The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Palestinians join world chemical arms watchdog
The Palestinian Authority has joined the global arms watchdog’s convention to halt the spread of chemical weapons, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announces.
“The State of Palestine deposited on 17 May 2018 its instrument of accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention,” the Hague-based OPCW says in a statement.
“The Convention will enter into force for the State of Palestine on 16 June 2018.”
To protest US President Donald Trump’s decision to move US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the PA has said it will apply to join 22 international treaties.
New Lebanon parliament re-elects Hezbollah ally Berri as speaker
Lebanon’s new parliament elects veteran speaker Nabih Berri to a sixth consecutive term, making him one of the longest-serving parliamentary heads in the world.
His election comes after the country’s May 6 parliamentary poll, the first in nine years after the deeply divided legislature, elected in 2009, repeatedly extended its own term.
The body is meeting for the first time since the poll, to elect its speaker to a four-year term.
Few had expected any surprises: the only candidate was incumbent Berri, a savvy politician from the country’s south who has held the position since 1992.
The vote by paper ballot had seen 98 of the parliament’s 128 members pick Berri. One vote had been disqualified and the rest had been blank.
Berri, 80, heads the Amal Movement and is a close ally of the powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah.
22 Gazans injured in border clashes taken to Jordan for treatment
Israel has allowed 22 Palestinian wounded in clashes on the Gaza border with IDF troops to travel to Jordan to receive medical treatment, the army says, posting a video of the transfer.
The move had been coordinated by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli liaison to the West Bank and Gaza.
It follows a request made by Jordan’s King Abdullah, and was coordinated with the Israel government, the IDF says.
The 22 people join seven other injured Gazans with Jordanian citizenship who were transferred last week from the Strip to Jordan for the same reason, according to the military.
Israel last week rejected a request from Turkey to send a plane to airlift Palestinians wounded in the border riots, Israeli and Turkish official confirmed.
Syria says withdrawal of Iranians, Hezbollah ‘not on agenda’
Syria’s deputy foreign minister says Damascus does not envisage Iran and Hezbollah participating in the withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-torn country as announced last week by Russia.
Asked whether the removal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces could end Israel’s strikes on Syria, Faisal Mekdad tells RIA Novosti state news agency that “this topic is not even on the agenda for discussion.”
“All these forces oppose terrorism. They are not making an attempt to violate the sovereignty and territory of Syria,” he says in comments translated into Russian.
Syrian President Bashar Assad met Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Thursday, with the Russian leader saying “foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territory” although he gave few details.
But Russia’s chief Syria negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev tells journalists that the withdrawal of foreign troops should be done “as a whole” and include Iranians and Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese group that is an ally of Iran and Assad.
“We are talking about all the foreign troop divisions which still have troops in Syrian territory. That includes the Americans and the Turks and Hezbollah, of course, and the Iranians,” Lavrentyev said on Friday, quoted by RIA Novosti.
Mekdad, however, suggests Russia had not meant to say this.
“I don’t think that our Russian friends meant the forces that entered Syria in agreement with the Syrian government,” he says.
“Russia demanded the withdrawal of forces that are here without agreement: that is the forces of the US, France, Turkey and other forces that are here illegitimately.”
— with AFP
Citing ‘domestic agenda reasons,’ French PM cancels Israel trip
France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has canceled a planned trip to Israel early next month, citing “domestic agenda reasons,” his office says.
Philippe had been expected to visit Jerusalem on June 1 for an event promoting ties between France and Israel along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon confirms the cancellation to The Times of Israel, similarly citing “internal French reasons.”
— with AFP
Cop being probed for breaking activist’s knee given temporary leave
Police say that the officer being probed for breaking the kneecap of an Arab Israeli activist following his arrest at a Haifa protest has been given a temporary leave of absence.
In a statement, police insist that the move is merely procedural and that the officer has not been suspended nor had any disciplinary actions taken against him.
“If there are any further complaints or evidence we expect them to be made and handed over to the Justice Ministry, which is looking into the incident,” a police spokesman says.
The Justice Ministry’s police internal investigations department this week said it would look into allegations of violence by police officers against demonstrators at a Gaza solidarity protest in Haifa over the weekend.
Twenty-one people were arrested when the demonstration was dispersed, among them Jafar Farah, director of the NGO Mossawa, the Advocacy Centre for Arab Citizens in Israel, who sustained a broken knee in the aftermath of his arrest.
On Monday a Haifa Magistrate’s Court judge ordered all of those still held by police to be released.
Court freezes deportation of Human Rights Watch director
The Jerusalem District Court issues an interim injunction freezing the Interior Ministry-ordered deportation of a senior Human Rights Watch official alleged to have promoted boycotting Israel.
Responding to a petition from HRW, the court says the deportation order issued by the government was based on “old information” known to the Interior Ministry when it granted a visa to the NGO’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir.
Shakir, who has denied support of boycott against Israel, will be allowed to remain in Israel until the end of legal proceedings against him.
Listen, all my NY Friends! I am keeping @OmarSShakir in the promised land a while longer 🙂 Just received an interim injunction from the Jerusalem District Court allowing @hrw's country director to stay and work until the petition against his deportation is ruled. pic.twitter.com/TzCshvUWFd
— Michael Sfard (@sfardm) May 23, 2018
Berlin right-wing party rally sparks massive counter protest
More than a dozen groups are planning weekend protests against a rally by the right-wing nationalist party Alternative for Germany being staged under the motto “Germany’s Future,” police say.
Officials from the party, known by its German abbreviation AfD, have told authorities they expect up to 10,000 people for the Sunday afternoon rally with speeches from some of its top leaders.
It is due to start at the capital’s main train station and end at the landmark Brandenburg Gate but organizers are keeping the exact route — including whether their march will pass by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chancellery or parliamentary offices — under wraps for security reasons.
So far, 13 counter-demonstrations are planned in nearby areas and around the city under slogans like “never again” and “stop the hate, stop the AfD.”
A group of techno clubs plans to blast loud music along the AfD route, promising “our party will crash their march.”
“The Berlin club culture is everything that Nazis are not,” the organizers said in a Facebook call for action. “People from all backgrounds unite on our dancefloors.”
Right-wing demonstrations in Germany are often dwarfed by counter-demonstrations and can sometimes turn violent. For security reasons police are not announcing in advance how many officers they will have on hand to keep the two sides separate, but say there will be a significant presence.
Coalition chair submits proposal to block prosecutors from appealing corruption verdicts
Coalition chairman David Amsalem submits a bill that will prevent prosecutors from appealing verdicts on corruption charges whose sentencing was less than ten years’ jail time.
“This bill proposes that the right to appeal a judgment in a criminal matter be given only to the defendant,” the legislation reads, stating the prosecution should only be given that right in “serious offenses.”
The proposal is being coined the “bribery bill,” as the charge is included among those that prosecutors will be largely blocked from appealing.
Security forces nab 2 Palestinians suspected of carrying out drive-by shooting
Israeli security forces have arrested two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a drive-by shooting against an Israeli vehicle outside Ramallah on Tuesday.
The Shin Bet says in a statement that the suspects “tied themselves to the incident” during their initial investigation.
A photograph of the car, posted on social media, showed that one of its wheels was punctured in the attack.
No injuries were reported.
PM says air force plays ‘crucial role’ in preventing Iranian nuclear weapons
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Israeli Air Force plays a “crucial role” in the government’s policy to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syrian and acquisition of nuclear weapons.
“We will not let Iran establish military bases in Syria, and we will not let Iran develop nuclear weapons. The Israeli Air Force plays a crucial role in implementing this policy and has done so consistently and effectively for the past several years,” Netanyahu says, speaking at the International Air Force Commanders Conference.
“Israel deeply appreciates the strong leadership of President Trump and Secretary Pompeo’s 12-point plan to block Iran’s aggression and I can tell you with confidence that the appreciation that I just expressed is broadly shared by many others in the Middle East. This is not just an Israeli position,” the prime minister adds.
US ambassador ‘more mortified than any Palestinian’ by Jerusalem photo without Dome of the Rock
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tells Hadashot news that he was “more mortified than any Palestinian” by the doctored aerial image of Jerusalem, in which the Dome of the Rock was replaced by a Jewish Temple, that he was photographed in front of on Tuesday.
Friedman calls the incident an “unfortunate thing” and said “he felt terrible that people might react to that the way they did.”
However, he takes issue with the criticism from Palestinian officials who blasted him as a “settler terrorist” following the photo’s publication.
“The US has given over $5 billion to the Palestinians since the 1990s. There is no country that comes close in financial aid and to trying to help the Palestinians build better lives,” Friedman says.
The ambassador says the US doesn’t “deserve this treatment” but that he was not offended by the criticism.
The US embassy in Jerusalem on Tuesday said the doctored photo was “thrust in front of” an unknowing Friedman for a photograph during a visit to a nonprofit.
Iran warns that US leaders will suffer same fate as Saddam Hussein if they attack Tehran
Iran warns that the US leadership would suffer the same fate as deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein if Washington strikes Tehran.
“The American leaders… have got this message that if they attack Iran, they will encounter a fate similar to that of Saddam Hussein,” says the secretary of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to state TV.
Pompeo: Pressure on Pyongyong will not change until credible steps taken toward denuclearization
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that Washington will not withdraw its economic pressure on North Korea until it sees “credible” steps taken toward denuclearization.
“Our posture will not change until we see credible steps taken toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Pompeo says at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
The secretary insists that the US is prepared to walk away from talks with Pyongyang if negotiations go south.
“A bad deal is not an option… The American people are counting on us to get this right. If the right deal is not on the table, we will respectfully walk away.”
Evidence points to Iranian work on long-range missiles at secret base — report
US weapons researchers found activity at a remote facility in the Iranian desert that points towards development of long-range missiles which could give Iran the reach to hit Europe or the United States, the New York Times reports Wednesday.
Satellite images appear to show, among other things, activity around a tunnel leading underground and evidence of powerful rocket engine tests that scorched telltale marks in the desert sand near to the city of Shahrud.
Although there are currently no international agreements restricting the range of Iranian missiles, US President Donald Trump had insisted that limitations be included in changes he wanted to make in the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which he eventually pulled the US out of on May 12.
According to the report, researchers from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey watched a recent Iranian documentary about rocket scientist Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a leading figure in the country’s missile development program who was killed in a devastating 2011 explosion at Iran’s main research facility near the town of Bidganeh. Based on details in the documentary they came to the conclusion that before he died Moghaddam had helped set up another facility that is still operational.
— Stuart Winer
PA warns US that any attempt to bypass Ramallah will further inflame tensions
The spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warns that any US attempt to “bypass” the Palestinian position will only add to the “deterioration and tension in the region and in the world.”
The comments from Nabil Abu Rudeineh are in reference to the peace plan that the Trump administration is expected to present next month.
Rudeineh says the proposal is “destined to fail” if it is not accepted by the Palestinians and is not compatible with relevant international resolutions.
2 Jewish fraternities at Ohio State suspended over hazing
Two historically Jewish fraternities at Ohio State University have been suspended over hazing activities that violate the Code of Student Conduct.
Alpha Epsilon Pi and Sigma Alpha Mu will not be able to apply to be reinstated until 2023, the university’s student newspaper The Lantern reports.
The fraternities violated the Code of Student Conduct, according to the newspaper.
AEPi has been the subject of five hearings before the Office of Student Life in 2017-2018, four of which led to findings of violations, according to the Office of Student Life. The fraternity has been on probation and educational sanctions since January.
Sigma Alpha Mu, which was the subject of two conduct cases this academic year, was suspended for two years in 2013.
Likud’s Glick says he reconciled with female MKs after inviting man who refuses get
Likud MK Yehudah Glick says he has reconciled with female lawmakers who snubbed his speech earlier this week over his Knesset invitation to a man who has refused his wife a get, religious bill of divorce, for over two years.
Glick, speaking in the Knesset plenum, says he can’t elaborate on the details of the case and declines to explain why he invited Yaron Atias, 39, for a meeting in Israel’s parliament.
The Likud lawmaker says he privately explained the situation to the MKs who walked out of his address, and maintains he is “aware of the sensitivity” of the issue. He also criticizes the female lawmakers’ behavior as “unfair.”
Some of the lawmakers who protested the invite, including Zionist Union MK Revital Swid, apologized on Wednesday, he says.
Swid, who is chairing the session, interjects that she apologized if she offended him, but did not regret the walkout.
Later addressing the plenum, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan of the Jewish Home party says he’s also coordinating with Atias to secure a divorce.
In a step it rarely takes, a district rabbinical court in the northern city of Haifa permitted Atias’s photograph and various details to be made public and called on the public to ostracize him in order to pressure him to grant the divorce sought by his wife, Mazal, who is currently living with her children in the north of Israel.
The court ruled people should not talk to him or do business with him, not host him, not visit him when he is sick, not grant him a public role in synagogue, not pray for him if he dies, not show him any respect, and stay away from him as much as possible.
— Marissa Newman
Knesset approves proposal to hold vote on recognizing Armenian genocide
As tensions between Israel and Turkey continue to escalate, the Knesset approves a proposal to hold a final debate next week on whether Israel should officially recognize the Armenian genocide.
No members of the coalition participated in the vote brought by Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, which passed 12-0.
Greek ‘far-right thugs’ escape jail time over mayor attack
Three suspected far-right supporters receive suspended jail terms for beating up the mayor of Greece’s second city Thessaloniki at a weekend rally.
A 20-year-old man found guilty of inflicting “dangerous bodily wounds” during Saturday’s attack on Yiannis Boutaris is given a 21-month suspended sentence.
Two other men, aged 20 and 36, receive slightly lesser terms after the tribunal in Thessaloniki convicted them of causing “material damage” and “social disturbance.”
Boutaris, 75, had to be escorted from a rally commemorating the massacre of Black Sea Greeks in Turkey during and after World War I when members of the crowd turned violent.
A fierce opponent of Greek ultra-nationalism, Boutaris told the court he had been heckled and called a “Turkophile and dirty Jew” just before the attack.
Footage of the incident shows people starting to throw objects at him as he prepared to leave. The mayor, who was later hospitalised, is seen falling to the ground.
USA Gymnastics apologizes in Congress for sex abuse scandal
The new head of USA Gymnastics apologizes before Congress for the “despicable” sexual abuse of Olympic gymnasts by disgraced team doctor Larry Nassar and pledges to make athlete safety the top priority.
The leader of USA Swimming also expresses regret during a congressional hearing for past sexual abuse scandals in the sport.
Referring to Nassar, Susanne Lyons, the acting CEO of the US Olympic Committee, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee the “Olympic community failed the people it was supposed to protect.”
“This is appalling and unacceptable,” Lyons said. “I would like to apologize once again to those individuals and their families.”
Khamenei: So long as Iranian leaders ‘perform their duties’ Tehran will defeat US
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asserts that so long as Iranian leaders “perform their duties,” the Islamic Republic will defeat the United States.
“There is no doubt that the Americans will be defeated … provided Iranian officials fully perform their duties,” Khamenei says.
The remarks are the first public ones given by the supreme leader since US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Washington’s 12 demands of Tehran for its inclusion in a nuclear treaty.
US ambassador: No other date for embassy move would’ve prevented Gaza violence
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tells Hadashot news that he does not believe that the violence in Gaza could have been avoided had Washington chose a different date to open its embassy in Jerusalem.
“I dont’ know that there would’ve been any other date to prevent what we saw,” Friedman says.
Palestinians were critical of the embassy move in general, but took particular offense in the US decision to inaugurate the building on Nakba Day.
Friedman: PA should comply with Trump plan if it benefits Palestinians
Asked whether he believes that the Palestinian Authority is capable of accepting any peace plan presented by the Trump administration, Ambassador Friedman says he “believes in democracy” and that “if we’re able to propose something that offers a more optimistic future to the Palestinian people” their leadership will have no choice but to comply.
At the same time, Friedman says he’s “concerned and disturbed by some of the things (PA President Mahmoud Abbas) has said.”
Abu Mazen has called Friedman a “son of a dog” and his adviser called him a “terrorist settler” on Tuesday.
Friedman on PM: An extraordinary leader capable of making concessions
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tells Hadashot news that he believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “an extraordinary leader” who is capable of making the concessions necessary for peace if he believes that what the US proposes is in Israel’s best interest.
Friedman says that he has “no doubt that he (Netanyahu) will move in the right direction” if the appropriate plan is presented by the Trump administration.
US still an honest broker, says Friedman
Ambassador Friedman tells Hadashot news that he still views the US as an honest broker in the peace process, despite Palestinian qualms to the contrary.
The envoy acknowledges that the US is “incredibly close to Israel… but that does not mean we cannot bring the parties together.”
Friedman says he is “pretty confident” that the US will succeed in doing so.
Israel seriously considering long-term cease fire with Hamas — report
Israel is seriously considering agreeing to a hudna — a long-term cessation of hostilities — with Hamas after rejecting the offer for weeks, Channel 10 reports.
Diplomatic officials tell the TV channel that Israel has given up on its demands that the terror group ruling Gaza demilitarize and the Palestinian Authority replace them in governing the coastal enclave.
Israeli officials are said to have recognized that with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s deteriorating health, the likelihood of the latter demand being met is increasingly low.
The agreement currently being negotiated through mediators in Egypt and Qatar would see Israel significantly ease its blockade of Gaza in exchange for the complete cessation of rocket fire and the digging of tunnels by terror groups in the strip.
The Egyptians would also ease restrictions at its Rafah crossing, according to the report.
Trump can’t block his critics on Twitter, judge rules
US President Donald Trump violated the US Constitution by blocking Twitter users who disagree with him, a federal judge rules in a case closely watched for implications for online free speech.
Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald says the blocking of Trump critics — which prevent them from seeing and interacting with the president’s tweets — violated the free speech rights of those users guaranteed in the constitution’s First Amendment.
In a 75-page opinion, the New York federal judge says the users “were indisputably blocked as a result of viewpoint discrimination” and that this was “impermissible under the First Amendment.”
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of Twitter users and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
The lawsuit contended that because Trump uses Twitter for a variety of policy announcements, his Twitter account is “a designated public forum” that cannot exclude people due to their political views.
Assad meets Russia envoy, hails ‘partners in victories’
Syrian President Bashar Assad hails Russia’s hand in his recent victories during a meeting in Damascus with the Kremlin’s special envoy to talks on the conflict.
It comes just days after his troops secured the capital from jihadists and less than a week since Assad travelled to Sochi to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Wednesday, the Russian envoy to Syria was in Damascus to meet Assad and other top Syrian officials, state news agency SANA reports.
Alexander Lavrentiev relayed Putin’s congratulations to Assad on the capital’s recapture, according to the agency.
Russia has backed Syria’s government for several decades but intervened militarily in its war in 2015, turning the tides for Assad.
“Russia’s leaders and its people are partners in these victories, which will not stop until the last terrorist is killed and the last terrorist pocket is liberated,” Assad says.
Trump lawyer Cohen distances himself from tax-cheating “Taxi King”
US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is distancing himself from an associate in the taxi industry who pleaded guilty to tax fraud.
Evgeny Freidman was dubbed the Taxi King of New York for managing cab fleets for investors including Cohen.
Freidman pleaded guilty Tuesday to pocketing $5 million in passenger fees that were supposed to fund public transportation.
Cohen tweets that he was “one of the thousands” of licensed taxi operators who turned to management companies.
He writes, “Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.”
A person briefed on his plea agreement says it requires him to cooperate with any ongoing investigation. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss it and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Cohen’s business dealings are being scrutinized by federal prosecutors.
University of California cancels event celebrating 50 years of studying abroad in Israel
An event celebrating 50 years of study in Israel through the University of California Education Abroad Program has been cancelled after alumni questioned holding the event as violence raged on the Gaza border.
A new event celebrating 50 years of educational partnership with Hebrew University was scheduled in its place on the same date, June 2.
The cancellation on May 16 of the original event was linked to the deaths of Palestinian protesters at the border fence between Israel and Gaza, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal reports. The event was set to take place at UCLA’s Hillel.
The original post on the UCEAP alumni page read: “Like many of you, we have observed the increasing tension on the Gaza-Israel border with sadness and deep concern. After careful consideration, UCEAP has decided to cancel the event recognizing 50 years of study abroad in Israel that was scheduled for Saturday, June 2. While we fully understand the value and impact that study abroad in Israel has had on the lives of UC students since 1968, we feel it would be inappropriate to host a celebratory event at this time. Thank you for understanding.”
The page now displays the new event with Hebrew University and notes: “Please excuse any confusion about the occurrence or timing of this event.”