Litzman turns down Gantz request to discuss unity government
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Gantz, Liberman to meet amid push for unity government

Blue and White chief underscores efforts to form broad coalition; Yisrael Beytenu says party not bound by any political alliance; ultra-Orthodox UTJ snubs Gantz offer to join talks

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (right) meets with Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman on September 23, 2019. (Elad Malka)
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz (right) meets with Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman on September 23, 2019. (Elad Malka)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.

Gantz prepares to receive mandate to form next government

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz is meeting with fellow party leaders ahead of receiving the mandate to form the next government from President Reuven Rivlin.

Gantz is getting the mandate after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition following the deadlocked September election.

Gantz too is expected to face difficulties in forming a majority coalition despite expressing confidence he can reach a deal for a unity government.

He will have 28 days to try, and if he too fails, can ask parliament to agree on a candidate for prime minister.

If that too does not produce a new government, Israel could face yet another election — a third in the space of a year.

Rivlin will officially mandate Gantz with the task at a ceremony at 8 p.m. at his residence.

Lebanese troops move in to open roads closed by protesters

Lebanese troops are moving in to open several major roads in Beirut and other cities, scuffling in some places with anti-government protesters who had blocked the streets for the past week.

Thousands of troops are being deployed in Beirut and its suburbs, and in the southern cities of Sidon and Tyre to clear the roads.

Beirut’s northern suburb of Zouk Mosbeh witnessed scuffles between protesters and troops who managed to briefly open the main highway to the capital before it was blocked again.

Nationwide demonstrations that began last week grew larger on Monday, after Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a package of economic reforms the government hopes would help revived the struggling economy.

The protesters have denounced Hariri’s package as empty promises and are demanding the resignation of his Cabinet.

— AP

Kremlin warns Syrian Kurds to abide by deal

The Kremlin warns Kurdish fighters that they will face a renewed Turkish onslaught if they fail to withdraw their forces in line with a Russia-Turkey deal.

The warning comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a deal to share control of Syria’s northeast.

Under the agreement, Turkey will hold the area it has seized in the invasion that began on Oct. 9, while Russian and Syrian troops will control the rest of the Syria-Turkey border. The deal gives Kurdish fighters 150 hours starting at noon Wednesday to withdraw from the area.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov warns that if the Kurds fail to do that, Russian and Syrian troops will step back and “the remaining Kurdish units will be steamrolled by the Turkish army.”

— AP

Russian forces head for Syrian-Turkish border — state media

Russian forces are crossing the Euphrates River in Syria and headed for the border with Turkey, state media reported Wednesday, under a deal for the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.

The Rossiya-24 television channel and TASS news agency quoted the defense ministry as saying the convoy of Russian military police had crossed the river at noon (0900 GMT) and “advanced towards the Syrian-Turkish border.”

The agreement will see Russian military police and Syrian border guards “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters and their weapons from within 30 kilometers (18 miles) of the Turkish-Syrian border.

This withdrawal must be finalized within 150 hours.

It was reached after marathon talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Tuesday.

It will also see Turkey preserve a “safe zone” inside Syria about 120 kilometers long (75 miles) and 32 kilometers deep. Russia and Turkey will eventually launch joint patrols along the zone.

— AFP

NATO urges Turkey to focus on IS threat in Syria

The NATO chief is calling for a political resolution to the conflict in Syria and urges Turkey to focus on the threat posed by the extremist Islamic State group, two weeks since Turkey invaded northeastern Syria in an offensive against Kurdish forces there.

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists aligned with a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says “the recent developments underscore the urgent need for a political solution” in Syria.

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters ride atop their armored personnel carrier to cross the border into Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, October 18, 2019 (AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel)

He says it’s important to ensure the extremists are defeated “and that we understand that the fight against ISIS is not over. They can come back.” ISIS is another acronym for the Islamic State group.

Russia and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to deploy their forces across nearly the entire northeastern Syria border to fill the void left by President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of US forces.

Stoltenberg says “it is a bit too early to judge the consequences” of that agreement.

NATO defense ministers will discuss Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria during talks in Brussels tomorrow.

— AP

Russian media releases photo of jailed Israeli Naama Issaschar

Russian media has released a picture of Naama Issachar, an American-Israeli backpacker sentenced to seven-and-a-half-years in prison earlier this month for drug smuggling.

According to reports to Russian media, Issachar met with a human right activist yesterday, who said the 23-year-old backpacker was in good health, learning Russian and practicing yoga with her fellow inmates.

Issachar told the activists that prison authorities were not able to coordinate a visit from a rabbi, and that she had requested to be allowed to receive phone calls from home.

Jailed Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar (L) meets Daniil Lomakin(R), a member of the Public Observation Commission of the Moscow Region at the Novo Grishino prison, outside Moscow, on October 23, 2019. (FSIN)

“We filed a petition with the court to let me call my mother and sister, but it has not yet been considered,” she said according to reports.

Issachar said she was grateful for all the public support, and was hopeful it would help secure her release

“I really want to get home. I hope that such publicity will help.”

The visit came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a potential pardon for Issachar.

Israeli officials reportedly believe Moscow is using Issachar, who also holds American citizenship, as leverage to ensure the return of Alexey Burkov, an IT specialist set to be extradited by Israel to the US, where he is wanted on embezzlement charges. Reports in the Hebrew media have indicated Israeli officials think Burkov may be tied to Russian intelligence.

British PM ‘appalled’ by 39 deaths in truck container

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is “appalled” by the discovery of 39 dead bodies in a truck container east of London.

“I’m appalled by this tragic incident in Essex. I am receiving regular updates and the Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened,” he writes on Twitter.

— AFP

Trial date finalized for Charlie Hebdo attacks

Fourteen people will go on trial in Paris next May over the January 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and other targets that heralded a wave of jihadist strikes on France, judicial sources said Wednesday.

The trial will take place from May 4 to July 10, lawyers and a judicial source tell AFP.

Seventeen people were killed over three days in and around Paris in January 2015 in the attacks.

Floral tributes are laid on the ground during a minutes silence in Paris on January 8, 2015, a day after Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. (photo credit: AFP/ MARTIN BUREAU

Cherif Kouachi and his brother Said killed 12 people on January 7 at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, including some of France’s best known cartoonists.

Over the following two days, a third gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, shot dead a young policewoman and killed four people at a Jewish supermarket.

All three gunmen, who had claimed allegiance to jihadist groups, were killed by police.

Mourad Hamyd, 20, the brother-in-law of one of the Islamic extremists behind the January 2015 attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo, waits in a detention centre in Sofia on August 15, 2016, prior to his extradition to France. (AFP/ DIMITAR DILKOFF)

The 14 accused are suspected of having provided logistical aid to the attackers.

The case will be heard by a special court seated, for logistical reasons, in a new, bigger building in the extreme northwest of Paris and not the Palace of Justice in the center that would ordinarily have hosted it, the sources said.

— AFP

Turkish troops, Syrian rebels take over Kurdish town

Turkish media reports say Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels are securing a town in northeastern Syria after Syrian Kurdish fighters pulled out of the area.

The private DHA news agency says the Turkish soldiers and Syrian rebels are using heavy machinery to fill in tunnels dug by the Kurdish fighters in Ras al Ayn. They were also disposing of traps or explosives left behind.

The private NTV television, meanwhile, showed a group of Syrian rebels standing on the roof of a building that was reportedly the Syrian Kurdish fighters’ headquarters, unfurling the Turkish and Syrian opposition flags.

The move came after the US announced Syrian Kurdish fighters completed their pullout from Ras al Ayn and other areas Turkey invaded this month.

Separately, Russia and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to deploy their forces across nearly the entire northeastern Syria border to fill the void left by President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of US forces.

— AFP

Syrian Kurdish man sets himself on fire outside UN refugee agency in Geneva

A Syrian Kurdish man set himself on fire outside the headquarters of the United Nations refugee agency earlier today and is receiving treatment for his injuries, police tell AFP.

The 31-year-old German resident did not provide any explanation for his actions, according to Geneva police spokesman Silvain Guillaume-Gentil.

“We can imagine his reasons, but we do not have anything concrete,” Guillaume-Gentil says. “He had a hard time expressing himself when help arrived.”

Kurds have organized a series of demonstrations to protest the assault that Turkey launched on October 9 against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria.

The incident occurred shortly before 8:00 am (0600 GMT) outside UNHCR, which is across the street from the Palais des Nations, the UN’s European headquarters.

Responders arrived quickly and the injured man was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Lausanne, where he was being treated for his injuries, police say.

— AFP

Iran says judo ban over Israel boycott policy based on ‘false claims’

Iran’s judo federation slams a newly imposed ban on its fighters taking part in international competitions, saying it was based on “false claims.”

The International Judo Federation said yesterday it had banned Iran indefinitely over the country’s refusal to allow its fighters to face Israeli opponents.

The IJF issued a provisional ban last month while probing allegations Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei had been ordered to lose a combat in order to avoid facing an Israeli at the World Championships in August.

The Iranian federation’s chief Arash Miresmaeili denounces the decision as a “cruel and a blatant betrayal,” the state news agency IRNA said.

Iran’s judoka Saeid Mollaei reacts after losing to Belgium’s Matthias Casse in the semi-final fight in the men’s under-81 kilogram category during the 2019 Judo World Championships in Tokyo on August 28, 2019. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

“The international federation shouldn’t have taken such a measure against judo in Iran merely based on a false claim by an athlete,” he was quoted as saying.

The decision, he says, would prevent teams of Iranian fighters from various age groups from being sent abroad.

Mollaei, who was defending his title at the World Championships in Tokyo last month, said he was ordered by the presidents of Iran’s judo federation and Olympics committee to throw his semi-final rather than risk facing an Israeli in the final of the -81kg class.

— AFP

Trump hails ‘big success’ with safe zone at Turkey-Syria border

US President Donald Trump is hailing a deal struck between Russia and Turkey to remove Kurdish fighters from the Syria-Turkey border, calling the agreement a “big success.”

Trump has been under fire for abruptly withdrawing US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to launch the offensive against the Kurds, US allies against the Islamic State group.

A convoy of Russian military vehicles drives toward the northeastern Syrian city of Kobane on October 23, 2019 (AFP)

Under the deal struck Tuesday in Sochi, Russian military police and Syrian border guards will “facilitate the removal” of Kurdish fighters from within 18 miles (30 kilometers) of the border, creating a “safe zone” inside Syria about 20 miles deep.

“Big success on the Turkey/Syria Border. Safe Zone created! Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended,” the president tweeted. “Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us. Captured ISIS prisoners secured.”

— AFP

Turkey, Russia said to discuss new S-400 supplies

Turkey is in talks to buy more S-400 missile defense systems from Moscow, Russia’s state arms exporter says, despite Washington’s repeated warnings against such a purchase.

Alexander Mikheyev, head of state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, tells the Interfax news agency that the two countries are discussing financing and “a delivery schedule.”

He does not provide further details on the ongoing talks.

Military vehicles and equipment, parts of the S-400 air defense systems, are unloaded from a Russian transport aircraft at Murted military airport in Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019. (Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

In July, NATO member Turkey received the first batch of Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems in a move that raised tensions with the United States.

In response, Washington kicked Turkey off its F-35 fighter jet program out of concerns that Russia would be able to glean sensitive technical knowledge about the new fighter if it is operated alongside the S-400.

— AFP

Netanyahu talks strategy with right-wing allies ahead of Gantz receiving mandate

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with the heads of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties, hours before President Reuven Rivlin is expected to hand the mandate to form the next government to his rival Benny Gantz.

The parties represent a 55-strong bloc of right-wing MKs who are endorsing Netanyahu for prime minister despite his failure to form a majority government following the deadlocked September election.

Reports in Hebrew-language media say Netanyahu convened the meeting to discuss strategy for the coming weeks.

Rivlin will officially mandate Gantz with the task at a ceremony at 8 p.m. at his residence. Gantz will have 28 days to form a majority coalition, and if he too fails, Rivlin can ask the Knesset to agree on a candidate for prime minister.

If that too does not produce a new government, Israel could face yet another election — a third in the space of a year.

Albania says police thwarted attack plot by Iranian terror cell

Albanian police say they have discovered an Iranian paramilitary network that allegedly planned attacks in Albania against exiled members of an Iranian group seeking to overthrow the government in Tehran.

Police chief Ardi Veliu says the foreign wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard operated an “active terrorist cell” targeting Mujahedin-e Khalq group members in Albania.

He does not say what the alleged plot involved, or whether any arrests were made.

Veliu says another planned attack on the group in Albania by Iranian government agents was foiled in March.

Last year Albania expelled Iran’s ambassador over alleged illegal activities threatening Albania’s security.

Outlawed in Iran, Mujahedin-e-Khalq was listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department until 2012. Some 2,500 of its members moved to Albania from Iraq in 2014.

— AP

Journalists protest Palestinian decision to close 49 websites

Journalists are calling for a Palestinian Authority court decision to close 49 websites and social media pages to be overturned, with activists saying it appeared to be aimed at silencing critics.

A PA court in the West Bank ordered the sites, most of them Palestinian, blocked on the grounds they were threats to “national security and peace.”

International press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says the order includes news sites with millions of Facebook followers, such as the Quds Network.

A lawyer for the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Alaa Freijat, tells AFP the court decision that came at the request of the attorney general was being appealed.

A picture taken on October 23, 2019, shows a Palestinian man holding a cell phone displaying the message “this website is not accessible,” at an office in the city of Hebron in the West Bank, following a Ramallah court’s ruling to block access to dozens of websites. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Mohammed al-Laham of the journalists’ union says that neither the PA’s information ministry nor the syndicate had been consulted in advance. He says dozens of journalists took part in a demonstration this afternoon, chanting, “Hands off of freedom of the press.”

A PA spokesman, Ibrahim Melhem, backed the journalists, calling on “the relevant authorities and the attorney general to overturn the decision.”

— AFP

IDF general resigns after report alleged affairs with subordinates

Brig. Gen. Shai Elbaz has reportedly resigned from his position as the head of operations for the Israeli Navy over a forthcoming Channel 12 exposé alleging he had multiple improper sexual relationships with subordinates.

The report on Elbaz’s alleged sexual harassment is due to air on Friday evening.

Ahead of its release, Elbaz sent a letter to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi asking to leave his position immediately. This request was accepted, according to Channel 12.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Elbaz has served as the head of naval operations since May 2018. He previously served as the head of the navy’s elite Shayetet 13 commando unit.

— Judah Ari Gross

Russian diplomat says US must close Syria base

A senior Russian diplomat says Moscow expects the United States to shut down its remaining military base in southern Syria.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin says the US troops must leave the base in Tanf near the Jordanian border. He says the “illegitimate” US presence should end to let the Syrian government fully reclaim control over the country.

Turkey invaded northeastern Syria on Oct. 9 to push back Kurdish fighters from its border following the withdrawal of US troops from the area. Yesterday, Russia and Turkey struck a deal to share control of Syria’s northern border and conduct joint patrols.

Members of the Maghawir al-Thawra Syrian opposition group receive firearms training from US Army Special Forces soldiers at the al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria on October 22, 2018. (AP/Lolita Baldor)

Vershinin says the deal followed an understanding reached in confidential contact between Russia, Damascus and the Kurds. He said the Kurds’ rights should be upheld in Syria’s new constitution.

— AP

Netanyahu appoints ex-Shin Bet head Avi Dichter deputy defense minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed Likud MK and former head of the Shin Bet security service Avi Dichter as deputy defense minister, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Dichter currently serves as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

In a statement, Dichter thanks Netanyahu — who is also defense minister — for the job, which comes “during a challenging time in Israel’s security.”

Netanyahu accepts Gantz invitation for talks on unity government

The Likud party says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted a request by the Blue and White party to hold talks tomorrow on forming a unity government.

Earlier today, Netanyahu and his right-wing allies agreed they would continue to hold coalition discussions as a united bloc, and would not hold individual meetings with Blue and White representatives.

Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they favor a national unity government, but the two men are divided over who should lead it.

Over 100 Islamic State prisoners have escaped in Syria — US envoy

More than 100 prisoners of the Islamic State extremist movement have escaped in Syria in the chaos since Turkey’s incursion, according to a senior US official.

“We would say the number is now over 100. We do not know where they are,” James Jeffrey, the State Department pointman on Syria, tells the House Foreign Affairs Committee when asked about the detainees.

— AFP

NGO says Palestinian cars vandalized in settler ‘price tag’ attack

More then 20 cars have been vandalized and a building was graffitied in the Palestinian town of al-Bireh in the central West Bank in what appears to be a “price tag” attack by Israeli settlers, according to the B’Tselem human rights group.

The cars had their tires slashed. On the wall of a building, the vandals spraypainted: “This is an order designating a ‘closed military zone.’ Traitors choose to harass Jews.”

The graffiti appeared to be a reference to a recent decision by the Israeli military to declare an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank a closed military zone after dozens of Israeli settlers living there attacked IDF troops, injuring one of them.

Security camera footage of the vandalism that was released by B’Tselem shows two people letting the air out of car tires and one of them spray painting the wall.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trump lifts Turkey sanctions, says ceasefire saving ‘many, many Kurdish lives’

US President Donald Trump says Turkey has informed the US it will make “permanent” a five-day ceasefire in Syria. In response, he says he’s directing the lifting of economic sanctions on Turkey.

Claiming success at the US-brokered effort, Trump says “this was an outcome created by us.” The ceasefire required Kurdish forces formerly allied with the US against the Islamic State group to move out of a roughly 20-mile (32-kilometer) zone on the Turkish border.

“We’ve saved the lives of many, many Kurds,” Trump says.

Trump says nearly all US troops will be leaving Syria but some will remain to safeguard oil fields in Syria. Russian forces have since begun joint patrols with Kurdish forces along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Trump says if Turkey breaches the ceasefire the sanctions could be reimposed.

— AP

Trump says ‘small number’ of US troops to remain in Syria oil area

US President Donald Trump says that a “small number” of US troops will remain at Syria’s oil fields despite a broader American withdrawal from the country.

“We have secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of US troops will remain in the area where they have the oil,” he says in a televised address from the White House.

Trump also announces that the US will be lifting sanctions on Turkey, hailing the success of a ceasefire along its border with Syria.

— AFP

Hanni Lévy, who survived Holocaust in Berlin hideout, dies

Hanni Lévy, who survived the Holocaust hiding out in Berlin, has died. She was 95.

Claus Raefle, a German movie director who knew Lévy, says that Lévy’s family informed him she had died overnight at her home in Paris. Her death was first reported by Jewish weekly Juedische Allgemeine.

Raefle’s 2017 film “The Invisibles” tells the story of four Jews, including Lévy, trying to avoid deportation in the capital of Nazi Germany.

In this Jan. 1, 2018 photo shows Holocaust survivor Hanni Levy at a convention in Hanover, Germany. (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)

Born Hanni Weißenberg in 1924, Lévy later recounted how she colored her hair blond and assumed the name Hannelore Winkler to evade suspicion. With the Nazis searching for her, Lévy managed to find shelter with non-Jewish Berliners who Israel honored after the war as Righteous Among the Nations.

About 1,700 Jews survived the Holocaust in Berlin.

— AP

Norway police say no terror motive in ambulance rampage

Norwegian authorities say that a man who allegedly stole an ambulance and ran down four pedestrians in Oslo appears to be a common criminal rather than a terrorist.

Yesterday, the 32-year-old man slightly injured the pedestrians, including seven-month-old twins, in what police called a “deliberate” act.

He was arrested a short time later and identified as someone who already had a criminal record, and who some Norwegian media said had links to far-right groups.

A man is arrested by the police after hijacking an ambulance in Oslo, Norway on October 22, 2019 (Cathrine Hellesoy/AFP)

But “it looks now like a common criminal case that does not concern us,” said Martin Bernsen, spokesman for the PST interior security service that handles anti-terrorist matters.

“At this point, we are not treating this as a terrorist matter,” Bernsen told AFP, though he noted that the investigation was at an early stage.

— AFP

Painting stolen by Nazis recovered from New York museum

A painting that was stolen by the Nazis has been recovered from an upstate New York museum by the FBI.

The work “Winter” by American artist Gari Melchers was part of the collection at the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie before it was recovered Sept. 10.

Court documents say German publisher and philanthropist Rudolf Mosse acquired the painting at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in 1900. The Nazi government seized control of the family’s art collection after Mosse’s family members fled Germany in 1933.

Suzan D. Friedlander, the museum’s executive director and chief curator, told The Times Union the institution “was of course very upset to learn the history of the painting’s seizure.”

The FBI will hold the painting until it is reunited with the Mosse family.

— AP

Rivlin tasks Gantz with forming next government

President Reuven Rivlin tasks Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz with forming a government on Wednesday evening, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced earlier this week he was unable to do so.

Rivlin officially mandates Gantz with the task at a ceremony at his residence in Jerusalem.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L) is officially tasked by President Reuven Rivlin (R) to form the next coalition, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

Gantz will have 28 days to try, and if like Netanyahu he too fails, Rivlin can ask the Knesset to agree on a candidate for prime minister.

If that too does not produce a new government, Israel could face yet another election — a third within a year.

Urging compromise, Rivlin calls to form government ‘as soon as possible’

President Reuven Rivlin says he is giving Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz the mandate to form the next government because Netanyahu was unable to do so.

He calls for unity and underscores the importance of forming a government following the deadlocked September elections.

“These are fateful days,” Rivlin says at the ceremony held at the President’s Residence. “The urgency of the hour and the challenges that we are facing us obligate us to form a government as soon as possible.”

“As long as there are boycotts and delegitimization of certain groups in Israeli society, and as long as there is no real willingness to compromise and come to an agreement, there will not be a government.”

Accepting mandate, Gantz calls for ‘national reconciliation government’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz vows to form a liberal unity government in Israel that will promote reconciliation, saying it’s time to put an end to the “political chaos” in Israel.

“I promised to form a liberal unity government, and that is what I will do,” Gantz says after accepting the mandate from Rivlin.

“I also intend to do everything in my power to form a national reconciliation government that will heal the rifts among the tribes,” he says adding that “we are here to represent everyone, the ultra-Orthodox… Arab Israelis, our Druze brothers, and everyone else.”

“I will work for all of the people of Israel. A government that Israel is desperate for. We will form a government, that will push for peace and will know to deal definitively with every enemy,” says the former IDF chief of staff.

“I will do everything I can to create a government of national healing that will unite the tribes,” Gantz stresses.

“Everyone is expecting that we will put an end to this political chaos, and present a calm, functioning and safe country,” Gantz adds.

Israeli tourist holds worker hostage at Venice currency exchange

An Israeli tourist held a worker at a Venice currency exchange hostage over a money dispute, according to a CNN report.

The report quotes a police statement saying that a 46-year-old Israeli man was arrested earlier today after he barricaded himself inside the currency exchange office with a female worker.

The man was reportedly dissatisfied with the exchange rate he received and demanded to reverse the transaction and be refunded his money.

“He pulled down the shutters and prevented the woman from getting out of her booth for more than half an hour,” police say, adding that the worker was “dismayed and frightened.”

According to the statement, the Israeli tourist has been arrested for kidnapping.

Gantz, Liberman agree to meet amid push for unity government

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman have agreed to meet “soon” to discuss efforts to form a unity government.

A statement from Gantz’s party says the two spoke on the phone shortly after President Reuven Rivlin officially tasked the Blue and White chief with forming the next government.

Blue and White says Gantz stressed to Liberman his desire to form a liberal unity government.

After the call, Yisrael Beytenu released a statement saying that it was not beholden to any one party, and while it wanted to avoid a third election, it would act in the best interest of its constituents.

Netanyahu’s Likud party also released a statement after Gantz received the mandate, saying that Rivlin’s plan to form a broad unity government was the only way to prevent another election.

UN expert calls for ban on Israeli products from settlements

The UN independent expert on human rights in the Palestinian territories is calling for an international ban on all products made in Israeli settlements, as a step to potentially end Israel’s 52-year-old “illegal occupation.”

Michael Lynk tells the General Assembly’s human rights committee that the international community should also issue “a clarion call to the United Nations” to complete and release a database “on businesses engaged in activities related to the illegal settlements.”

Workers at a cherry processing plant in a West Bank settlement. May 25, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Lynk says the international community has a responsibility and a legal obligation to compel Israel to completely end its occupation and remove barriers to self-determination for the Palestinians.

Israel is deeply opposed to a Palestinian-led international boycott movement, which it views as an attack on its very existence. Supporters of the boycotts say they are a non-violent way of protesting Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

— AP

Litzman turns down Gantz request to discuss unity government

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party turns down an invitation by Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to discuss a unity government.

A statement from Blue and White says that UTJ chief Yaakov Litzman refused Gantz’s offer to meet during a phone call earlier this evening, saying he would not negotiate joining a government without the Likud and other members of the right-wing bloc that backs Netanyahu for prime minister.

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Litzman turns down Gantz request to discuss unity government

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party turns down an invitation by Blue and White chief Benny Gantz to discuss a unity government.

A statement from Blue and White says that UTJ chief Yaakov Litzman refused Gantz’s offer to meet during a phone call earlier this evening, saying he would not negotiate joining a government without the Likud and other members of the right-wing bloc that backs Netanyahu for prime minister.