Rivlin welcomes ‘brave’ Vatican decision to open Holocaust-era archives
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Blue and White responds to Netanyahu speech, saying ‘he knows his time is over’

Benny Gantz’s party says PM is ‘inciting and lying’ in attempt to divert attention from his graft cases, after premier repeatedly lashes him as ‘leftist’ in 45-minute address

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves, as he delivers a speech during the launch of his election campaign at the headquarters of his party Likud, for the upcoming April elections, in Ramat Gan on March 4, 2019. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves, as he delivers a speech during the launch of his election campaign at the headquarters of his party Likud, for the upcoming April elections, in Ramat Gan on March 4, 2019. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
  • Illustrative. This picture taken on October 19, 2018 in Nahal Oz, from the Israeli side of the border with the northeast of the Gaza Strip, shows balloons carrying an alleged incendiary device launched by Palestinian protesters. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
    Illustrative. This picture taken on October 19, 2018 in Nahal Oz, from the Israeli side of the border with the northeast of the Gaza Strip, shows balloons carrying an alleged incendiary device launched by Palestinian protesters. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
  • A swastika is seen on a side wall of a former synagogue in Mommenheim, eastern France, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
    A swastika is seen on a side wall of a former synagogue in Mommenheim, eastern France, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
  • A THAAD missile defense system. (US Army Europe)
    A THAAD missile defense system. (US Army Europe)
  • A Ryanair Boeing 737 airliner seen at Ramon Airport near Eilat, March 4, 2019. (Rafi Peled/ Israel Airport Authority)
    A Ryanair Boeing 737 airliner seen at Ramon Airport near Eilat, March 4, 2019. (Rafi Peled/ Israel Airport Authority)
  • Pope Pius XII. (Wikipedia commons/Maximus0970/File)
    Pope Pius XII. (Wikipedia commons/Maximus0970/File)

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

Vatican to open archives on WWII-era pope accused of staying silent on Holocaust

Pope Francis says he has decided to open up the Vatican archives on World War II-era pope Pius XII, who has been accused by Jews of staying silent on the Holocaust.

Pope Pius XII (Wikipedia commons/Maximus0970/File)

Declaring that “the church isn’t afraid of history,” Francis tells employees of the Vatican Secret Archives that the archives spanning the 1939-1958 pontificate will be open to researchers on March 2, 2020.

The Vatican usually waits 70 years after the end of a pontificate to open archives. It has been pressured to make the Pius XII documentation available sooner, while Holocaust survivors are still alive. The Vatican has defended Pius, saying he used behind-the-scenes diplomacy to try to save lives.

Pius’ actions will be scrutinized as part of efforts to decide if he should be a saint.

— AP

Israel strikes Hamas outposts in Gaza in response to incendiary balloons

Israeli Air Force helicopters conduct strikes on two Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including an observation outpost near Deir el-Balah, the IDF says in a statement.

The outpost was evacuated minutes earlier and there are no casualties, according to Palestinian media.

The airstrikes are in response to explosive balloons sent from Gaza into Israel earlier today, the military adds.

Germany to strip terror fighters of citizenship in future

The German government plans to introduce legislation enabling authorities to strip Germans with dual nationality of their German citizenship if they fight for a terror group.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Eleonore Petermann says the new rule will be applicable to over-18s and “for reasons of constitutional law” can only apply to future cases and can’t be used retroactively.

Officials say the legislation will be drawn up soon but do not offer a precise timetable.

German law already allows for dual nationals to be stripped of their German nationality if they volunteer for their other country’s armed forces without the consent of German authorities.

The move comes as Germany and other European countries consider what to do about citizens who fought for the Islamic State group.

— AP

Bomb attached to balloons detonates inside Israeli community; no injuries caused

An incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip, which prompted retaliatory airstrikes by the IAF, exploded between two buildings in one of the communities in the Eshkol Regional Council, according to Hebrew-language media.

The explosive device detonated but caused no injuries or damage, according to the reports.

Netherlands recalls envoy from Iran over alleged plot to kill regime opponents

The Netherlands has recalled its ambassador from Tehran in a dispute over an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate regime opponents on Dutch soil, the Dutch foreign minister says.

Foreign Minister Stef Blok says the envoy was called back “for consultations” after Iran expelled two Dutch diplomats in February in a spat over the murders of two Iranian dissidents in 2015 and 2017.

— AFP

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joins US presidential race

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says he’s running for president of the United States, casting himself as a can-do uniter who’s used to overcoming adversity and accomplishing liberal goals in a politically divided state.

“I’m running for president because we need dreamers in Washington, but we also need to get things done,” Hickenlooper, 66, a Democrat, says in a video announcing his campaign. “I’ve proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver.”

He becomes the second governor to enter the sprawling field, after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced his bid last week, and is trying to cast himself as a pragmatist who can also take on President Donald Trump.

Though as governor Hickenlooper prided himself for staying above partisan fights, he has argued his record as a former governor and big-city mayor distinguishes him from a broad field of Democratic presidential aspirants who are backing ambitious liberal plans on health care, taxes and the climate.

— AP

Yad Vashem welcomes opening of Pope Pius XII archives

The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem responds to the Vatican’s announcement that archives on World War II-era Pope Pius XII will be opened next year, saying it commends the decision.

“For years, Yad Vashem has called for the opening of these archives, which will enable objective and open research as well as comprehensive discourse on issues related to the conduct of the Vatican in particular, and the Catholic Church in general, during the Holocaust,” it says in a statement.

“Yad Vashem expects that researchers will be granted full access to all documents stored in the archives,” it adds.

In first, US deploys THAAD missile defense system in Israel as part of drill

The US military for the first time deploys the THAAD missile defense system in Israel, as part of a drill conducted by the United States European Command (EUCOM), the IDF says in a statement.

“The purpose of the deployment is to practice rapid deployment across the globe of complex systems, and to enhance cooperation with the IAF’s air defense systems,” the Israeli military says in an English-language statement, adding that the drill “emphasizes the US’s commitment to the defense and security of Israel.”

“The IDF is working in cooperation with US forces in order to enhance coordination between the two militaries and to strengthen the ability to defend Israeli airspace,” the army adds.

“The IDF is grateful for this exercise and stands ready to protect Israel’s airspace and civilians against a variety of threats from near and far. This is a defensive deployment that is not related to any specific current event.”

Israel ‘pleased’ by Vatican opening of WWII-era pope archives

Israel welcomes Pope Francis’s decision to next year open the archives on Pope Pius XII, widely accused by Jews of remaining silent on the crimes of the Holocaust.

“We are pleased by the decision and hope it will enable free access to all relevant archives,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon says in a statement.

PM praises THAAD deployment as ‘evidence of US commitment to Israel’s security’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails the US deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in Israel as part of a joint drill as “further evidence of the US’s commitment to Israel’s security.”

In a video released by his office, the premier says the system is “one of the most advanced in the world, and together with our defense systems we are even stronger in dealing with threats from throughout the Middle East.

“Israel-US ties have never been stronger. I welcome the joint drill.”

Labor petitions to stop live news broadcast of Netanyahu speech

The Labor Party files a petition to the Central Elections Committee against the planned live broadcast on prime time TV of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Likud campaign launch today at 8 p.m.

The party says the main news networks — Channel 12, Channel 13 and Kan — should be banned from broadcasting the speech live on the evening news, since that would be election propaganda which is prohibited by law from being screened in the 60 days before Knesset elections, except for specially designated time slots.

Blue and White slams PM for ‘chatter’ about strikes on Iranian forces in Syria

The heads of the centrist Blue and White Party bash Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government for speaking too publicly about Israel’s military operations against Iranian forces in Syria.

“Security is about action, not chatter,” says former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, speaking from a hill on the Golan Heights overlooking the Syrian town of Quneitra.

Blue and White party members (L-R) Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon during a press conference in the Golan Heights on March 4, 2019. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Yair Lapid, number two on the party’s list, says this security cabinet is the “leakiest” in Israel’s history, with information from supposedly secret discussions being consistently passed to journalists.

At the press conference, party leader and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz vows that his government would carry out the country’s military policies “through proper work channels, not through television channels.”

Gantz notes that of the four heads of the party, three are former IDF chiefs of staff — he, Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi — and two — Ya’alon and Lapid — were former ministers.

“Between us, we have 117 years of experience,” Gantz says.

Lapid says a Blue and White government would never return the Golan Heights to Syria and would continue pushing the United States and the international community to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territory it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.

“The Golan Heights is under Israeli sovereignty and it will remain under Israeli sovereignty,” he says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Anti-Semitic vandals daub swastikas on former synagogue in eastern France

Vandals have scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on a former synagogue in eastern France, the latest in a string of incidents that have caused nationwide concern.

A swastika is seen on a side wall of a former synagogue in Mommenheim, eastern France, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Swastikas are discovered on the door and facade of a building in the town of Mommenheim that formerly held a synagogue and has Hebrew lettering etched above its doorway. The building now houses a sports facility.

Vandals also recently knocked over a monument to a synagogue razed by the Nazis in nearby Strasbourg. The heavy memorial stone was found Saturday pushed off its base, in what Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries denounced as “a new anti-Semitic act.”

In the same region, some 80 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in the Alsace town of Quatzenheim were recently vandalized.

Tens of thousands rallied around France last month against anti-Semitism.

A swastika is seen on a the door of a former synagogue in Mommenheim, eastern France, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

— AP

Mirroring Washington, Putin suspends Russia’s participation in INF arms treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin officially suspends Moscow’s participation in a key Cold War-era arms treaty, after the US first moved to ditch the INF deal.

Putin “signed a decree regarding the suspension of Russia’s participation in the agreement between the USSR and the US,” the Kremlin says in a statement.

The move was taken following “a violation of the United States of its obligations under the treaty,” it says.

Moscow and Washington have accused one another of breaching the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement concluded between the US and the former Soviet Union in 1987.

— AFP

Khashoggi’s body burned in furnace in Saudi consul’s home — report

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s body was cremated in a large oven at the Saudi consulate general’s residence in Istanbul, Al Jazeera reports, citing Turkish authorities.

The writer, who disappeared on October 2, 2018, after entering the Saudi consulate, is believed to have been killed by a Saudi team. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of ordering the killing.

The report says Khashoggi’s body was burned in the custom-built furnace over three days. Afterwards, large quantities of meat was reportedly cooked in the oven to cover up the cremation.

Turkish investigators reportedly found Khashoggi’s blood on the walls of the Saudi consul’s office. The walls had been painted over after the operation.

First international flight lands at new Ramon Airport in Eilat

The first international flight to the new Ramon Airport in Eilat is completed as a Ryanair plane that departed from Poznan, Poland, lands on its runway, the Israel Airport Authority says.

The airport was opened in January and is named after Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and his son, IDF pilot Asaf Ramon, both of whom died in separate aviation accidents in 2003 and 2009, respectively.

A plane lands at the Ramon Airport in Eilat, March 4, 2019. (Rafi Peled/Israel Airport Authority)

Two more incendiary balloons launched from Gaza explode in Israel

Two more explosive devices attached to balloons launched from Gaza have detonated in Israeli territory in the past hour, after one exploded earlier in the day and prompted retaliatory airstrikes in the Strip.

The Eshkol Regional Council says the bombs exploded in the air and caused no injuries or damage.

It adds that Palestinians are holding a riot near the border on the Gazan side.

US warns of ‘swift response’ to any threats against Guaido

The United States warns of a “swift response” to any threats or violence against Venezuela’s Juan Guaido, as the opposition leader returns home from Ecuador on a renewed push to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela’s self proclaimed president Juan Guaido arrives for a meet with university students at the Central University of Venezuela, in Caracas, February 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

“@jguaido’s safe return to Venezuela is of the highest importance to the US,” Vice President Mike Pence tweets as Guaido arrives in Caracas.

“Any threats, violence, or intimidation against him will not be tolerated & will be met with swift response. The world is watching – Interim President Guaido must be allowed to re-enter Venezuela safely.”

— AFP

Hamas chief warns Israel against pre-election ‘adventure’

The Palestinian terror group Hamas warns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against any military “adventure” in Gaza ahead of Israeli elections next month.

Netanyahu is currently battling for re-election for a fifth term, facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance as well as a planned indictment on corruption charges.

Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip after a 2007 coup and is committed to Israel’s destruction, have fought three wars since 2008.

Many analysts, however, believe Netanyahu would want to avoid an escalation in Gaza with unpredictable results ahead of April 9 polls.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivering a speech in Gaza City, on January 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Asked about a potential Israeli military operation, Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh tells journalists: “If the (Israeli) occupation or Netanyahu think of an adventure, I think they will pay the price that will send them away.”

“We do not fear any adventures from Netanyahu towards Gaza… The resistance has its eyes open,” adds Haniyeh.

He adds Hamas does not care who wins the Israeli elections.

“We do not care who will come to rule in the occupation (state),” Haniyeh says.

— with AFP

PM’s campaign speech can only be broadcast with 10-minute delay, committee rules

The Central Elections Committee rules that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech at 8 p.m. at a Likud campaign event cannot be broadcast live on Israel’s television channels.

The committee chairman, Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer, rules that the speech can only be broadcast with a delay of at least ten minutes.

Labor had petitioned to prevent live coverage of the speech on prime time TV since it could violate the law which prohibits election propaganda on TV in the 60 days before the vote, apart from specially designated time slots.

Rivlin welcomes ‘brave’ Vatican decision to open Holocaust-era archives

President Reuven Rivlin hails as “brave and welcome” Pope Francis’s announcement that archives on World War II-era Pope Pius XII will be opened next year.

The decision “will allow free access to records of the darkest period in human history. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” the president tweets, referring to the Holocaust.

PM criticizes delay in airing of his speech, while ‘leftist propaganda’ allowed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slams the Central Election Committee for banning live TV broadcasts of his campaign speech this evening for fear it could violate anti-propaganda laws.

Responding to the decision, Netanyahu writes on Twitter: “Every evening the leftist propaganda channels give a full platform to the left-wing [Blue and White] party of [Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz. Only in the case of the Likud is it ‘election propaganda.'”

The prime minister encourages Israelis to watch the speech “without delay and without censorship” via his Facebook page.

IDF arrests four Palestinians with pipe bombs near Nablus — army

The Israeli military says troops arrested four Palestinians armed with pipe bombs who were nearing them after exiting the West Bank city of Nablus.

Soldiers monitored the men after they raised their suspicion, the statement says. After the pipe bombs were discovered, the suspects were taken for questioning, it adds.

European EPP party moves to exclude Hungary’s Orban

Twelve national members of the center-right European People’s Party have officially requested the exclusion of Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his party Fidesz, the party leader says.

“Twelve EPP member parties from nine countries have requested the exclusion or suspension of Fidesz,” party leader Joseph Daul tells AFP, adding that the question will be discussed at a meeting on March 20.

The EPP is the biggest party in European Parliament, and makes up the main center-right movements in Europe, including Angela Merkel’s CDU and France’s Les Republicains.

— AFP

Netanyahu kicks off Likud campaign launch, shakes hands with rival Gideon Sa’ar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicks off his Likud party’s campaign launch in Kfar Maccabiah, where his speech was barred from being broadcast on live TV for fear of violating propaganda laws. The speech is featured live on Netanyahu’s Facebook page.

Netanyahu appears alone on stage, without the Likud team, reportedly to avoid being on the same stage with rival Gideon Sa’ar. However, before going up, the premier shakes the hands of several members of the party, including Sa’ar.

PM slams left, media in campaign speech, says election victory ‘not guaranteed’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocks rival Benny Gantz, saying that he speaks “from the heart” and does not need to make scripted speeches and read them out mechanically.

To a cheering crowd made up of Likud activists, Netanyahu hails Israel’s international standing and his government’s diplomatic achievements.

He repeatedly lashes out at the left and the media, saying “they are mostly the same” and calling on his supporters to defeat the “left-wing propagandists.”

“It’s not guaranteed. It’s not in our pocket. It will not be simple. It will be a hard battle,” he says.

In speech, Netanyahu includes Afghanistan in list of countries he visited

In recounting his diplomatic achievements and mentioning a list of countries in which he visited, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he visited Afghanistan.

It is not immediately clear whether it was a slip of the tongue or a new detail purposely revealed by the premier.

PM ends speech, says Gantz would have succumbed to Obama’s pressure in ’15 minutes’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finishes his campaign speech in Kfar Maccabiah.

The premier says he withstood eight years of pressure from former US president Barack Obama to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid “wouldn’t have lasted 15 minutes,” he claims.

Besides lashing the Blue and White party repeatedly over more than 40 minutes on their security policies, he also criticizes them for their “leftist” economic policies and for including labor union leader Avi Nissenkorn high on its list.

He says his government will “continue lowering taxes” and working for a free market economy.

Unlike in previous speeches and campaign materials, Netanyahu makes no mention of the corruption charges against him or of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit throughout the entire speech.

Netanyahu says he meant to say he visited Azerbaijan, not Afghanistan

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he made a slip of the tongue in his campaign speech and that he meant to say he visited Azerbaijan, not Afghanistan.

“But who knows, maybe in the next term?” he tweets.

Some news outlets were reporting that the premier had revealed a dramatic piece of information, although it was not clear whether the remark was intended.

Blue and White comments on Netanyahu’s speech: ‘He knows his time is over’

Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party responds to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign speech, saying he is engaging in “incitement” and trying to divert public attention from the corruption cases against him and the “collapsing” health system.

“Netanyahu continues to incite and lie,” the party says in a statement. “He is willing to say everything to divert attention from the investigations and indictments against him. He knows that in a year he will be going to court, and that his time is over.

“Instead of dealing with the collapse of the health system, the long lines in emergency rooms and the cost of living, he is busy focusing only on himself.”

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Rivlin welcomes ‘brave’ Vatican decision to open Holocaust-era archives

President Reuven Rivlin hails as “brave and welcome” Pope Francis’s announcement that archives on World War II-era Pope Pius XII will be opened next year.

The decision “will allow free access to records of the darkest period in human history. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” the president tweets, referring to the Holocaust.