The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it unfolded.
Hebron shooter Azaria to go free in May
The IDF’s parole board announces that Elor Azaria, the former sergeant who was imprisoned for killing a disarmed and wounded Palestinian attacker, will be given early release after he completes two-thirds of his 14-month sentence.
In a brief statement, the parole board says he is expected to go free on May 10.
During a parole hearing last week, military prosecutors said they would not oppose early release for Azaria in May, when he will have served 10 months of his manslaughter sentence for killing the incapacitated Palestinian attacker, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in Hebron.
Azaria has never expressed regret for his actions, something the military prosecutors have noted in their arguments. Then-Sgt. Azaria shot and killed Sharif on March 24, 2016, some 11 minutes after Sharif had been shot and disarmed when he and another Palestinian man attacked two IDF soldiers.
— with Judah Ari Gross
British woman killed fighting in Syria’s Afrin – spokeswoman
A British woman fighting alongside Kurdish forces in the Syrian region of Afrin has been killed in a Turkish-led offensive on the area, a spokeswoman for the forces says.
Anna Campbell was killed last week in the Afrin enclave, says Nisrin Abdallah, a spokeswoman for the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).
“She died on March 15, 2018 in Turkish shelling” during fighting for Afrin city, Abdallah tells AFP.
“We learned of her death yesterday and communicated with her parents,” she says, confirming that Campbell was from Lewes in East Sussex.
Abdallah says Campbell joined the YPJ in May 2017 but had not been deployed to the front line until this month.
WJC leader says demise of two-state solution a ‘grave threat’ to Israel
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder warns that the “demise of the two-state solution” will force Israel to choose between being a democracy and maintaining its Jewish character.
That is one of two “grave threats” that Lauder,a former ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warns of in an opinion piece in The New York Times.
“I am conservative and a Republican, and I have supported the Likud party since the 1980s,” he writes. “But the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian.”
The second threat, according to Lauder, stems from Israel’s capitulation to religious extremists and the growing disaffection of the Jewish diaspora. Most Jews outside of Israel are not accepted in the eyes of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, who control ritual life and holy places in the state.”
“Many non-Orthodox Jews, myself included, feel that the spread of state-enforced religiosity in Israel is turning a modern, liberal nation into a semi-theocratic one,” he says. “We must change course. We must push for a two-state solution and find common ground among ourselves so that we can ensure the success of our beloved nation.”
Poland said to censor Israeli mayor’s speech in light of new law
An Israeli mayor canceled a speech he was planning to deliver to Israeli high school students on a trip to Poland after local authorities censored his speech, Hadashot TV new reports.
Kiryat Bialik Mayor Eli Dukorsky, who is heading the Israeli delegation, was meant to deliver his speech today along with the mayor of Radomsko, Kiryat Bialik’s twin city, the report says.
However, before Dukorsky could deliver his address, the Radomsko mayor told him that the authorities wished to go over his speech in light of a new law criminalizing the mention of Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
Several minutes later, the Polish mayor reportedly returned and requested that Dukorsky omit parts of his speech that dealt with Poles who turned Jews in to the Nazi occupiers.
The report says the Israeli mayor then sought the advice of the Foreign Ministry, which recommended that he not deliver a censored version of his speech.
The joint ceremony was then canceled, and the mayor ended up delivering the speech to the students privately.
French consular agent indicted for smuggling guns from Gaza to West Bank
A French consular agent is indicted in an Israeli court for involvement in alleged arms trafficking from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
Romain Franck, 23, who worked as a driver for the French Consulate General in Jerusalem, is accused of having used his diplomatic immunity from searches at border crossings in order to transport dozens of weapons, working with a network of Palestinian traffickers, the Shin Bet says.
Franck allegedly trafficked the arms for money, without the knowledge of his employers, using a consular vehicle.
He would receive the arms from a Palestinian worker at the French Cultural Center in Gaza, cross the Erez border crossing into Israel, and then drive up the West Bank, where he would sell the weapons to traffickers, the Shin Bet says.
In all, he is accused of transferring some 70 pistols and two automatic rifles in five trips to Gaza in the West Bank.
Nine people, including a Palestinian security officer at the Consulate General, have been arrested in the case, the Shin Bet says.
The Shin Bet does not cite any pro-Palestinian political motivation on Romain’s part, saying that he “acted for money, on his own and without the knowledge of his superiors.”
Still, it says, “he cynically exploited immunity and privileges granted to foreign representatives to engage in trafficking of dozens of weapons likely to be used against civilians and members of the Israeli security forces.”
Israeli company Orbotech sold in deal valued at $3.4 billion
The California-based semiconductor equipment maker KLA-Tencor Corp announces that it will be buying the Israeli company Orbotech Ltd, which manufactures systems for circuit boards and chips.
The deal is valued at $3.4 billion, making it one of the largest involving an Israeli company.
EU takes UK’s side in dispute over Russian spy’s poisoning
EU foreign ministers strongly condemn the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain and say they take “extremely seriously” London’s assessment that Moscow is to blame for the attack.
The 28 ministers meeting in Brussels voice their “unqualified solidarity” with Britain over the attack, which targeted former agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury with a Soviet-designed military grade nerve agent.
“The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible,” the ministers say in a joint statement.
“The European Union expresses its unqualified solidarity with the UK and its support, including for the UK’s efforts to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.”
International chemical weapons experts are due to arrive in Britain today to investigate the incident, which has triggered a fierce diplomatic row between London and Moscow.
“The European Union is shocked at the offensive use of any military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, for the first time on European soil in over 70 years,” the ministers say.
Iran sentences Sufi man to death over killing of 3 policemen
Iran has sentenced to death a supporter of a Sufi leader who rammed a bus into a group of policemen last month, killing three.
The incident in Tehran took place during February clashes between the Sufi leader’s followers and police.
A report today by the official IRNA news agency says the convicted man, Mohammad Salas, can appeal his verdict within 20 days. Salas testified during hearings last week that he had no intention of killing the policemen but was trying to flee the clashes.
Sufi leader Nourali Tabandeh’s supporters had rallied near his residence fearing his possible arrest, despite police assurances they had no such intention.
Iran’s clerically overseen government frowns on Sufism, the mystical strain of Islam. Many conservatives view it as a deviation from the faith.
Former Shin Bet chief blasts ‘coward’ Netanyahu, says Israel ‘lost its way’
Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, derides Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “coward” and says that under his rule, the country has “lost its way.”
“I know how much of a coward Bibi is, so I can rest assured that he won’t go on any adventures,” Diskin, a frequent critic of Netanyahu says, implying that the prime minister won’t purposefully start a war with Israel’s neighbors in order to save his own political skin.
“I feel that the country has lost its way,” Diskin says during a business conference in Tel Aviv. “It has become very populist, without direction, vision and ideology, and its leadership is utterly lacking in personal example.”
Netanyahu hails sale of Israeli company Orbotech
Netanyahu welcomes the sale of the Israeli company Orbotech Ltd to KLA-Tencor Corp for $3.4 billion, hailing it as “more good news for the high-tech industry and for Israel’s economy.”
He also says, in a brief statement, that he “was happy to hear that the company, which employs 2,500 workers, will continue to work out of Yavneh.”
Trump opioid plan includes death penalty for traffickers
US President Donald Trump’s plan to combat opioid drug addiction nationwide calls for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty where appropriate under current law, a top administration official says.
It’s a fate for drug dealers that Trump, who aims to be seen as tough on crime, has been highlighting publicly in recent weeks.
Trump also wants Congress to pass legislation reducing the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers who knowingly distribute certain illicit opioids, says Andrew Bremberg, Trump’s domestic policy director, in a briefing to reporters on the plan, which Trump is scheduled to unveil today in New Hampshire, a state hard-hit by the crisis.
The president will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, who has shown an interest in the issue, particularly as it pertains to her focus on child welfare.
Death for drug traffickers and mandatory minimum penalties for distributing certain opioids are just two elements under the part of Trump’s plan that deals with law enforcement and interdiction to break the international and domestic flow of drugs into and across the US.
Other parts of the plan include broadening education and awareness, and expanding access to proven treatment and recovery efforts.
Former Yisrael Beytenu official convicted of bribery
A former senior official in the Yisrael Beytenu party is convicted as part of a plea bargain under which he admitted taking bribes.
His conviction is part of a larger, sprawling scandal that has seen several senior figures, including a former cabinet minister, indicted.
David Godovsky, a former Yisrael Beytenu headquarters chief, was initially charged with money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime, extortion, and tax offenses in addition to bribery.
The other charges were dropped under the deal he reached with the prosecution.
The deal did not specify a sentence.
Washington councilman accuses ‘Rothschilds’ of controlling weather
A councilman in Washington, D.C. suggested on Facebook that rich Jews who control the weather caused an unexpected snowstorm.
Trayon White Sr., a Democrat representing the district’s 8th Ward, posted a video early Friday morning in which he accused “the Rothschilds” of controlling the climate to make money — an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. He later removed the video.
In the video, White said: “Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”
White told The Washington Post, which called him for comment, that the video “says what it says” and expressed surprise that his remarks were considered anti-Semitic. He sent an apology to the newspaper for the post four hours after it appeared online via text message.
“I work hard every day to combat racism and prejudices of all kinds. I want to apologize to the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended,” he said in the text. “The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues.”
Court upholds decision to try Tamimi teen behind closed doors
A petition to allow the trial of 17-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi be open to the public is denied by the Military Court of Appeals.
Tamimi was arrested four months ago after she was filmed slapping and shoving IDF soldiers in her West Bank village of Nebi Saleh.
Explaining his decision, Judge Gilad Peretz writes that he did not feel that he had the authority to overrule the court’s original decision on February 13 to hold the proceedings behind closed doors.
Furthermore, he adds, the original decision to hold the trial behind closed doors was legitimate because “it is in the best interest of the minor.”
Speaking with The Times of Israel, Tamimi’s attorney Gaby Lasky scoffs at the ruling, pointing out that in his original ruling, Ofer Military Court Judge Menachem Lieberman granted Lasky the right to appeal the decision.
“And even if he hadn’t, it shouldn’t have taken the appeals court over a month to realize that it didn’t feel comfortable making a decision,” she says.
— Jacob Magid
Putin gets rare EU kudos from Hungary’s Orban
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban congratulates Russian president and fellow strongman Vladimir Putin on his reelection, in a rare message of support from an EU country.
Orban’s press office informs state news agency MTI that a letter of congratulations was sent by Orban to Putin today.
“I trust that your re-election means a guarantee that the development of our bilateral relations can continue in the upcoming period,” the right-wing Orban, 54, is quoted as saying by MTI.
Orban, who polls suggest will be reelected himself on April 8, has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over the rule of law and immigration, and he and Putin visit each other regularly.
Orban, an early supporter of US President Donald Trump, signed a controversial loan deal with Putin in 2014 to finance the expansion of ex-communist Hungary’s only nuclear power plant.
UN mission on Lebanon-Israel border marks 40th anniversary
The head of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon praises their contribution to peace efforts as the force marks 40 years since its establishment on the frontier with neighboring Israel.
Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, commander of the force known as UNIFIL, says that the mission “works tirelessly to preempt a return to conflict, a return to turmoil and loss of life, a return to some of the dark days of the past” between the two countries.
His comments come amid new threats between Lebanon and Israel over several issues, including a wall the Jewish state is building along the border that Beirut says may jut into Lebanese territories, as well as plans for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean.
The peacekeeping force was founded in 1978 after Israel invaded parts of southern Lebanon to quell incessant terror attacks. Violence has broken out on several occasions since then, including major wars in 1982 and 2006.
Beary warns that conflict “can start in an instant, can take generations to find a permanent solution.”
“South Lebanon has enjoyed 11 years of calm since 2006, and the last two years in our areas of operations, in particular, have been among the quietest on record,” Beary says. “UNIFIL works together with the parties to sustain this calm.”
France urges new EU sanctions on Iran to mollify Trump
France urges its partners in the European Union to impose new sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile program as well as its actions in Syria, in an effort to stop the US from exiting the nuclear deal.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian insists that his country is determined to keep the 2015 nuclear deal, signed in Vienna, intact. However, he tells reporters that there are issues not covered in that accord that still must be dealt with.
“We are determined to ensure that the Vienna accord is respected,” he says, according to Reuters. “But we must not exclude (from consideration) Iran’s responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role in the near and Middle East. That must also be discussed to reach a common position.”
US President Donald Trump said in January that the deal between Iran and major powers must be “fixed” by May 12 or the United States will walk away, likely ending the accord.
Le Drian’s comments are slammed by Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi.
“The French foreign minister’s comments over the missile issues are, unfortunately, a repetition of the improper words of the past,” Iran’s Fars News site quotes him as saying.
Le Drian “was informed of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s positions on different global and regional issues in a completely straightforward manner during his recent visit to Tehran,” Qasemi says. “His recent statements about the Islamic Republic of Iran are not comprehensible and to a large extent seem be odd and illogical after his visit to Tehran.”
Putin garners 72% of vote among Russians in Israel
Russian citizens living in Israel voted overwhelmingly for President Vladimir Putin in Sunday’s elections, though at a slightly lower percentage than among their compatriots overall.
Some 72 percent of Israeli-Russians cast their ballot for the incumbent, compared to the 76% Putin garnered in the general election.
Journalist Ksenia Sobchak, who describes herself as partly Jewish, came in second in Israel with 1,611 votes, or 13%. In the general election, the political novice from the center-right Civic Initiative — the first female candidate in 14 years and the youngest candidate to run since 2004 — received less than 2%.
The runner-up, Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, who overall garnered 11%, came in fourth, getting 660 votes, or 5.5%. In third place was Grigory Yavlinsky of the centrist Yabloko party, with 5.6%.
Overall, Yavlinsky, who is Jewish, only received 1%.
Some 12,000 Russian citizens living in Israel voted in 14 polling stations across the country. There are about 120,000 Israelis who are eligible to vote in the Russian election, but this week’s turnout marked the highest voter participating in Israel since 2000. In the 2012 election, some 10,500 ballots were cast in Israel.
— Raphael Ahren
Netanyahu congratulates Putin on reelection
Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulates newly reelected Russian President Putin, hailing the two leaders’ “trust and understanding,” but refraining from criticizing the election process, as many in Europe have done.
“Mr. President, please accept my sincere congratulations for your victory in yesterday’s elections,” Netanyahu writes in a letter to Putin, according to his office.
“I deeply appreciate the personal dialogue between us, and I look forward to continuing to work closely together, in the spirit of the trust and understanding between us, to promote the vital interests of our countries,” he added.
— Michael Bachner
France opens probe after consular worker accused of running guns from Gaza
France will investigate the case of an employee of its Jerusalem consulate who was indicted today for allegedly running guns from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
“The French foreign minister has called for an immediate administrative investigation,” the French embassy in Israel says, noting that the chief inspector in the foreign ministry in Paris has been appointed to lead the probe.
In a Hebrew-language statement, the embassy says that that investigation “will poll all of the information at our disposal that relates to this affair.
“This is also about coming to conclusions that will allow employees of the consulate general to continue with their important work under optimal conditions, despite the difficult circumstances,” the statement says.
It also says the suspect, Romain Franck, a 23-year-old former driver for the consulate, is “receiving full consular protection and visits from our embassy in Tel Aviv, including by the ambassador herself.
“We are in constant contact with out compatriot’s family and with Israeli authorities,” it says.
Abbas blames Hamas for attempt on PA premier’s life
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accuses the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers of trying to assassinate his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, last week.
Hamdallah was targeted in a roadside bombing after entering the coastal territory in a convoy that also included the PA intelligence chief, Majid Faraj.
Speaking at the opening of a Palestinian leadership meeting, Abbas condemns the “despicable” attack and says Hamas will be held to account.
He also says he will not be accepting information from Hamas regarding its investigation of the incident.
Hamas, which has long been at odds with the PA, has denied involvement.
EU reluctant to amend Iran nuclear pact, sees security risk
The European Union’s foreign policy chief says the EU is reluctant to change the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran even as US President Donald Trump threatens to walk away from the pact.
Federica Mogherini says, after chairing talks among the foreign ministers of EU countries, that Europeans “attach strategic importance to the full implementation of the agreement by all parties.”
Mogherini says, “It is for us a matter of security, for Europe and for the rest of the world.”
The EU’s representative for foreign affairs and security policy says the pact, “if disrupted, would create an additional security threat and concern in the region.”
Mogherini says the EU hopes to dissuade Iran from developing missiles or undermining regional security, but that work must happen “outside the scope of the nuclear agreement.”
Abbas calls US Ambassador Friedman a ‘son of a bitch’ settler
Abbas launches a scathing attack on US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, calling him a “son of a bitch” in response to a tweet by Friedman accusing the PA of inciting terror and failing to condemn a fatal stabbing attack Sunday in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Mentioning US President Donald Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his plan to move the country’s embassy there, Abbas notes that Friedman also “views the settlements as legitimate.”
“More than one official has said that,” he adds.
“The ambassador, David Friedman, said they’re building on their own land. You son of a bitch, building on their own land?!” Abbas fumes.
He also brands the ambassador, who, as a private citizen, was a longtime supporter and funder of settlement activity, a “settler.”
— Michael Bachner
Netanyahu suspected of obstructing Bezeq probe, report says
In his upcoming police interrogation session, Netanyahu will be asked about suspicions that he tried to obstruct one of the investigations against him, Hadashot TV news reports, citing judicial sources.
The probe, so-called Case 4000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu advanced policies benefiting a media tycoon in exchange for fawning media coverage.
Today’s report says police suspect that Netanyahu instructed Nir Hefetz, his former media adviser who later turned state’s witness, to delete incriminating text messages.
Officers suspect that members of Netanyahu’s inner circle, including his wife, Sara, and son Yair, were in direct contact with the tycoon, Bezeq majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch, to coordinate coverage.
A second report, on Channel 10 news, says that police are in possession of text messages, sent by Yair Netanyahu to Elovitch, complaining about the coverage on Elovitch’s Walla news site.
The younger Netanyahu will likely be interrogated as a suspect in the near future, the report says. His mother has already been questioned under caution.
In a response to Hadashot, Netanyahu’s office says, “Leaking materials from the investigation, even if they are false accusations, is the real attempt to obstruct the investigation. The prime minister always comported himself lawfully.”
Netanyahu and his wife were slated to be questioned today, but the interrogations were put off to the weekend after the prime minister contracted strep throat.
Officer goes undercover as Hasid, busts drug dealers
A police agent went undercover for a year as an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jew, and led to officers arresting dozens today on suspicion of drug trafficking.
The agent operated in southern Tel Aviv for 12 months disguised as a Bratslav follower who sold clothes near the central bus station and won the trust of local drug dealers, some of whom are members of known crime gangs, police say.
He is said to have on dozens of occasions purchased several kilograms of various drugs including cocaine, ecstasy, hashish and marijuana.
The agent also bought “dangerous substances” originally prescribed for medical purposes, which had ended up in the local drug market.
White House ‘not surprised’ by Putin reelection
The White House says it is “not surprised by the outcome” of the Russian presidential election that gave Vladimir Putin another six-year term.
Spokesman Hogan Gidley says there is currently no congratulatory call scheduled between Putin and President Donald Trump.