The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Report: Ex-Netanyahu adviser to testify PM didn’t ask judge be offered AG post
Nir Hefetz, a former top adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will testify that the premier and his wife Sara did not ask him to offer the post of attorney general to Judge Hila Gerstel in exchange for closing an investigation into Sara, the Haaretz daily reports.
The report comes as Hefetz provides testimony to investigators in the Bezeq corruption probe, according to Hadashot TV news.
That investigation, known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage at Bezeq’s Walla news site.
The Ynet news site reported earlier today that Hefetz is in talks to turn state’s witness in Case 4000, which would make the third former Netanyahu confidante to turn state’s witness in cases involving the prime minister.
Egypt fetes Saudi crown prince during visit to Suez Canal
CAIRO — Egypt is giving a warm welcome to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is visiting the Suez Canal on the second of his three-day visit to the Arab world’s most populous country.
Posters featuring Salman’s face alongside that of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi are lining the major axes of central Cairo.
The prince and el-Sissi board a boat from a red carpeted dock to inspect the canal on Monday.
Egypt seeks investments from oil-rich Saudi Arabia to help develop the area, where Cairo wants to establish as an international transport, logistics and production hub.
The two are also expected to discuss the ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen, as well as their joint boycott of tiny Gulf nation Qatar, which they accuse of fomenting extremism across the Middle East.
— قناة الإخبارية (@alekhbariyatv) March 5, 2018
Red Cross: Syria aid convoy ‘positive,’ but not enough
BEIRUT — A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross says the delivery of assistance to Damascus’ opposition-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta is a “first positive step,” but that more needs to be done.
Ingy Sedky says there needs to be repeated and continuous access to Eastern Ghouta by humanitarian organizations.
She speaks from Damascus to The Associated Press as a 46-truck convoy enters the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, marking the first delivery of humanitarian assistance to the area in nearly three weeks. It includes 5,500 food and flour bags enough for 27,500 people, in addition to wheat flour, medical and surgical items.
It comes amid a crushing Syrian government military offensive on Eastern Ghouta, home to about 400,000 people.
Lapid: PM only concerned with investigations, draft law ‘an insult to the state’
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not concerned with the legislative fights roiling his coalition partners, but is merely worried about avoiding prosecution in the corruption probes into his affairs.
“There is no one in the State of Israel who thinks the prime minister really cares about the draft issue, or the budget. The only thing he’s preoccupied with are the investigations. How he’ll stop the investigations,” says Lapid at the weekly Yesh Atid faction meeting.
He is referring to an ongoing government battle between the ultra-Orthodox parties, who are demanding a bill exempting ultra-Orthodox students from military service be advanced and the secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, headed by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, as well as the Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, which is seeking to pass the 2019 state budget by next week.
“What’s happening in the government is not a fight over principles,” adds Lapid. “It’s a bunch of cynical politicians who don’t care about dividing Israel for some headlines. They are politicians who are dealing only with one thing: Themselves, their seats, their budgets, their corruption.”
“The draft-dodging law is an insult to the state, to every IDF soldier, and to the Torah,” says Lapid. “Nowhere in the Torah does it say that you can send someone else to be killed on your behalf.”
— Marissa Newman
Ex-Netanyahu confidant turns state’s witness in Bezeq graft probe
Police say Nir Hefetz, a former top adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, signed a deal Sunday to become a state’s witness in the Bezeq graft probe.
The police announcement confirms a report earlier Monday that Hefetz would become a state’s witness in the case, which involves suspicions Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage on Bezeq’s Walla news site.
Italy far-right claims coalition has ‘right and duty’ to govern
MILAN — Italian far-right-leader Matteo Salvini says Monday that his coalition has the “right and the duty” to govern the country after taking 37 percent of the vote in the weekend election.
“This is an extraordinary victory,” the leader of the anti-immigrant League party tells a press conference in Milan.
“We have the right and the duty to govern over the coming years.”
The euroskeptic leader says that he would hold talks “in the coming hours” with the rest of his coalition, in particular Forza Italia party leader and former premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Salvini says he is “committed to the deal” within the right-wing coalition that whichever party came away with the most votes would nominate the future prime minister.
“I’m not saying it has to be me, but our team is ready,” he says, adding that “deals between friends are kept.”
Salvini’s League party largely outperformed Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy) party, taking 18% of the vote compared to 14% for the media tycoon.
The coalition is short of a majority, however, and will need to make alliances to govern.
Liberman blasts ultra-Orthodox draft bills as ‘parody’
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman doubles down on his opposition to the ultra-Orthodox parties’ bills granting exemptions to Haredi soldiers from military service.
“We are not against the ultra-Orthodox, says” Liberman. But, he adds, “everyone, not just the ultra-Orthodox, but the Arabs too, must contribute to the state in which they live.”
“To pass a law in three readings in one week is not legislation, it’s theft… instead of a law, we’ll get a parody,” he says, again reiterating his party will only support the Defense Ministry’s proposed legislation on the ultra-Orthodox draft.
Telling the ultra-Orthodox parties to “calm down,” he says Haredi lawmakers “also know you can’t pass a law in a week.”
But Liberman, at the weekly Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, stresses that his party is not seeking new elections and expresses hope the ultra-Orthodox parties will back down on their demands.
“We have no interest in breaking up the coalition,” says Liberman repeatedly. “I haven’t met anyone who voluntarily gives up the [job] of defense minister.”
He allows that if the ultra-Orthodox parties advance their bills in three readings into law, “we will have no choice but to get up and make a decision.”
The defense minister also opines that Netanyahu is not seeking snap elections right now.
“I don’t think Netanyahu, right now, is looking for a reason to break up the government.”
— Marissa Newman
Netanyahu derides ex-adviser turning state’s witness
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses the police announcement that his former adviser Nir Hefetz has agreed to turn state’s witness in the Bezeq graft probe, saying it proves “there is nothing.”
“When there is something [you] don’t need even one state’s witness. When there is [something], not even a thousand state’s witnesses will help,” sources close to Netanyahu are quoted as saying.
“The unending race after state’s witnesses is the best proof that there is nothing — and won’t be anything.”
Turkey detains 4 IS suspects in probe of US Embassy threat
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s state-run media says Turkish police have detained four Islamic State suspects as part of an investigation into a possible attack on the US Embassy in Ankara.
The US Embassy is closed on Monday over an unspecified security threat.
The Anadolu Agency says police detained four suspects on Monday — all of them Iraqi nationals. Two of them were detained on a bus at a security check on a highway linking the Black Sea city of Samsun to Ankara. Two others were detained in Samsun.
Security is high outside the US embassy on Monday, and police search pedestrians before allowing them to enter a street where the main gate is located.
Kahlon says he can’t remain finance minister if budget not passed
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says if the 2019 state budget does not pass by next week, he cannot remain treasurer.
“If the budget does not pass by the end of the session, I have lost my mandate from the voters. Therefore, I don’t see how I can continue to be finance minister,” says the coalition Kulanu party leader.
He expresses hope that the coalition partners will reach a compromise on the Haredi draft bill and avoid early elections. The ultra-Orthodox parties have vowed to oppose the budget unless their legislation granting military service exemptions to Haredi students goes ahead.
The 2019 state budget can technically be passed until the end of the year, but Kahlon — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have been adamant that it should be passed earlier, before a spring recess beginning in mid-March.
— Marissa Newman
Nir Hefetz said to receive full immunity under state’s witness deal
Former Netanyahu adviser Nir Hefetz will receive full immunity in exchange for turning state’s witness in the Bezeq graft probe, the Ynet news site reports.
The report says Hefetz will not have to serve prison time or pay a fine.
Police announced earlier today that Hefetz signed a deal to turn state’s witness Sunday, making him the third former Netanyahu confidant to do so in a series of investigations involving the prime minister.
Eight arrested in Belgium anti-terror raids
BRUSSELS — Eight people are arrested in Brussels following counterterror raids as part of an investigation into what one source says Monday appeared to be preparations for an attack.
All eight are arrested Sunday in Molenbeek, an immigrant district in the Belgian capital linked to the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, the federal prosecutor’s office says.
“In all, eight persons were arrested and taken for questioning,” the prosecutor’s office says in a statement, adding the arrests were not connected to the Paris or Brussels attacks.
A source close to the probe says investigators suspected an attack was in preparation.
The prosecutor’s office says no explosives were found in the raids.
The arrests take place following raids in Molenbeek as well as in Geraardsbergen and Mechelen, both in northern Dutch-speaking areas of Belgium.
Molenbeek was home to several members of the cell that carried out the November 13, 2015, attacks in Paris and the March 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels.
Minister: Jerusalem-Tel Aviv express train to begin service on Sukkot
The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv express train will begin service ahead of the Sukkot holiday at the end of September, Transportation Minister Israel Katz says.
“The plan was to begin partial operations of the train before Passover, with a safety plan determined by the [Israel Railways], but after a discussion with the fire department and police it was decided to act stringently and delay the launch until the eve of the Sukkot holiday,” Katz tells the Knesset’s State Control Committee.
Katz said in January that the express train would begin service in late March ahead of Passover, but Israel Railways said last month the launch would be delayed as it had yet to receive certain safety permits.
Ex-diplomat, adviser to Ben-Gurion, dies at 92
Uri Lubrani, a former longtime Israeli diplomat and security official, dies on Monday. He was 92.
Lubrani, who was born in Haifa, served in the Haganah and fought in the War of Independence. He later joined the Foreign Ministry and served as ambassador to a number of countries, including Iran, Uganda and Ethiopia.
He was also an adviser to prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol.
From 1983–2000 he served as coordinator of operations in Lebanon and during this time he made ultimately unsuccessful efforts to repatriate captured Israeli airman Ron Arad.
He retired from public service in 2015.
“He was an experienced diplomat and a clever and wise adviser. He was one of the last Israelis to live in pre-revolutionary Iran, and who invested his experience and wisdom in Israel’s security,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says of Lubrani.
English soccer chief apologizes for ‘offensive’ Star of David comment
LONDON — English Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn apologizes on Monday for “offensive” comments he made comparing the Jewish Star of David with symbols such as the Nazi swastika.
Glenn’s remarks, criticized by a leading member of Britain’s Jewish community, came as he tried to justify the FA’s decision to charge Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of jailed Catalan independence leaders.
The FA has faced accusations of hypocrisy, given their prolonged campaign to persuade world soccer chiefs to allow players to display a poppy on their shirt to mark Armistice Day.
But Glenn, speaking following a meeting of the International Football Association Board, soccer’s global law-making body, in Zurich, rejected the comparison.
“We have rewritten Law 4 of the game so that things like a poppy are OK but things that are going to be highly divisive are not,” Glenn was quoted as saying in British newspapers.
“That could be strong religious symbols, it could be the Star of David, it could the hammer and sickle, it could be a swastika, anything like (former Zimbabwe president) Robert Mugabe on your shirt — these are the things we don’t want.
“To be honest, and to be very clear, Pep Guardiola’s yellow ribbon is a political symbol, it’s a symbol of Catalan independence and I can tell you there are many more Spaniards, non-Catalans, who are pissed off by it.”
Palestinians slam Guatemala over Jerusalem embassy move
The Palestinians slam Guatemala after President Jimmy Morales announced Sunday his country would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May.
In a statement carried by the official Wafa news agency, the Palestinian Authority calls on Arab and Muslim countries “to take a firm stand against this move, which violates international law and principles as well as United Nations resolutions.”
In December 2017, Morales followed US President Donald Trump and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He said Sunday the Guatemalan Embassy will move to Jerusalem two days after the US Embassy does so in May.
Monitor: 45 killed in bombardment of Syria enclave
BEIRUT — The Syrian regime bombardment of the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta kills at least 45 civilians on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
The Britain-based war monitor says at least 19 of the victims are killed in the town of Hammuriyeh, where regime aircraft use crude improvised munitions known as “barrel bombs.”
The Observatory warns that the toll could rise higher as bodies are still being retrieved from the rubble.
IDF to hold drill in Tel Aviv on Tuesday
The Israel Defense Forces will hold a drill Tuesday morning at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The army says the drill, which will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., will include explosion sounds and lead to heavy traffic in the area.
The IDF advises the public to take alternative routes.
Netanyahu gearing up for Trump meeting at White House
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting ready for his meeting today with US President Donald Trump.
Netanyahu posts a photo of himself, on his Twitter account, meeting with his advisers ahead of the meeting.
It’ll be Netanyahu’s second visit to the White House since Trump was inaugurated and the fifth meeting overall with the US president.
בהיערכות לקראת פגישתי החשובה היום עם נשיא ארה״ב דונלד טראמפ pic.twitter.com/snI6YpOt3t
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 5, 2018
Monitor: Turkey strikes kill 13 civilians in Syrian Kurdish enclave
BEIRUT — Turkish air strikes on Monday kill 13 civilians, including two children, in northwestern Syria’s Kurdish enclave of Afrin, a monitor says.
The deadly air raids hit the town of Jandairis near the Turkish border, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
They come six weeks into a Turkey-led assault against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in the enclave.
Jandairis has been under heavy fire since dawn today as Turkish troops and allied rebels on its edges seek to retake the area from Kurdish fighters, says Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
Since the Turkish offensive started on January 20, Turkish bombardment has killed 165 civilians, including 29 children, the Observatory announces.
Turkey denies the reports and says it takes the “utmost care” to avoid civilian casualties.
Trump welcomes Netanyahu to Oval Office
Trump welcomes Netanyahu to the Oval Office.
Addressing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there, Trump says “Jerusalem is a wonderful thing.”
He says the relationship between the two countries “has never been better.”
Netanyahu thanks Trump for Jerusalem embassy move, likens him to King Cyrus
Netanyahu thanks Trump for announcing he’ll move the US embassy to Jerusalem in May.
“This is the first time we meet in Washington, America’s capital, since you declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is a historic proclamation,” Netanyahu tells Trump.
Netanyahu compares Trump to King Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple; Lord Balfour, whose declaration gave UK backing to a Jewish state in the Land of Israel; and US president Harry Truman, who recognized the State of Israel.
“We remember how you, Donald J. Trump, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” Netanyahu says.
Trump says he may visit Israel for Jerusalem embassy opening
Trump says he may visit Israel for the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in May.
He says the new embassy building will be built “very quickly.”
“Israel is very special to me. Special country. Special people,” he says of his desire to visit Israel again.
Trump: ‘No peace’ if Palestinians don’t agree to negotiations
Asked when he’ll unveil his much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Trump says “we’re gonna see.”
“It would be a great achievement,” the US president says of brokering a peace deal. “I can tell you we are working very hard on doing that.”
Trump says his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital creates a opportunity for peace, as he took “the biggest difficulty” off the table.
Asked what’ll happen if the Palestinians don’t agree to negotiations, Trump says: “If they don’t, you don’t have peace.”
Netanyahu: Iran biggest problem in Middle East
Netanyahu tells Trump that Iran is the greatest security problem in the Middle East.
“Iran has not given up its nuclear ambitions. It came out of this nuclear deal emboldened and rich,” he says.
“We have to stop this country that chants ‘Death to Israel,’ ‘Death to America.’ Iran must be stopped.”
Netanyahu says Iran’s threat to Arab countries in the region has pushed these countries closer to Israel.
“The Arabs have never been closer to peace with Israel,” he says.
Ex-Netanyahu adviser reportedly says PM’s son interfered in security decisions
Former Netanyahu adviser Nir Hefetz, who police announced earlier today has turned state’s witness in the Bezeq graft probe, tells associates the prime minister made decisions that harmed Israel’s security due to the influence of his wife Sara and eldest son Yair, Hadashot TV news reports.
“Bibi, at the inspiration and influence of his son Yair, displayed irresponsibility and made decisions that harmed Israel’s national interests and the security of the state,” the network quotes Hefetz as saying.
“The son Yair caused damage to his father and the state. This is the reason I left.”
UN report decries ‘pattern’ of torture, abuse in Iranian prisons
GENEVA — Detainees in Iran appear to be systematically subjected to torture and abuse, including sexual violence, a UN report published Monday says, while also condemning the denial of medical treatment to prisoners.
“Consistent reports received suggest a pattern of physical or mental pressure applied upon prisoners to coerce confessions, some of which are broadcast,” the report says.
The report, which was drafted by Asma Jahangir, who was the top UN expert on the rights situation in Iran before dying of cardiac arrest at the age of 66 last month, is set to be debated before the UN Human Rights Council next week.
In the report, the leading Pakistani human rights advocate voices deep concern over the recent harsh crackdown on protests in Iran, with more than 20 people killed and at least 1,000 arrested in a matter of days at the turn of the year.
She says she was “dismayed at the reports quoting members of the judiciary (saying) the protesters will be awarded the harshest of punishments,” expressing concern over “the fate and conditions under which those arrested are being held.”
Jahangir also voiced alarm over the general conditions of detention in Iran.
Although she was never permitted to visit Iran, she said in recent months she had met with at least six people who had fled the country “who still bore marks of torture” suffered in detention.
Pentagon: Operations against IS in eastern Syria ‘paused’
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says offensive operations against Islamic State fighters in eastern Syria have been paused because US-backed Kurdish soldiers have shifted to a separate fight against Turkish forces.
A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Rob Manning, calls it an “operational pause.” He says that although ground operations have been temporarily suspended in the Euphrates River Valley near the Iraqi border, US airstrikes against IS holdouts in that area are continuing. This includes areas around the city of Abu Kamal.
Against US wishes, Kurdish members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who had been fighting to eliminate remaining pockets of IS in the Euphrates River Valley have moved to the Afrin enclave in northwest Syria. Turkish forces have been attacking in Afrin for the past six weeks, seeking to drive out Kurdish forces.
British media say former Russian spy in critical condition
LONDON — British media say a former Russian spy is in critical condition after coming into contact with an “unknown substance.”
Authorities don’t identify the man, but the Press Association and other British media identify him Monday as Sergei Skripal, 66, who was convicted in 2006 on charges of spying for Britain and sentenced to 13 years but was freed in 2010 in a US-Russian spy swap.
His identity was first disclosed by the BBC.
Following his arrest in Moscow in December 2004, Skripal confessed to having been recruited by British special services in 1995 and was feeding them information about Russian agents in Europe, receiving over $100,000 for his services.