The Times of Israel is liveblogged events on Thursday as they unfolded.
‘Coalition hints to Zionist Union there’s room’
The new government will be sworn in next Wednesday in the Knesset.
In the beginning of the week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will discuss the allocation of portfolios among Likud members. Israeli law mandates that the prime minister must present his government within a week of announcing to the president that he successfully established a coalition.
Coalition sources are examining a possibility of bringing to the Knesset plenum a bill to modify Basic Law: Government as early as this Monday, so as to legislate the possibility of naming more than 18 ministers and four deputy ministers.
According to an Israel Radio political analyst, the move aims to signal to future potential partners – like Zionist Union – that the government would welcome a larger majority by expanding the coalition.
Lapid slams move to raise number of ministers
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid criticizes the expansion of the government, calling it “robbery of the public coffers in broad daylight,” according to Israel Radio. Lapid says increasing the number of ministers would cost “hundreds of millions for totally redundant [ministerial] positions.” The money, Lapid says, should be invested in education, health and welfare.
Lapid’s colleague in Yesh Atid, MK Yaakov Peri, meanwhile, says the party will be a “focused” opposition. “If the government enacts policies which we support, we will give it backing,” says Peri.
Playing for the opposition
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and his party colleagues play soccer against members of the Russian Jewish Congress, marking the date of victory over Nazi Germany, 70 years ago.
Liberman, who was foreign minister until two days ago, kept his party out of the coalition being formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, preferring to sit in the opposition.
Israel okays 900 East Jerusalem homes – NGO
Israel has approved construction of 900 homes in East Jerusalem, a watchdog group says.
The new homes will be built in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo following a decision late Wednesday by the city’s district planning committee, Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran tells AFP.
“They’ve approved the request, and now they’re allowed to build,” she says.
Fierce fighting for Iraq’s largest refinery
The Islamic State jihadist group launched a fresh offensive against Iraq’s largest refinery, where a military official says security forces are facing one of their toughest battles.
The IS launched “a fierce attack at dawn and clashes are ongoing,” an army major general says on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the press.
The country’s largest refinery is located near the city of Baiji, around 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Baghdad.
Following a victory against jihadist fighters in Tikrit, government and allied forces have vowed to continue working their way north. Control of the Baiji area is seen as key step toward the reconquest of the main IS hub of Mosul.
“The battle for Baiji refinery is a real test for the Iraqi forces and it’s one of the most complicated battles we have,” the major general says.
Chaos after fire rips through Rome airport terminal
Dozens of flights were canceled and thousands of passengers had their travel plans wrecked Thursday after a fierce fire partially destroyed a terminal at the city’s Fiumicino airport.
The city’s main airport was closed to passengers for several hours after a blaze triggered by an electrical fault in a bar broke out in terminal three, which is used for international flights.
Three airport employees were treated for smoke inhalation but there were no serious injuries.
The fire erupted shortly after midnight and was not brought fully under control until more than five hours later, by which time the authorities had decided to cancel most of the morning’s flights and close the airport to passengers.
2 preemies born in Nepal released from hospital
Two preemies born in Nepal after the earthquake and subsequently flown to Israel were released from the Schneider Medical Center in Petah Tikva to their adoptive homes, Ynet reports.
The two were treated at the medical center for nine days.
Saudi Arabia mulling brief ceasefire in Yemen
Saudi Arabia is considering a five-day ceasefire in Yemen, says the country’s foreign minister.
Rivlin ‘salutes’ Israeli aid workers in Nepal
KATHMANDU, Nepal — In a scene straight out of “Good Morning, Vietnam!” President Rivlin went live at the Israel Defense Forces Field Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Thursday afternoon to congratulate the medical staff on work well done.
The commander of the field hospital, Col. Tarif Bader, and head of the Israeli delegation Col. Yoram Laredo received the call from the president and decided to broadcast it to the entire Israeli team using the field hospital’s PA system.
“Dear delegation, dear commanders, rescuers – you are the pride of the country, all of you. I follow your impressive work from the moment you landed on Nepal’s shaky ground and I have you in my thoughts with both concern and pride. Your delegation embodies all the state’s universal values – giving, morality, loving every person for their sheer humanity,” said Rivlin.
“I hope soon we will see you back home and we can hug each and every one of you warmly. Your work there is our pride as a nation and your actions with those who now need you so dearly is our face as a nation and a state. I salute you, my dear ones,” the president said.
Commander Bader thanked Rivlin for the call: “Your honor the president, your kind words and the support members of the delegation receive from the citizens of the State of Israel and the locals are wind in our sails to continue our important mission – saving human lives. We promise we will continue to proudly represent the State of Israel.”
IDF spokeswoman Libby Weiss says that the field hospital has already treated more than 1,000 patients, almost two weeks since the devastating earthquake tore through the south Asian country.
“Yesterday we treated our 1,000th patient, which really made us feel like we are doing important things,” she told The Times of Israel, adding that the IDF hospital is now treating more chronic diseases rather than earthquake-related injuries.
The IDF has approximately 120 medical staff on the ground in Nepal. The field hospital opened on April 28th. Weiss said the IDF does not have a final date for the end of their mission, though previous field hospitals to disaster areas have lasted between one to three weeks.
— Melanie Lidman
IAF light plane makes emergency landing in TA
A light plane used by the Israel Air Force made an emergency landing at Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov airfield due to a technical malfunction. There were no injuries or damage due to the emergency landing.
‘Jewish Home may leave but won’t be pushed out’
Jewish Home junior MK Yinon Magal says in a radio interview that his party will stay in the government even if Prime Minister Netanyahu expands his ruling coalition.
“The prime minister will seek to enlarge his coalition in the near future and this is legitimate,” Magal tells Galei Yisrael Radio. “But it will not come at Jewish Home’s expense.”
“Jewish Home will remain in the government until the end of its days, unless something happens that goes against the worldview of Jewish Home, in which case we will leave – but we will not be pushed out,” Magal adds.
Magal is responding to threats made by Likud officials implying that the “term of Jewish Home will be short-lived.” Likud officials and the prime minister were furious yesterday when they had to accede to far-reaching demands by Bennett and his party, whose leverage grew dramatically after Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announced on Tuesday he would not join the coalition.
Ethiopian community members protest in Ashkelon
Dozens of Israelis from the Ethiopian community are demonstrating in the coastal town of Ashkelon against what they call police violence and racism and the state’s failure to address the issues plaguing the community.
Police forces are accompanying the protest, Ynet reports, but so far there are no reports of traffic disturbances.
Obama congratulates Netanyahu on forming gov’t
Obama congratulates Netanyahu on forming a new government.
“President Obama looks forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the White House says, in a businesslike statement that followed fierce pre-election exchanges between the two men.
Operator of ship seized by Iran says vessel released
A Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship seized by Iran has been released and the crew members are all in good condition, according to the ship’s operator.
Rickmers Ship Management says in an e-mail that the MV Maersk Tigris was released following a court order. It will now continue on its scheduled voyage to Jebel Ali, in the United Arab Emirates, where it will be met by representatives from Rickmers and others.
Iranian forces seized the ship April 28 as it traversed the Strait of Hormuz. It was taken to Bandar Abbas, the main port of Iran’s navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats.
Hundreds of thousands of people at Mt. Meron
Police say hundreds of thousands of people made a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai on Mount Meron since the beginning of Lag B’Omer on Wednesday.
According to Israel Radio, parking lots in Carmiel and Hatzor, near the site in the north of Israel, are filled to capacity. Thousands of police officers, security guards and paramedics have been deployed. All roads leading to Mount Meron have by now been closed to traffic by private vehicles.
No unusual occurrences have been reported so far.
Saudi Arabia said planning pan-opposition meet on Syria after Assad
Saudi Arabia wants to bring together the many branches of Syria’s armed and political opposition to discuss what to do after the regime’s downfall, opposition sources say.
The Sunni-ruled kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a main backer of forces fighting to topple Syria’s President Bashar Assad, while its Shiite-dominated rival Iran backs him.
“In mid-June, Saudi leaders want to unite all — or a vast majority — of Syrian political and military opponents to prepare” for the period after Assad, says Haytham Manna, a veteran opposition figure.
This meeting would “not include the jihadists of (Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate) Al-Nusra Front and of the Islamic State group,” he says.
Rubio demands probe into Nisman’s death
US Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a Senate resolution calling for a “transparent and internationally backed” investigation into the death of Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman.
Rubio, R-Fla., who is a candidate for the Republican presidential race, introduced the resolution on Tuesday for consideration by the Foreign Relations Committee. The resolution notes that Nisman accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her government of covering up Iran’s role in the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires. Nisman’s complaint was dismissed last month on its last appeal.
It also mentions a Nisman investigation into Iranian agents in Latin America that also threaten the United States. In 2007, a Guyanese man, Abdul Kadir, plotted to blow up John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and was, according to Nisman, “the most important Iranian agent in Guyana,” Rubio wrote in the bill.
EU envoy ‘despairs’ over stuck peace process
The EU’s envoy to Israel, Lars Faaborg Andersen, participated in “Europe Day” at the University of Haifa and said that there was “increasing despair” among EU member states over the lack of progress in diplomacy with the Palestinians.
Andersen stressed that it was obvious that responsibility for reaching an agreement lay not only at Israel’s door but also at the Palestinians’, but added that the EU could not accept steps that turn the clock backwards, especially construction in the settlements.
Flemish nationalist leader disowns WWII Nazi collaboration
Right-wing Flanders leader Bart De Wever has disowned Flemish nationalist collaboration with the Nazis in World War II, still a hugely sensitive issue in a sharply divided Belgium.
Allegations of collaboration by Flemish nationalist parties, forerunners of De Wever’s own New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), regularly stoke tensions with Belgium’s French-speaking community in the south which takes pride in its WWII resistance to the Nazis.
“My own grandfather was a member of the VNV (Flemish National League), the nationalist party which collaborated massively,” De Wever told a Holocaust commemoration attended by members of the Jewish community in Antwerp, where he is mayor.
“I want to look at this straight in the eye. This collaboration was a terrible mistake, on all levels,” he said late Wednesday on VRT Flemish public TV.
“This is a dark page in history which Flemish nationalism has to look at squarely and never forget.
“Nazism and the Shoah were criminal mistakes. Nobody can deny and there is nothing to soften it,” he added.
Likud’s Ayoub Kara demands ministerial position
Likud MK Ayoub Kara threatens Prime Minister Netanyahu that if he won’t make him a minister, “there will be surprises.”
Kara, a member of the Druze community, says in an interview on the Knesset Channel that “it is inconceivable that there will be no Druze minister at the cabinet table – representing 20 percent of the non-Jewish citizens.”
Kara has been serving as an MK for the four past Knessets. He was elected in 1999 and then served as deputy speaker of the Knesset. He served in other positions in parliaments that were elected since.
In the interview, Kara is quite adamant: “There will not be a government that ignores the thousands of soldiers and Druze officers deployed along the borders of Israel, hurt by the nation-state bill and who need [the state] to embrace them again – to tell them: ‘You are part of the country.’”
Kara added that members of the Druze community, known for thir high volunteer rate for combat positions in the IDF, “were not only born for war, they were also born to sit at the cabinet table.”
Kara is 24th on the Likud’s slate.
Netherlands said to cut Holocaust survivor’s pension over West Bank residence
The Netherlands has cut the pension payments to a Jewish Dutch national who immigrated to Israel because she lives in the West Bank, Channel 2 reports.
The woman is 90 years old and a survivor of the Holocaust.
“She got a letter and it says, ‘Honorable lady, because you went to live in the West Bank and we have no agreement with this periphery, we are obligated to deduct a large amount from your old-age pension,'” the woman’s son tells Channel 2.
“This hit my mother so badly that she started crying. She hasn’t been sleeping since then, she lost her trust. She wants to leaver the country,” the man, whose voice was altered on TV and whose face remained off-screen, says.
“This a law voted on by the Dutch government” he continues. “It affected my mother catastrophically; I was personally shocked, my family was shocked. This is unbelievable: They are punishing a 90-year-old woman because she immigrated to Israel and because it’s the territories and she lives in the State of Israel… and this is her livelihood. I mean, this is her pension. How is this possible?”
The Channel did not quote a response from Dutch authorities.
Solidarity rally with Ethiopian community in Beersheba
Around 60 people are taking part in a solidarity rally with the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Beersheba, Ynet reports.
One of the participants says the “protest is educational. The goal is to create dialogue on the discrimination and racism from which we suffer. We do not want the protest to end as it started.”
People at the rally are holding signs reading, “This is not the protest of Ethiopians, it’s the protest of us all.”
Livni vows to defend IDF for its moral values
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni says Israel “will not let foreign entities judge the IDF through a skewered lens. The IDF is a moral army and I will let no one claim differently.”
Speaking at a ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the kibbutz movement, Ynet reports, Livni says that “one cannot confuse soldiers who go to war against terrorism with terrorists who seek to murder us. I will continue saying this also in days when criticism of Israel grows and I fear it may yet grow”
Livni speaks just days after the NGO Breaking the Silence publishes testimonies by soldiers who fought during Operation Protective Edge in which they tell of allegedly illegal combat activities they undertook during the summer war.
Last week, the UN published a report in which it conceded that UN facilities were used by Hamas but also alleged that the IDF attacked UN facilities unjustifiably.
Ex-justice minister praises appointment of Shaked
Former justice minister Daniel Friedman, who served in the role under prime minister Ehud Olmert, comes out in favor of the appointment of Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked for the role and said Shaked’s experience in the Knesset would enable her to enact reforms.
Friedman, who clashed with Israel’s judiciary over a series proposed reforms that aimed to reduce its powers, suggests several new reforms on Thursday: allowing the government to hire legal representation privately, not appointed by the attorney general, or allowing the government to reject assessments issued by the attorney general.
Friedman tells Israel Radio that one of the challenges facing the next government is legislating laws that would limit the capability of the High Court of Justice to overturn Knesset legislation, and to let the Knesset have the last word. Shaked has pursued such legislation in the past.
HRW: Palestinian authorities silence student dissent
A leading international rights group has raised concerns that the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank are increasingly clamping down on student dissent.
Human Rights Watch says that dozens of students were arrested in the territory for criticizing the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas or for their affiliation with Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip.
The New York-based group says one student was held without charges for almost two weeks by Palestinian security forces for “insulting a public official” after he called on Facebook for soccer official Jibril Rajoub to resign after the Palestinian team lost to Jordan.
Palestinian spokesman Adnan Dameri denied arbitrary arrests for political reasons in the West Bank. He says that “otherwise, you would have seen thousands of people in jail.”
US State Department ‘disappointed’ over E. J’lem housing plans
A US State Department official expresses disappointment over the announcement 900 homes will be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) May 7, 2015