extremely important for a nation,” he adds.
Khamenei also hails Iran’s survival as it enters the 40th year since the Islamic Revolution.
“From day one, all major world powers united and acted against us: the United States, USSR, NATO, Arab, and regional reactionaries — they all united. But we survived and prospered.”
Addressing Assad, he says, “If you and we, and other elements of resistance stay determined, the enemy cannot accomplish a single thing.”
Arab teenagers arrested for beating Jewish boy outside Paris-area synagogue
Police in France have arrested four teenagers who are suspected of beating a Jewish boy with a stick and taking away his kippah outside a synagogue north of Paris.
The suspects were detained Wednesday night in Montmagny, the Le Parisien daily reports Thursday. Their alleged victim, 14, was beaten after 8 p.m. outside the suburb’s synagogue, where the holiday of Purim was being celebrated. The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, praises authorities for “swift and effective” action.
The report doesn’t say whether the boy was injured. One of his attackers was armed with a baton. The boy’s sunglasses were smashed in the attack. The alleged attackers, ages 14 and 15, called the Jewish boy, his sister, and brother “dirty Jews.” According to BNVCA, all four suspects are of Arab descent.
The Jewish children were lighting firecrackers, a Purim custom in some Jewish neighborhoods in Europe. In recent years, community leaders and Jewish school directors have forbidden the use of firecrackers and toy guns during Purim due to security concerns.
The alleged attackers called them “dirty Jews” at the park where they were playing, Le Parisien reports based on police sources. They are believed to have waited for the boy while he attended service at a nearby synagogue and assaulted him after he exited.