Netanyahu ends defense ministry meeting: Decisions were taken
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IDF says ‘Hamas terror group’ fired the two rockets at Tel Aviv

Hamas official tells TOI that he does not know who fired missiles toward Tel Aviv, but that his group does not seek escalation of violence with Israel

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (top right) meets with security brass at the IDF's Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 14, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (top right) meets with security brass at the IDF's Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 14, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Thursday and Friday’s events as they unfold.

Warning sirens sound in Gaza border communities

Fresh warning sirens are blaring in the Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regional councils along the Gaza border.

The IDF says it is investigating.

IDF says Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv

The IDF says that Hamas fired the two rockets at Tel Aviv.

The short statement, which gave no further details, comes despite denials from the Hamas political and military wings that it was behind the first rocket fire on Tel Aviv since 2014.

Hamas health ministry says no reports of casualties

The Hamas-run health ministry says there are no immediate reports of casualties in the Israeli strikes on Gaza targets.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad withdrew their forces from many of their bases and posts in anticipation of the IDF strikes after the two missiles were fired at Tel Aviv.

IDF: Warning sirens caused by failed launch

The IDF says that warning sirens that sounded in the Eshkol Region on the Gaza border were triggered by a failed launch.

According to the army Palestinians tried to launch a projectile at Israel but it fell within the Strip.

Rocket sirens blare in Israeli border town as IDF strikes Gaza

Red alert sirens blare throughout the Eshkol Regional Council bordering the Gaza Strip as the IDF carries out airstrikes in the coastal enclave in response to the missiles fired at Tel Aviv earlier this evening.

The army says it is investigating what set off the latest sirens.

Security consultation said to end with decision to strike dozens of targets in Gaza

The security consultation held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with senior defense officials earlier this evening at the IDF’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv concluded with a decision to strike dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket fire earlier this evening, Army Radio reports.

The report gives no further details.

IDF launches Gaza airstrikes in response to rocket fire at Tel Aviv

The IDF says it is currently carrying out airstrikes “targeting terror sites” in the Gaza Strip in response to the launching of two rockets from the coastal enclave toward Tel Aviv some four hours ago.

Palestinian media reports explosions being heard throughout the Strip.

Netanyahu ends defense ministry meeting: Decisions were taken

The security consultations led by Prime Minister Netanyahu in Tel Aviv have ended, an Israeli officials says.

“Decisions were taken,” the officials adds, without elaborating.

The meeting between the prime minister and his defense chiefs ended shortly before 1 a.m.

— Raphael Ahren 

Third terror group in Gaza puts out statement denying responsibility for rocket fire

The Popular Resistance Committees and its military wing, the Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, say they were not responsible for firing rockets at Tel Aviv earlier Thursday.

The group joins the more prominent Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who have denied responsibility for the rocket fire.

Rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv ‘unacceptable,’ EU says

The European Union’s Ambassador to Israel says that the rockets fired tonight from Gaza toward Tel Aviv “unacceptable.”

“Following developments with grave concern after rockets fired from Gaza triggered alert over Tel Aviv area. Targeting civilian areas unacceptable,” Emanuele Giaufret tweets.

Hamas says it will take measures against those behind rocket fire

The Hamas-run Interior Ministry calls tonight’s rocket fire “outside of the national consensus” and says it will exact measures against those behind it.

— Adam Rasgon

Tel Aviv city events will take place on Friday as planned

The Tel Aviv municipality has notified residents that all events scheduled for tomorrow will be held as planned, following rockets fired at the city earlier this evening.

Defense official: IDF response to rocket fire will be strong, but measured

A defense official tells reporters that Israel’s response to tonight’s rocket fire will be strong, but measured in order to not escalate the situation beyond the point of no return and to provide an opportunity for Egyptian mediation efforts to bear fruit.

PM orders ministers not to give interviews on security situation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered cabinet members not to publicly comment on the developing security situation, a senior official tells The Times of Israel.

Hamas: We were meeting with Egyptian delegation when rockets were fired

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas terror group’s military wing, says that it did not fire rockets at Tel Aviv earlier on Thursday.

“The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades affirms that it’s not responsible for the rockets fired towards the enemy earlier tonight, especially considering they were shot off during a meeting between the Hamas leadership and the Egyptian security delegation about understandings pertaining to the Gaza Strip,” the Hamas military wing says in a statement.

— Adam Rasgon

Hamas joins Islamic Jihad in denying responsibility for rocket fire

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups informed an Egyptian security delegation, which was in the Gaza Strip earlier today, that they were not responsible for the rockets fired at Tel Aviv, Al-Jazeera reports.

— Adam Rasgon

Security cabinet being updated on developing situation, PM spokesman says

The members of the security cabinet are constantly receiving updates from the National Security Council, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson says.

Gantz: A severe response required to rocket fire

Blue and White chairman and former army chief of staff Benny Gantz says that “a significant and severe response” is required to this evening’s rocket fire from Gaza, “otherwise it will be impossible to renew our deterrence.”

Jerusalem says Friday’s marathon to take place as scheduled after rocket fire

The Jerusalem municipality says that Friday morning’s marathon will take place as scheduled following the firing of two rockets this evening at Tel Aviv.

Islamic Jihad denies ‘baseless’ accusations it was responsible for rocket fire

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab denies his terror group fired the two rockets launched toward Tel Aviv from earlier this evening.

He calls accusations that Islamic Jihad fired rockets at central Israel “baseless lies and claims.”

His comments were published in the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today.

A number of Israeli TV reporters speculated that Islamic Jihad fired the rockets.

— Adam Rasgon

UN negotiators scrambling to mediate ceasefire as Israel prepares counter-attack

A team of UN negotiators are scrambling to coordinate between Israeli officials and the Egyptian security delegation in an attempt to resolve the escalating crisis following the two rockets fired from Gaza toward the Tel Aviv area, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Dismissing earlier reports, army says Iron Dome did not intercept Gaza rockets

Dismissing earlier reports, the IDF says that the Iron Dome missile defense system did not intercept the two rockets fired from Gaza.

“The alert and warning systems operated as required. No interceptions were made by aerial defense systems. No damage or injuries were reported. There are no special instructions for the civilian home front,” the army says.

Both rockets landed in open fields in the Gush Dan region of central Israel, according to the military.

The IDF declined to specify whether the Iron Dome was activated at all.

Hamas official to TOI: We have no interest in escalation

A Hamas official tells The Times of Israel that the terror group “has no interest in an escalation” with Israel.

The official says he “has no idea” who fired rockets toward Tel Aviv earlier on Thursday.

— Adam Rasgon

IDF: Home in Beit El settlement hit by gunfire; no injuries reported

The IDF says that it has responded to reports of gunfire at the central West Bank settlement of Beit El.

Following searches of the area, a house on the outskirts of the community was found to have been hit by the gunfire.

No injuries have been reported and the army is currently searching the area for the perpetrators.


Egyptian delegation reportedly leaving Gaza in preparation for Israeli counter-response

The delegation of Egyptian security officials currently in the Gaza Strip to mediate a long-term truce is reportedly leaving the Strip ahead of an anticipated Israeli counter-attack to the rockets fired toward Tel Aviv this evening.

Palestinian media reports that Jerusalem sent the delegation an urgent message, telling the Egyptians to leave the coastal enclave before it begins its response.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad reportedly denies having been behind rocket fire

Arab media reports that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group has denied responsibility for tonight’s rocket fire. Two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza.

The Times of Israel could not immediately confirm the reports.

Tel Aviv mayor orders opening of public bomb shelters following rocket fire

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai has ordered the opening of all public bomb shelters following the firing of two rockets from Gaza toward central Israel.

The Home Front Command says that Israelis in the area can continue to carry on as normal.

US envoy blames Hamas for rocket fire

US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt tweets that Hamas is responsible for the two rockets fired at Tel Aviv.

No organization has claimed responsibility for the two launches.

Emergency medics treat several Israelis for shock after Gaza rockets fired at Tel Aviv

The United Hatzalah rescue service reports that it has treated a number of Israelis for shock after two rockets were fired from Gaza toward the Tel Aviv area.

In addition, a 10-year-old boy was lightly injured while running to a bomb shelter.

Hamas said evacuating posts in Gaza in preparation for Israeli response to rocket fire

Palestinian media reports that Hamas is currently evacuating military posts in the Gaza Strip in preparation for an Israeli response to the two rockets fired toward Tel Aviv.

No organization has taken credit for the rockets thus far.

PM to hold security consultation at Defense Ministry following rocket fire

After two rockets were fired from Gaza toward the Tel Aviv area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a security consultation at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv “in the near future,” his spokesperson says.

Netanyahu is also currently serving as defense minister.

Footage of Gaza rocket over Tel Aviv

Palestinian Islamic Jihad said behind rocket fire

The initial assumption among analysts is that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group was responsible for the two rockets fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv this evening.

Channel 12 news reports that Fajr missiles were launched, which PIJ has in its arsenal.

IDF confirms two projectiles launched from Gaza

The IDF has confirmed two projectiles were launched from Gaza toward the Tel Aviv area.

The Home Front Command has not given any special instructions to Israelis and says they can continue to carry on as normal.

No reported hits from rockets fired at Tel Aviv

There have been no reported hits from the two rockets fired at Tel Aviv.

One rocket was reportedly shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system while the other fell in an open area.

IDF confirms rocket sirens in Tel Aviv area

The IDF confirms that rocket alert sirens were triggered in Tel Aviv and in surrounding central towns.

Residents report having heard two explosions.

The army says it is investigating what set off the sirens.

Rocket alert sirens sound in Tel Aviv

Rocket alert sirens sound in Tel Aviv and the Gush Dan area of central Israel.

It is not immediately clear what set the alert off.

Police stats show over 3,000 incidents of stone and Molotov cocktail throwing in 2018

Police statistics revealed by Channel 12 news show that there were over 3,00 incidents of stone and Molotov cocktail throwing in 2018.

The statistics are as follows:

2,847 incidents of stone throwing

338 incidents of Molotov cocktail throwing

The report did not specify the culprits behind the attacks.

PA reportedly agrees to hold off on response to Israeli withholding of tax money until after election

Palestinian officials tell the Kan public broadcaster that the Palestinian Authority won’t intensify its response to Israel’s withholding of tens of millions of dollars in tax transfers until at least after the April election.

The decision is believed to be due to the assumption that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has limited political maneuvering space to grant concessions to the Palestinians in the lead-up to the election.

Likud pulls Regev from group selfie after internal poll shows her scaring away voters — report

After an internal poll indicated that Culture Minister Miri Regev could deter Israelis from voting Likud, the party decided to remove her from a group selfie that was taken in Jerusalem earlier this week.

Channel 12 news reports that Regev was furious over the decision, proclaiming that the party wants to put forward a campaign of only Ashkenazi men. The minister canceled her appearances on Likud TV this week in response to the move.


Poll: Blue and White support drops; 6 parties straddle electoral threshold

A new poll from Channel 12 shows support for the Blue and White party continuing to drop, with the political alliance led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid predicted to receive 31 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The poll also shows six parties receiving four seats, the minimum threshold of 3.25% required to enter the Knesset, meaning the current balance in favor of the right-wing bloc could easily change on the April 9 election day.

The poll’s results are as follows:

Blue and White 31

Likud 28

Labor 10

Hadash-Ta’al 7

United Torah Judaism 7

Union of Right Wing Parties 7

Shas 6

Kulanu 4

New Right 4

Meretz 4

Ra’am-Balad 4

Yisrael Beytenu 4

Zehut 4

Gesher 0

Right-wing bloc 64

Left-wing bloc 56


Iran hacked Benny Gantz’s cellphone — report

Shin Bet officials approached Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz last month to let him know that his phone had been hacked by programmers in Iran, Channel 12 news reports.

The hackers got a hold of Gantz’s personal details and professional texts and the Shin Bet agents told him that any sensitive information could be used against him in the weeks leading up to the election.

The agents told Gantz to proceed as he sees fit, suggesting that no classified information had been on the device in the first place.

In light of the Channel 12 report, Gantz canceled a campaign appearance scheduled for this evening.

Blue and White declined to comment on the details of the report, only saying that its timing, weeks before the election, raises questions.

British MPs vote overwhelmingly against second Brexit referendum

British MPs have voted massively against delaying Brexit in order to hold a second referendum, dashing the hopes of pro-European campaigners who want a new public vote.

Three years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, only 85 MPs voted in favor of the amendment and 334 voted against, with most lawmakers from the main opposition Labour Party abstaining from the vote.


2 seriously injured in Ashdod building collapse due to gas explosion

Two people were seriously injured after a building in Ashdod collapsed due to a gas explosion.

The two injured — one man in his 30s and another in his 50s — were evacuated to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Neo-Nazi website founder says he fears returning to US

The operator of a leading neo-Nazi website claims it’s too dangerous for him to travel to the US to be questioned under oath for a lawsuit accusing him of terrorizing a Montana real estate agent’s family.

Attorneys for The Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin have asked a federal judge for an order excusing him from an in-person deposition in the US. Anglin’s lawyers insist the Ohio native hasn’t lived in the US for years and fears for his safety if his whereabouts are disclosed.

Tanya Gersh’s lawyers say Anglin’s request is baseless and fits a pattern of gamesmanship.

Court records show Anglin dubiously suggested meeting them in Cuba or Venezuela.

Gersh’s lawsuit claims anonymous internet trolls bombarded her family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin published their personal information.

— AP

Hamas forces violently break up cost of living protest — reports

Hamas security forces violently broke up a protest against the rising cost of living in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp of central Gaza, according to Palestinian media.

A Hamas spokesman tells Palestinian media that the protest was held without a permit.

Abrams, Biden meet as both weigh 2020 decisions

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams are meeting privately in Washington as both weigh their political futures.

Biden is expected to make his decision soon on whether to run for president for a third time.

Abrams is being heavily recruited to run for the Senate in 2020. But she says she hasn’t ruled out seeking the presidency herself.

The two figures represent starkly different faces for the Democratic Party.

Biden, 76, is viewed as the consummate dealmaker and establishment figure.

Abrams, 45, narrowly missed being elected the first black woman governor in American history.

A person close to Abrams confirmed the meeting and says it was at Biden’s request. The person was not authorized to speak publicly.

— AP

US House unanimously demands Mueller report be made public

The US House of Representatives has voted unanimously to demand that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report on his Russian election meddling investigation be made public.

The House voted 420-0 on the non-binding resolution, signaling strong opposition to any move that US President Donald Trump and his Attorney General Bill Barr might make to restrict access by Congress or the public to Mueller’s findings.

While Republicans condemned the resolution as a political move, ultimately 190 voted in favor.

The vote comes as expectations rise that Mueller is near to bringing to a close a nearly two-year-old investigation that has focused on whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with the Russians.

Democrats speculate that the report might have enough evidence to support an impeachment effort against the president.


Defense Ministry strike to delay advancement of plans for 4,500 settlement homes

Employees of the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration are relaunching their strike for improved work conditions, in a move that will prevent next week’s High Planning Subcommittee meeting, where some 4,500 settlement homes are slated to be advanced.

IDF arrests Gazan who crossed into Israeli territory with knife

The Israel Defense Forces says it has apprehended a Palestinian, who crossed into Israeli territory from Gaza. During a search of the suspect, a knife was found in his possession.

Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to lying about attack

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of lying to the police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago.

Lawyer Tina Glandian entered the plea on behalf of the 36-year-old actor during a hearing in Cook County Circuit Court after Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to oversee the case, including the trial.

Watkins granted Smollett’s request to be allowed to meet with lawyers in New York and California, but said the actor must give the court at least 48 hours’ prior notice. He scheduled the next hearing for April 17.

Smollett, who left the courthouse without speaking to reporters, is charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct.

Prosecutors allege that Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, hired two friends to help him stage the attack on him in downtown Chicago early on the morning of Jan. 29. They say Smollett was unhappy about his salary and wanted to drum up publicity to help his career.

Smollett has denied that he staged the attack and maintains he is innocent. His attorneys have called the charges against him “prosecutorial overkill.”

There were several supporters outside the courthouse doors as Smollett arrived for the hearing, including some who waved signs. Activist Wisdom Cole led a few chants in support of the actor, the black community and the LGBT community.

“Jussie has been a person of high caliber and character. He comes from an activist family. He has a consistent track record and history of supporting marginalized people … and so his track record is not on par with the idea of a hoax,” she said.

— AP

Trump warns of ‘severe’ consequences if EU fails to hold trade talks

US President Donald Trump warns the European Union of consequences that will be “severe economically” if Brussels fails to hold trade talks.

“The European Union treats us very, very unfairly,” Trump tells reporters at the White House.

“They’re willing to talk to us. If they don’t talk to us we’ll do something that will be severe economically. We’ll tariff a lot of their products coming in.”


US court rules gun maker can be sued over Newtown shooting

A divided Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled gun maker Remington can be sued over how it marketed the Bushmaster rifle used to kill 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Justices issues a 4-3 ruling that reinstated a wrongful death lawsuit and overturned a lower court ruling that the lawsuit was prohibited by a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers from liability in most cases when their products are used in crimes.

The plaintiffs include a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the massacre. They argue the AR-15-style rifle used by shooter Adam Lanza is too dangerous for the public and Remington glorified the weapon in marketing it to young people.

Remington has denied wrongdoing and previously insisted it can’t be sued under the federal law.

— AP

German far-right party’s bus attacked in Berlin; no injuries

Berlin police say they’re investigating an attack on a bus carrying 17 members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in the capital.

Police tell the dpa news agency that unidentified suspects attacked the bus Thursday morning with paint bombs, flares and rocks.

Police say many windows of the rental bus were broken but none of the members of the party, known as the AfD, were injured.

— AP

Eurovision ticket sales to resume after 2-week freeze due to scalping concerns

Two weeks after the Kan public broadcaster froze its sale of tickets for the Eurovision Song Contest due to suspicions of scalping concerns, marketing will resume at 6 p.m. local time.

Long lines reported at train stations throughout country due to security guard cuts

Exceptionally long lines are being reported at train stations throughout the country due to a reduction in the number of security guards.

Earlier this year, the Transportation Ministry announced a cut of one third of its security guards, prompting minister Israel Katz to promise that he would intervene in order to prevent the measure. However, Israel Radio reports that no such intervention has been made.

IS militants, families surrender after offensive in Syria

US-backed Syrian fighters say a “large number” of Islamic State militants and their families are surrendering a day after intense fighting in the last speck of land the extremists still hold in eastern Syria.

At the edge of Baghouz, the village where the militants are still holed up, men, women and children climbed a road that winds along a cliff overlooking what remains of a tent encampment, heading out. Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces said they searched the evacuees as they reached the front lines.

Many of the people carried rolls of blankets and clothes but cast them aside as they made their way up the hill. Women carried babies as children slowly made their way up the rocky terrain. Most of the men appeared to be wounded, with many limping or walking with crutches. The sound of sporadic gunfire echoed off the cliff and US-led coalition planes flew overhead.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali says after an intensive offensive Wednesday from multiple fronts, “a large number” of IS militants and their families “started to surrender” early this morning.

— AP

7 GOP senators now against Trump border order

Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander have endorsed a resolution passed by the Democratic-controlled House to block US President Donald Trump from using emergency powers to fund his long-promised US-Mexico border wall.

That brings to seven the number of Republicans who have announced they will cross Trump on a vote expected for Thursday afternoon, ensuring the measure will pass.

Romney was the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee and a sometimes critic of Trump; Alexander is among the senior guardians of the Senate as an institution. Lawmakers oppose Trump’s action because they see the power of the purse as Congress’ prerogative.

Romney says that “this is a vote for the Constitution and for the balance of powers that is at its core.”

Trump has promised to veto the measure and is sure to be sustained by his House GOP allies.

— AP

Trump: Brexit debate is ‘tearing the country apart’

US President Donald Trump says the ongoing debate in Britain over leaving the European Union is “tearing the country apart.”

Trump says he’s “surprised at how badly” it’s been handled and that he thinks an agreement to leave the EU could have been negotiated better. Trump, who sees himself as a master deal-maker, says he gave advice to British Prime Minister Theresa May but that she didn’t listen to him.

British lawmakers are to decide today whether to seek a delay to Brexit, which is currently scheduled for March 29.

May grudgingly granted the vote after Parliament twice rejected her proposed EU divorce deal

Trump commented as he welcomed Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to the White House for an early St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The day falls on Sunday.

— AP

Chemical weapons probe team to start in ‘weeks’

A new chemical weapons investigation team with the power to assign blame for attacks such as those in Syria will start work in weeks, the head of the world’s toxic arms organization says.

Member countries of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons agreed in June to allow the body to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks, but the new powers are strongly opposed by Moscow and Damascus.

Western states have called for the team to start work on identifying the culprits behind a deadly attack in the Syrian town of Douma in April 2018.

The OPCW said in a report on March 2 that chlorine was likely used in the attack, which it said killed more than 40 people.


US court: Middle finger protected by the Constitution

When it comes to the middle finger, police might need a thicker skin.

A federal appeals court says a Michigan woman’s constitutional rights were violated when she was handed a speeding ticket after giving the finger to a suburban Detroit officer in 2017. The decision means a lawsuit by Debra Cruise-Gulyas can proceed.

In a 3-0 decision Wednesday, the court says Taylor Officer Matthew Minard “should have known better,” even if the driver was rude.

Minard stopped Cruise-Gulyas and wrote her a ticket for a lesser violation. But when that stop was over, Cruise-Gulyas raised her middle finger.

Minard pulled her over again and changed the ticket to a more serious speeding offense.

Cruise-Gulyas sued, saying her free-speech rights and her rights against unreasonable seizure were violated.

— AP

Stopping short of statehood, Friedman says peace plan’s goal to provide more autonomy to Palestinians

Stopping short of saying his administration’s peace plan would grant Palestinians statehood, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman says that the goal of the plan is to increase Palestinian autonomy.

“We’d like to see Palestinian autonomy improve significantly, as long as it doesn’t come at the risk of Israeli security. Where you slice that can be debated,” Friedman tells the Washington Examiner.

US Treasury chief to ‘follow the law’ on Trump tax returns

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he would “follow the law” if Congress requested US President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Trump has refused to release the documents, in stark contrast to all previous presidents and presidential candidates in modern times.

But the opposition Democrats, who control of the lower house of Congress, are expected to demand the records to delve into Trump’s business ties, in particular with Russia.

In a contentious sparring session during testimony before the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Mnuchin was asked what he would do if he received a request.

“I will consult with the legal department within Treasury and I will follow the law,” he replies.

He notes that he was not aware of the Treasury ever having received a request to release tax information for an elected official.

Trump, a self-declared billionaire, released a less detailed financial statement but has kept his tax returns private, fueling speculation about his sources of revenue and his net worth.

He has claimed he could not release them because he was under audit, an explanation regarded as implausible by his political opponents.

Trump nominated Charles Rettig to head the US tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, after the official had written an article backing the president’s controversial stance.


Egyptian delegation arrives in Gaza to mediate long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel

A delegation of Egyptian security officials have arrived in Gaza in order to continue their efforts in mediating a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Arab media reports.


Convicted French cardinal Barbarin to meet Pope Francis Monday

French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who received a six-month suspended jail sentence for failing to report sex abuse by a priest under his responsibility, will meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday, officials in his Lyon diocese say.

Barbarin, the most senior French cleric caught up in the global pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, had said after his conviction last week that he would travel to Rome to tender his resignation to the pope.


Acting Pentagon chief says IS territory nearly cleared

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says the United States and its partners in Syria have liberated virtually all the territory the Islamic State group once held.

But he’s not declaring victory. The insurgents and local forces are still battling over a small slice of land.

Shanahan tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that US forces are drawing down in Syria but will maintain a presence to prevent a resurgence of the extremist group that once controlled large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory.

Shanahan is a former Boeing executive who’s been the interim Pentagon chief since January 1, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis left.

US President Donald Trump hasn’t said whether he’ll nominate Shanahan for the Cabinet post.

— AP

Yemen warring sides divided over US Senate vote on the war

Yemen’s warring sides are divided over the US Senate vote to end America’s support for the Saudi-led war in the impoverished country, with the Yemeni government condemning it while the Iran-backed rebels have welcomed the development.

Information Minister Moammar al-Iryani denounces the vote, saying it would only “embolden Iran and empower its proxy,” the rebels known as Houthis.

The rivals Houthis — who are at war with the internationally recognized government and its backers from the Saudi-led coalition — hailed the Senate step, saying that US support has “prolonged the conflict.”

The Senate vote on Wednesday brought the Congress one step closer to an unprecedented rebuke of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. It also put Congress on a collision course with Trump, who has already threatened to veto the resolution.

— AP

UN warns of Syria humanitarian crisis as donors gather

Senior representatives from scores of countries and international organizations have gathered in a fresh effort to drum up aid for Syria amid growing donor fatigue as the conflict enters its ninth year.

UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and think tanks are warning that the conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people and sparked a refugee exodus that destabilized Syria’s neighbors and also hit Europe, is far from over.

Around 80 percent of people inside the country live in extreme poverty, and refugees are reluctant to return, fearing violence, conscription or prison. Almost six million people have fled Syria, many living in precarious conditions in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

“Syria remains one of the great crises of our time,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock says as the pledging conference opened in Brussels. He expressed deep concern about the threat of open conflict in Syria’s northern Idlib province, where more than 90 people were killed last month, nearly half of them children.

“A large-scale military assault on Idlib would create the worst humanitarian catastrophe the world has seen in the 21st Century,” Lowcock says.

The UN says $3.3 billion is needed to help meet Syria’s own aid needs this year, plus a further $5.5 billion to support neighboring countries where most Syrians are seeking refuge. About 11.7 million Syrians still depend on aid and more than 6 million of them have been forced from their homes but remain in the country.

— AP

EU parliament leader under fire for praising Mussolini

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani has come under fire for comments praising Italian dictator Bettino Mussolini.

Tajani told Radio 24 Wednesday evening that Mussolini did some “positive things,” including improving Italy’s infrastructure, until “he declared war on the entire world, following Hitler, until he promoted the racial laws” that restricted the rights of Jews.

Tajani, who is a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, was criticized from across the political spectrum, inside and outside of Italy.

Italy has struggled to come to terms with its fascist past and the rise of populism has brought reminders of Mussolini’s two-decades in power until his execution in 1945.

— AP

Rivlin says he won’t let anyone influence his decision on who will form next government

Amid growing speculation over who Reuven Rivlin will task with forming the next coalition after elections, the president declares that he will not allow anyone to influence his decision.

“Recently there has been a discussion about my personal views — to whom I will give the task of forming the government. I, like my predecessors, view the elections and the people’s voice with reverence. These attacks will not deter me.

“I will be faithful to the letter and spirit of the law, as I was in the previous election campaign, and as my predecessors – all the presidents of Israel — have been in the past,” Rivlin tweets.

PM said slated for visit to national religious flagship institution

Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office at the Eli pre-military academy in the central West Bank in preparation for a planned visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to the national religious camp’s flagship institution, Channel 12 reports.

Netanyahu addressed the academy ahead of the last election as part of a successful last-minute push that polls indicated brought roughly four seats’ worth of Jewish Home voters to vote Likud in 2015.

Trump hails ‘unlimited’ potential of a Britain trade deal

US President Donald Trump hails the “unlimited” potential of a trade deal with Britain — as Brexit is deadlocked in parliament.

“My Administration looks forward to negotiating a large scale Trade Deal with the United Kingdom,” he tweets.

5 dead in Iran gas pipe blast

Five people have been killed and six others wounded in a gas pipeline explosion Thursday near the city of Ahvaz in southwest Iran, state news agency IRNA reports.

“The gas pipes blew up about 200 metres (yards) from the road… destroying four vehicles that were passing by,” Ahvaz governor Jamal Alemi Neisi says, quoted by IRNA.

“This was not a terrorist act or sabotage and was caused by gas leaking” from the pipes, he says.

IRNA says the explosion struck near a traffic police station on the Ahvaz-Mahshahr freeway.

Ahvaz is the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province on the border with Iraq.


Smotrich interrupts Otzma Yehudit hearing, tells chief justice she’s not respecting Knesset

Union of Right Wing Parties candidate Bezalel Smotrich interrupts the Supreme Court hearing on whether to disqualify candidates from the extremist Otzma Yehudit party.

When Chief Justice Esther Hayut tells Smotrich that he is not respecting the court, he responds, “I respect the court, and I ask you to respect the Knesset and its representatives.”

State to High Court: Disqualify extremist Otzma Yehudit candidate

Representatives from the State Prosecutor’s Office are urging the Supreme Court to bar Otzma Yehudit chairman Michael Ben Ari from running in the upcoming elections.

Arguing that the former National Union MK has been inciting racism, Aner Helman says that Ben Ari, in his recorded speeches throughout the years, does not differentiate between Arabs. He says that to Ben Ari, Arabs “have no faces, they are all traitors, a fifth column, and a murderous nation.”

Justice Uzi Fogelman highlights a protest-rally Ben Ari led in the northern town of Afula against a tender that was open for Arab Israelis. “What context of national struggle is there in this case concerning a citizen who wants to live in Afula?” Fogelman presses.

Ben Ari’s legal representative Yitzhak Bam asserted that his client has “no problem” with Arab Israelis who are loyal to the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Asked if 99% of Arab Israelies are considered “enemies,” Ben Ari’s attorney confirmed, “that’s the logic.”

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Netanyahu ends defense ministry meeting: Decisions were taken

The security consultations led by Prime Minister Netanyahu in Tel Aviv have ended, an Israeli officials says.

“Decisions were taken,” the officials adds, without elaborating.

The meeting between the prime minister and his defense chiefs ended shortly before 1 a.m.

— Raphael Ahren