Syrian FM says Trump administration ‘lies’ about withdrawing troops
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IAEA inspected Iranian ‘nuclear warehouse’ revealed by Netanyahu — report

Diplomats say UN nuclear watchdog visited Tehran site several times last month; Islamic Republic says they ‘have nothing to hide,’ but insists building a carpet cleaning business

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a placard showing a suspected Iranian atomic site while delivering a speech at the United Nations during the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a placard showing a suspected Iranian atomic site while delivering a speech at the United Nations during the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)

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

Syrian FM: ‘All options on the table’ to retake Golan from Israel

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem says that Damascus will retake control of the Golan Heights from Israel, and that “all options are on the table.”

“Syria will liberate the occupied Golan by all means and all options are on the table, including a military operation,” Moallem says according to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem (L) and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza (R) at a joint press conference in Damascus, Syria on April 4. 2019. (SANA)

Moallem makes the remarks in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights at a press conference in Damascus alongside visiting Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.

“Our right in the occupied Syrian Golan is firm and it doesn’t change by the passage of time and every inch of the occupied Syrian territories will be liberated,” Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV quotes him as saying.

“Trump’s decision on occupied Syrian Golan has a single effect as it only enhanced the US isolation,” he adds.

Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 effectively annexed the area in a move never recognized by the international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.

Last month, Trump signed a proclamation formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, drawing sharp rebuke from allies and UN member states.

Syrian FM says Trump administration ‘lies’ about withdrawing troops

Syria’s foreign minister says US President Donald Trump’s administration “lies” all the time about withdrawing its troops from the country.

Al-Moallem is speaking at a joint press conference in Damascus with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who lauded what he described as Syria’s victory over “terrorism” in the country’s eight-year war.

Al-Moallem vows to liberate all Syrian territory including the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major rebel-held stronghold in the country. He says “our patience has its limits.”

— AP

Russia said continuing search for remains of Israeli soldiers in Syria

After the return of the body of Sgt. First Class Zachary Beumel, Russia is continuing to search for the remains of other IDF soldiers missing since 1982 Sultan Yakoub battle in the First Lebanon War, a diplomatic source tells journalists in Moscow.

The source says this is evidence of the “special” connection between Jerusalem and Moscow, and that Russia’s help would not be coming with a “price tag” regarding the situation in Syria.

Zachary Baumel. (JTA/Courtesy Miriam Baumel)

The decision to release the information about the operation to the media will not impede it, the source said. “Take that as you will,” he said.

Earlier today, Putin said his country’s military retrieved Baumel’s remains and returned them to Israel for burial, nearly 37 years after he went missing in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub.

Expert: Satellite images show Saudi nuclear reactor to be completed next year

A nuclear technology expert says Google satellite images show Saudi Arabia is about a year away from completing the building of its first nuclear reactor. He says the construction so far appears to be very small in size, indicating the reactor is intended for research purposes.

Still, Robert Kelley says before the kingdom can insert nuclear fuel into the reactor, it would have to abide by an agreement that requires inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Kelley, a veteran of the US Department of Energy now based in Vienna, was first to identify the images of the reactor site in Riyadh at the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology.

He says the Saudi reactor is being built by the Argentinian government-owned company INVAP.

Diplomats’ union holds up absentee ballots over spat with Finance Ministry

The labor union representing Israeli diplomats is refusing to ship ballots to be counted in April 9 election, escalating an ongoing wage spat with the Finance Ministry.

The sealed ballots were supposed to be sent via the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic mail to the Knesset in Jerusalem, where they will be kept in a safe until Election Day, at which point they will be taken out and counted as part of the general vote count.

According to the union, the ballots are instead being kept in a guarded and locked room whose key is itself being hidden.

Anat Amichai, the wife of the head of security at Israel’s embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, casting the first vote in the elections for the 21th Knesset, in early polling allowed for diplomats and their families, March 28, 2019. (Israel Foreign Ministry)

Israel does not have absentee voting, except in the case of official emissaries of either the state or the pre-state institutions that are part of the World Zionist Organization system. In total, 5,137 Israelis living abroad qualify to vote, and have been doing so at some 100 consulates and embassies around the world since last week. Absentee voting ends on Friday, April 5.

The spat began in February when the Finance Ministry ordered in that diplomats’ hospitality budgets for their homes be classified as a taxable benefit, unilaterally raising the de facto income taxes of Israel’s envoys for an activity that the diplomats’ union says is key to their work.

Organizers: Gaza border protests will be nonviolent amid emerging truce with Israel

Organizers of the ongoing protests along the Gaza border say the armed factions in the Palestinian enclave have called for tomorrow’s demonstrations to be nonviolent, as part of an emerging ceasefire deal with Israel.

A top “March of Return” organizer tells the Kan public broadcaster that protesters have been instructed not to launch arson balloons towards Israel during and the nighttime “confusion units” have been called off.

Illustrative: Masked Palestinians calling themselves the “night confusion units” hold incendiary devices attached to balloons to be flown toward Israel, near the border with Israel east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 26, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

He says the Egyptian-mediated talks between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers are progressing, and that a ceasefire agreement is being negotiated between the sides.

According to the organizer, Gaza factions committed to a nonviolent protest tomorrow, and Israel has agreed not to use live fire to disperse the border demonstrations.

Saudis open consulate in Iraq in sign of warmer ties

Iraq says Saudi Arabia has opened a consulate in Baghdad for the first time in nearly 30 years in a sign of improving ties.

The consulate, which will issue visas to Iraqis, was opened during a two-day visit by a delegation headed by the Saudi minister of commerce and investment, Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi.

Riyadh seeks closer ties to Iraq in an effort to counter Iran’s growing regional influence.

Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Sahhaf says the consulate was opened Thursday inside the heavily fortified Green Zone. He says the move is expected to benefit both countries.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi is visiting Iran on Saturday, and plans to visit Saudi Arabia later this month.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

— AP

Court extends detention of Utrecht terror suspect

A Dutch court has extended the detention of the 37-year-old man suspected of opening fire in a tram in the central city of Utrecht, in an attack that killed four passengers.

The suspect, 37-year-old Gokmen Tanis, appeared at a behind-closed-doors hearing where his detention was extended by 90 days.

Police forces near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT)

Tanis has been charged with murder with terrorist intent and other offenses after he allegedly opened fire in a tram in Utrecht on March 18. Prosecutors have said that Tanis confessed to the shooting and said he acted alone, but they are still investigating his motive.

Prosecutors say he must make his first appearance in open court within three months, when progress in the investigation will be discussed.

— AP

German lawmakers reject far-right deputy speaker candidate

German lawmakers reject the far-right Alternative for Germany party’s proposed candidate for deputy speaker of parliament for the third time.

It is customary for each party in the Bundestag to have a deputy alongside speaker Wolfgang Schaeuble, a veteran conservative lawmaker.

Alternative for Germany’s candidate, Mariana Harder-Kuehnel, received 199 votes in favor and 423 votes against. She received more than twice the number of votes as the number of lawmakers her party has in parliament.

A participant in a European election meeting of the Alternative for Germany party, AfD, wears a cap with the party’s logo in the Saxony-Arena in Riesa, Germany, January 13, 2019. (Monika Skolimowska/dpa via AP, file)

Harder-Kuehnel has a relatively moderate reputation within the party. Her colleague Albrecht Glaser, who was first nominated by Alternative for Germany in 2017, was rejected after suggesting that freedom of religion shouldn’t apply to Islam.

— AP

IDF denies operation to return soldier’s remains politically motivated

The IDF denies that the operation to return a soldier’s remains to Israel nearly four decades after he went missing during the First Lebanon War was designed to bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election campaign.

Earlier, prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of timing the return of the remains of Sgt. First Class Zachary Baumel to Israel after 37 years to serve his political needs ahead of next week’s Knesset elections and said the premier used it as “political spin.”

The IDF “rejects outright the claims about timing: This is a find after a two-year operation,” says IDF spokesperson Ronen Manelis, without naming Gantz. “There was cooperation here that defies all imagination and the decision was substantive. Any other claim is baseless.”

Syria regime shelling kills 22 civilians in Idlib, monitor says

Heavy bombardment by the Syrian army of the jihadist-controlled Idlib region has killed 22 civilians, a monitor says, the latest violence to threaten a seven-month-old truce.

Army artillery and rocket fire on the Idlib towns of Kafrnabel and Maaret al-Noman killed 13 people earlier today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. Late last night, shelling of adjacent jihadist-held areas of Hama and Aleppo provinces killed nine people, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

Children gather outside their makeshift shelters following torrential rain that affected a refugee camp near the town of Atme in the northern Idlib province on January 10, 2019. (Aaref WATAD / AFP)

The UN humanitarian office says that the escalating violence has already killed 90 civilians in the Idlib region in March, nearly half of them children.

The ceasefire was brokered by the main foreign backers of the warring parties in September to head off a government offensive that prompted UN warnings of humanitarian disaster for the region’s three million residents.

But since the region was overrun by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by former Al-Qaeda fighters in January, the fragile truce has come under mounting assault.

— Agencies

Damascus unaware of operation to retrieve body of Israeli soldier — report

The Syrian government was not aware of a joint Russian-Israeli operation to find and return the remains of an Israeli soldier missing in battle since 1982, the state-run Sana news site reports.

An unnamed source is quoted as saying that Damascus had “no information” on the subject, but says the operation “confirms the Mossad is cooperating with terror groups.”

Yesterday, the remains of Sgt. First Class Zachary Baumel were returned to Israel for burial.

The remains of Staff Sgt. Zachary Baumel, an IDF soldier who has been officially missing since the 1982 First Lebanon, land in Israel in April 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

During a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow assisted in retrieving Baumel’s remains.

There are Russian forces in Syria, where Moscow has been supporting President Bashar Assad’s regime in his country’s civil war.

Israeli spacecraft enters lunar orbit ahead of moon landing

The first Israeli spacecraft to journey to the moon has passed its most crucial test yet: dropping into lunar orbit one week ahead of landing.

After traveling over 5.5 million kilometers (3.4 million miles) around the Earth and drawing ever closer to the moon, the small spacecraft finally swung into the moon’s elliptical orbit — keeping it on track for touchdown April 11.

Opher Doron, space division general manager at Israel Aerospace Industries, which worked with non-profit SpaceIL to build the spacecraft, hails “the most significant maneuver we’ve made” on Thursday.

“Next is just the landing,” Doron adds, “which makes us quite a bit more nervous.”

If all goes according to plan next week, Israel will become the fourth country to pull off a moon landing.

— AP

Congress ends US support for Yemen war; Trump veto likely

The US House votes to end military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, dealing a bipartisan rebuke to Donald Trump and taking the historic step of curtailing a president’s war-making powers.

The House of Representatives votes 247 to 175, with one congressman voting present, to approve a resolution that directs the president “to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen” within 30 days.

Armed Yemeni men raise their weapons as they gather near the capital Sanaa to show their support to the Shiite Huthi movement against the Saudi-led intervention on February 21, 2019. (Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP)

The text, which passed the Senate last month, now heads to Trump, who is expected to veto the legislation. The White House called the measure “flawed” and warned it would harm bilateral relations in the region, including with Saudi Arabia.


Funeral underway for IDF solider killed in 1982 battle

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Rueven Rivlin are attending the funeral of Sgt. First Class Zachary Baumel at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.

Friends, family and top officials from the IDF’s armored corps, Baumel’s unit, are also in attendance.

Baumel’s remains were returned to Israel yesterday, nearly 37 years after he went missing in the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub against Syrian forces.

At Baumel funeral, Rivlin vows Israel ‘will not rest until all our boys brought home’

President Reuven Rivlin in his eulogy for Sgt. First Class Zachary Baumel says that Israel will not rest until all other IDF soldiers killed in battle have been returned home.

“After 37 years you gave come home, to our land to Jerusalem,” he says at the ceremony held at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.

Israel President Reuven Rivlin eulogizes Funeral Zachary Baumel, US-born soldier who disappeared in 1982 battle during First Lebanon War, April 4, 2019. (GPO)

“To our soldiers in the past present and future, you must know that we will not rest until everyone has been returned home,” he says.

“Today we can finally tell [Baumel’s father] that, even though you didn’t live to see this day, the mission to bring Zachary has been completed.”

Netanyahu: Return of Baumel’s remains ‘touches deepest part of Israeli identity’

At the funeral for Sgt. First Class Zachary Baumel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that retrieving the bodies of IDF soldiers killed in battle touches the deepest part of Israeli and Jewish identity.

“I got chills when I heard that Zachary was back home, we’ve been waiting for this for 37 years,” he says at the funeral at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery.

“Bringing our sons back home touches the deepest part of our identity as Jews and Israelis,” he says. “In the name of these values, and out of love for Israel, Zachary went to war.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eulogizes Zachary Baumel, who went missing at the Battle of Sultan Yacub in 1982, at the funeral Mount Herzl Military cemetery in Jerusalem on April 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In his remarks, Netanyahu says that he personally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his help finding the remains of Israeli soldiers missing in Syria two years ago.

“When I asked him to help us bring our boys home, he immediately instructed his people to begin,” he says. “I have followed the search personally, and the IDF has been in contact with the Russian military about it.”

Baumel’s remains were returned to Israel yesterday, nearly 37 years after he went missing in the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub against Syrian forces.

IAEA inspected Iranian ‘nuclear warehouse’ revealed by Netanyahu — report

The UN’s nuclear watchdog has inspected a secret warehouse in Iran that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year claimed contained equipment and material related to the country’s nuclear program, according to a report in Reuters.

Unnamed diplomats told the news agency that IAEA inspectors had visited the site more than once in March.

An image from a placard displayed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly showing a suspected “secret atomic warehouse” in the Turquzabad district of Tehran containing up to 300 tons of nuclear material. (GPO)

Iran’s nuclear agency declined to comment on the report, but a Tehran official tells Reuters that they “have nothing to hide.” Any access given to the IAEA so far has been in the framework of laws and regulations and nothing beyond that, he says.

Last year, Netanyahu told the UN that Israeli intelligence uncovered a secret warehouse that was used for “storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret weapons program.” He revealed the Israeli findings during his UN General Assembly speech in September, in a bid to goad the IAEA into opening an investigation.

Final TV news poll shows Blue and White leading over Netanyahu’s Likud

The last poll conducted by Channel 12 before Tuesday’s elections shows Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party leading over the ruling Likud party by four seats.

According to the poll, Blue and White would win 30 of the 120-Knesset seats if the elections were held today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud would win 26. Avi Gabbay’s Labor Party comes in third with 10 seats, followed by Hadash-Ta’al, led by Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, with seven.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party is also slated to win seven seats, while Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s New Right party is polling at six seats.

The poll has Meretz, Zehut, Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and the Union of Right-Wing Parties winning five seats each. The Ram-Balad party is slated to win four seats.

Finally, the poll has Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party failing to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25%

Midgam and iPanel survey conducted for Channel 12 polled 1,290 Israeli adults on April 3 and 4, and has a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Comptroller to ask AG to investigate Netanyahu for lying — report

The state comptroller has reportedly asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to examine suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given false statements over the past decade, Channel 12 news reports.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira gave Mandelblit details of statements made by Netanyahu over the last ten years, and asked his office to check whether the prime minister may have given false statements on different occasions.

According to the report, the comptroller’s investigation is related to the investigation into the German submarine affair.

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Syrian FM says Trump administration ‘lies’ about withdrawing troops

Syria’s foreign minister says US President Donald Trump’s administration “lies” all the time about withdrawing its troops from the country.

Al-Moallem is speaking at a joint press conference in Damascus with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who lauded what he described as Syria’s victory over “terrorism” in the country’s eight-year war.

Al-Moallem vows to liberate all Syrian territory including the northwestern province of Idlib, the last major rebel-held stronghold in the country. He says “our patience has its limits.”

— AP