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Egypt said set to join Saudis in Yemen ground offensive

3-5 Egyptian troop carriers stationed off Yemen’s coasts; Cairo says naval and air forces already participating in coalition campaign

  • Yemeni Houthi rebels and members of the security forces loyal to the Shiite movement inspect the damage at the scene of a Saudi airstrike targeting the group, which controls Sanaa near the airport in the Yemeni capital, on March 26, 2015. (photo credit: Mohammed Huwais/AFP)
    Yemeni Houthi rebels and members of the security forces loyal to the Shiite movement inspect the damage at the scene of a Saudi airstrike targeting the group, which controls Sanaa near the airport in the Yemeni capital, on March 26, 2015. (photo credit: Mohammed Huwais/AFP)
  • Iraqi Sunni fighters stand on March 22, 2015 at a checkpoint at the entrance of Al-Alam, a flashpoint town north of Tikrit along the Tigris river. (photo credit: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)
    Iraqi Sunni fighters stand on March 22, 2015 at a checkpoint at the entrance of Al-Alam, a flashpoint town north of Tikrit along the Tigris river. (photo credit: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)
  • Rescue workers work on debris at the plane crash site near Seyne-les-Alpes, France, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, after a Germanwings jetliner crashed Tuesday in the French Alps. (photo credit: AP/Laurent Cipriani)
    Rescue workers work on debris at the plane crash site near Seyne-les-Alpes, France, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, after a Germanwings jetliner crashed Tuesday in the French Alps. (photo credit: AP/Laurent Cipriani)

French prosecutors said Thursday there was a high likelihood that the co-pilot who crashed Germanwings flight 9525 on Tuesday did so deliberately. Investigators who listened to the flight recorder said one of the pilots left the cockpit shortly before the crash and could not return. The recording indicates that the pilot tried to return to the cockpit, even resorting to using force, but the door was locked from inside.

Saudi Arabia’s offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen continued, deepening Sunni-Shiite fault lines in the region. Western leaders spoke with the Iranian president Thursday, urging him to cease support for the rebels.

In Israel, coalition talks were in full swing. Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu delegates met with representatives of Likud, while Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party canceled a meeting with Likud, in protest over the top posts earmarked for rival parties.

The Times of Israel blogged events as they unfolded.

Plane’s descent shows deliberate steering

Cockpit recordings from one of Germanwings flight 9525’s black boxes reveal the last moments in the cockpit before the crash.

“A seat was pushed back,” a source close to the investigation tells AFP. “Then the door opened and closed. Later, knocking is heard. There was no more conversation from that point until the crash.”

The source, who asked not to be identified, says an alarm indicating proximity to the ground could be heard before the moment of impact.

Another official said that the plane’s gently sloping descent into the mountains can only be a result of the pilot steering the plane deliberately.

— AFP contributed

62% said to prefer gov’t without Haredim

A survey conducted on behalf of Hiddush, an organization promoting freedom of religion in Israel, finds 62% of Israelis prefer a government without ultra-Orthodox parties. Additionally, 87% would like to see Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu in control of the Knesset’s Finance Committee.

According to the poll, only 13% support giving control of the Finance Committee to UTJ. Both parties, Kulanu and UTJ, want the head of the committee to come from their party.

Kulanu seeks control of the Finance Ministry as well as the Finance Committee, but media reports indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks a compromise by which UTJ will head the committee in return for a commitment to advance reforms planned by future finance minister Moshe Kahlon.

The Internet survey polled approximately 500 Israelis representing the state’s adult Jewish population.

The results of the survey are in harmony with the aims of Hiddush, which seeks to wrest control of various aspects of Jewish life, including marriage and education, away from the Haredi rabbinate.

French FM to Lausanne, likely for Iran talks

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will be flying on Saturday morning to Lausanne, Switzerland, AFP reports, quoting the French Foreign Ministry.

“Laurent Fabius is scheduled to go to Lausanne Saturday morning upon his return from New York, where he will head a public debate of the Security Council on the situation of Eastern Christians and other minorities persecuted in the Middle East,” says Quai d’Orsay spokesman Romain Nadal.

The official statement did not mention Iran. US Secretary of State John Kerry, however, is already in Lausanne for talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

— AFP

France’s first bombing of IS in Tikrit

French military officials say France bombed Islamic State positions in the Tikrit region of Iraq for the first time since the start of the international offensive against the jihadist militia.

A spokesman for France’s armed forces says its forces struck IS positions Wednesday night “in the region of Tikrit” in what he said was France’s first bombing in that area of Iraq since the start of the coalition mission against the radical militia. The spokesman did not say what weapons were used.

— AFP

Iraqi Sunni fighters stand on March 22, 2015 at a checkpoint at the entrance of Al-Alam, a flashpoint town north of Tikrit along the Tigris river. (photo credit: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)

Iraqi Sunni fighters stand on March 22, 2015 at a checkpoint at the entrance of Al-Alam, a flashpoint town north of Tikrit along the Tigris river. (photo credit: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)

Iraq opposes Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen

Iraq’s foreign minister opposes Saudi-led airstrikes on Shiite rebels in Yemen, saying military intervention is not a solution.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose Shiite-led government is fighting Sunni jihadists in Iraq with Western and Iranian backing, says he supports a “peaceful” approach to Yemen.

“We are not with the strikes, and we are against foreign intervention,” he says ahead of an Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

“I don’t think military solutions can be the start of a resolution. We support peaceful solutions,” he adds.

The ministers are meeting to prepare for an Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh over the weekend at which member states will discuss proposals for a joint military force.

— AFP

100 Saudi jets, 150k troops to Yemen op

A Saudi source says a ground offensive is essential to restore order to Yemen, adding that airstrikes alone will not suffice. Saudi Arabia cannot achieve its goals and restore the legitimate government from the sky, the source tells Reuters.

Iran criticized the attacks sharply, without mentioning Saudi Arabia by name. The Islamic Republic, says Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, will do whatever it takes to resolve the crisis in Yemen.

According to Al Arabiya, Saudi has devoted 100 jets and 150,000 ground troops to the Yemen operation.

A member of the Houthi political council tells Al Jazeera that “aggression in the Gulf will bring war,” threatening Saudi Arabia that “we will find you in your homes.” The Houthi rebels belong to a subsection of Shiite Islam and are tacitly supported by Iran. They currently effectively control the southeastern shores of Yemen.

Sudan to aid Saudi Arabia in Yemen battle

Sudan is providing ground troops as well as warplanes for a Saudi-led military intervention against Shiite rebels in Yemen, the defense minister says.

Saudi warplanes launched strikes on the Houthi rebels on Thursday in a bid to stop their advance on embattled President Abedrabbo Mansur Hadi’s refuge in the main southern city of Aden.

Riyadh says it had assembled a coalition of more than 10 countries for the operation it dubbed “Firmness Storm.”

“We are taking part with air and land forces in the ‘Firmness Storm’ operations and our forces have now begun mechanized movement towards the sites of the operations,” Sudanese Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein tells a press conference.

— AFP

UN calls 2014 worst year for Palestinians in Israel since ’67

2014 was the worst year for Palestinians in Israel since the Six Day War, according to a new report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In the Gaza Strip, 1.8 million Palestinians endured the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967: over 1,500 Palestinian civilians were killed, more than 11,000 injured and some 100,000 remain displaced, says a report, “Fragmented Lives,” published Thursday.

Hezbollah slams Saudi ‘aggression’ in Yemen

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement calls on Saudi Arabia to “immediately stop the aggression” after the kingdom launched air strikes against Shiite rebels in Yemen.

“Hezbollah strongly condemns the Saudi-American aggression that targets the brotherly people of Yemen, its national army and its vital institutions,” a statement from the Shiite terror group says.

— AFP

Terrorist gets 2 life sentences for car, stabbing attack

The military court at the Ofer IDF base condemns Maher Hamdi al-Hashalmoun, who was convicted of murdering Dalia Lemkus in the Etzion bloc in November, to two life sentences.

Hashalmoun confessed to running over Lemkus and then stabbing her. He also wounded Yeshayahu Horovitz and Yishai Katz during the attack.

Hashalmoun will also need to pay NIS 3.9 million (c. $1 million) to the Lemkus family in damages.

“The defendant went on a deliberate and hate-filled killing spree. He deliberately hurt the deceased and stabbed her repeatedly despite her screams. This was not the end of his cruelty and he then went in search of additional victims, but the vigilance of passersby stopped him and he then returned to the deceased,” the military judge wrote.

The judge adds that the defendant expressed no remorse for his actions during his trial and did not see anything wrong in his behavior. He is therefore unworthy of mercy,” the judge writes in the verdict.

Mother of Dalia Lemkus sought death penalty

The mother of Dalia Lemkus who was killed in a terror attack in November turns to the military court judges during the trial of terrorist Maher Hamdi al-hashalmoun and asks for the death penalty, even though officially death penalties are not part of Israel’s legal system.

“You cannot have mercy on the murderer; he did not know her and showed no mercy. I came here to say in the name of Dalia what she cannot say anymore. She already went through one terror attack and was unharmed…. I suppose she felt lucky and maybe she will survive again. But then the terrorist murderer came out of the car and stabbed her and other people. It is hard to imagine the fear she must have felt when he stabbed her over and over again,” Brenda Lemkus said.

“I ask that the court decide on the death penalty. Prison for him will be a hotel, after which he will be released, and that’s why the only way to deter is death, so that he will not be released in a future diplomatic deal. I also ask that the court make him pay a fine without which he will never be released, including in future deals for prisoner exchanges,” Lemkus said.

‘Bomb Iran,’ says John Bolton in op-ed

Former US envoy to the UN John Bolton writes an opinion piece in The New York Times where he calls on either the US or Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“Ironically perhaps,” Bolton writes, “Israel’s nuclear weapons have not triggered an arms race. Other states in the region understood — even if they couldn’t admit it publicly — that Israel’s nukes were intended as a deterrent, not as an offensive measure.”

John Bolton (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

John Bolton (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

He then goes on to characterize Iran as “a different story.” Bolton predicts that Iranian nuclear achievements will cause Saud Arabia, Turkey and Egypt to seek to match Iran’s capabilities.

An attack on several key nuclear facilities “need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years,” Bolton argues.

He warns that US President Barack Obama’s “fascination” with getting Iran to sign a deal may become so counterproductive that his “biggest legacy could be a thoroughly nuclear-weaponized Middle East.”

May be ‘too late’ for peace talks – Serry

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new government must take steps to freeze settlements that are threatening to “kill the very possibility of reaching peace,” the UN’s Middle East envoy says.

In his final report to the UN Security Council as Middle East coordinator, Robert Serry says, “I frankly do not know if it is already too late” to revive peace talks aimed at the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Hollande tells Rouhani he wants ‘robust’ deal

French President Francois Hollande calls for a “lasting, robust and verifiable” nuclear accord with Iran during talks with President Hassan Rouhani, his office in Paris says in a statement.

“The president, while insisting on Iran’s legitimate right to use peaceful nuclear power, insisted on the need to work towards a lasting, robust and verifiable agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme,” Hollande’s office says as last-ditch talks resume in Switzerland.

— AFP

US may allow Iran to run centrifuges at Fordo

The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites, officials tell The Associated Press.

The trade-off would allow Iran to run several hundred of the devices at its Fordo facility, although the Iranians would not be allowed to do work that could lead to an atomic bomb and the site would be subject to international inspections, according to Western officials familiar with details of negotiations now underway. In return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.

Instead of uranium, which can be enriched to be the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, any centrifuges permitted at Fordo would be fed elements such as zinc, xenon or germanium for separating out isotopes used in medicine, industry or science, the officials said. The number of centrifuges would not be enough to produce the amount of uranium needed to produce a weapon within a year – the minimum time-frame that Washington and its negotiating partners demand.

— AP

Turkey wants Iran, terror groups out of Yemen

A file photo taken in April 2014 shows Turkey's then prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking to members of Parliament from his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party. (photo credit: AFP)

A file photo taken in April 2014 shows Turkey’s then prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking to members of Parliament from his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party. (photo credit: AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tells the France 24 news TV network that “Iran and the terror organizations must retreat from Yemen.”

Erdogan also says his country is considering giving logistical support to Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen.

Saudi: Yemen campaign a message to Iran

A citizen of Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, reports that the atmosphere on the streets is calm despite the country’s large-scale offensive against Shi’ite rebels south of the country.

Speaking to Ynet, the man, Hussein, says: “the Houthis are controlled by Iran. Saudi Arabia may have kept quiet over events in Syria and Iraq, but Yemen is a red line for us. Iranian control of Yemen means great danger for Saudi Arabia.”

Hussein adds that the unity against Iran – Saudi Arabia is supported by seven Arab countries – is “uplifting” for Saudi citizens.

“The support of countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey in the operation is a message to Iran,” Hussein tells Ynet. “Iran is a paper tiger, it can do nothing. It may try to get the Shiites in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to revolt against the Sunni rulers of those countries, maybe the Houthis will respond – but Iran will do nothing.”

Putin and Cameron call Rouhani, discuss Yemen

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and urges an immediate cessation of military activities in Yemen, Reuters reports.

The Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran, have recently overtaken large swaths of land in the south of the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also calls Rouhani to tell him that “other countries” should not support the Shiite rebels in Yemen.

Likud, Yisrael Beytenu reps meet

Representatives of Likud meet with representatives of Yisrael Beytenu in preliminary coalition talks in Jerusalem.

According to Ynet, Likud’s Ze’ev Elkin says: “These are two parties that know how to work together. It was a friendly meeting. Several issues were raised but we see eye to eye.”

Moshe Lion, who in 2013 was Likud and Israel Beytenu’s candidate for Jerusalem mayor, was one of the representatives for Beytenu at the talks.

“We stand together, you cannot separate the two parties,” he reportedly says.

Yisrael Beytenu wants to legislate a death penalty for terrorists. “It is hard to say whether this or that clause will be [in the coalition agreement],” says Elkin, emphasizing that “some issues necessitate examination and learning, including legal counsel.”

Yemen president lands in Saudi capital

Yemen’s embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi arrives in Riyadh, which is leading a coalition against Shiite rebels threatening his rule, the official Saudi Press Agency reports.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 file photo, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, President of Yemen, sits after addressing the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters. Two of the Yemeni embattled president’s advisers said that the president is held “captive” in hands of Houthis and warned if submitted resignation in protest to Houthis’ power grab, to face prosecution. (photo credit: AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

In this Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 file photo, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, President of Yemen, sits after addressing the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters. (photo credit: AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

He is received at an airbase by Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is overseeing the military operation by nearly a dozen countries against the Huthi Shiites.

Hadi’s whereabouts had been unknown since the Huthi rebels and their allies closed in on his refuge in the main southern city of Aden this week.

Yemen’s acting foreign minister, Riyad Yassin, tells reporters in Cairo that Hadi would take part in a two-day Arab summit starting Saturday in Egypt.

— AFP

US soldier, cousin arrested in IS plot

A US military reservist has been arrested while attempting to travel to fight for Islamic State jihadists, along with a cousin planning to carry out attacks on military installations, authorities say.

A Justice Department statement says Army National Guard soldier Hasan Edmonds, 22, was detained at Chicago Midway International Airport on Wednesday as he attempted to fly to Egypt.

A cousin, Jonas Edmonds, 29, was arrested at his home in Aurora, Illinois at the same time.

Both had conspired to wage war on behalf of Islamic State jihadists, with Hasan Edmonds planning to use his military training to join the group on its frontlines in Iraq and Syria.

Jonas Edmonds planned to use his cousin’s military uniforms to carry out an attack on a base in northern Illinois after his relative’s departure from the United States.

The pair were captured after unwittingly revealing their plans to an undercover FBI agent, a statement says.

— AFP

Netanyahu and Bennett meet on coalition

A meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett ends with no agreement on any issue and no proposals from Netanyahu to Bennett, Ynet reports.

Jewish Home officials fear Netanyahu will “jerk them around until the last minute,” and that if he has a chance, he will leave Jewish Home in the opposition.

‘Egypt to join ground offensive in Yemen’

Three Egyptian military and security officials say that a coalition of countries led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia will conduct a ground invasion into Yemen once the airstrikes have sufficiently diminished the Houthis’ forces. They say the assault will be by ground from Saudi Arabia and by landings on Yemen’s Red and Arabian Sea coasts.

The aim is not to occupy Yemen but to weaken the Houthis and their allies until they enter negotiations for power-sharing, the officials say.

They say three to five Egyptian troop carriers are stationed off Yemen’s coasts. They don’t specify the numbers of troops or when the operation will begin.

Egypt’s presidency says that its naval and air forces are participating in the coalition campaign already. Egypt is “prepared for participation with naval, air and ground forces if necessary,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri says at a gathering of Arab foreign ministers preparing for a weekend Arab summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

— AP

‘Nuke talks should stop while Iran supports Houthis’

Israeli sources say nuclear talks with Iran should be suspended given its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen, Channel 10 reports.

Argentine court confirms dismissal of case against president

An Argentine appeals court upholds a lower court’s decision to dismiss the case against President Cristina Kirchner on accusations that she shielded Iranian officials from prosecution over a 1994 Jewish center bombing.

In a 2-1 decision, the court rejects an appeal from prosecutors, who sought to revive the case against Kirchner being brought by their late colleague Alberto Nisman before he mysteriously died on the eve of congressional hearings where he was due to present his explosive allegations.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner in Buenos Aires on January 30, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / ALEJANDRO PAGNI)

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner in Buenos Aires on January 30, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / ALEJANDRO PAGNI)

“The federal appeals chamber ratifies the decision by Judge Daniel Rafecas to reject prosecutor Nisman’s accusation,” says a justice ministry statement.

Nisman was appointed a decade ago to reopen the investigation into the long-unsolved bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, which killed 85 people.

He accused Iran of ordering the attack via Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a claim the government in Tehran denies.

He later concluded that a 2013 deal between Argentina and Iran for the suspects to be investigated by a joint commission was a conspiracy designed to ensure they would never be brought to justice.

— AFP

French, German FMs extend stay at talks

The French and German foreign ministers have delayed a planned Monday visit to Kazakhstan in order to stay at nuclear talks with Iran in Switzerland, a diplomatic source says.

Earlier US Secretary of State John Kerry canceled plans to attend an event in Boston on Monday in order to stay in Lausanne ahead of a Tuesday deadline to agree on the outlines of a nuclear deal with Iran.

AFP

Hamas considering 5-year truce offer

The leadership of Hamas is torn on whether to accept a five-year-long truce with Israel, according to a report by Palestinian paper al-Quds.

UN Envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry made the offer to Hamas through international mediators. The overture includes, amongst other things, renovation of the homes destroyed in last summer’s Gaza war.

According to the NRG website, there was disagreement on clauses that distinguished between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but almost unanimous agreement on clauses discussing the establishment of a port and an airfield.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and spokesman Moussa Abu Marzouk say the idea of a five-year truce is intended to cement the disconnect between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Unlike Haniyeh and Abu Marzouk, the head of the military wing, Marwan Issa, supports the idea of a truce, but rejects limiting it with an expiry date. Senior Hamas official Ahmed Yussuf said Serry’s offer should be examined thoroughly before any decision is made.

Meanwhile, sources in the Hamas military wing say its men are rushing to rebuild the tunnel network that was destroyed by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge in order to be prepared for any future altercation with the IDF.

According to officials in the military wing, Hamas does not want another war with Israel any time soon, but wants to be prepared for any scenario.

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