Ministers nix decriminalization of cannabis
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AIPAC attendees ‘trapped inside’ due to pro-Palestinian rally

Conference guests cite law enforcement orders to stay inside temporarily, while footage shows protesters outside chanting ‘Shut it down’

IDF soldiers load caskets carrying the bodies of Israelis killed in a suicide bombing a day earlier in Istanbul onto an IDF airplane, March 20, 2016. (IDF Spokesman)
IDF soldiers load caskets carrying the bodies of Israelis killed in a suicide bombing a day earlier in Istanbul onto an IDF airplane, March 20, 2016. (IDF Spokesman)

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

Israel issues Turkey travel warning

Israel is warning against traveling to Turkey after three of its citizens are killed in the suicide bombing in Istanbul yesterday.


Pope decries indifference to refugees

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis in his Palm Sunday homily decries what he calls indifference to the refugees flooding into Europe, making a comparison to authorities who washed their hands of Jesus’ fate ahead of his crucifixion.

Francis abandons his homily text to lament Europe’s handling of the influx of migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing war, persecution or poverty from Syria, Iraq, Africa and elsewhere.

Jesus was “denied every justice,” the pope says. “Jesus also suffered on his own skin indifference, because no one wanted to take on the responsibility for his destiny.”

“And I am thinking of so many people, so many on the margins, so many refugees” for whom “many don’t want to assume responsibility for their destiny,” Francis says in a clear reference to Europe’s migration debate.

— AP

Lawyer for Paris attacks suspect plans action against prosecutor

Terror suspect Salah Abdeslam’s Belgian lawyer says he plans to take legal action against a French prosecutor for breaching the confidentiality of the investigation into the deadly November 13 rampage in Paris.

Sven Mary tells Belgian public broadcaster RTBF that part of the press conference given by Paris prosecutor Francois Molins on Friday “is a violation. It’s a fault, and I cannot let it go unchallenged.”

Molins says Abdeslam told Belgian officials he had “wanted to blow himself up at the Stade de France” as a suicide bomber on November 13 but that he backed out at the last minute.

France is seeking Abdeslam’s extradition for trial there, but Mary says he will fight any attempt to hand over his client.

— AP

14 students killed, 30 injured in Spain bus crash

A bus carrying university students back from a fireworks festival crashes on a main highway in northeastern Spain, killing 14 passengers and injuring 30 others, a Catalonian official says.

The bus carrying more than 50 passengers appears to have hit the right-hand side barriers of the AP7 highway before cartwheeling across the road and slamming into the central fence, landing on its side, says Jordi Jane, spokesman for Spain’s northeastern Catalonia province.

Jane says emergency rescue workers are still working to clear the wreckage that had closed the major highway linking Spain with France along the Mediterranean coast in both directions.

The bus driver is being held at a police station in the city of Tortosa, Jane says. Road conditions were good at the time of the crash and an investigation is looking into the cause of the accident, he says.

Jane says most passengers on the bus are studying at two universities in Barcelona, but does not comment immediately on their nationalities.

— AP

Coalition’s party leaders back NGO funding bill

The heads of the parties in the ruling coalition agree to support the so-called “V15 bill,” which seeks to limit NGOs’s ability to fund-raise during election seasons, the Walla website reports.

According to Channel 2, the proposed legislation would ban any group that conducts polls, registers voters or advertises in the media from accepting donations of more than NIS 20,000 ($5,000) per month during the run-up to elections.

V15 was one of the groups that campaigned to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2015 elections. It has since changed its name to Darkhenu (Our Way).

The bill is to be presented for its preliminary reading on Wednesday.

Iran issues Turkey travel warning, too

Iran’s embassy in Turkey is warning Iranians not to travel to Turkey and calls it a new target for terrorist attacks, the Walla website says, citing Iranian media.

The embassy statement comes a day after the deadly suicide bombing in Istanbul that killed three Israelis and an Iranian.

Friend: Istanbul bomb victim was happiest person I knew

A friend pays tribute to Istanbul bomb victim Yonatan Shurer as “the happiest person I’ve ever met.”

Doron Berger, a close friend of the 40-year-old Tel Aviv resident who was killed in yesterday’s suicide bombing, tells Army Radio that the trip to Turkey was a surprise holiday from his wife and was only planned a few weeks ago.

“He believed, like we all believed, that the chances of something like this happening exactly where he was, in the center of Istanbul, was so small. So he decided to go,” Berger says.

“He was happiest person I think I’ve ever met. He was a very intelligent man, yet he always saw the beautiful side of life.”

Ministers nix decriminalization of cannabis

The Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation rejects a bill that would decriminalize marijuana, Walla says.

According to an online Israeli cannabis magazine, the bill submitted by Likud MK Sharren Haskel and five other lawmakers sought to allow the possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis for personal use.

The 12-strong panel, which includes Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, rejects the bill even after the removal of clauses regarding growing cannabis plants for personal use.

Plane carrying Istanbul bomb victims lands in Israel

The IAF plane carrying the bodies of the three Israelis killed in yesterday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul touches down at Ben Gurion Airport.

Also on board the Hercules jet are those who were wounded in the attack, who will taken to the hospital by waiting Magen David Adom ambulances, Maariv says.

Hundreds attend funeral for ex-Mossad chief Dagan

Hundreds of people, among them senior defense officials, turn out for the funeral of former Mossad director Meir Dagan, who died Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

Dagan is laid to rest at the military cemetery in his hometown of Rosh Pina, in northern Israel. At the request of the family, the funeral is closed to the media, Channel 10 television says.

Khamenei: US administration is enemy of Iran

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei calls the US administration the enemy of Iran, in a televised speech to mark the Iranian new year.

Speaking from the second largest city of Mashhad, Khamenei also accuses the US of failing to keep its promises regarding the recent Iran nuclear deal, according to the state-run Press TV, which airs the speech live online with a simultaneous English translation.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes a televised speech from Mashhad to mark the Iranian new year, on March 20, 2016 (screen capture: Press TV)

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes a televised speech from Mashhad to mark the Iranian new year, on March 20, 2016 (screen capture: Press TV)

Belgian FM: Paris terror suspect was planning new acts

Belgium’s foreign minister says Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam told investigators he was planning to “restart something” from Brussels.

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders says that Abdeslam claims “he was ready to restart something from Brussels, and it’s maybe the reality.”

Reynders says authorities are taking the claim seriously because “we found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons in the first investigations, and we have seen a new network of people around him in Brussels.”

Abdeslam, captured Friday in a police raid in Brussels, is charged with “terrorist murder” by Belgian authorities. He is a top suspect in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.

— AP

WATCH: IAF jet carrying bomb victims lands in Israel

The Israeli Air Force jet carrying the victims of yesterday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul lands in Israel. It is met by Magen David Adom rescue personnel, who are taking those wounded in the attack to hospitals in Tel Hashomer and Beersheba.

Presidents pay tribute at funeral of ex-Mossad chief

President Reuven Rivlin and his predecessor Shimon Peres deliver eulogies as they join hundreds of mourners at the funeral for former Mossad director Meir Dagan.

“You were a commander and a warrior, a leader and one of the people,” says Rivlin at the funeral in Rosh Pina, according to Channel 2. “You were a paragon, one of the heroes of Israel.”

Peres adds: “Meir was a born leader. It was not in vain that warriors followed him into battle in seen and unseen places. The nation trusted him and placed in his hands the fate of the battle and his intensity of vision. Under his command — a combination of wisdom, courage, creativity and a dash of winning chutzpah — the Mossad was the best organization in the world.”

Dagan died Thursday after a long battle with cancer.

Istanbul bomb victim to be buried in Dimona

Simcha Damari, one of three Israelis killed in yesterday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul, will be laid to rest at noon tomorrow in Dimona.

The 60-year-old was killed along with compatriots Yonathan Suher, 40, and Avraham Goldman, 69, and 11 other Israelis were wounded. An Iranian national, named by the Iranian media as 45-year-old Alireza Razmkhah, was also killed.

Married couple die in suspected murder-suicide in central Israel

The bodies of a married couple are found on a moshav in central Israel, and police believe that the two died in a murder-suicide, Walla reports.

A 17-year-old girl finds the body of her mother with gunshot wounds inside the family home on Moshav Zeitan, and the body of her father on the balcony of the apartment, with a gun at his side.

The two are declared dead at the scene; police are investigating the deaths.

Trump ahead of AIPAC speech: Peace deal in Israel’s interests

A day before taking the stage at the AIPAC conference, Donald Trump says a peace deal with Palestinians “would be in Israel’s interests.”

Speaking to ABC, Trump pledges that as president he would work to broker such a peace deal, but declines to commit to previous statements that he would be neutral in such negotiations.

“Well, you can hear what I’m going to say at the speech, and I’ll save it for that; there’s nobody more pro-Israel than I am,” says Trump, whose daughter and son-in-law are Jewish.

“I think making a deal would be in Israel’s interests,” he continues, “I don’t know one Jewish person that doesn’t want to have a deal, a good deal, a proper deal, but a really good deal. but I would say it’s one of the toughest deals… to make because there’s so many decades of hatred between the two sides.”

He adds: “I think it’s something we should try very hard to make,” and vows that “If I win, I’m going to be giving that a very good shot.”

He again declines to outline a good deal, saying he will “define it tomorrow” at AIPAC.

PA, ICC officials meet on claims against Israeli settlements

Senior members of the Palestinian Authority present representatives of the International Criminal Court with claims against Israel regarding its settlements, Haaretz reports, quoting a Jordanian newspaper.

The paper says that the PA delegation at the meeting in Jordan comprises “lawyers and activists from the committee responsible for the ICC cases on behalf of the PLO and human rights organizations within the PA.”

The documents are connected to claims against Israel that the PA has already made to the ICC, Haaretz says. The paper quotes a PA official as saying that the ICC members were given a briefing on the settlements enterprise that includes “figures and aerial photographs, and the effect of the settlements on Palestinian lives.”

Istanbul soccer match delayed over threats

The Turkish authorities postpone a soccer match between Istanbul-based clubs Galatasaray and Fenerbahce over an unspecified threat.

The moves comes a day after a suicide bomber in the city kills four people — three Israelis and an Iranian.

— AP

Near Ariel, hundreds call for separate Israeli, Palestinian buses

Some 250 people protest at a junction close to the West Bank settlement of Ariel, calling for separate bus lines for Israelis and Palestinians, Ynet says.

The site is close to the scene of a stabbing attack by a Palestinian last week that left a female IDF soldier badly wounded.

Erdogan: We will never surrender to terror

A day after four tourists are killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows that his country will not surrender to terrorism, Reuters reports.

“We will never surrender to the agenda of terror, we will defeat terror,” Erdogan says in a speech.

Israeli diplomat arrives in Turkey for top-level talks

The head of the Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, arrives in Turkey for talks with senior officials.

Gold canceled a scheduled trip to the US in order to travel to Turkey after yesterday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul killed three Israelis.

A-G opposes law restricting use of Jewish ritual baths

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says he will oppose new legislation to ban non-Orthodox Jews from using public mikvehs (ritual baths) in Israel.

The new bill, which this week passed its first Knesset reading, states that the country’s mikvehs will only be allowed to operate according to the instructions of Israel’s Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. It is designed to override a February Supreme Court decision mandating public mikvehs be open to non-Orthodox Jews undergoing conversion.

The legislation, says Mandelblit, “violates the right to religious freedom, human dignity and equality.”

Shin Bet: Arson at home of Duma witness not nationalist attack

The Shin Bet and police increasingly believe that a fire overnight at the home of a witness to a deadly attack on a Palestinian family last year was not a nationalist attack by Jewish extremists.

In a joint statement released this evening, the two security forces say: “There is a growing assessment that there is no question of activity with a nationalist motive. The findings at the scene so far are not compatible with the characteristics of arson by Jews.”

The home belongs to a key witness in the July 2015 arson attack on the home of the Dawabsha family, also in the West Bank village of Duma, which killed both parents and their baby son; just a five-year-old child survived, with massive burns. Two Jewish Israelis have been charged in that attack.

New video shows Israelis in Istanbul seconds before attack

Channel 2 television publishes new footage from security cameras in Istanbul showing Israeli tourists seconds before they were caught up in yesterday’s deadly suicide bombing in the city.

The video shows the tourists eating in a local diner and then going into the street shortly before the blast.

Three Israelis were killed in the attack and another 11 were injured. The bodies of the victims and the wounded were returned to Israel earlier today on an IAF jet.

Cuba police round up dissidents hours before Obama arrival

Cuban police arrest dozens of people protesting against the communist government in Havana, just hours before US President Barack Obama was due to touch down on an historic three-day visit.

The protesters are from the Ladies in White group, formed by wives of former political prisoners. Police bundle them into vehicles outside a church where they attempt to hold protests almost every Sunday.

A member of the Ladies in White Human Rights organization is arrested during a march on March 20, 2016 in Havana, hours before the arrival of US President Barack Obama. (AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE)

A member of the Ladies in White Human Rights organization is arrested during a march on March 20, 2016 in Havana, hours before the arrival of US President Barack Obama. (AFP/Adalvberto Roque)


MK: Removing insignia of IAF plane in Turkey was right thing to do

Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli defends the decision to remove the insignia from the IAF plane that today brought back the bodies of the Istanbul bombing victims, arguing that the end justified the means.

“Israeli Air Force planes proudly bore the symbol of the state when Israel went to the aid of Turkey after the devastating earthquake a few years ago,” she tells Walla.

But, she adds, “When a leader influenced by radical Islam takes control of Turkey, everything is completely forgotten. This is the same extremist Islam that causes Jews in many countries to disguise signs of Judaism and Israel, out of self-protection. In this case, justifiable Zionist objections could have harmed the wounded. The IAF, unfortunately, acted correctly.”

Russia: Black boxes from plane crash site are badly damaged

Aviation experts are examining the black boxes from the FlyDubai flight that crashed yesterday morning in southern Russia, but say the cockpit voice and data recorders are badly damaged.

FlyDubai’s Boeing 737-800 from Dubai nosedived and exploded in a giant fireball before dawn after trying to land for a second time in strong winds at an airport in Rostov-on-Don. All 62 people on the plane were killed.

Sergei Zaiko, deputy chairman of the Inter-State Aviation Committee, tells Russia’s Channel One that experts are looking at the data recorders. But the committee that investigates plane crashes says they are badly damaged and it isn’t immediately clear what, if any, data can be retrieved.

— AP

Businessman ‘with Likud ties’ shot dead in Rishon Letzion

A businessman with close ties to former and current ministers in the ruling Likud party is shot and killed in Rishon Letzion, Channel 2 reports.

Army Radio says that the man, who was in his 50s, was shot at the entrance to an apartment block in the city and died of his wounds in the hospital. Police are searching the area for the shooter.

Palestinian with gun arrested near West Bank settlement

A Palestinian armed with a gun is arrested this evening close to the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh, northeast of Nablus, Walla reports.

The man is detained after IDF soldiers at the scene observe him approaching and give chase.

He is taken for questioning to ascertain his intentions.

Illinois becomes first US state to list companies banned for Israel boycott

An Illinois state agency names 11 companies barred from doing business with the state for boycotting Israel or its settlements, the first such designation by an official US body.

A number of the entities on the list from by the Illinois Investment Policy board have pulled money from Israeli businesses that operate in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but are not boycotting Israel within its 1967 lines. At least two of the entities say their disinvestment from Israel in recent years is based on commercial, not political, calculations.

The Illinois law passed last year explicitly bars dealing with companies that boycott Israeli operations in territories controlled by Israel.


ADL spending Trump’s $56,000 donations on anti-bias programs

The Anti-Defamation League is redirecting $56,000 in donations from Donald Trump — his total contributions over the past decade — to fund new anti-bias and anti-bullying education programs.

The announcement comes a day before Trump, the front-runner in the Republican presidential race, is scheduled to address the largest gathering of American supporters of Israel at the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington, DC.

“These undoubtedly were sincere gifts,” says Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “But in light of the recent campaign, we have decided to redirect the total amount of funds that he contributed to ADL over the years specifically into anti-bias education programs that address exactly the kind of stereotyping and scapegoating that have been injected into this political season.”

ADL also calls on other groups, philanthropies and nonprofits to consider redirecting charitable funds given to them by Trump into similar initiatives “to combat hate, promote tolerance, and build a stronger American community.”


Pro-Palestinian rally ‘traps AIPAC attendees in hall’

Attendees at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, DC say they are told to remain in the convention hall for their own safety, due to a pro-Palestinian rally outside the venue.

Footage shows dozens of protesters outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, waving Palestinian flags and banners calling for the rights of Palestinians to return to Israel, and chanting “Shut it down” and “This way to the racist convention.”

US Vice President Joe Biden is due to address the conference later tonight, while all the candidates still in the presidential race, save for Bernie Sanders, are scheduled to speak there tomorrow.

Hundreds protest outside AIPAC conference

Hundreds of protesters are gathering outside of the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, protesting America’s financial support for Israel. Protesters include prominent journalist Max Blumenthal, whose father, Sid Blumenthal, is a strong supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Security teams have closed the main doors to the Washington Convention Center in order to prevent friction between the protesters outside and the some 18,000 conference-goers inside.

Demonstrators are carrying signs with anti-Israel slogans, including “From the river to the sea, Palestine will soon be free.”

Although this year’s protest seems to be larger than that of previous years, anti-Israel protests are a long-standing aspect of AIPAC’s annual confab. Members of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect maintain a protest outside the conference throughout the three-day-long event, joining pro-Palestinian activists during the organized protests.

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil

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Ministers nix decriminalization of cannabis

The Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation rejects a bill that would decriminalize marijuana, Walla says.

According to an online Israeli cannabis magazine, the bill submitted by Likud MK Sharren Haskel and five other lawmakers sought to allow the possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis for personal use.

The 12-strong panel, which includes Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, rejects the bill even after the removal of clauses regarding growing cannabis plants for personal use.