US embassy announces eased visa renewal process for Israelis
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Netanyahu blasts press, claims ‘thuggish pressure’ working to topple Likud

At gathering of ruling-party activists, PM says he’ll continue to lead country for years to come, decries investigations as a ‘witch hunt’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a gathering of Likud party activists in Tel Aviv ahead of the Passover holiday on March 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a gathering of Likud party activists in Tel Aviv ahead of the Passover holiday on March 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

Police chief: State’s witness in submarines probe ‘provided the goods’

Israel Police Commisioner Roni Alscheich says state’s witness Miki Ganor has been a valuable asset in a case involving the suspected illicit purchase of naval vessels from a German shipbuilder.

“He provided the goods and did so very well,” Alsheich tells the Makor Rishon newspaper regarding Ganor in an interview published Thursday.

“I think he gave everything he promised to give, and more.”

Alsheich also says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case. A number of the prime minister’s associates have been implicated in the case, including his personal lawyer and former top negotiator.

Ganor was the former local representative of ThyssenKrupp and was suspected of giving bribes in connection to the purchase of submarines from the German company. He turned state’s witness in the case in July.

Liberman: Iran being pushed out of countries allied with Israel

Avigdor Liberman returns to Israel from Africa and says Iran is being pushed out of countries with which Israel enjoys close ties.

“It must be understand, in every country that has alliances and cooperation with us we are pushing Iran out and isolating it,” he tweets.

Liberman says during his trip he discussed “cooperation on security matters, border defense, fighting terror and other issues” with the defense ministers and presidents of Rwanda, Zambia and Tanzania.

Kremlin: British FM’s comparison of Nazi Olympics to World Cup is ‘disgusting’

MOSCOW — The Kremlin denounces British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement comparing the World Cup in Russia to the Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany as “utterly disgusting.”

The tough response marks an escalating war of words between Moscow and London over the poisoning in southwestern England of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a military-grade nerve agent. Britain blamed the attack on Russia, which fiercely denied the accusations.

Johnson agreed Wednesday with a Labour lawmaker who likened the soccer World Cup hosted by Russia this summer to Adolf Hitler’s use of the 1936 Olympics as propaganda for his regime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov describes it Thursday as “the utterly disgusting statement which is unworthy of a foreign minister of any country.” He calls Johnson’s words “insulting and unacceptable.”

— AP

Poll: Majority of Israelis think US embassy move will spark violence

A majority of Israelis believe moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary will lead to renewed violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a poll released Thursday says.

While 61% of both Jews and Arabs say moving the embassy will lead to violence, 69% of Jews nevertheless say moving the embassy should not be put off, according to the monthly Peace Index of the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University.

A vast majority (77.5%) of Arab Israelis, however, believe the embassy move should be delayed.

Separately, 59% of Jews and 75% of Arabs say they don’t believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s denial of wrongdoing in a series of graft probes.

Abbas: Gaza Strip ‘kidnapped’ by Hamas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says the Gaza Strip has been “kidnapped” by Hamas.

“Gaza is kidnapped by Hamas and the organization needs to hand it over to the Palestinian government,” Israel Radio quotes Abbas as saying at a press conference with Bulgaria’s president.

Abbas also says the terror group must hand over security responsibility for the Strip or it will bear responsibility for the failure of Egyptian-backed mediation efforts between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party.

Hamas has ruled Gaza for the past decade since taking over the coastal enclave from Fatah in a coup.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

Arab Israeli sentenced to 28 months for trying to join IS

The Haifa District Court sentences an Arab Israeli man to 28 months in prison for trying to join the Islamic State terror group’s affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula.

The verdict says Mohammed ben Ahmed Azzam, a 24-year-old resident of Kafr Manda in northern Israel, became interested in IS in 2015 and decided to join the terror group in 2016 “in order to help the organization’s members fight the State of Israel and liberate Jerusalem and the Al-Asqa Mosque from it.”

Azzam’s sentence was agreed upon as part of a plea deal with prosecutors and will include time served since his arrest in June 2017.

Turkey: 3 soldiers killed clearing IEDs in Syrian Kurdish enclave

ANKARA, Turkey — Three Turkish soldiers are killed Thursday clearing improvised explosive devices in the Syrian region of Afrin after the capture of Afrin city over the weekend, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim sys.

“We have three martyrs today. They were martyred while clearing IEDs,” Yildirim says in a televised speech in Ankara. Three more soldiers are injured, the Turkish army adds. Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces seized control of Afrin city from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia on Sunday.


Court orders release of woman who slapped prosecutor at soldier-slapper’s trial

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court orders the conditional release of an Israeli woman arrested for slapping a military prosecutor at the trial of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, who was convicted of slapping and shoving a soldier.

The court, however, delays the release in order to allow police to file an appeal.

The woman, who was identified by police only as a resident of central Israel in her 40s, slapped the prosecutor during a hearing Wednesday at a West Bank military court, where Tamimi was sentenced to eight months in prison as part of a plea bargain for assaulting a soldier.

Police warn of traffic jams caused by ultra-Orthodox anti-draft protests

Police warn the public of major traffic jams around Bnei Brak due to planned anti-conscription protests by ultra-Orthodox demonstrators.

Police advise the public to use the Waze navigation app and to avoid traveling in the area.

The protests, which are scheduled for this afternoon, were called by the so-called Jerusalem Faction, an ultra-Orthodox group fiercely opposed to the military enlistment of yeshiva students

Israel opens investigation into Facebook for Cambridge Analytica data breach

Israel’s Justice Ministry has informed Facebook that it is opening an “administrative investigation” into the company following reports of the transfer of personal information from Facebook to data-mining firm Cambridge Analytics “and the possibility of additional violations of Israelis’ personal information,” the ministry says.

Cambridge Analytica been under fire since The New York Times and The Guardian newspaper reported that it used data inappropriately obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to influence elections, including the 2016 US presidential election. Among that information were users’ likes.

Additionally, a report by UK’s Channel 4 revealed hidden camera footage in which Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix describes using Israeli “intelligence gathering” to get information about voters.

“According to privacy laws, personal information may only be used for the purpose it was given over for and may be transferred to another party only with consent,” a statement from the Justice Ministry’s Privacy Protection Authority statement says.

“The Authority will therefore investigate whether personal information of Israeli users has been illegally used in a manner that violates their right to privacy and violates the laws of privacy protection in Israel,” the statement adds.

Yesterday, breaking five days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the “major breach of trust,” admitted mistakes and outlined steps to protect user data.

A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry confirms to the Times of Israel that the probe is not currently being treated as a criminal investigation, but says it may become one “at a later date.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Rare, endangered primate born in Jerusalem zoo

An Israeli zoo says an endangered primate known as a golden lion tamarin has been born in captivity.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo says the monkey was born two weeks ago to mom Bilbi and dad Zohar. The yet unnamed monkey was seen Thursday clinging to its mother’s back.

Golden lion tamarins are among the rarest animals in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. It is listed as endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Jerusalem zoo says the primate was under threat of extinction in the 1980s when less than 100 were found in its native Brazil. But a breeding program in zoos around the world halted its decline. Today, there are hundreds of golden lion tamarins in the wild and in zoos worldwide.

— AP

An illustrative photo of a golden lion tamarin. (CC BY 2.0, Su Neko, Wikipedia)

US lists French ‘chemical arms expert’ as IS terrorist

WASHINGTON — The United States imposes sanctions on a Frenchman it accuses of helping the Islamic State terror group deploy chemical weapons on the Syrian battlefield.

A statement from the State Department identifies the suspect as Joe Asperman and says he had been listed as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”

“French national Joe Asperman is a senior chemical weapons expert for ISIS,” the statement says. “Asperman oversaw chemical operations production within Syria for ISIS and the deployment of these chemical weapons at the battlefront.”

Although hundreds of French fighters are thought to have travelled to the Middle East to fight with jihadist groups like the Islamic State, Asperman’s name has not previously been reported.

The US Treasury’s list of sanctioned terrorists says he is believed to have been born in the Cannes region on France’s southern, Mediterranean coast between 1986 and 1988.

Along with Bashar Assad’s Damascus regime, the Islamic State terror group has also been accused of deploying chemical attacks in Syria, where it is one of the factions in the long-running civil war.

Along with Asperman, the State Department also designates the Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari, an armed group it describes as an Al Qaeda ally and “the largest Uzbek fighting force in Syria.”


Ultra-Orthodox clash with police in anti-draft protest

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators clash with police in Bnei Brak during protests against the mandatory military conscription of seminary students.

Reports say six protesters have been arrested.

Officers are working to prevent the demonstrators from blocking Route 4, a main highway in central Israel.

US embassy announces eased visa renewal process for Israelis

The United States embassy in Israel announces it has eased the visa renewal process for Israelis.

Under the new guidelines, Israelis who have in the past been granted a visa can send in their application and will no longer need to go in for an interview.

The embassy says the new process applies only to those who received their visas after January 1, 2008, and were at least 14 years old when granted a visa.

Settlers illegally squatting in Hebron building begin to pack up

A group of settlers who have been illegally squatting in a disputed Hebron building for the past eight months agree to evacuate the premises on Thursday, the IDF confirms.

An army spokesman describes the evacuation of Beit Hamachpela as “peaceful,” with the residents agreeing to clear the building adjacent to the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site despite their vehement opposition to the order.

On March 12, the High Court of Justice ruled that the apartment complex had to be cleared of its 15 Israeli families, who were unable to prove that their purchase of the structure was legal.

— Jacob Magid

An Israeli border police officer guards outside the ‘Machpela House’ in the West Bank city Hebron on August 28, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Twenty arrested for throwing rocks, blocking roads in ultra-Orthodox protest

Police arrest 20 ultra-Orthodox protesters during anti-draft demonstrations in Bnei Brak.

Police say those arrested threw rocks at officers and blocked roads.

Polish attorney general’s office calls Holocaust law unconstitutional

WARSAW, Poland — The Polish attorney general’s office describes as partly unconstitutional the Holocaust law meant to defend Poland’s image abroad that instead drew criticism from Israel, Ukraine and the United States.

The statement published Thursday comes as a surprise, as Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro is also the head of the justice ministry that came up with the controversial law.

The legislation, which came into force earlier this month, imposes fines or up to three years in jail on anyone who ascribes “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich.”

The attorney general’s office publishes its statement on the website of the Constitutional Court, which was tasked by the president with checking whether the law was constitutional.

The office says that penalizing acts committed abroad independently of the laws in place there was against the Constitution, which opposes “excessive interference.”

It adds that the law is “dysfunctional,” could have “opposite results than those intended” and could “undermine the Polish state’s authority.”


Ultra-Orthodox block main highway during anti-draft protest

Ultra-Orthodox protesters block Route 4 in both directions during anti-draft protest in central Israel, police say.

Police say they are directing drivers to alternative routes. The highway is blocked between the Aluf Sadeh and Morasha junctions.

Pilot lightly injured after crash landing near Haifa

A pilot is lightly injured after being forced to make an emergency landing in a field outside the northern city of Haifa.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service says paramedics treated the 46-year-old man for a leg injury and took him to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center.

In first, Israel-bound flight enters Saudi airspace

Air India’s inaugural flight from New Delhi to Tel Aviv flies over Saudi Arabia, marking the first time a commercial flight to Israel has been allowed to pass over the Middle East kingdom.

Trump says he’d like to testify in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump says he “would like to” testify before the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Asked at the White House whether he would like to testify, Trump says: “Yes. I would like to.”

His comment comes shortly after his lead lawyer in the Russia investigation resigned amid a shake-up of the president’s legal team.

Mueller is looking into contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, and Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Congressional panel calls on Zuckerberg to testify

The leaders of a key House committee are calling on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify about a privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining company.

Representatives Greg Walden of Oregon and Frank Pallone of New Jersey say in a statement the “latest revelations regarding Facebook’s use and security of user data raises many serious consumer protection concerns.” They say their staffs received a briefing yesterday from Facebook officials that left many questions unanswered.

Walden is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and Pallone is the panel’s top ranking Democrat.

Their statement comes a day after Zuckerberg told CNN that he would be “happy” to testify before Congress.

The lawmakers say they’ll work with Facebook and Zuckerberg to set a date and time “in the near future.”

— AP

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during an interview session with The Atlantic at the Newseum in Washington, DC, September 18, 2013.
(Jim Watson/AFP)

Poland puts Berlin’s WWII bill at 440 billion euros

WARSAW, Poland — Polish victims of World War II should be able to claim 440 billion euros ($543 billion) from Germany in World War II damages, the head of a parliamentary commission says Thursday.

Arkadiusz Mularczyk of the nationalist ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) bases the figure, which the German government rejects, on a 1990 study which found that “there were 13.32 million direct victims of Nazi Germany in Poland.

That figure takes into account deportees, labor and concentration camp prisoners, civilians left maimed during that period, widows, orphans, and those who suffered from illnesses which broke out under Nazi occupation and during the conflict.

Mularczyk says the 1990 study found that reparations of $284 billion should be paid.

“That was the sum in 1990. If we revalue taking into account dollar purchasing power in 2017 we get 1.984 trillion zloty, or $543 billion,” the PAP news agency quotes Mularczyk as saying.

The issue of German reparations had long been regarded as closed — but PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski revived the topic last year.

Last year, then German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the issue had already been settled in August 1953 when Poland’s then communist administration said it renounced any right to war reparations.


Netanyahu: Likud will lead Israel for years to come

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a gathering of Likud activists in Tel Aviv to mark the upcoming Passover holiday.

“The Likud is the strongest party in Israel. Together we are leading the state and together we will continue to lead it for many years,” he says.

Netanyahu says the party will win more than the 30 Knesset seats it currently has in the next elections.

Netanyahu blasts press, claims ‘thuggish pressure’ working to topple Likud

Netanyahu takes aim at the media and unnamed opponents, claiming corruption investigations involving him are a “witch hunt.”

“Because it impossible to defeat us by democratic means, there are those who assert unceasing and thuggish pressure on law enforcement in order to topple us by other means,” says Netanyanhu.

CNN chief Jeff Zucker says Fox News is a ‘propaganda machine’

NEW YORK — CNN chief Jeff Zucker sharply attacks the network’s rivals at Fox News Channel on Thursday, saying that it has become a propaganda machine that is “doing an incredible disservice to the country.”

Zucker is speaking at the Financial Times Future of News conference two days after a former Fox military analyst quit, claiming he was ashamed at the way the network’s opinion hosts were backing President Donald Trump. Zucker says that analyst, Ralph Peters, voiced what a lot of people have been thinking about Fox in the post-Roger Ailes era.

“What has happened to that network in the last 18 months, especially the last year, is that it has just turned itself into state-run TV,” Zucker says. “TASS has nothing on them,” he says in reference to the Russian news agency.

Zucker says that Fox has “a handful of good journalists but they get lost in the propaganda machine.”

“The idea that they are a news channel is really not accurate at all,” he says.

— AP

In this Dec. 17, 2017, file photo, CNN president Jeff Zucker attends the 11th annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
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US embassy announces eased visa renewal process for Israelis

The United States embassy in Israel announces it has eased the visa renewal process for Israelis.

Under the new guidelines, Israelis who have in the past been granted a visa can send in their application and will no longer need to go in for an interview.

The embassy says the new process applies only to those who received their visas after January 1, 2008, and were at least 14 years old when granted a visa.