Ashdod mayor says city to stop fining businesses open on Shabbat
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Ashdod mayor says city to stop fining businesses open on Shabbat

Weeks after stepping up controversial enforcement of Sabbath laws, Yehiel Lasry says all residents 'must learn how to live together in dignity'

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Demonstrators protest in Ashdod against the closure of businesses in the city on Shabbat, on January 20, 2018. (Flash90)
    Demonstrators protest in Ashdod against the closure of businesses in the city on Shabbat, on January 20, 2018. (Flash90)
  • Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
    Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
  • Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 27, 2018. (Flash90)
    Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 27, 2018. (Flash90)
  • Two protesters wear masks with photographs of Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman outside the Palace of Westminster in London, March 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
    Two protesters wear masks with photographs of Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman outside the Palace of Westminster in London, March 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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

Deri says Israelis won’t forgive government for early elections

Interior Minister and Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri says it’s possible to solve the coalition crisis, and says Israelis won’t forgive the government if elections are held early.

“Amid my intensive talks with the coalition partners, I am convinced that it can be solved. And furthermore, it can be solved immediately,” he says.

“The public won’t be forgiving if they are dragged to unnecessary elections and the most socially right-wing government is dismantled,” Deri says.

Macron to address France’s Jews amid anti-Semitism concerns

President Emmanuel Macron is set to address France’s leading Jewish group, amid concerns about a rise in anti-Jewish violence and the possible re-publication of anti-Semitic pamphlets by a renowned writer.

Macron will be the guest of honor at tonight’s annual dinner by the group CRIF, whose leaders say they will ask the president about fighting anti-Semitism online and recent attacks on French Jews or Jewish sites.

They also want to call attention to a debate over a plan by prominent publishing house Gallimard to re-publish fiercely anti-Semitic lampoons penned by Louis-Ferdinand Celine in 1937-1941.

Gallimard has suspended the plan for now amid protest. Defenders of freedom of speech say publication should be allowed, in part to show the dark side of the famed writer.

France has the world’s third-largest Jewish community.

— AP

Saudi crown prince greeted in Britain with pomp, protests

Saudia Arabia’s crown prince is beginning a visit to Britain, where he will be greeted by Queen Elizabeth II — and met by protesters against the war in Yemen.

Theresa May’s office says the prime minister will “raise deep concerns at the humanitarian situation” in Yemen when she meets Mohammed bin Salman.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling Iran-allied rebels in Yemen since 2015 in a bloody war.

Opponents say Britain has been slow to condemn abuses by Saudi Arabia, a major purchaser of UK-made weapons.

Britain is rolling out the red carpet for the 32-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, who has vowed to modernize his deeply conservative country.

Prince Mohammed will have lunch with the queen this afternoon and later dine with Prince Charles and Prince William.

— AP

Accomplice of Paris attacks mastermind held in Poland

A Moroccan accomplice of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the deadly 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris, is being held in Poland over suspected participation in terrorist activity, according to Polish prosecutors.

“During our investigation we found that between December 2014 and September 2016 Mourad T. was involved… with an armed crime organization — an international terrorist organization called Islamic State,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Local media said Mourad T. was detained 18 months ago. If convicted, he faces six months to eight years in prison.

— AFP

Israel providing generators to quake-hit Papua New Guinea

Israel has delivered 40 generators to help restore power to areas in Papua New Guinea that were devastated by last week’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake, according to local news reports.

Israel’s foreign aid agency, MASHAV, provided the generators to some of the worst hist areas in the remote Pacific island.

“These generators will provide immediate assistance to communities suffering from damage to critical infrastructure,” Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says according to the website PNG facts.

“Relations between Papua New Guinea and the State of Israel are strong, and our Government and the people of PNG appreciate the support and friendship of Israel during these challenging times,” he says according to the report.

Air India announces flights to Israel over Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has given Air India approval to fly through its airspace on flights between Israel and India, an airlines spokesperson tells The Times of Israel.

The agreement would shorten the current flight path by some two hours and mark a significant achievement as Jerusalem attempts to upgrade its relationship with Riyadh.

The 7 hour 10 minute flight between Tel Aviv and Mumbai will launch March 22.

Air India says it will operate the flight three times a week.

Germany extends military missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali

Germany is extending six overseas military missions, including its longrunning operation in Afghanistan.

The Cabinet agrees to increase the maximum number of troops deployed as part of the international “Resolute Support” mission by 320 to 1,300.

The German army has its headquarters in Afghanistan in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and a large base near the central city of Kunduz.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says the number of German troops involved combating the Islamic State group in Iraq will be reduced to 800, but the military training mission will be expanded to include the Iraqi army. Previously training was only provided to Kurdish forces fighting IS.

The Cabinet also extends the German military’s missions in Mali, Darfur, South Sudan and the NATO-led “Sea Guardian” operation in the Mediterranean.

— AP

Bezeq fined NIS 30m. for ‘exploiting market monopoly’

The Antitrust Authority has fined the Bezeq telecom giant NIS 30 million ($8.7 million) for deliberately attempting to erode market competition.

The authority said the telecom giant had “exploited its status as a monopoly in the market in order to harm the competition in the provision of communications services.

An unnamed top executive has been fined NIS 700,000 for the scheme.

Bezeq in response called the authority’s findings “fundamentally flawed” and says the company is fully coordinating with antitrust officials.

Rocket sirens blare in Gaza periphery

Warnings sirens are blaring in the Eshkol Regional Council, signaling a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip.

Turkey detains 13 IS militants suspected of plotting attack

Turkey’s state-run news agency says police in the southern city of Adana have detained 13 Islamic State suspects who were allegedly plotting attacks on a number of buildings in the city, including the US Consulate.

Anadolu Agency says police detained the suspects Wednesday in simultaneous dawn raids at homes, using battering rams to break down doors at some locations. The agency said 12 of the suspects are Syrian nationals.

The raids came days after police in the Turkish Black Sea coastal city of Samsun detained four Iraqi IS suspects while investigating a possible plot against the U.S. Embassy in the capital Ankara, forcing the American facility to close.

Turkey suffered a series of deadly terror attacks in 2015 and 2016 carried out by IS or Kurdish rebels.

— AP

In DC, Netanyahu says investigations don’t affect his work

Addressing the Washington Economic Club, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the deepening investigations into his alleged corruption are not affecting his work.

“I can’t say that I like [the investigations], but I can say that it doesn’t detract, because I work my 16 hour days and I just do it,” Netanyahu says. “My hands are full. I’m very, very satisfied.”

“What I want is to be able to complete the term of this government, which is till about November 19, and if the coalition agrees, that’s what we’ll do, and if not, we’ll go to elections,” he says.

— Eric Cortellesa

Army says rocket alert siren in Gaza periphery a false alarm

The army says the incoming rocket alert siren that sounded earlier in the Eshkol Regional Council was a false alarm.

The IDF says it is investigating what triggered the warning system.

Netanyahu says most Israelis want separation from Palestinians

Netanyahu says he believes that most Israelis would prefer to be separated from the Palestinians.

“I want the Palestinians to have all of the power to govern themselves, but not the power to threaten us,” he says at the Economic Club in Washington.

“Israel must have the overriding security responsibility for the area west of the Jordan River. Does that comport with full sovereignty? I don’t know, but that’s what we need to live,” he says.

Netanyahu adds that Israelis would support a peace agreement with the Palestinians “if they thought it would get them peace.”

— Eric Cortellesa

Netanyahu wants to be remembered as ‘defender of Israel, liberator of its economy’

Netanyahu tells the Economic Club in Washington that he wants his legacy to be: “Defender of Israel. Liberator of its economy.”

Netanyahu also says he got along with former US presidents Bush and Obama, but gets along better with Trump.

“I have zero disagreements with him, and I don’t expect to,” he says.

Palestinians to hold leadership meeting on April 30

The chief Palestinian legislative body will hold its first meeting in nearly a decade next month to elect a new leadership, officials say, a step that could pave the way toward finding a successor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to Ahmad Majdalani, a top Palestinian official, the nearly 700-member Palestine National Council will meet on April 30 in Ramallah.

The purpose of the meeting would be to discuss political issues and to fill positions on the powerful Executive Committee, officials said.

The 18-member committee is the top Palestinian decision-making body. But it is dominated by an aging leadership and it has struggled to function properly in recent years. One member recently died, while at least two others have been weakened by health issues.

Abbas, who turns 83 this month, has never designated a successor, despite suffering from a number of health issues.

Although the meeting is not meant to choose a successor, the composition of the new executive committee could give a strong indication of who the front-runners will be.

— AP

Knesset okays law allowing police to hold terrorists’ bodies

The Knesset passes into law legislation allowing police to hold the bodies of Palestinian assailants killed while carrying out terror attacks.

The law, which passed 48-10, came about after the High Court of Justice in December ruled the practice could no longer continue without legislation explicitly permitting it.

Under the law, district police commanders can set limits on funerals or withhold terrorists’ bodies from their families if there is a fear the funeral could be used to carry out an attack or provide a platform for praising terrorism.

The law says terrorists’ funerals in recent years have included praise of terror and incitement for further attacks.

No injuries as Palestinian teen tries to stab Israeli man with scissors

A teenage Palestinian girl is in custody after attempting to stab an Israeli man in a settlement south of Hebron, the local council says.

The incident took place near the settlement of Havat Talia.

According to reports, the stabbing followed a brief verbal altercation between the two.

The 16-year-old has been arrested. No injuries were reported.

Lebanon court rules trial of suspected Hariri assassin to proceed

Judges at a United Nations-backed tribunal have rejected a request for acquittal by one of four suspects on trial in absentia for their alleged roles in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

In a lengthy decision issued at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, judges said that the case against Hezbollah member Hussein Hassan Oneissi will continue.

Lawyers representing Oneissi called for his acquittal after the presentation of the prosecution’s case, saying his trial should be halted because of insufficient evidence to convict him.

Judges disagreed, saying that the evidence was strong enough for the long-running trial to continue.

Hariri was killed along with 21 others on February 14, 2005, in a massive truck bomb blast in Beirut.

— AP

Strike to halt all passport services at airports, border crossings tomorrow

The Population and Immigration Authority announces a general strike for tomorrow and will include the suspension of passport services at all Israeli airports and border crossings.

The State Employees Union warns of massive delays for travelers scheduled to leave Ben Gurion International Airport tomorrow.

The union in a statement calls on Authority officials to return to the negotiating table. Employees launched the job action earlier this month after management decided to transfer workers from various offices to the one in Bnei Brak to service the large number of asylum seekers.

Workers are seeking a collective wage agreement from the Population and Immigration Authority management.

Gazans announce tent city protest along Israeli border

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are launching a tent city protest along the border with Israel next month to demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be able to return to what is now Israel, according to Reuters.

One of the organizers, Ahmed Abu Ayesh, says thousands of people will move to tents “at the nearest, safe point from the border.”

He says UN agencies in the Palestinian territory have been notified of the 6-week protest that is slated to begin March 30.

PM says new elections if coalition can’t reach ‘complete solution’ on religious bill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he isn’t seeking elections but that a fresh vote will be held if coalition parties can’t agree on legislation exempting ultra-Orthodox students from military service.

Speaking with reporters en route to New York, Netanyahu says he hopes “to continue with a stable government until the end of its days in November 2019.”

Laying out his conditions for avoiding elections, Netanyahu says any bill on ultra-Orthodox enlistment must be backed by the entire coalition and that all its members agree to remain in the government until the end of its term.

“I want to bring a bill with as wide as possible agreement that will be acceptable to the attorney general and that will pass with a [larger] majority than usual, but also to get a commitment from all the [coalition] partners that we’ll continue together until the end of 2019,” he says.

“[Only] a complete solution is acceptable to me, otherwise we’ll need to have elections. I’m not interested in that,” he adds. “With goodwill it is possible to reach a solution.”

He also calls on coalition parties to back off their respective ultimatums in order for the government to continue.

— Alexander Fullbright

Netanyahu decries ‘industry of state witnesses’ after 3rd aide turns

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a response to the growing number of associates who have turned state’s witness against him in the various corruption investigations he is facing.

“When there is something real, you don’t need a single state’s witness, and when you have nothing, not even a thousand state witnesses will help,” Netanyahu says in a video uploaded to social media.

He says it’s “hard to believe” that in 2018 Israel, an “industry of state witnesses” exists. He claims witnesses are often pressured by police into giving false testimony.

“This obsessive pursuit after one state’s witness, then another and another just proves there’s nothing here,” he says.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu’s former media adviser Nir Hefetz turned state’s witness in the Bezeq corruption case. Hefetz is suspected of receiving bribes and obstructing justice in the quickly ballooning investigation dubbed Case 4000.

Hefetz is the third Netanyahu confidant to turn state’s witness in the investigations, potentially incriminating the prime minister in his testimony.

Ramallah university says undercover Israeli forces arrest student leader

A Palestinian university says undercover Israeli security forces stormed the Birzeit University campus earlier this afternoon and arrested student council president Omar al-Kiswani.

In a statement, Birzeit says the Israelis were disguised as Palestinian students, and carried firearms in their backpacks, while an armed IDF united secured the area surrounding the campus.

A video of the arrest shows several men pinning al-Kiswani down and handcuffing him.

Al-Kiswani has been previously identified as a Hamas student activist in various news reports.

Mandelblit wants Netanyahu to resign if indicted — report

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit believes that if Netanyahu is indicted on any of the corruption cases against him, he should resign from office, Channel 10 reports.

Under Israeli law, Netanyahu does not have to resign if he is indicted in a criminal case, only if he is convicted. Likud officials have insisted that Netanyahu won’t resign if he is charged with any corruption-related offenses.

The report says that Mandelblit’s stance on Netanyahu is his personal opinion, and not the official stance of the Justice Ministry of law enforcement officials.

Arab League affirms Jerusalem as future Palestinian capital

Arab foreign ministers are insisting that Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state, even as the US prepares to move its embassy there in a step that has angered the Arab world.

A ministerial meeting held today in the Egyptian capital Cairo brought together foreign ministers from the Arab League member-states.

Trump in December bucked decades of US foreign policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and setting in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Earlier this month, the US said the move would take place to coincide with Israel’s 70th birthday.

The Palestinians and much of the Arab world have been fuming over Trump’s move. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian officials have refused to meet with members of the Trump administration since, including Vice President Mike Pence when he visited the region in January.

Netanyahu sought to make an ‘Israeli Fox News’ — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of trying to set up an Israel-based version of the conservative media outlet Fox News, Hadashot news reports.

The Netanyahus along with former Communications Ministry head Shlomo Filber approached Australian billionaire James Packer, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and media mogul Rupert Murdoch with the plan, the report said.

They proposed a $25 million buy-in to their potential buyers.

According to Hadashot, Packer supported the idea, Murdoch was on the fence, and Milchan rejected it outright.

Ashdod mayor says city to stop fining businesses open on Shabbat

The city of Ashdod will stop handing out fines to businesses open on the Sabbath, its mayor says, a month after stepping up its controversial enforcement of Shabbat laws.

At a city council meeting, Yehiel Lasry reportedly says that the religious and secular residents coastal city “must learn how to live together in dignity.”

In recent weeks city inspectors were fining businesses NIS 320 ($90) for operating on the Jewish day of rest.

Monitor says Syria seizes half of rebel-held eastern Ghouta

A Syria war monitor says that Syrian government troops and allied militias have seized half of the territory held by rebels in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that troops have effectively split the besieged enclave in two halves after seizing the town of Beit Sawa and surround farmland and reaching the outskirts of Madeira and Hammouriyeh.

By slicing the territory in two halves — a southern and northern part — the Syrian government succeeds in further squeezing rebels and tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside.

The Syrian troops are backed in their massive air and ground assault on eastern Ghouta by Russian air cover. Around 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in eastern Ghouta.

— AP

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