Polls close in Labor primary with voter turnout at 56%
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Polls close in Labor primaries with turnout lower than previous years

56% of party members cast ballots for party’s Knesset slate, down from 61% in 2015; results expected later Monday

Polling booths for the Labor party primary in the Tel Aviv Convention Center, February 11, 2019. (Raanan Cohen)
Polling booths for the Labor party primary in the Tel Aviv Convention Center, February 11, 2019. (Raanan Cohen)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.

Court remands Ori Ansbacher’s killer for 10 days

The Palestinian man accused of murdering the Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher is remanded into custody for 10 days by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

According to reports in Hebrew-language medias, police and the Shin Bet asked the court to remand Arafat Irfayia into custody for two offenses: rape and “terrorist murder.”

Yesterday, the Shin Bet announced that Irfayia had “nationalist” motives when he fatally attacked Ansbacher on Thursday in a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem, indicating it considered the incident to have been terrorism.

The intelligence agency said he reenacted the murder in front of interrogators and “implicated himself definitively in the incident.”

Most details of the case remain under police gag order.

Egypt parliament to vote to extend Sissi’s rule this week

Egypt’s parliament has rescheduled for this week its vote on proposed changes to the constitution that would allow President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to stay in office well beyond his current term, which ends in 2022.

Parliament spokesman Ahmed Saad el-Din said yesterday that the legislature would hold the crucial vote on Wednesday, instead of a scheduled meeting on February 17.

The 596-seat assembly had given its preliminary approval to the changes last week.

The motion is near-certain to be overwhelmingly approved by the legislature, which is packed with Sissi’s supporters, but the amendments would also need to be put to a national referendum to become law.

The proposed amendments also include the introduction of the role of vice president and the reintroduction of a Senate, or upper chamber.

— AP

Palestinians ask Arabs to boycott Mideast summit in Poland

The Palestinian Authority foreign minister is asking Arab countries to boycott or downgrade their representation at the upcoming US-sponsored Mideast summit in Poland.

Riad Malki says that, at the very least, Arab nations should have low-profile delegations, below the ministerial level, at the conference. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are sending foreign ministers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be at the summit.

Malki says the Palestinians “view the Warsaw conference as a plot against the Palestinian cause.”

He made the remarks on the Voice of Palestine as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was to visit Saudi Arabia.

Most Arab nations have refrained from establishing relations with Israel without significant progress being made toward peace with the Palestinians. But many Gulf states share with Israel concerns over Iran’s growing influence.

— AP

Palestinian brothers arrested at Hebron holy site with concealed knife

Israeli security forces in Hebron stop two Palestinian brothers attempting to enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs armed with a knife, according to a police statement.

Police say the 18- and 19-year old siblings are from the nearby Palestinian town of Yatta. They are taken for questioning by Israeli authorities.

Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan completed — report

The Trump administration’s proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan has been completed, and the US president has been briefed on its contents, senior administration officials tell Fox News.

“The plan is done… [the president] is happy with the parameters of the deal,” a senior White House official is quoted as saying.

According to the report, the document is 175 to 200 pages long, and fewer than five people have access to it.

The official added that the White House is unlikely to publish the draft before Israel’s elections in April.

“We are not going to do anything that threatens Israel’s security,” a senior administration official said.

Iran Guards threaten to destroy Tel Aviv and Haifa if US attacks

A senior Revolutionary Guards commander says Iran will wipe out major Israeli cities if the US launches an attack on the Islamic Republic.

“The United States does not have the courage to shoot a single bullet at us despite all its defensive and military assets. But if they attack us, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground,” IRGC deputy political chief Yadollah Javani is quoted as saying to state news agency IRNA according to Reuters.

Javani made the remarks at a rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Erdan warns AG: Announcing Netanyahu indictments before elections could unfairly oust PM

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is urging the attorney general to not be pressured into announcing graft indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the April elections, saying that a hasty decision could unfairly tip the scales against the premier.

“If Mandelblit says he is planning to file an indictment, does a rushed job and as a result of his position a few seats switch and the government is ousted, it will be a serious blow to democracy,” Erdan says at a conference in Jerusalem.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is currently reviewing the cases and weighing whether to announce an indictment against Netanyahu before the elections, which the prime minister has called on him not to do.

Fierce fighting for last Islamic State foothold in eastern Syria

Syrian fighters backed by artillery fire from a US-led coalition battled a fierce jihadist fightback as they push to retake a last morsel of territory from the Islamic State group.

Mushrooming black clouds are rising over the embattled jihadist holdout in eastern Syria, as missiles and a warplane streak through the sky.

More than four years after the extremists declared a “caliphate” across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq, several offensives have whittled that proto-state down to a tiny holdout.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday announced the final push to expel hundreds of diehard jihadists from that patch on the Iraq border.

— AFP

Litzman says UTJ won’t join Gantz-Lapid government

United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’akov Litzman says that he will not join a government that contains a joint party made up of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

Speaking at the B’Sheva newspaper’s conference in Jerusalem, the deputy health minister says that he could not be coalition partners with Lapid “because he looted and damaged the ultra-Orthodox community” when he was finance minister from 2013 to 2015.

Asked if he would extend his boycott to a united slate of Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience, Litzman says, “I will not sit in a joint government of Gantz and Lapid, and I say that unequivocally.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Historic Israeli spacecraft to launch to the moon this week

Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the coming days, which if successful, will become the first privately funded mission to launch from Earth and land on the moon.

According to a statement from SpaceIL, the nonprofit aerospace company behind the Beresheet project, the launch from Cape Canaveral Florida would be “no later than mid-February 2019.”

Lebanon to boycott Warsaw conference on Mideast due to Israeli attendance

Lebanon will not take part in a conference that Poland is holding this week on the situation in the Middle East and Iran, due to Israel’s participation.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil makes the announcement during a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The two-day Warsaw conference begins on Wednesday and will be co-hosted by the US. Some 80 countries have been invited, including Israel. The conference is widely seen as aimed at isolating Iran, which was not invited.

“We explained why we will not be present at the Warsaw conference… Israel will be present and because of the orientation the conference is expected to take,” Bassil says according to Lebanon’s Naharnet news site.

Iran enjoys wide influence in Lebanon through the Hezbollah terrorist group, which along with allied parties holds a majority in parliament.

Lebanon is technically at war with Israel, and Lebanese officials avoid conferences where Israelis are present.

— with AP

Israel asks Dutch to drop case against Gantz over Gaza war bombing

The Justice Ministry says the government has asked a Dutch court to dismiss war crimes allegations against Benny Gantz, an ex-IDF chief who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the April elections.

A Dutch-Palestinian man originally from the Gaza Strip is suing Gantz and former air force chief, Amir Eshel, for their roles in an airstrike on his family’s home that killed six relatives. The dead included a 72-year-old woman and a 12-year-old child.

The airstrike on the Zeyada family home happened during a 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas terror group.

Israel says four Hamas fighters, including three family members, were killed in the airstrike. It says the attack was permissible under international law and argues the Dutch court does not have jurisdiction.

The ministry announces the request earlier today.

— Agencies

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect pleads not guilty

A truck driver accused of killing 11 people and wounding seven during an attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue is pleading not guilty.

Robert Bowers, 46, appears in federal court and pleads not guilty to a new indictment that added 19 additional counts.

His attorney, Judy Clarke, says the defense is hoping the case can be resolved without going to trial. Clarke is a noted death penalty lawyer whose past clients have included one of the Boston Marathon bombers, a 9/11 conspirator and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

The new charges against Bowers include hate crime violations, obstructing religious belief and using a firearm during crimes of violence.

Authorities say Bowers raged against Jews during and after the attack.

— AP

With 3 hours left, voter turnout in Labor party primary stands at 36%

As of 6 p.m., the turnout in the Labor party primacy stood at 36 percent — more than 21,517 people — according to the party’s website.

In a statement, Labor says the turnout is on track to be the same as the 2015 primary, when 61% of party members voted.

Polls close at 9 p.m.

— Raoul Wootliff

Pompeo says US ‘not covering up’ Khashoggi murder

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denies Washington is “covering up” the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and promised further action.

“America is not covering up for a murder,” Pompeo tells reporters in Budapest when asked about criticism by a senior Democrat.

The remarks come after US President Donald Trump missed a Congress deadline to determine who ordered Khashoggi’s assassination amid new revelations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince spoke of going after the writer “with a bullet.”

— AFP

Nasrallah thanks Iran FM for support against ‘Zionist aggression’

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is holding talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during an official visit to Lebanon.

Nasrallah during the talks thanks Iran for “what it has offered to Lebanon, Palestine and all the resistance movements in the area in face of the Zionist aggression and takfiri [extremist Sunni] terrorism,” according to the Al-Manar news outlet.

Yesterday, Zarif offered Iranian military assistance to the US-backed Lebanese army, saying Iran was ready to assist in all sectors should the Lebanese government want it.

Zarif’s visit comes a few days after the leader of the Iran-backed group urged Lebanon’s government to accept anti-aircraft weapons from Iran to confront Israeli warplanes. He also said Iran was ready to provide Lebanon with electricity and medicine.

“Will the Lebanese government be brave enough to accept an Iranian offer? Why should Lebanon be afraid to cooperate with Iran?” Nasrallah asked during a speech marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution this week.

US Mideast envoy denies report that Trump peace plan completed

Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt is denying a Fox news report that claimed the administration’s long-awaited peace plan had been completed and approved by the US president.

In a tweet, Greenblatt tells the network its sources “gave you bad info.”

He says that while the plan is “close to complete, we aren’t there yet & we’ll continue to refine it until release. Greenblatt also denies the working draft is 175 pages long, as claimed in the report.

Earlier, Fox quoted senior administration officials as saying that “the plan is done… [the president] is happy with the parameters of the deal.”

The official added that the White House was unlikely to publish the proposal before Israel’s elections in April.

Netanyahu orders recount after irregularities reported in Likud primaries

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders a check of polling center data after voting irregularities surfaced in the wake of the Likud’s primary last week.

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, polling stations will begin to resubmit their data on Wednesday, and the recounted results will be announced before the weekend.

Channel 12 revealed Sunday the alleged irregularities in the internal vote, including multiple cases of certain candidates receiving more votes than the total number of ballots cast in those places.

The final results of the vote, which determines the ruling party’s slate for the April 9 national elections, saw significant changes in the party list, with a shuffle in all five top slots behind Netanyahu.

With 2 hours left, voter turnout in Labor primary stands at 45%

As of 7 p.m., turnout in the Labor Party primary stood at 44.6 percent — more than 22,697 people — according to the party’s website.

In a statement, Labor says the turnout is on track to be the same as the 2015 primary, when 61% of party members voted.

Polls close at 9 p.m.

7 children among 16 killed in Syria strike on IS holdout

US-led coalition air strikes on the last jihadist pocket in Syria on Monday killed 16 civilians, including at least seven children, a war monitor says.

Nineteen fighters from the Islamic State group were also killed in clashes with the coalition-backed Kurdish-led force spearheading the offensive against the jihadists, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

— AFP

Netanyahu calls for right-wing merger ahead of April elections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging religious Zionist parties to run on a joint ticket in the April elections, saying divisions between right-wing parties will “result in a loss.”

During a meeting with senior party officials, Netanyahu says a merger of the Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit parties could “save 6 of 7 seats” in the upcoming elections,” according to a Likud statement.

Netanyahu says that a divided right-wing “will definitely result in an election loss.”

Recent polls have shown a joint Jewish Home-National Union ticket hovering just above the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent of the national vote. However, surveys show two independent runs would see both parties fail to garner enough support to enter the Knesset unless they find other factions to join up with.

However, unity talks between the Jewish Home and the National Union hit a “dead end” Saturday evening, according to officials from both parties.

Netanyahu tells Iran attacking Israeli cities a ‘terrible mistake’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to threats by an Iranian military leader who warned earlier today the Islamic Republic would raze major Israeli cities if the US attacked it.

“I don’t ignore the threats from the Iranian regime, but I’m also not intimidated by them,” Netanyahu says in a Hebrew-language video uploaded to social media.

“If this regime makes the terrible mistake and tries to destroy Tel Aviv or Haifa, it won’t be successful, and it will be the last anniversary of their revolution they will ever celebrate.”

“They should take that into account,” he says.

Iranian commander Yadollah Javani made the remarks at a rally marking the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

Netanyahu rejects possibility of forming coalition with Gantz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects the possibility of joining a coalition with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, according to a Likud statement.

In a meeting with national-religious leaders, the prime minister said he would only work towards forming a “national, right-wing Likud party.”

With an hour left, voter turnout in Labor primary stands at 50%

As of 8 p.m., turnout in the Labor Party primary stood at 50.3 percent — more than 30,088 people — according to the party’s website.

In a statement, Labor says the turnout is on track to be the same as the 2015 primary, when 61% of party members voted.

Polls close at 9 p.m.

Syria media says Israel striking targets in Quneitra

Syrian media is reporting that Israel is firing artillery shells at sites in the southwestern town of Quneitra.

There is no immediate comment from the IDF.

Gabbay extends Labor primary vote by half hour due to long lines

Due to long lines at polling stations across the country, Labor chairman Avi Gabbay has ordered that voting in the party primary be extended by half an hour, a spokesperson says.

Polls will now close at 9.30 p.m. with results expected around an hour later.

— Raoul Wootliff

Trump adviser says Iran revolution ushered in ’40 years of failure’

Iran’s Islamic revolution four decades ago inflicted “failure and broken promises” on the country, President Donald Trump’s chief foreign policy advisor says.

“It’s been 40 yrs of failure. Now it’s up to the Iranian regime to change its behavior, & ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country,” national security adviser John Bolton tweets on the anniversary of the upheaval.

Bolton says Washington would support “the will of the Iranian people, & stand behind them to ensure their voices are heard.”

Bolton, a leading hawk in the Trump administration’s attempt to weaken Iranian influence, is tweeting as a huge crowd in Tehran gathered to celebrate the 1979 revolution, in which Muslim leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini ended the centuries-old rule of the royal dynasty.

— AFP

House chairman: ‘Shocking’ to hear lawmaker invoke ‘Jewish money’ trope

A powerful House chairman is warning members of his panel that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated after a freshman member sparked a bipartisan backlash to a tweet criticizing an American organization that supports Israel.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel in a statement does not directly mention Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tweet, in which she said that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is paying members of Congress to support the Jewish state. But Engel says he finds it “shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.'” He says he will emphasize to committee members of both parties that the American-Israeli relationship is important.

Omar’s tweet sparked a bipartisan backlash. Some lawmakers called on Democrats to remove her from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

— AP

Democratic leaders admonish freshman lawmaker Omar over Israel tweet

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is insisting that freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar immediately apologize for tweets saying that members of Congress are being paid by a powerful interest group to support Israel.

“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” Pelosi says in a statement issued by her office and signed by other Democratic leaders after a bipartisan backlash against the Minnesota Democrat. “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

The statement came after Omar tweeted over the weekend that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is paying members of Congress to support Israel. Omar is one of two of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress.

Omar did not immediately respond.

The leaders’ statement comes hours after the powerful House chairman rebuked Omar for her “shocking” remarks.

— AP

Four dead after military helicopter crashes in Istanbul

Four soldiers were killed after a Turkish military helicopter crashed in a residential area of Istanbul, the province’s governor says.

“Unfortunately four of our soldiers became martyrs,” Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya tells reporters at the scene.

Yerlikaya says no other military personnel or civilian had been injured after the helicopter plowed to the ground in the Cekmekoy district.

The incident happened around 6:51 p.m. (1551 GMT), he says in televised comments.

Images on Turkish television earlier showed thick black smoke emanating from behind a white wall at the site on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Yerlikaya says the Istanbul public prosecutor had launched an investigation into the cause of the crash.

— AFP

Belgrade Jews accuse opposition chief of embracing Nazi ally fans

Belgrade’s Jewish community is denouncing comments from a Serbian opposition leader that appeared to embrace supporters of a Nazi collaborator who helped oversee the murder of thousands of Serbian Jews during World War II.

The blowback comes after political activist Sergej Trifunovic told local media that the opposition should unite supporters from across the spectrum, saying it is “totally irrelevant” whether people “keep at home a picture of… Dimitrije Ljotic or (Josip) Broz Tito.”

Ljotic is notorious for aiding the WWII Serbian puppet government that brutally sought to make the country “free of Jews,” killing more than 80 percent of the 33,000-strong community that existed before the war. Tito, on the other hand, was the leader of the anti-fascist movement during the war who went on to lead communist Yugoslavia until his death in 1980.

“We address you on behalf of 11,000 Belgrade Jews who were killed in camps and execution places throughout Belgrade thanks to the propaganda machinery of Nazi collaborator Dimitrije Ljotic,” the Serbian capital’s small Jewish community, who today number less than 1,000, writes in an open letter to the political leader.

The community accused Trifunovic of “heinously equaling those who fought against fascism and those who were helping occupiers in making Serbia a ‘Jewish free’ state.”

“Do you think that it should be ‘irrelevant’ if in a German house there is a photograph of chancellor Willy Brandt or of Adolf Hitler?” the letter added.

— AFP

Polls close in Labor primary with voter turnout at 56%

As polls close in the Labor Party primary, 56.3 percent of eligible voters — some 35,690 people — have cast their ballots, according to the party’s website.

Voter turnout was less than in Labor’s 2015 primary, when 61% of party members voted.

Official results will be announced later this evening.

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Live updates (closed)

Polls close in Labor primary with voter turnout at 56%

As polls close in the Labor Party primary, 56.3 percent of eligible voters — some 35,690 people — have cast their ballots, according to the party’s website.

Voter turnout was less than in Labor’s 2015 primary, when 61% of party members voted.

Official results will be announced later this evening.