Netanyahu warns Hamas of ‘large-scale’ Gaza operation if unrest continues
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Palestinian Authority slashing salaries by 40% amid tax revenue spat with Israel

Ramallah finance minister says most cuts will be from higher-paid civil servants, vows no monthly paycheck will be less than $550

A Palestinian Hamas government employee signs to receive 60 percent of their long-overdue salary while others wait in the queue, at the main Gaza Post Office, in Gaza City, Friday, November 9, 2018. (AP/Adel Hana)
A Palestinian Hamas government employee signs to receive 60 percent of their long-overdue salary while others wait in the queue, at the main Gaza Post Office, in Gaza City, Friday, November 9, 2018. (AP/Adel Hana)

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

Abbas expected to announce longtime adviser Mohammad Shtayyeh as new PM

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has chosen longtime adviser Mohammad Shtayyeh as his new prime minister, officials say, a step that further deepens the rift with the rival Hamas group.

Abbas is expected to announce the appointment later today, the officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement.

File: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh (right) and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molho (left) at the formal resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013. (Official White House Photo, Chuck Kennedy)

Shtayyeh, a British-educated economist, is a top official in Abbas’s Fatah movement. He is a former peace negotiator and strong proponent of a two-state solution with Israel. He also is a strong critic of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah forces in 2007.

The Hamas takeover has left the Palestinians torn between rival governments in Gaza and the West Bank, where Abbas’s Palestinian Authority administers autonomous areas. Repeated attempts at reconciliation have failed.

Shtayyeh will succeed Rami Hamdallah, who had overseen a unity government formed nearly five years ago with the goal of reaching a conciliation deal with Hamas.

— AP

Ethiopian Airlines: ‘No survivors’ from crashed plane with 157 aboard

There were no survivors among the 149 passengers and eight crew on board a Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Airlines said Sunday.

“The group CEO who is at the accident scene right now regrets to confirm that there are no survivors,” the company said in a statement confirming the death toll.

— AFP

Egypt appoints military officer as transportation minister after deadly train crash

Egypt’s president is appointing a military officer to lead the country’s transportation ministry, less than two weeks after its minister resigned over a deadly February train crash in Cairo that killed 25 people.

The general turned president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, says that Maj. Gen. Kamal el-Waziri, who heads the military’s engineering authority, is awaiting approval from parliament to replace Hisham Arafat as transportation minister.

Firefighters and onlookers gather at the scene of a fiery train crash at the Egyptian capital Cairo’s main railway station on February 27, 2019. (Stringer/AFP)

Eleven people have been arrested over the deadly accident which was triggered by a brawl between two drivers.

Egypt’s rundown railway system is badly in need of overhaul after a series of deadly crashes in recent years. It has a history of badly maintained equipment and poor management. Most recent publicized official figures show that 1,793 train accidents took place in 2017 across the country.

— AP

American hiker killed after falling into ravine in Eilat Mountains

Authorities say the body of an American tourist was discovered this morning in a ravine near a popular hiking trail in the Eilat Mountains in southern Israel.

Police began searching for the hiker last night when the 20-year-old man failed to return from his hike to Mount Shlomo. His body was airlifted from the ravine by the IDF’s search and rescue unit after a several hour operation.

Police have opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death, although no foul play is suspected. The initial indication is that the man slipped and fell down a steep rock face while walking the trail.

The IDF’s unit 669 helped police recover the body from the ravine.

Police say that the man’s family has been informed.

2 Israelis on board crashed Ethiopian Airlines plane

Ethiopian Airlines says that two Israelis were among the 149 passengers and eight crew on board a Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 that crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa earlier today.

A statement from the airline say passengers on board included foreign nationals from over 20 countries. Authorities earlier said 32 Kenyans and nine Ethiopians were killed. Now they add 18 Canadians; eight each from China, the United States and Italy; seven each from France and Britain; six from Egypt; five from the Netherlands and four each from India and Slovakia.

It is not yet clear what caused the crash of new Boeing 737-8 MAX plane shortly after takeoff from Bole Airport en route to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

— with AP

Netanyahu warns Hamas of ‘large-scale’ Gaza operation if unrest continues

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning Hamas that Israel will not hesitate to launch a “large-scale operation” in Gaza, as daily exchanges with terrorist groups in Palestinian territory are threatening a wider escalation.

Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu notes that while “rogue factions” were behind the recent Gaza “provocations,” it “did not exempt Hamas,” the enclave’s Islamist rulers, from responsibility.

Palestinians prepare explosive devices to use in nighttime clashes along the border with Israel, at a house in al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, on March 7, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“I’ve heard people in Gaza saying that since we’re in an election campaign, a large-scale operation is out of the question,” he says, referring to April 9 Israeli polls.

“I’d suggest to Hamas — don’t count on it. We’ll do whatever is necessary to return peace and quiet to the Gaza border communities, and the entire south.”

— with AFP

Two unarmed Palestinians nabbed crossing from Gaza into Israel

Israeli troops arrest two unarmed Palestinian men who crossed into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the army says.

The suspects were picked up shortly after they breached the security fence. They were not found to be in possession of weapons, the military says in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Zandberg conveys ‘message of peace’ to Abbas during Ramallah talks

Leader of the Meretz opposition party Tamar Zandberg conveyed a message of peace to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during talks in Ramallah earlier today.

“Our message is a message of peace, which seems to have disappeared from this current election campaign,” she reportedly tells Abbas during their meeting at the PA headquarters. “The parties that vying for power either talk about [peace] in vague terms or not at all.”

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg shakes hands with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 10, 2019. (Majdi Mohammed / POOL / AFP)

According to the Ynet news site, Zandberg says that Abbas underscored his commitment to security and to the Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation at the recent meeting of Arab League member states.

“He said this was in both sides’ mutual interest, and must be the top priority of the next government,” Zandberg says.

In response, Abbas welcomed the visiting Israeli delegation, saying his government would extend a hand to any Israeli government that would negotiate a peace agreement based on the 1967 lines.

Netanyahu confirms Israelis killed in Ethiopian Airlines plane crash

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms the deaths of two Israeli citizens on the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed earlier today and extends his condolences to the victims’ families.

“Unfortunately, our ambassador in Ethiopia informs us that two Israelis were killed in the plane crash. Our hearts are with the families,” Netanyahu says in a video posted from outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), at a Foreign Ministry emergency situation room after an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash on March 10, 2019. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

Netanyahu says he arrived at the ministry headquarters, which had opened an emergency situation room earlier today, to get a firsthand impression of the situation.

— Raphael Ahren

IDF soldiers get 6 months for beating Palestinian detainees

An IDF military court sentences three Israeli soldiers from the religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion to 190 days in prison as part of a plea deal reached with military prosecutors.

Under the agreement reached last week, the soldiers plead guilty to aggravated abuse in the January incident and in addition to the jail times, were demoted a rank.

The two other soldiers indicted for their role in the January incident have yet to reach similar plea agreements with military prosecutors, but an IDF official said last week the two sides were still working to negotiate one.

One of the five Israeli soldiers from the Kfir Brigade arrested for allegedly beating two Palestinians in their custody arrives for a court hearing at the Jaffa Military Court on January 10, 2019. (Flash90)

The three soldiers were part of a group of five servicemen of the Kfir Brigade’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion who were arrested in January and charged with severely abusing two Palestinian suspects believed to have assisted a terrorist who had killed two of their comrades in a shooting attack at a bus stop.

— Judah Ari Gross

Hamas rejects authority of ‘separatist’ Palestinian government under new PA premier

Hamas says it will not recognize the authority of new PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, whose appointment by PA President Mahmoud Abbas earlier today was seen as part of efforts to further isolate the Gaza ruling group.

“Hamas stresses it does not recognize this separatist government because it was formed without national consensus,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum says in a statement.

Hamas says the appointment reflects “Abbas’s unilateralism and monopoly of power.”

According to PA officials, Abbas this afternoon asked Shtayyeh, a member of the central committee of his Fatah party, to form a new government. The previous government was formed during a period of improved relations between Hamas and the PA, and had the backing of Hamas.

The new PA government is likely to be dominated by Fatah, and Hamas is not expected to be included.

— with AFP

Cash-strapped PA cuts salaries by 40% after tax revenue spat with Israel

The Palestinian Authority announces that it will be slashing the salaries of its civil servants by around 40 percent this month after the Ramallah government protested the Israeli decision to withhold tens of millions of dollars in tax transfers to the PA.

PA Finance Minister Dr. Shukri Bishara tells journalists at a press conference that most of the cuts will come from the salaries of higher paid officials, and that monthly wages below NIS 2,000 ($550) will not be affected.

He says some 50% of the thousands of PA employees will receive their paycheck of NIS 2,000 or less today.

Bishara says the PA has taken out a $50 million loan, and will continue to do so on a monthly basis “during the coming period.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Forum in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 6, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

The PA announced the salary cuts last month after after Israel said it would withhold $138 million in tax transfers. The move came after Israel’s security cabinet approved the freezing of the funds over the PA’s payments to Palestinians jailed by Israel for terrorism and violence, and to the families of dead terrorists.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not accept any funds from Israel unless it provides the full tax sums it owes the PA.

Earlier today, Abbas blamed Israel for exacerbating the financial crisis in the West Bank.

“Israel is choking the economy and causing a financial crisis for the Palestinian Authority,” he said during a meeting with Israeli opposition politicians. “Despite this, we are maintaining our support for the two-state solution and fighting terrorism. Our money must be returned.”

Elections committee okays ex-general’s run on Labor list

The Central Elections Committee approves the candidacy of Tal Russo, a former IDF general running on the Labor Party slate in the April elections.

Tal Russo, a retired major general and former head of the army’s Southern Command, was tapped in mid-February by Labor head Avi Gabbay to fill the number two slot on the party’s slate.

But questions were raised about the legality of Russo’s candidacy because it comes two years after he left military service — less than the three years required by Israel’s “cooling off” law for former senior military officers.

The committee accepted Russo’s argument that he officially resigned from the IDF in 2013, but stayed on until 2017 on a voluntarily basis as a reservist.

Ethiopian Airlines, Boeing to probe crash that killed 157

Ethiopian Airlines says Ethiopian authorities, manufacturer Boeing and other international stakeholders will collaborate on an investigation into the cause of Sunday morning’s crash after takeoff from Addis Ababa.

A new statement by the airline also says families of the 157 victims have been contacted and that remains will be returned to them once identified.

The cause of the crash is not yet known. The new Boeing 737-8 MAX plane had been en route to Nairobi. Victims came from 35 countries.

— AP

US-backed Syria force says time up for IS ‘to surrender’

US-backed forces say time is up for Islamic State group jihadists hunkering down in their eastern Syrian holdout and an assault was imminent.

“The timeline (we gave) ISIS to surrender themselves is over,” Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman Mustefa Bali says on Twitter, using another acronym for IS.

“Our forces have received orders for military action to finish off what is left of the terrorists in Baghouz,” a village near the Iraqi border, he says. “The assault will start at any moment.”

Young children look at a member of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving the Islamic State (IS) group’s last holdout of Baghouz, in Syria’s northern Deir Ezzor province on February 27, 2019. (Bulent KILIC / AFP)

The SDF, who are backed by airstrikes of the US-led coalition, have slowed down their months-long campaign against the jihadists in recent weeks to allow civilians out of the shrinking enclave.

— AFP

Graham, Friedman tour Hamas tunnels on Gaza border

Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham toured the Gaza border area today with US ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

The two visited decommissioned tunnels dug under the Israel-Gaza border that were utilized by Hamas to carry out attacks against Israel during the 2014 war.

The South Carolina lawmaker is due to meet Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow on the Golan Heights as part of the prime minister’s push for US recognition of the Israeli-annexed territory.

US-backed Syrian forces resume assault on last IS redoubt

US-backed Syrian forces resume their assault on the last Islamic State group redoubt in eastern Syria, a spokesman says, after a deadline passed for the surrender of jihadists.

“We have not seen any movement of civilians inside, so the Syrian Democratic Forces have resumed their military operations against the group,” SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin says.

The head of the SDF press office, Mustefa Bali, says air strikes and clashes had started up again on the patch of land in the village of Baghouz, after a pause to allow civilians out.

— AFP

Petition to ban ‘Blue and White’ over copyright claims rejected

The Central Elections committee rejects a petition to ban the name of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Blue and White Party after a compromise was reached with the complainant.

Maaleh Adumim mayor Benny Kashriel told the election committee he registered his local political faction as “Blue and White” several years ago. According to reports, Kashriel and the committee reached an unspecified agreement that allows the national political party to legally use the name.

The deal also stipulates that Kashriel will also be able to use “Blue and White” in future political campaigns.

Ethiopia declares Monday a day of mourning

Ethiopia’s House of People’s Representatives declares tomorrow a national day of mourning for all 157 victims of Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office says the cause of the crash will be “communicated promptly to the public as updates come in.”

The jetliner carrying 157 people crashed shortly after takeoff from the Ethiopian capital this morning, killing everyone aboard, authorities said. At least 35 nationalities were among the dead, including 2 Israelis.

It was not clear what caused the Ethiopian Airlines plane to go down in clear weather. But the accident was strikingly similar to last year’s crash of a Lion Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea, killing 189 people. Both crashes involved the Boeing 737 Max 8, and both happened minutes after the jets became airborne.

— Agencies

At least a dozen UN-affiliated personnel believed killed in Ethiopian crash

At least a dozen people affiliated with the United Nations were among those killed in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet near Addis Ababa, a UN source says.

“It is expected that a least a dozen of the victims were affiliated with the UN,” the source says, adding that freelance interpreters traveling to a UN conference on the environment might also be among the dead.

Authorities said 157 people were killed, when the Boeing 737 crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, on a flight to Nairobi, where the UN conference was being held.

— AFP

Smotrich vows to combat ‘indoctrination’ of liberal democracy in schools if elected

The leader of the right-wing National Union party, MK Bezalel Smotrich, says he will combat the “indoctrination” of liberal democracy in Israeli schools if appointed the country’s next education minister.

Smotrich, whose National Union recently merged with the Union of Right Wing Parties, also says that, as education minister, he will not invest in educationally impoverished areas, since “there will always be gaps” and “I’m not a communist.”

Head of the National Union faction MK Bezalel Smotrich during a conference of the Movement for the Quality of Government, in Modiin, February 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“For many years, there has been religious coercion in the school system, there is religious indoctrination that cannot be accepted. The committee overseeing the study of civics coerces us to learn the religion of liberal democracy,” Smotrich tells party members at a conference.

Israeli diplomat says crashed Ethiopian plane had engine trouble last week

Israel’s Ambassador to South Sudan, Hanan Godar, says he was on board the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that crashed this morning within the past week, and the jetliner had experienced engine trouble.

Godar tells Israeli media outlets that he traveled on the same aircraft overnight Thursday-Friday, on a route from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv, and that flight was grounded for several hours due to engine trouble.

The pilot informed them of a problem with one of engines, telling them: “We’ll start one engine to see if it gets going, and if it does, we’ll start the other engines.”

The jetliner carrying 157 people crashed shortly after takeoff from the Ethiopian capital Sunday, killing everyone aboard and carving a crater into the ground, authorities said. At least 35 nationalities were among the dead, including two Israelis.

Gal Gadot backs model criticized by Netanyahu for defending Arabs

Israeli actress Gal Gadot posts a message of solidarity with model Rotem Sela, who drew criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for defending Israel’s Arab minority.

“This isn’t a matter of left or right, Jew or Arab, secular of religious, it’s about dialogue for peace and equality, and our tolerance for one another,” Gadot says.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” she says. “The responsibility to sow hope and light for a better future for our children lies with us.”

Actress Gal Gadot poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet,’ in central London, on November 25, 2018. (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

On Saturday, Sela denounced Netanyahu’s frequent talking point that his political rival will form a government with Arab political parties.

“When the hell will someone in this government tell the public that Israel is a country of all its citizens,” Sela wrote on Instagram.

Netanyahu responded today by saying that Israel “is the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”

UN refugee chief says colleagues were on crashed Ethiopian plane

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says, “It is with great sadness and shock” that refugee agency colleagues were among the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash.

A statement by Filppo Grandi says his office is working to confirm how many colleagues were on board the plane that crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa to Nairobi.

Both cities are hubs for humanitarian workers.

The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde Gebremariam, looks at the wreckage of the plane that crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 10, 2019. (Ethiopian Airlines Facebook page via AP)

The statement also says that “colleagues from the United Nations and other partners were also on board.”

None of the 157 people on board survived.

— AP

ZAKA sending teams to Ethiopia to help locate Israeli victims

Israel’s ZAKA Search and Rescue organization is sending teams to Ethiopia to help local authorities locate the bodies of the two Israeli victims on board the Boeing 373 that crashed outside Addis Ababa this morning.

In a statement, ZAKA says its teams — one from Israel and one from South Africa — will depart for Ethiopia at around midnight tonight.

“Our teams, which are leaving tonight, will make every effort to locate the bodies of the Israelis and bring them home for burial,” ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav posts on Twitter. “Unfortunately, in our vast experience assisting in these types of tragedies around the world, we have acquired a great deal of professionalism in responding to such incidents.”

The rescue team carries collected bodies in bags at the crash site of Ethiopia Airlines near Bishoftu, a town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 10, 2019. (Michael TEWELDE / AFP)

The jetliner carrying 157 people crashed shortly after takeoff from the Ethiopian capital Sunday, killing everyone aboard and carving a crater into the ground, authorities said. At least 35 nationalities were among the dead, including the two Israelis.

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Netanyahu warns Hamas of ‘large-scale’ Gaza operation if unrest continues

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning Hamas that Israel will not hesitate to launch a “large-scale operation” in Gaza, as daily exchanges with terrorist groups in Palestinian territory are threatening a wider escalation.

Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu notes that while “rogue factions” were behind the recent Gaza “provocations,” it “did not exempt Hamas,” the enclave’s Islamist rulers, from responsibility.

Palestinians prepare explosive devices to use in nighttime clashes along the border with Israel, at a house in al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, on March 7, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“I’ve heard people in Gaza saying that since we’re in an election campaign, a large-scale operation is out of the question,” he says, referring to April 9 Israeli polls.

“I’d suggest to Hamas — don’t count on it. We’ll do whatever is necessary to return peace and quiet to the Gaza border communities, and the entire south.”

— with AFP