Manhunt for Ariel shooter underway in northern West Bank
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After court bans Knesset run, Ben Ari claims Israel controlled by ‘legal junta’

Controversial leader of extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party slams ruling as undemocratic, says AG Mandelblit behind power grab at Justice Ministry

Otzma Yehudit leader Michael Ben Ari attends a Central Elections Committee meeting at the Knesset on March 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit leader Michael Ben Ari attends a Central Elections Committee meeting at the Knesset on March 6, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

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

Manhunt for Ariel shooter underway in northern West Bank

Israeli security forces are searching the Palestinian town of Salfit for the man who killed an Israeli man and injured two others in an attack at the Ariel Junction earlier today.

According to reports in Palestinian media, IDF forces were searching homes and properties in the nearby town of Salfit in the northern West Bank.

The Quds News Network says barriers were set up around the town, and drones were assisting troops in searching for the fugitive.

Jordan condemns ‘dangerous’ Israeli decision to shutter building at Temple Mount

Jordan is condemning a ruling by an Israeli court to shutter a side building on the Temple Mount that has been the source of tensions between security forces and the Islamic Waqf, which acts as the custodian of the volatile holy site on behalf of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

A statement from Jordan’s Foreign Ministry says it sees Israel as responsible for the “dangerous consequences of the decision” and calls for the ruling regarding the Gate of Mercy to be reversed.

“According to international law, East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are part of the Palestinian lands that were occupied in 1969 are therefore not under the jurisdiction of the Israeli legal system,” the statement says according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

Earlier, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the Gate of Mercy or Golden Gate closed while legal proceedings continue.

Pope offers prayers for mosque shooting victims

Pope Francis offers prayers for “our Muslim brothers” killed in the attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Francis in his traditional Sunday prayer says that the mosque attack victims were added “to the pain wars and conflicts that don’t cease to afflict humanity.”

Francis leads the faithful in a silent prayer “for our Muslim brothers who were killed” and renewed “an invitation to unite in prayer and gestures of peace to oppose hatred and violence.”

Flower rest at a road block, as two police officer stands guard near the makeshift memorial near the Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP/Vincent Thian)

The public prayers follow a telegram of condolences sent after the Friday attacks that claimed 50 victims in which the pontiff denounced “the senseless acts of violence.”

A 28-year-old white supremacist from Australia is suspected of carrying out the worst terror attack in New Zealand’s modern history.

— AP

Launching election campaign, Bennett vows to free IDF of High Court ‘restrictions’

The New Right Party led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked launches a new campaign Sunday ahead of the upcoming election, vowing to defeat both the Hamas terror group and the High Court of Justice.

“My mission and that of Ayelet Shaked is clear: to release the IDF from the restrictions of the High Court of Justice so the IDF can defeat Hamas,” Bennett says at a press conference in Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolov.

Referring to the deadly shooting attack in the West Bank earlier today, Bennett claims the soldiers at the scene hesitated before opening fire at the assailant out of fears they would be prosecuted.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at a New Right party press conference in Tel Aviv on February 7, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“When soldiers see a terrorist they think five times before they open fire on him because they’re afraid they will get taken to court,” he says.

“It’s time to be honest and say that the High Court of Justice is tying the hands of IDF soldiers who are trying to defeat terror,” Bennett says.

Initial reports following the shooting at Ariel junction this morning indicated that the soldiers failed to open fire at the gunman during the attack, but an IDF official later told The Times of Israel that the soldiers did shoot back at the attacker, who still managed to flee the scene.

Iran’s president inaugurates new gas projects

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani inaugurates a new phase in the development of a massive natural gas field.

State TV quotes the CEO of the South Pars gas field company, Mohammad Meshkinfam, as saying the development will allow Iran to overtake Qatar in the production of natural gas. The two countries are among the biggest gas producers in the world, and share the South Pars gas field, which is beneath the Persian Gulf.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in Tehran, Iran, January 10, 2019 (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Rouhani presides over the inauguration of four projects with a total annual investment of $5 billion. Each will produce an additional 56 million cubic meters of natural gas and 75,000 barrels of condensate per day.

Iran currently produces more than 600 million cubic meters of gas and 200,000 barrels of condensate per day.

— AP

UN envoy says Hamas ‘brutally beating’ Gaza protesters

A United Nations envoy condemns Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, accusing the group of violently suppressing peaceful protests.

Since Thursday, hundreds of Palestinians have taken to the streets in multiple locations throughout the Gaza Strip, protesting the rising cost of living.

Dozens have been arrested, including journalists and human rights workers, with security forces using violence to break up the demonstrations, according to rights groups.

“I strongly condemn the campaign of arrests and violence used by Hamas security forces against protesters, including women and children, in Gaza over the past three days,” UN envoy to Israel and the Palestinian territories Nickolay Mladenov says in a statement.

A screenshot of video shown by the Kan public broadcaster of a protest in the Gaza Strip over the cost of living on March 15, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

“I am particularly alarmed by the brutal beating of journalists and staff from the Independent Commission for Human Rights and the raiding of homes.

“The long-suffering people of Gaza were protesting the dire economic situation and demanded an improvement in the quality of life in the Gaza Strip. It is their right to protest without fear of reprisal.”

— AFP

Twitter account run by Israel aimed at Gulf Arabs reaches 10k followers

An Arabic-language Twitter launched launched last month by Israel’s Foreign Ministry as part of diplomatic outreach to the Gulf states has reached 10,000 followers.

The ministry says in a statement that its @IsraelintheGulf handle serves as a “virtual embassy designed to promote dialogue between Israel and the Gulf.”

The posts are a combination of politics, technology, sports, and “other areas of mutual interest including the Iran issue.”

IDF identifies West Bank attack victim as 19-year-old soldier Gal Keidan

The Israeli man killed in a stabbing and shooting attack in the northern West Bank earlier today is identified as IDF Lt. Gal Keidan, according to the military spokesperson’s office.

The 19-year-old from the southern city of Beersheba was posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

An undated picture of IDF soldier Gal Keidan, who was killed in a shooting attack in the northern West Bank on March 17, 2019. (IDF Spokesperson)

Kaidan will be laid to rest at the Beersheba military cemetery tomorrow at 11 a.m.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announces presidential run

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand officially announces she will seek the Democratic party’s nomination for the 2020 presidential election, taking aim at Donald Trump as she formally joined the crowded field of challengers.

In a video released earlier today, she says the American national anthem poses the question: “Will brave win?”

“Well, it hasn’t always, and it isn’t right now,” she says. “Brave doesn’t pit people against each other. Brave doesn’t put money over lives. Brave doesn’t spread hate. Cloud truth. Build a wall. That’s what fear does.”

The announcement was widely expected after the 52-year-old champion of women’s rights told TV host Stephen Colbert in January she would be forming an exploratory committee.

In an election cycle where Democratic candidates are tilting heavily to the left, Gillibrand toutes her vote against the Wall Street bailouts supported by both major parties, pledges to work for universal health care, and pass the so-called Green New Deal, an economic stimulus program aimed at tackling climate change.

Gillibrand joins more than a dozen Democrats already in the race, including Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and independent Bernie Sanders who ran against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

— AFP

US-backed forces admit to ‘difficulties’ beating IS in Syria

US-backed forces fighting to take back the last Islamic State outpost in Syria say they are facing difficulties defeating the jihadist group.

A spokesman says their effort is being slowed by mines, tunnels, and the possibility of harming women and children still in the village.

Dozens of men and women were seen walking around the besieged IS encampment in the village of Baghouz, as fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces watched from a hilltop close by.

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) soldiers watch from a rooftop the battle to oust Islamic State militants from Baghouz, Syria, March 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel says the camp was approximately 250 square kilometers in size — much the same area it was five weeks ago, when the SDF said it was going to finally conclude the battle.

“We are facing several difficulties regarding the operations,” Gabriel tells reporters outside Baghouz.

— AP

US Mideast envoy condemns ‘brutal’ West Bank attack

US envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt condemns the “brutal” attacks in the northern West Bank earlier today in which an Israeli solider was killed and two others seriously injured.

In posts to Twitter, Greenblatt says the US “condemn[s] today’s brutal attack by a Palestinian terrorist who murdered at least 1 Israeli & injured others near Ariel.”

In a follow up post, Greenblatt says “disgustingly, but not surprisingly, Hamas & Palestinian Islamic Jihad welcomed the attack & no doubt the Palestinian Authority will reward the terrorist under its pay for slay policy.”

Israeli security forces were searching the Salfit area in the northern West Bank for the gunman, who fled after carrying out the deadly stabbing and shooting attack near the Ariel Junction.

Hand grenade attached to model plane found along highway near Gaza

A hand grenade attacked to a Styrofoam airplane was found near Route 234 in southern Israel this afternoon.

Sappers closed the road at the Re’im Junction, adjacent to the Gaza Strip, to defuse the explosive device, according to a report on Channel 13.

Gaza journalist group says Hamas holding 7 reporters covering economic protests

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate says that the Hamas security forces are holding seven journalists covering the growing economic protests in the Strip.

A source in the Journalists Syndicate tells The Times of Israel the security forces arrested the journalists for covering protests against the high cost of living in Gaza.

He says that Hamas has promised the group that the reporters will be released in the coming hours.

A screenshot of video shown by the Kan public broadcaster of a protest in the Gaza Strip over the cost of living on March 15, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The group says that 17 reporters have been arrested since the protests began on Thursday. It also says it has documented Hamas security forces beating journalists, confiscating their cellphones and other equipment.

It also accuses the security forces of beating Osama al-Kahlout, one of the journalists who it said has been in custody for four days.

— Adam Rasgon

Palestinian teen caught with knife at Tomb of the Patriarchs

Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian teenage girl who sneaked a knife into the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, police say in a statement.

The 17-year-old from Hebron brandished the knife at Border Police officers guarding the site, but was overpowered.

The statement says the teen was detained for questioning.

Knife found on a Hebron teenager at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on March 17, 2019. (Israel Police)

Ariel attacker shot, injured by Israeli soldiers at the scene — report

The Kan public broadcaster says the initial IDF investigation of the shooting and stabbing attack in the West Bank earlier today has revealed that soldiers at the scene did open fire at the assailant, but he managed to escape anyway.

Media reports immediately following the attack at Ariel Junction this morning said that the soldiers failed to open fire at the gunman during the attack, allowing him to flee the scene. But an IDF official later denied the reports to the The Times of Israel.

According to Kan, the soldier standing next to Sgt. Gal Keidan did not shoot at the attacker, but an IDF commander standing across the street who saw the attacker fatally stab Keidan did open fire.

The report says the IDF commander shot the attacker in the shoulder, but he still managed to flee the scene.

Later in the evening, the IDF releases video footage of troops searching Palestinian villages in the northern West Bank for the attacker.

Black boxes show ‘clear similarities’ between Ethiopia, Lion Air crashes

Black box data indicate “clear similarities” between last week’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet and the October crash of an Indonesian Lion Air plane, Ethiopia’s transport minister says.

Workers collect clothes and other materials, under the instruction of investigators, at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia on March 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

“Clear similarities were noted between Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which would be the subject of further study during the investigation,” Dagmawit Moges tells journalists, adding that a preliminary report into last Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed 157 people will be released in “30 days.”

— AFP

IDF chief visits site of deadly Ariel attack

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi visits the scene of two terror attacks in the northern West Bank where he is briefed on the ongoing manhunt for the assailant who killed an Israeli soldier at the Ariel Junction earlier today.

IDF forces were combing the nearby Palestinian town of Bruqin for the attacker.

Ashkelon woman seriously injured by apparent gas balloon explosion

A woman in Ashkelon is seriously injured when part of her apartment building collapsed due to an apparent gas balloon explosion, according to first responders.

Magen David Adom paramedics say the explosion collapsed a balcony in the building, and sparked a fire in the building.

It is not clear if there are any residents trapped inside.

High Court bars far-right party leader Ben Ari from upcoming elections

The High Court of Justice bars the leader far-right Otzma Yehudit party Michael Ben Ari from running in the upcoming elections, and reverses the disqualification of an Arab slate and a far-left Jewish candidate.

In an 8-1 vote, the justices vote in favor of a petition calling for Ben Ari to be disqualified over his anti-Arab views. The Central Elections committee narrowly approved his candidacy earlier this month.

Ben-Ari has come under fire for comments he made about Israeli Arabs, which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said earlier this month amount to “incitement to racism”.

Otzma Yehudit party’s Michael Ben Ari attends a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 14, 2019, to be allowed to run for a Knesset seat. ( GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The court also votes to reverse the committee’s decision to ban Arab joint slate Ra’am-Balad and Ofer Kasif from running the April election.

Union of Right Wing Parties says Ben Ari ban a ‘violation of democracy’

The Union of Right Wing Parties slams the High Court for banning the leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party over his anti-Arab views

“In Israel, the democracy is for appearances only,” the right-wing slate says in a statement. “The judiciary has taken Israeli citizens’ right to choose, in an unprecedented manner.”

We are committed to stopping this violation of democracy by the justices of the High Court of Justice,” the Union says.

The Union of Right Wing Parties includes the Jewish Home party and the extremist right-wing Otzma Yehudit on its slate for April’s elections.

Ben Ari blames Knesset ban on Justice Ministry ‘junta’ led by Mandelblit

Michael Ben Ari condemns the High Court decision to ban him from the upcoming elections as undemocratic, and the result of a “legal junta” led by Attorney General Avichai Mandelbit has taken over Israel.

“This isn’t a democracy,” he tells journalists after the court ruling. “The legal junta took power, and are trying to control our lives.”

Ben Ari also directs remarks at Tamar Zandberg, whose Meretz party petitioned the court against his candidacy.

“You won’t be able to suppress us. You who embraces terrorists and murders, your path is short, but ours will win,” he says.

Leading international architects urge Netanyahu to cancel cable car plan

A group of leading international architects is appealing to Israel’s government to halt its controversial plan to build a cable car to Jerusalem’s Old City.

Some 30 architects, including Spanish Santiago Calatrava, famed for designing Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge, celebrated American architect Thom Mayne, and Israeli-born Moshe Safdie added their voices to public outcry against the project, in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The planned cable car to Jerusalem’s Old City, as seen in a screenshot from a video by the NGO Emek Shaveh.

It calls the cable car a threat to Jerusalem’s “ancient landscape and precious heritage,” and accused powerful interest groups of prioritizing tourism and political agendas over religious and cultural values.

Approved last fall by Israel’s Tourism Ministry as a way to ferry visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City, over traffic-clogged streets, the project has prompted a flood of complaints from Palestinian residents and urban planners.

— AP

New poll shows Likud overtaking Gantz’s Blue and White for first time

A new poll commissioned by the Kan public broadcaster shows the ruling Likud party overtake centrist Blue and White party for the first time.

The poll conducted in the wake of the surging tensions in the Gaza Strip and the alleged Iranian hacking of the party leader Benny Gantz’s phone shows that if elections were held today, the Likud would take 31 seats to Blue and White’s 30.

The results show the Labor party taking 9 seats, the Hadash-Ta’al joint Arab list with 8 and the New Right with 6. The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism polled at 6 seats and the Union of Right Wing parties at 4.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party and Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party do not pass the electoral threshold.

Kan says the majority of respondents agreed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “moderate” response to the recent Gaza rockets. Some 44 percent of those polled say they think that Netanyahu leaked the Gantz hacking story.

New Zealand mosque shooting suspect reportedly visited Israel in 2016

New Zealand mosque shooting suspect Brenton Tarrant visited Israel in 2016 for several days, Channel 13 news reports, as more details about the gunman emerge.

A senior immigration official tells the TV news station that Tarrant arrived in Israel from Turkey on October 25 using his Australian passport. He was granted a 90-day tourist visa, and left the country nine days later.

The official says Tarrant did not raise red flags during security checks.

Earlier on Sunday, police in Greece said Tarrant had visited the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini, and had traveled through the country twice, all in 2016.

This frame from video that was livestreamed on March 15, 2019, shows gunman Brenton Tarrant in a car before the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Shooter’s Video via AP)

Authorities in Bulgaria, Turkey, Croatia, and Hungary have also confirmed visits by Tarrant between 2016 and 2018, as he apparently studied battles between Christians and the Ottoman Empire.

In a statement, Greek police said Tarrant entered the country twice in 2016 on transit flights on November 29 and December 10.

In March 2016, he entered the country on a flight from Istanbul and stayed for a few days in Heraklion, Crete and Santorini.

Authorities are investigating any phone calls or purchases Tarrant made in Greece. On Tarrant’s rifle was written the Greek word meaning “Turk-eater” or, metaphorically, “Turk-slayer.”

The AP contributed to this report.

Israel to resume Egypt-mediated talks with Hamas — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his security cabinet that Israel will return to Egypt-mediated talks with Hamas to prevent further escalation in the Gaza Strip.

Two ministers who attended the security cabinet meeting tell Channel 13 that Netanyahu and top IDF brass announced the resumption of the indirect talks in the wake of the rockets fired at Tel Aviv last week.

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Manhunt for Ariel shooter underway in northern West Bank

Israeli security forces are searching the Palestinian town of Salfit for the man who killed an Israeli man and injured two others in an attack at the Ariel Junction earlier today.

According to reports in Palestinian media, IDF forces were searching homes and properties in the nearby town of Salfit in the northern West Bank.

The Quds News Network says barriers were set up around the town, and drones were assisting troops in searching for the fugitive.